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Michigan Catholic schools find formula to boost enrollment

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 05:28

Grand Rapids, Mich., Feb 1, 2019 / 03:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Catholic schools in many areas of the country struggle to keep attendance up, one Michigan diocese has enjoyed a significant boost in enrollment, after the local bishop introduced a plan to prioritize Catholic education.

“[Catholic schools] are at the heart of the mission of the Church,” said David Faber, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

“Catholic schools are good all around, not only for the Church, but for the community and the good of our country,” he told CNA.

Faber said the recent growth in Catholic school enrollment followed a 15-year period of decline. The decrease had been due to a drop in the state’s economy, a reduction in church attendance, and the Michigan Blaine Amendment that bans the state from providing funds to Catholic schools, he said.

But over the past four years, the diocesan school district has overcome obstacles, adding 254 new students for a total of 6,555 students. Faber said the diocese is currently seeing the biggest preschool class in 21 years and the biggest kindergarten class in six years.

He attributed the growth to the efforts of Bishop David Walkowiak, who in 2015 created the Bishop’s Catholic Schools Initiative, a program that classified Catholics schools as a high priority in the diocese.  

Bishop Walkowiak “really believes that Catholic schools are the single most effective means the Church has created for evangelization,” he said. “He wanted every child to have the opportunity for a Catholic education. The same opportunity that he had.”

The program consisted of three parts, Faber said. “One was to increase affordability through scholarships, the second part was to grow our professional capacity in our office of Catholic schools, and the third party was to plan for the future vitality of our schools.”

The diocese tripled its need-based Bishop Scholarship and created the Welcome Scholarship, which is given to any first-time families attending Catholic schools or families returning to Catholic schools after a major absence. The Welcome Scholarship can range from $250-$1000 depending on the grade level.

In addition, Grand Rapids Diocese created a marketing team for diocesan schools, hiring an admissions enrollment field consultant, a marketing communications coordinator, and several admission advocates.

This year, Faber said, the diocese is launching a new five-year strategy, “Catholic Schools: Bridging Faith and Future,” to extend and build on the success of the previous initiative.

Developed over the last three years by three rounds of community forums, with input from all the deaneries of the diocese, the five-year plan looks to unite the diocesan schools by strengthening programmatic excellence, accessibility, sustainability, and Catholic mission.

Faber said the plan emphasizes the need “to make Catholic schools a ministry of all Catholics in the diocese.” As part of this focus, Catholic parishes without schools are required to give 4 percent of their offertory to aid diocesan schools. This will gradually increase to 8 percent.

While funding education is a sacrifice, the superintendent said, there are numerous studies showing statistical evidence that Catholic schools benefit the Church and broader community.

Catholic school students are more likely than their peers to graduate high school, attend college, and be civically engaged with politics, he said, and Catholic education is associated with an increase in Mass attendance after high school, discernment to the religious life and priesthood, and eventual salaries and charitable donations.

“An education centered in Christ offers the best possible learning environment, in which students achieve more in school and life, feel welcomed and cherished, develop creativity and character, and grow in faith and grace – leading to outcomes that are second to none,” he told MLive.


Sen. Ben Sasse seeks to fast-track bill to protect abortion survivors

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 19:12

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2019 / 05:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) has announced that he will introduce the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to the Senate on Monday, and is calling for a voice vote to pass the measure.

Sasse announced on Thursday that he is beginning the Rule 14 process, which would bring the bill directly to the Senate floor and bypass the normal committee consideration of a piece of legislation. He said that he hopes his bill will be passed by a unanimous voice vote.

“On Monday evening, I’m going to be asking unanimous consent--for senators to come to the floor,” he said. “I’m going to ask all 100 senators to come to the floor and be against infanticide. This shouldn’t be complicated.”

Sasse started his floor speech by referencing the “morally repugnant” comments made on Wednesday by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). In a discussion on a WTOP radio show, Northam addressed questions regarding a bill that would have allowed abortion throughout an entire pregnancy in the state, even when a woman had already gone into labor.

"The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother," he said.

The proposed bill was tabled later that day, amid an outpouring of criticism over the remarks by Northam and comments by the bill’s sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax).

“Let’s really be clear about what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about fourth-trimester abortion, or what anyone in the normal world calls ‘infanticide,’” said Sasse, in reference to Northam’s comments.

“This should be so far beyond any political consideration,” he said. “We’re talking about a tiny life that has done nothing wrong to warrant being left to die, cold and alone on a table.”

Sasse stressed that all of his colleagues should be able to say that killing a newborn baby is wrong, and that “this doesn’t take any political courage.”  

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act would penalize doctors and medical professionals who do not provide medical care to infants who survive abortions. The bill is co-sponsored by more than three dozen Republican senators.

The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and has 131 co-sponsors, including one Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL).

Although Sasse emphasized that a voice vote should not be complicated, there is a significant chance the bill will run into opposition. When the House of Representatives voted on their version of the bill in January 2018, all but five Democrats voted against it.

Cases where infants have survived late-term abortions are rare, but do occur. Pro-life activist Gianna Jessen was born in an abortion clinic following a failed saline abortion attempt when her mother was 30 weeks pregnant.

In 2013, Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for killing babies who had survived abortion attempts at his clinic, as well as one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient who died of an overdose in 2009. He is now serving several life sentences.

Virginia bishops ‘distraught’ at abortion bill, governor’s comments

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 16:45

Richmond, Va., Jan 31, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond issued statements Thursday condemning a proposed abortion bill in the Virginia legislature and comments made by the state’s governor.


“This bill rightfully failed--but I am, along with so many people of good will, distraught that this bill was introduced in the first place,” said Burbidge in the statement released January 31.


“It could have paved the way for babies to suffer a violent and gruesome death moments before birth and could have been harmful to women,” he added.


The bill, introduced by Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), became the subject of heated debate after video circulated of Tran answering questions about the scope of the proposed law.


During questioning by House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R) on Tuesday, Tran said that there was nothing in the bill that would prevent an abortion being performed while a woman was in active labor.


On Jan. 30 Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on WTOP radio to support the bill and described what some of the its provisions would have meant in practice, including in-labor abortions.


Northam said that if a baby were sufficiently disabled at birth, it could be “kept comfortable” and might be resuscitated if the mother wished, and there could be a “conversation” between doctors and the mother.


Burbidge called the remarks a “staggering admission” about the proposed fate of children, one that “reflects a new level of deep-rooted animus against the inherent goodness of every child.”


The combination of Northam’s comments and the bill’s provisions are a sign of “how far abortion advocates are willing to go in taking the life of a precious child,” said Burbidge.


In his own statement, Bishop Knestout called the proposals “horrific,” “outrageous,” and “vicious,” and said that there is “no place in a civil society for this sort of thought and action.”


The Richmond bishop called statements made by Northam and Tran “equally disheartening and reprehensible.”


“We should not be legislating in favor of abortion, let alone third trimester abortions, at all,” said Knestout, adding that “all our actions and decisions should be life-giving.”


After the bill failed to make it out of legislative committee and was tabled by a 5-3 vote on Wednesday, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) said that she would not have supported the bill had she understood its provisions better.


Adams said in a letter to her constituents that she believed the bill merely repealed pro-life reforms introduced in 2012, and was surprised that “it sought to do much more.”


Adams apologized for failing to “exercise due diligence” before agreeing to co-sponsor the bill


“Had I researched each line of removed language, I would have seen that, and known that there was more research to be done,” she said, adding that she is still in favor of abortion rights.


While many characterized Northam’s radio comments as an implied endorsement of infanticide, a Catholic bioethicist told CNA that he did not believe the governor explicitly went that far.


Dr. Joe Zalor, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that he did not see the comments as discussing infanticide, per se, but he did find the bill itself to be “highly problematic” and he is glad that it was tabled in committee.


Zalor drew a distinction between circumstances were a may have child survived an abortion and when it was born with such a severe condition that it was medically dying of natural causes from the moment of birth.


“There’s nothing morally wrong if you have a child with a very severe illness and there’s really nothing that medicine can do--it is admissible (...) to give the child comfort care and let them die a natural death in the arms of their parents,” explained Zalor.


Infanticide, he said, involved the taking of deliberate action to hasten the death of the infant.


Zalor said that he believes this bill, and similar legislation being considered in other states, is “the culture of death being exposed for what it is.”


“And it’s very, very ugly. A silver lining to this may be that people are waking up.”


New movie tells story of abortion clinic worker turned pro-life advocate

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 12:40

Bryan, Texas, Jan 31, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- A movie chronicling the conversion of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who became a pro-life advocate will be released in theaters nationwide on March 29.

A trailer for the film Unplanned, which tells the story of Abby Johnson, was released on Thursday.

Based off Johnson’s book of the same name, Unplanned recounts her experiences in the abortion industry. After being first approached at an on-campus activities fair, Johnson began volunteering at Planned Parenthood as a clinic escort. After graduation, she took a job with the company and eventually became the director of the Bryan, Texas clinic. In 2008, she was named as the clinic’s employee of the year.

During her time working at the nation’s largest abortion provider, Johnson herself had two abortions.

Due to a personnel shortage, she was called in to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time in September 2009. She was initially disconcerted to note how much the unborn child, after 13 weeks, looked like the image she had seen of her own living daughter while pregnant.

The next few minutes changed Johnson's life irrevocably, as she watched the baby –whom she had believed to be incapable of feeling anything– squirming and twisting to avoid the tube into which it would be vacuumed.

“For the briefest moment,” she wrote in her memoir, “the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the cannula before my eyes.”

“The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone.”

Shocked by what she had seen, Johnson still continued her work running the clinic and promoting its work, at first. Just a few weeks later, however, she was in the nearby office of the Coalition For Life, telling its director Shawn Carney –with whom she knew from his years of opposition to Planned Parenthood–  that she could no longer continue helping women have abortions.

In a 2011 interview with CNA, Johnson said she joined the pro-life movement to help women understand the truth about abortion, not to become a public figure. She  said that it was Planned Parenthood, not the Coalition For Life, that turned her departure into a public battle.

“Planned Parenthood released this to the media” in late 2009, she said. “Planned Parenthood made this a news story. This is something that they did.”

“This is not what I planned for my life. But God set this up for me– and it would be the wrong thing, to turn away from something that He has planned for my life.”

Johnson went on to found the organization “And Then There Were None,” which seeks to assist abortion workers with leaving the industry and finding a new career. Although not shown in the film, Johnson and her husband subsequently converted to Catholicism and are currently  expecting their eighth child.

And Then There Were None has helped nearly 500 former clinic workers leave the abortion industry.

Unplanned stars Ashley Bratcher as Johnson. During filming, Bratcher discovered that her own mother had planned on having an abortion when she was pregnant with her, but walked out of the appointment instead.  

Unplanned was written and directed by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the writers of God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2. The movie was partially funded by Michael Lindell, a born-again Christian and the founder of the company MyPillow.

The film will be distributed by Pure Flix.

Pro-life leaders call on Trump to defund Planned Parenthood

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 02:13

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2019 / 12:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the passing of a New York law legalizing abortion up to the point of birth, pro-life leaders are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to act on his yet-unfulfilled campaign promise of defunding Planned Parenthood.  

“Since Congress will not lead, we are asking you to do so,” the leaders said in their letter.

Signatories of the letter, which was sent on Monday, January 28, included Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List; Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action; Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America; Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, and several others.

In the letter, the leaders reminded Trump that one of his campaign promises was: “defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions, and reallocating their funding to community health centers that provide comprehensive health care for women.”

“This is a topic important to pro-life voters because we believe it is a true game changer to stopping Planned Parenthood from propping up the abortion industry,” the leaders said in the letter.

“Because of congressional inaction, defunding remains one of your key promises that remains unfulfilled; however, there are unilateral avenues that your Administration can follow to separate taxpayer funds from the nation’s largest abortion provider - in particular, Medicaid funds, which comprise 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.”

Planned Parenthood does not need taxpayer funding, they argued, because their revenues have hit record highs. They have also increased the number of abortions they perform, while the other services they provide, such as cancer screenings, have been in a decade-long decline.

“Defunding and redirecting federal funds to the thousands of other federally approved facilities that offer real medical care will dramatically improve healthcare for needy women,” they said.

The move could also “energize your base as few issues will,” they noted, as recent polls show that a “strong majority” of voters in the United States are in favor of pulling taxpayer funding from abortion.

In the letter, the leaders also thanked Trump for what he has done while in office to advance the pro-life cause, including his welcome message to the March for Life, his recent letter to the Speaker of the House asking for the protection of current pro-life policies, his selection of 51 pro-life judicial nominees, and his support of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2019.”

Additionally, the leaders asked Trump for a meeting to discuss ways to circumvent the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the House of Representatives, which currently has a pro-abortion majority, in order to defund Planned Parenthood.

“You are the one person in America who can stop the taxpayers’ forced complicity in the slaughtering of over 320,000 innocent children each year.”

The Satanic Temple at Sundance: mockumentary or documentary?

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 01:13

Park City, Utah, Jan 30, 2019 / 11:13 pm (CNA).- The Satanic Temple shocked Catholics when it scheduled a purported black mass at Harvard University in 2014.

While the temple founders have repeatedly claimed it is a religion, not a hoax or a performance, at its origins are credible reports indicating it was launched for a mockumentary, with several of its founders having a background in film and entertainment.

For some critics, these would-be Satanists are acting in bad faith, as a political-cultural stunt, making use of the trappings of Satan for publicity.

Now a documentary premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival covers the recent history of the organization and its public efforts—but apparently not with skepticism.

The film, “Hail, Satan?” is directed by Penny Lane and produced by Gabriel Sedgewick.

Lane said her artistic goals were “to explore the lines between performance and authenticity, pretense and sincerity, belief and reality — and to situate The Satanic Temple within a much longer story about the fraught relationship between church and state going back to the founding of the United States.”

Speaking to Filmmaker Magazine in an interview published in January 2019, Lane said she resisted pressure to cover “drama” during filming, such as the departure of some high-profile chapters from the Satanic Temple organization, the hiring of a controversial lawyer, and “all kinds of accusations and callouts left and right.”

The documentary includes interviews with contemporary adherents to the Satanic Temple, coverage of its advocacy and the protests in response, and historical coverage of the 1980s “Satanic panic.” Its commentary takes a swing at Catholic sex abuse scandals.

Lucien Greaves, the pseudonymous co-founder and spokesman for the organization, reportedly had only one condition for the movie, a refusal to do re-enactments, Lane said.

In response to Filmmaker Magazine interviewer’s questions about whether the Satanic Temple might be “manipulating” Satanism to serve their political agenda, Lane replied: “They are Satanists and I am not, so I certainly would never worry about them somehow ‘manipulating’ Satanism.”

According to Lane, she has begun to think of religion “less as a list of beliefs and more as a practice.”

“How do our beliefs manifest every day into reality — into how we treat other living beings and ourselves?” she asked. “The fact that the Satanists get so much grief for somehow not being authentic and sincere is, to me, mind-boggling — and evidence only of prejudice against a marginalized group, and a misunderstanding of what religion actually is.”

The “Hail, Satan?” documentary, besides premiering at the Sundance Festival, is also an official selection of the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2019.

While the documentary’s director appears to take the temple at face value, its history includes parody, discussions about its sincerity, and inflammatory claims to have a consecrated Host from a Catholic Mass in its possession.

Among the Satanic Temple’s earliest events was a January 2013 demonstration at the Florida state capitol appearing to support Republican Gov. Rick Scott from a Satanist position. Legislation backed by the then-governor would allow school districts to have policies allowing students to read “inspirational messages” of their choice at school assemblies and sports events.

The demonstration featured an actor in the role of a satanic high priest. Several would-be minions and spokesman Lucien Greaves were also at the rally, saying the law would allow students to distribute Satanic messages.

“This is not a hoax. This is for real,” Greaves had said ahead of the 2013 event.

That same month, the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog reported that Lucien Greaves was listed as casting director of a feature film called “The Satanic Temple.” A casting call on the Actors Access website sought actors “to be the followers of a charismatic yet down to earth Satanic cult leader,” required to wear “tasteful Satanic garb.”

“Spectacle Films and Polemic Media … are producing a mockumentary about the nicest Satanic Cult in the world,” said the casting call, according to the Huffington Post.

The Satanic Temple was behind a reputed attempt to hold a black mass on the campus of Harvard University in May 2014, but the event was moved and then cancelled after intense outcry from Catholics and others who saw it as a grave sin against God, deliberate provocation of Catholics, or a violation of basic norms of civility and respect.

The event was reported to be held under the aegis of the Cultural Studies Club of the Harvard Extension School.

A spokesperson for The Satanic Temple initially told media outlets that a consecrated Host would be used, although the temple and the Cultural Studies Club both later denied this, insisting that only a plain piece of bread would be used.

Shane Bugbee, an early collaborator of the Satanic Temple, told a version of the group’s history at the Vice magazine website, and then a more critical version in an interview with the Village Voice and related blog posts in 2014. He said that Lucien Greaves is in fact Doug Mesner, who reportedly studied at Harvard University, focusing on neuroscience and false memory related to ritual abuse and alien abduction.

Bugbee himself had interviewed Mesner for the website Vice, an interview published July 30, 2013.

Bugbee named Cevin Soling, president of Spectacle Films, as the real man behind “Malcolm Jarry,” the pseudonymous co-founder of the temple. According to Bugbee, Soling was president of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club at the time it attempted to host the black mass. Bugbee alleges that David Guinan, owner of Polemic Media, was a third co-founder of the temple.

Claiming a long history with Satanism, Bugbee himself said he and his wife held the final interview with prominent Satanic figure Anton Lavey, who allegedly made Bugbee a Satanic priest. He contended that Mesner is an employee of Soling and that Soling asked Bugbee to play the role of Lucien Greaves.

Bugbee said he at first saw the Satanic Temple as a prank, believing it was “thrilling” to participate in “a joke on the public at large and, in general, the grossly inept media.”

He said the group’s purpose seemed to shift after the fake rally for Rick Scott.

“The dissolving of the original idea of making a mockumentary and the rise of a want for a real religious sect seemed to happen very quick,” said Bugbee.

He objected that Soling and Guinan had “no real relationship with Satanism.”

In his Vice interview, Mesner said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State Debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” Mesner told Bugbee, though he acknowledged that there are self-identified Satanists who deserve “just as much consideration as any other religious group.”

Mesner later told the Village Voice he would not rule out making a movie or a television series.

Invoking the name of a famous pioneer of 20th century publicity, Bugbee charged that the Satanic Temple is “just the act of a group of social and career climbers using slick psychological marketing tricks in the tradition of Edward Bernays to meet their ends,”

Mesner said the group planned to leverage the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby religious freedom decision to advance “a women’s rights initiative.”

The group backed a woman’s legal challenge to Missouri’s abortion law on religious freedom grounds, a challenge argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2018. The case was tossed out.

It had crowdfunded expenses to help pay for a Missouri woman’s abortion. It has also crowdfunded its “reproductive rights” campaign, gathering over $45,000 by July 2015.

Other projects include Satanic after-school programs and efforts to place Satanic displays on public grounds, citing the precedent of the Ten Commandments and other religious displays, including religious memorials.

In response to a Minnesota town’s debate over a veterans’ memorial that had a cross, the group proposed its own version of a memorial involving pentagrams.

The Satanic Temple’s Los Angeles chapter held a ritual purporting to counter Pope Francis’ canonization of St. Junipero Serra in October 2015.

The group’s philosophical and religious beliefs are somewhat flexible, but it tends to reject supernatural belief and to promote rationalism, individual liberty, secularism and “Enlightenment values.” It claims to oppose tyranny and to identify with Satan’s putative outsider role.

An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed it as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline. It said chapter leadership members debate which historic works about Satan to recommend and whether it should host more ritual.

While the Satanic Temple appears to be pro-abortion rights, citing as one of its tenets “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone,” it put out a previous version of its beliefs that lacked that tenet. It previously claimed “all life is precious in the eyes of Satan” and “the Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.” The earlier version is available in a March 2013 cache at the Internet Archive website.

At present the Satanic Temple website appears to reject claims that media attention is its primary object, or that it is a hoax or trolling.

How to read scripture with Thomas Aquinas and Bishop Flores

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 19:01

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 30, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the aim of human living and all of history, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville said Monday in an address about St. Thomas Aquinas' interpretation of scripture.

“Thomas is a theological witness to a truth of Catholic Faith, namely that after the full revelation of Christ’s historical appearance, the Church has access to the aim of history. Hence, all the faithful now have the capacity by spiritual instinct and knowledge of the Gospel to see themselves figured in Christ,” Flores said Jan. 28 during his lecture for St. Thomas Day at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

“This, together with the gift of the Spirit guiding our reception of the history of Christ, is what is new about the New Testament revelation. And this is why the Fathers of the Church, following Saint Paul, call the definitive revelation in Christ an 'unveiling'. What is unveiled? The aim of human living and all of history.”

The college celebrates the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas with Mass, a lecture, and leisure. In addition to his lecture, Flores also delivered a homily on charity.

Flores has been Bishop of Brownsville since 2009. He earned a doctorate in theology from the Angelicum in 2000, studying Thomas' theology.

The bishop's lecture addressed some aspects of Thomas' commentaries on scripture, noting that “lecturing on Scripture texts was Thomas’ main occupation,” and intending to encourage the reading of these commentaries so as better to understand the saint's “profoundly Christological” vision.

Thomas commented on the Gospels of Matthew and John; all of the Pauline epistles, including that to the Hebrews; and the Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Isaiah, and Job.

Flores highlighted “Thomas’ intense interest in the literal sense of the Scriptures,” which he said was related to the mendicant movements of his age and their interest “in the literal following of Christ.”

He began by reflecting on the “literalness” of Christ, saying that in the Incarnation “God expressed Himself literally; Jesus is the historically literal expression of the divine wisdom. Thus, it is essential to Catholic Christology to profess that the Second Person of the Trinity literally acts and expresses himself through his sanctified humanity … He translated Himself to us, in a language we could understand. That literal language is the humanity of Christ.”

The bishop then turned to Thomas' writing on a controversy over the literal sense of scripture, saying the saint's interest was “directly related to protecting the literalness of Christ’s teaching and example, and to accounting for the Old Testament as primarily prophetic and intentionally preparatory in nature.”

Following the Second Council of Constantinople, Thomas was opposed to the fifth century bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia, who denied that the Old Testament prophets ever intended to say anything literally about Christ, but rather that they wrote about other things, and their words were subsequently adapted to Christ.

Theodore's belief “undermines any understanding of the Old Testament as words from the Word, preparing for the Word’s expressed manifestation,” Flores noted.

In Theodore's understanding, New Testament authors appropriate the words of Old Testament authors “at will”, without regard to the original authors' intention. Thomas saw that this view “implicates [the Apostles and Evangelists] in a falsification of textual integrity.”

Thomas in fact saw that Theodore's belief was “a Christological error,” Flores said.

“The Lord Jesus knows what the intentions of the Old Testament authors are, and it is his knowledge, confided to the authors of the New Testament, that sustains the propriety of New Testament citation of the Old. It is the literal historicity of the WORD made flesh (expresse manifestavit se), the One who spoke through the prophets prior to his Incarnation, that gives the Apostles (and the Church) access to Old Testament intentions.”

After discussing Thomas' treatment of Theodore's error, Flores turned to Thomas' “Rule of Saint Jerome” on how some Old Testament words and deeds “have both an Old Testament historical referent and a literal sense extending to Christ.”

In cases where the words regarding an Old Testament event “exceed the condition of the histories, then the exceeded description itself extends to a literal application to later realities.” This principle both respects the immediate historical context of the Old Testament narrative, and allow the words to refer also to Christ.

For Thomas, the Christian can read the Old Testament as referring to both its immediate historical intentionality and literally to Christ because God can “accommodate history to signify his intentions. Related figurative senses are present in the thing described.”

“Thus, Theodore … lacks an understanding of the unified intentionality governing the whole of the Old Testament aimed toward Christ,” the bishop stated. “Doubtless, Thomas saw Theodore’s reading of Scripture as ultimately rooted in a Christological error. Theodore has no room for a real relation between the facta of the Old Testament and the facta of the New; he has no room for the intentional governance of history by the WORD.”

Finally, Flores turned to figuration, whereby Old Testament realities are figures of realities in the New Covenant, or even later on in Israel's history. This principle “is on full display” at the Easter Vigil, he noted.

In his commentary on the Psalms, Thomas looks for figuration, a practice “rooted in a pre-critical theological conviction that Israel’s history was governed by a special providence, a grace that orders its signification in a way that is anticipatory of the final revelation of God’s historical intent in Christ. This serves as the basis for a Christian reading of the psalms that respects the history of the psalmists. Figuration, in this tradition, (and here I must insist Thomas is very much in the spirit of the Fathers) is rooted in history, not in words; in events understood a certain way, not in poetic allusions.”

For example, in Psalm 21, “The history narrated in the Psalm is not about David, it is about Christ. This is its literal sense,” Flores said, summarizing Thomas' commentary.

“On this reading, David (the psalmist) has a vision of the Passion, and wrote of it. The psalmist's own sufferings are secondarily referenced in the psalm, but only to the extent they are figured within Christ’s sufferings. David saw himself in Christ; he did not see Christ in himself.”

This underlies spiritual progress: that “it is more perfect to see oneself figured in Christ than it is to see Christ figured in oneself. This is because Christ is the supreme locus of intelligibility, and I understand myself better if I see myself figured in him.”

“This is the distinction Thomas wishes to preserve: Israel’s history pre-figures New Testament events, yet the prophets had moments of imaginative vision with understanding that saw from afar the Christian history: they read the contemporary events they lived figured within the history of Christ: Prophets and Kings longed to see what you see, but did not see it.”

Thomas' explanation of Psalm 21 “as literally about Christ and figuratively about David (effectively reversing the ordinary way of explicating figuration)” grants David “a perspective of vision that is equivalent to ours,” Flores commented.

“We know the history of Christ as literal history, and can see ourselves in it … The eternally generated WORD in the flesh literally and historically expresses what every human life and what all history is really about.”

Flores concluded, reflecting on the structure of the Mass: “the sacramental re-presentation of the historical founding Word-event of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ comes after the reading of the Scriptures.”

“The Paschal Sacrifice is thus positioned to unveil the fundamental ratio through which the Scriptures just read are rightly understood. The literal body of Christ appears after the worded Scriptural explications, just as the Incarnation follows and clarifies the prior Scriptural pedagogy. And yet the Scriptures read prior to the Eucharistic Sacrifice guide our understanding of what is to be enacted, just as the Scriptural record prepared the way for faith in the Incarnation. It is a reciprocal pedagogy of grace.”

For Bishop Flores, figuration is essential to liturgy and theology.

“The Christological truth revealed in Scripture and enacted – made plain and made present – in the Eucharistic intervention is the basis for understanding rightly all subsequent figurative readings, be they moral, ecclesial, or eschatological. And the aim is that we see our lives figured within Christ thus plainly manifested. Of the Eucharist as of the Incarnation itself, we can truly say: Se nobis expresse manifestavit.”

Legislators propose abortion-at-birth as state-level fights continue

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 18:00

Richmond, Va., Jan 30, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A controversial Virginia bill which would permit abortion during labor will not be moving out of the subcommittee, as the latest attempt to widely expand abortion access falls short.


HB 2491, was introduced by Del. Kathy Tran (D-Springfield) and would have removed all of Virginia’s existing pro-life safeguards, including ultrasound requirements and a 24-hour waiting period. The bill would have allowed for an abortion to take place throughout pregnancy in order to preserve the health of the mother.


When questioned by Virginia’s House majority leader Todd Gilbert (R) in a committee hearing, Tran admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being performed while a woman was in active labor.


A video of the exchange was shared on social media, and Tran deleted her Twitter account after widespread outrage.


Lawyers have said that the phrase “health and well-being of the mother” is purposefully vague and includes criteria such as age and emotional state in addition to the mother’s physical health. It does not require a doctor to consider alternative treatments besides abortion.


Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) refused to condemn HB 2491 on radio show Wednesday morning and defended some of its central tenets.


Speaking on WTOP, Northam said that he believed the decision to terminate a late-term pregnancy should be left up to a doctor, and “mothers and fathers that are involved.”


“When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of, obviously, the mother, with the consent of the physicians--more than one physician, by the way. And it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable,” said Northam.


Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, said that if it were decided to terminate a pregnancy while a mother was in labor, that the infant would be delivered and then "kept comfortable.” Medical attention would be given to the infant “if that’s what the mother and the family desired,” he said, and “a discussion would ensue” between the woman and her doctor.


Northam said that he thought reaction to the bill was “really blown out of proportion.” He also said that he was in favor of maintaining a state law that requires three physicians approve of a third-trimester abortion. Tran’s bill would have stripped this requirement.


A statement from Northam’s spokesperson on Wednesday accused Republicans of “trying to play politics with women’s health,” and said that the governor was referring to cases of fetal abnormality or a nonviable pregnancy.


“The governor’s comments were limited to the actions physicians would take in the event that a woman in those circumstances went into labor,” said the statement. The statement did not clarify if “fetal abnormality” included entire classes of people, including those with Down Syndrome.


A 2013 Guttmacher study found that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment,” and instead were doing so because they had not realized they were pregnant or had previous trouble securing money or insurance coverage to pay for the abortion.


The debate over the proposal in Virginia comes amid a number of state-level measures aimed at bolstering abortion access.


Last week, New York passed an expansive new law removing previous limits and standards on abortions in the state.


Supreme Court is also expected to make a statement regarding abortion law in coming days. A Louisiana law set to go into effect on Monday would require that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.


If the law were to go into effect, the state would have only a single legal abortionist. A group of physicians represented by the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights have requested a stay from the court that would block the law coming into effect. Five justices are needed to grant an emergency stay.


A similar law in Texas was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016. Since that decision, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have replaced Justices Anthony Kennedy and the late Antonin Scalia.


Kennedy had been seen as a "swing vote" on the issue at the court. He voted in favor of overturning the Texas law in 2016.


Gorsuch has characterized abortion as the “death of a person.” Kavanaugh has not made public statements on the issue of abortion and his judicial record at the lower court level did not treat the issue extensively.

Indiana bishop urges Fightin’ Irish to join Knights

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 16:00

South Bend, Ind., Jan 30, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has encouraged students at the University of Notre Dame to join the Knights of Columbus.


Rhodes, whose diocese includes the college, made the invitation in a January 30 letter to the editor in The Observer, a student-run newspaper for the universities of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s. The letter asked all male students to consider joining the fraternal society.


“In the years that I have been involved with the Knights, and particularly in the years since my ordination as a bishop, I have come to appreciate the many ways in which this fraternal order enhances the lives of its members and families and also serves the Church in many and diverse ways,” Rhoades said in the letter.


Rhoades highlighted the extensive charitable work done by the group, pointing out that last year the Knights donated more than $177 million to charitable purposes ($185 according to the Knights themselves) as well as completing more than 75 million volunteer hours for various service projects. There are about 2 million members of the Knights worldwide.


The Knights of Columbus has been in the public eye in recent weeks, after senators questioned a judicial nominee about his membership of the group, asking whether it could disqualify him from serving impartially as a judge.


In December, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned a judicial nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, and asked if he would quit the organization if he were confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. The senators characterized the group as one with “extreme positions” on abortion and gay marriage.


The nominee, Brian C. Buescher, said that he had no plans to resign from the Knights of Columbus.


In response to the questioning from the senators, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) wrote an op-ed defending the Knights of Columbus and characterized the line of questioning used against Buescher as “religious bigotry.”


In his letter to students, Rhoades praised local Knights of Columbus councils.


“As Catholics, we are called by Christ to put our faith into action by works of mercy and charity,” the bishop wrote. “The Knights in our diocese are exemplary in responding to this call with faith, zeal and dedication.”


The University of Notre Dame is already home to Council 1477, the Knight’s oldest college presence, dating back to 1910. The group is well-known on campus for selling steak sandwiches to tailgaters prior to football games, a tradition that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local and national charities since it began in the 1970s.


In 1924, Notre Dame students, reportedly including members of the Knights, clashed with Indiana members of the Ku Klux Klan. The racist and anti-Catholic hate group was attempting to march through the streets of the nearby city of South Bend.


According to some reports of the incident, as many as 500 students marched into the town to confront klansmen, tearing off their hoods and robes and engaging in open confrontation with the marchers. According to Notre Dame records, 6 students were arrested.


More recently, the figure of Christopher Columbus - in whose honor the fraternal society is named - has come under scrutiny on campus.


Last week, University of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. announced that several 130-year-old murals featuring the life of Christopher Columbus would be covered up. Jenkins said that many people had “come to see the murals as at best blind to the consequences of Columbus’s voyage for the indigenous peoples who inhabited this ‘new’ world and at worst demeaning toward them.”

Catholic author on homosexuality accused of past relationship with a minor

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 14:14

Lansing, Mich., Jan 30, 2019 / 12:14 pm (CNA).- The author of a book on Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality and chastity is accused of forming a sexual relationship with a minor about 15 years ago.

Daniel Mattson is the author of the 2017 book “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I reclaimed my sexual reality and found peace,” and a frequent speaker on the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. He is closely associated with the Courage apostolate and appeared in the 2014 documentary “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”

On Monday, a man alleged on Twitter that he and Mattson began in the early 2000s an online relationship that eventually included sexual interaction via webcam and phone. No physical contact is alleged to have taken place.

The man said Mattson provided him with prepaid telephone callings in order to keep the phone sex a secret from his parents. The two spoke almost daily for three or four years, the man alleged.

He said that the relationship began when he was 13 and Mattson was around 30.

“He knew I was only 13,” the man tweeted Jan. 28.

Eventually, the man alleged, the relationship came to an end. He said Mattson had a relationship with a woman, and the two stopped talking.

“Dan now tweets about homosexuality being a sin. He seems kind and only wants ‘children of God’ to be treated with dignity/respect. But he still believes my relationship with my husband is a sin,” the man tweeted.

“He needs to understand that he has a responsibility. He's hurting young kids lives.”

Mattson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mattson’s book recounts his own experience with homosexual attraction. He has said that he had his first homosexual experience at age 32, and that eventually, after dating a woman because of his desire for family life, he converted to Catholicism and embraced the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, committing to live chastely.

It is not yet clear whether Mattson will face charges in connection to the man’s allegation.

Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage, said he was “devastated” to learn of the allegation against Mattson.

“The same afternoon that I learned of this very disturbing situation, I immediately reported the information I had to the Safe Environment Coordinator of the Diocese of Bridgeport (where the Courage Office is located) and to the Child Protective Services office of the State of Michigan (where Dan resides), as I am required to do by civil law and diocesan policy,” he said in a Jan. 30 statement.

Mattson has never been an employee of Courage International, but has shared his story at conferences organized by Courage, and in “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which Courage International produced, Bochanski said.

He noted that the alleged misconduct occurred “more than 14 years ago, years before [Mattson’s] involvement with the Courage apostolate,” and said that neither he nor his predecessor, Fr. Paul Check, had previously received sexual allegations against Mattson.

“Mattson will not be invited to speak or write, or to take any leadership positions, on behalf of Courage International for the foreseeable future. I will reserve further comment on this matter until the civil authorities have made a final determination in the case.”

“I know how painful this news will be to many people, particularly those who are survivors of abuse in their own lives or in the life of a loved one,” Bochanski said.

“I am praying earnestly for a just resolution to this matter, and particularly for the needs of the man who has brought this situation to light. I urge anyone who is aware of an incident of sexual misconduct or any kind of abuse involving a child, youth or other vulnerable person, to contact civil authorities immediately.”


After 25 years, what JP2’s Letter to Families can teach today’s world

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 06:05

Denver, Colo., Jan 30, 2019 / 04:05 am (CNA).- Pope John Paul II was born Karol Wojtyla, a man from a small town in Poland who lost all of his immediate family - mom, older brother, an infant sister, and father - by the time he was 20 years old. Shortly thereafter, he vowed a life of celibacy as a Catholic priest. And yet, Wojtyla would go on to be remembered as “Pope of the Family.”

25 years ago next week, on Feb. 2, 1994, Pope John Paul II penned his “Letter to Families,” the subject of which was spurred by the United Nations' declaration that 1994 would be the “Year of the Family.”

At the time, U.S. divorce rates were higher - about 4.6 per 1,000 people, compared with 2.9 in 2017. But marriage rates were also higher - 9.1 compared with 6.9 for those same years. Legalized same-sex marriage was still considered a taboo political idea, and would remain so for more than a decade. And Bruce Jenner still went by Bruce Jenner.

But even though it was written 25 years ago, many Catholics in family life ministries believe that the Church is only beginning to see the fruits of John Paul II’s message to families.

Although he was a celibate priest, Wojtyla became very close to a circle of young people whom he pastored while serving as chaplain to university students in Krakow. As they married and had children, Fr. Wojtyla offered spiritual and pastoral guidance to their families that would inform his work well into his years as Pope John Paul II.

“He was able to support these young families, to help them live the faith at a time when Communist society was really trying to undermine the family,” said Jared Staudt, who is the director of formation for the Archdiocese of Denver, where he also leads Building Family Culture retreats for families.

When the Communist Party ruled Poland, family’s work and school schedules were arranged in such a way that they spent as little time together as possible. The state, and not the family, was, according to the government, the ultimate good and end of society.

“So he was in this battle for family life very directly in Communist Poland,” he said of Wojtyla.

Much of what Wojtyla came to know about the sanctity and importance of marriage and family life can be found in his 1994 “Letter to Families.”

Man, woman and child - the family as vocation

John Paul II wrote prolifically on the family, but this letter is one of his more personal and concise works detailing much of his thought on marriage and family.

He was known for elevating the idea of the vocation of marriage and family life to a level that had not yet been articulated in the Catholic Church.

“John Paul literally started a revolution when it comes to the Catholic Church and family,” said Steve Bollman, founder of family ministry Paradisus Dei.

“What John Paul did is he truly identified the family as the pathway to holiness,” Bollman said. “In this letter, it's the family that's placed at the heart of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that's opposed to love.”

In his letter, John Paul II wrote that men and women, particularly in their roles as fathers and mothers in the family, are key to building up a “civilization of love,” in which families are able to give and receive love at individual and societal levels.

“If the first ‘way of the Church’ is the family, it should also be said that the civilization of love is also the ‘way of the Church’, which journeys through the world and summons families to this way; it summons also other social, national and international institutions, because of families and through families. The family in fact depends for several reasons on the civilization of love, and finds therein the reasons for its existence as family. And at the same time the family is the centre and the heart of the civilization of love,” John Paul II wrote (LTF 13).

Bollman said that by telling families that they were at the heart of the Church, it called them to holiness in a way that hadn’t yet been articulated.

“The vast majority of people become holy as a husband and father and wife and mother, not in spite of that,” Bollman said.   John Paul II’s teachings on the family are at the foundation of Bollman’s work at Paradisus Dei, which includes a couple’s ministry, and That Man is You, a ministry for men that particularly focuses on their roles as husbands and fathers.

“Our tagline is, "Helping families discover the superabundance of God." That's what we are is we're all about family and finding God within the family,” he said.

The family in crisis

Staudt called John Paul II’s letter “prophetic”, because it addresses not only the crucial importance of the family’s place in society, but some of the key ways it is under attack.

And if attacks on the family were urgent in 1994, they are all the more so today, Staudt said.

“John Paul's famous line from the letter: ‘The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family,’ is actually chilling at this point,” Staudt noted, “because what we're seeing is that we don't have hope for the future, we're not investing for the future of society or for the Church. We're just living for the present moment for our own selfish desires. So I think John Paul was already recognizing that the foundation of society itself is already in jeopardy, if people are not getting married, if they're not having kids, they're saying no to the future.”

According to Pew Research, the marriage rate in the United States is currently hovering at around 50 percent, meaning half of U.S. adults aged 18 and older are married, a steep decline compared to the peak rate of 72 percent in 1960. The fertility rate is also at a 30-year low in the United States, and sits below replacement levels. As of 2014, less than half of children were living in a traditional nuclear home with their married mother and father.

By many measures, marriage and family life today are in crisis, in ways that are perhaps even more pronounced than when John Paul II wrote this letter.

“I think the ‘crisis of concepts’ that John Paul II speaks of is an enormous challenge for the family today,” Sr. John Mary, S.V., of the Sisters of Life, told CNA.

“Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound ‘crisis of truth?’” John Paul II wrote. “A crisis of truth means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts. Do the words ‘love’, ‘freedom’, ‘sincere gift’, and even ‘person’ and ‘rights of the person’, really convey their essential meaning?” This crisis now seems to be even more profound than when the Pope first wrote these words, Sr. John Mary, S.V., a Sister of Life, told CNA.

“Even more so today than when the Letter to Families was written, modern culture does not recognize the truth of who the human person is, what we are made for, what constitutes a family, what freedom and human rights are,” she said. “So to truly live Christian family life becomes more and more radically countercultural. John Paul II addresses this in the letter by proposing the anthropology that corrects this crisis of concepts and allows for a civilization of love to grow by way of marriage and family,” she noted.

Another major challenge faced by families is the “radical individualism” present in current culture, Sr. John Mary said, which is something else John Paul II addressed in the letter.

According to John Paul II, radical individualism is “based on a faulty notion of freedom and proposes personalism as the antidote,” Sr. John Mary said. “The family is the first place where love is given and received.  But if parents do not model authentic, self-giving love to their children, families become groups of persons pursuing their own selfish ends,” she said.

The ‘antidote’: John Paul II’s cure for a sick society

Though John Paul II’s descriptions of these crises and the current state of affairs of marriage and family in the world paint a dark picture, John Paul also provides for families and the Church a way out.

Bill Donaghy is a senior lecturer and content specialist with the Theology of the Body Institute. The mission of the Institute is to educate and train men and women to understand, live, and promote John Paul II’s teachings in his Theology of the Body.

Donaghy told CNA that not only does he consider John Paul II’s Letter to Families the blueprint to how to live a holy life personally as a husband and father, he also considers it the “antidote” to everything that goes against a “civilization of love.”

“Without a doubt in my mind, in the providence of God Who could foresee today’s crisis in marriage and the family, the attempt to redefine marriage and the explosion of gender ideologies that detach our identity from our humanity, St. John Paul II’s thought is the antidote, the cure, the clear truth of who we are and how we are to live as human persons made by Love,” he said.

“I think the vision presented in this letter is actually more relevant now than it was 25 years ago,” he said. “It contains the secret for our joy, the mystical meaning of marriage, the way home for the prodigal sons and daughters who’ve tried everything else to bring us joy and failed to find it.”

For himself, Donaghy said building the “civilization of love” starts in his own home - by treating his wife with love and respect, by spending time with and listening to his children, by modeling sacrificial love. At the parish level, he said the Church must help families by creating space for “real human interaction, conversation, and formation.”

“Again, the 'Letter to Families' is a goldmine of a teaching, a school of love for humanity. But we’ve got to make time and space for it to enter into the everyday dynamics of our own family,” he said.

Staudt too told CNA that the words and teachings of Pope John Paul II on the family have deeply inspired his work in family ministry.

“It really is through John Paul's teachings, the letter and his other teachings...that I've discerned that the way to build Christian culture is through family life,” Staudt, who is also the father of 6, told CNA.

For the Building Family Culture retreats that he leads, Staudt said that he focuses on teaching families how to pray, the importance of which is heavily emphasized by John Paul II in his letter.

“Prayer must become the dominant element of the Year of the Family in the Church: prayer by the family, prayer for the family, and prayer with the family,” John Paul II wrote. “Prayer increases the strength and spiritual unity of the family, helping the family to partake of God's own ‘strength.’”
“I think we take that for granted, that families know how to pray, and I don't think they do. So I think that's the foundation, that's the core, and John Paul does talk a lot about that,” he said. After prayer, he also focuses on how to build a family culture, which includes doing things that form children’s imagination in positive and beautiful ways.

Staudt said he hopes that more in family ministry “wake up” to the urgency of helping families become what John Paul II has called them to be.

“I don't think enough people have woken up to the urgency in supporting family life and really making that a priority in their parishes, their dioceses, in catechesis, in evangelization,” he said.  

“John Paul I think is truly prophetic in pointing us to the fundamental realities of man, woman, human love, family life as crucial for the Church and society at this time, that these are the key issues that we need to face.”

Sr. John Mary and the Sisters of Life say they help build a “civilization of love” through the women they help in crisis pregnancies, the women they counsel after abortions, or the young people who are early on in their journey of faith.

Sr. John May said that because John Paul II was speaking about universal truths of the human person, his words will continue to be relevant for families and the Church throughout time. “John Paul’s Letter to Families explores universal truths: the goodness of the human person, the dignity of marriage, and the very real challenges facing families today,” she said. “Marriage and family are God’s plan to satisfy the universal longings of the human heart, so speaking of them is always timely.”

“We are all called to do something great with our life and our love,” she added. “We are made for love and communion with God and others. John Paul II reminds us of this lofty call, and encourages us that true love is possible.”  




Cardinal Dolan says Cuomo leveled 'insults' against the Church

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 17:48

New York City, N.Y., Jan 29, 2019 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York said Monday that New York’s governor has insulted the Church, flaunted publicly his dissent from Catholic doctrine, and celebrated the Jan. 22 signing of the  states “ghoulish radical abortion-expansion law.”

“Instead of admitting that abortion is always a tragic choice, and that life-giving alternatives should be more vigorously promoted, the governor and his ‘progressive’ supporters celebrated signing the bill. At the governor’s command, even the lights of the Freedom Tower sparkled with delight,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote in a Jan. 28 op-ed in the New York Post.

The state’s recently passed Reproductive Health Act, Dolan said, “allows for an abortion right up to the moment of birth; drops all charges against an abortionist who allows an aborted baby, who somehow survives the scissors, scalpel, saline and dismemberment, to die before his eyes; mandates that, to make an abortion more convenient and easy, a physician need not perform it; and might even be used to suppress the conscience rights of health care professionals not to assist in the grisly procedures.”

“All this in a state that already had the most permissive abortion laws in the country,” the cardinal added.

“Those who once told us that abortion had to remain safe, legal and rare now have made it dangerous, imposed and frequent.”

Dolan said that Cuomo had also unfairly characterized the Catholic Church’s engagement with a state bill concerning statutes of limitations for sexual abuse cases.

The bill, the NY Child Victims Act, passed Jan. 28, met with some initial resistance from New York’s bishops, who had expressed concern about retroactive provisions in the bill. Once those provisions were amended, the state’s bishops dropped their concerns.

But Dolan said Cuomo had leveled “insults and caricatures” against the Church, while trying to “blame the church, and only the church, for blocking this bill.”

Dolan said that New York’s bishops “have long supported a reform of the inadequate laws around the sexual abuse of minors. Yes, we and many others expressed reservations about one element, the retroactive elimination of the civil statute of limitations, but urged dramatic reform that, in many ways, was tougher than what was being proposed by legislators. A month ago we renewed that stance, and even dropped our objections to the ‘look-back’ section if all victims would benefit. The governor was aware of all this.”

Dolan’s criticisms of Cuomo were direct: “Why would he publicly brag in a political address about his dissent from timeless and substantive church belief? Why would he quote Pope Francis out of context as an applause line to misrepresent us bishops here as being opposed to our Holy Father? Why did he reduce the sexual abuse of minors, a broad societal and cultural curse that afflicts every family, public school, religion and government program, to a ‘Catholic problem?’”

“I’m a pastor, not a politician, but I feel obliged to ask these questions, as daily do I hear them from my people, as well as colleagues from other creeds. I’ve been attacked in the past when I asked — sadly and reluctantly — if the party that my folks proudly claimed as their own, the Democrats, had chosen to alienate faithful Catholic voters. Now you know why I asked,” Dolan added.

Dolan said that while the state’s Democrats purport to be progressive, their recent abortion bill is anything but.

The Democrats for Life of America agreed.

In a Jan. 29 statement, the group said that “Abortion is big business in New York with unlimited public funding and an abortion rate twice the national average.  The Governor’s new law will not address the high abortion rate, nor will it help pregnant women who feel pressured or coerced into abortion. The law will help influential and financially flush abortion corporations increase their customer base and profit margin.” “One in three aborted children were African American and one in four were Hispanic. The new law further exploits women, particularly minority populations who are overrepresented in these numbers,” the group said.
“We call on New York legislators – particularly Democrats – to embark on a mission to make New York, the state, have the lowest abortion rate in the Nation. The estimated $18 million that would be spent yearly on abortion, could be put toward programs to prevent pregnancy including contraction and sex education, prenatal and postnatal healthcare, public housing, affordable child care, and paid maternity leave. Furthermore, we recommend outreach to minority communities to vastly bring down the perceived targeting of women and babies of color.”

“As Democrats, we advocate for progressive solutions to problems facing the weakest in society: the poor, minorities, women, and children—even if they are yet to be born. New York should repeal this anti-women law and no other state should replicate it.”

While Dolan has been outspoken in his opposition to the abortion law, and Cuomo’s support for it, some Catholics have called for him to excommunicate or impose some other canonical sanctions on the governor, but Dolan has recently indicated he is unlikely to do so. The cardinal’s office did not respond to a request from CNA for comments on that possibility.


NY abortion law ends ‘common sense’ protection for pregnant women, Catholic Democrat says

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 17:00

New York City, N.Y., Jan 29, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A prominent Catholic theologian and Democrat has said that new pro-abortion legislation in New York diminishes legal protections for pregnant women facing violence from a partner.


In a Jan. 28 op-ed for the New York Daily News, Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University in the Bronx, argued that the removal of abortion from the criminal code altogether also eliminates the potential to charge men who attack pregnant women with the crime of killing unborn children.


“It has always been difficult for abortion activists to explain how they can consider a fetus a mere object to be killed and discarded in an abortion context — while in other legal contexts she can be considered a human being who is killed via homicide. Indeed, many U.S. states have explicit laws against fetal homicide,” Camosy wrote.


The theologian, who also sits on the board of Democrats for Life of America, noted that New York stopped treating unborn children differently under different parts of the law through the Reproductive Health Act. But, he said, this was done at the cost of “common sense.”


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


The Reproductive Health Act was signed into law last week, on the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which found a constitutional right to abortion. More recently, pro-abortion advocates have become concerned that the decision may be reviewed or even overturned by the Supreme Court, prompting a new wave of abortion protections at the state level.


In his column, Camosy also said that pregnant women are disproportionately likely to suffer violent trauma, and to die from it.


“The disturbing relationship between pregnancy and violence is persistent, and one of many reasons both pro-life feminists and reproductive justice activists believe it is often a mistake to speak as if women are genuinely ‘choosing’ abortion at all. Indeed, there is a strong correlation between women who seek abortions and those who are facing violence from an intimate partner,” Camosy wrote.


Homicide is now the second leading cause of death among pregnant women in the United States.


According to Camosy, legislators and New York governor Andrew Cuomo were presented with a choice between broadening access to abortion and protecting women from violence, and that not only did they choose abortion, they did so over the wishes and interests of most women.


“When confronted with a choice between refusing to punish illegal abortion in the criminal code and giving women this added protection from violence, the governor of New York chose the former,” he wrote, noting that Cuomo had previously declined to support legislation on pay equity and pregnancy discrimination unless it included late term abortion provisions.


Recent data suggests that the majority of Americans across political parties favor restrictions on abortion, with only a minority supporting the availability of late term abortions. According to a poll conducted earlier this month, on 25 percent of self-described “pro-choice” Americans favor abortion at any time in the pregnancy.


“Men often get criticized for being publicly skeptical of abortion rights — the implication being that they ought to stay out of the debate and leave it to women,” Camosy concluded.


“Interestingly, however, men like Cuomo get almost no criticism for being publicly in favor of abortion rights — even when significantly more women than men support legal restrictions on late-term abortion.”

How a Pennsylvania tax credit program works for Catholic schools

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 16:49

Harrisburg, Pa., Jan 29, 2019 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For Catholics sympathetic to Catholic schools, the financial expense of tuition is always a concern. But continuing efforts from donors and recent programs like Pennsylvania’s tax credit system are opening new ways to make tuition affordable for Catholic and other private schools.

“Many people who would benefit from a Catholic education are afraid they couldn’t afford it,” Dr. Greg Bisignani, an orthopedic surgeon in the Greensburg area, told the Pittsburgh Tribune. “My personal goal is no one will be able to use the excuse that they can’t afford it again.”

Bisignani chairs the advisory council and enrollment committee at Greensburg Central Catholic High School. He said the Diocese of Greensburg doubled its scholarship fund in 2018 and aims to grow it each year.

Pennsylvania’s Education Improvement Tax Credit program, which dates to 2001, allows any company that does business in Pennsylvania and owes state taxes to apply to the program for approval to join organizations that Pennsylvania recognizes as “special purpose entities.” If the application is approved, they can divert state taxes to a scholarship organization and receive business tax credits.

Donations go directly to a state-approved Opportunity Scholarship Organization which then distributes it to a school or schools. Donors can claim up to a 90 percent tax credit on a two year-commitment against their state taxes, Catholic Philly reports.

The tax credit-funded scholarship program is not limited to low-income families. A family of four with two children can earn up to about $116,000 a year before hitting eligibility limits set by Pennsylvania. For each additional child, the cap increases by about $15,600.

About 66 percent of Pennsylvania families with children are eligible for the program. In 2017, the program produced more than 34,000 scholarships for Pennsylvania students at participating private schools, according to figures from the school choice advocacy group EdChoice, formerly known as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation. The average scholarship value was more than $1,600.

In 2014, legislators expanded the donor base by allowing individuals to divert their state taxes to the program through membership in a special purpose entity.

Michael Lucotch, director of development for the Greensburg diocese, told the Pittsburgh Tribune that the 2014 modification was “a game changer.” The total of available tax credits was not affected but it widened the pool of potential donors in the diocese, with increased participation from Catholic parishioners.

“It allows participants to redirect their personal income tax obligation to a Catholic school of their choice for use as tuition assistance,” Lucotch said.

The availability of funding depends on both participation from donors and on allocation limits set by the state legislature. The most recent state budget allocates $160 million statewide to the EITC program. Another $50 million goes to the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, for which only about eight percent of Pennsylvania families with school-age children are eligible.

In 2018 about there were about 4,900 applications seeking the tax credit, an increase from 4,100 in 2014.

In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia the Foundation for Catholic Education aims to distribute over $2.4 million in grants this year to parish schools and regional Catholic schools, Catholic Philly reports. In addition to fundraising through galas and direct donations, it also takes advantage of the opportunities provided by the tax credit program.

The Greensburg diocese established its Scholarship Partners Foundation to take part in the tax credit program. It promoted its scholarship program through the Central Pennsylvania Scholarship Organization.

There are about 2,300 students in the Greensburg diocese’s 11 elementary schools and two high schools. Many students who begin in the diocese’s Catholic elementary schools leave between junior high and high school, when tuition increases from about $6,000 per year to almost $9,000.

Backers of Catholic schools hope Pennsylvania’s tax credit programs and other aid can help reverse a steep decline in enrollment.

In the Greensburg diocese’s elementary schools, enrollment dropped 35 percent from the 2007-2008 school year to the 2017-2018 school year. Its high school enrollment dropped 31 percent.

For the Diocese of Pittsburgh, school enrollment numbers fell from 26,000 to 17,000.

While Pennsylvania public school enrollment numbers have also declined in the same period, they fell only by two percent, the Pittsburgh Tribune says.

The National Catholic Education Association said its member schools witnessed a decline of 19.4 percent in enrollment. Declining enrollment means school closures and mergers.

The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program dates back to 2012 legislation. It allows eligible residents living in the catchment boundaries of a school with low-achievement on student assessments to apply for a scholarship to attend another school, whether public or non-public. About eight percent of students are eligible in Pennsylvania. About 14,500 scholarships were awarded from 2016-2017, with an average value of about $2,400.

Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, 2019 marks Catholic Schools Week. Many Catholic school systems are marking the event by highlighting the contributions of schools and holding open houses for prospective students, their parents and the community.

Georgetown Law helps Texas diocese fight border wall

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 15:15

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2019 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- In a fight to prevent a section of the border wall from being built on diocesan land, a Texas diocese is being assisted by the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), in Washington, DC. The ICAP filed a brief in support of the diocese in late December.


The Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, is due in court next week to contest a claim of eminent domain by the United States government.


If the border wall is constructed as planned, it would cut off access to the La Lomita chapel, which would be on the southern portion of the wall. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville said that he does not support the construction of a border wall as he finds it in contrary to Catholic teaching.


“The bishop, as the representative of the Catholic Church in the diocese of Brownsville, believes that building the border wall is likely to cause harm to human life and is also contrary to Catholic principles of the universality of human relations,” Amy Marshak, who is one of the ICAP attorneys representing the diocese, told CNA.


The La Lomita chapel in Mission, TX, is located very close to the Rio Grande River and the U.S. border with Mexico. The small chapel does not have regular Sunday services or a congregation, but is affiliated with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, located about a 10-minute drive away. The chapel is in part maintained by the city of Mission.


“It’s a really spiritual place for many people,” Marshak explained. The chapel plays host to a Palm Sunday procession each year and is sometimes used for funerals and weddings.


The ICAP came to be involved in the case after diocesan attorney David Garza sought assistance for various aspects of the suit related to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


“We’re a constitutional advocacy impact litigation office at Georgetown Law Center, so it fit our mission and we thought it was such a compelling case,” said Marshak. She told CNA she was able to visit Mission and was able to see first hand how the chapel plays an important role in the community.


The possibility of a border wall is “affecting their community in a really meaningful way,” said Marshak. “I think that's just an important thing for me to remember how personal and how local this is for the people who are down there."


There will be a hearing next week on the U.S. government’s eminent domain request to survey the land surrounding La Lomita for preparations for the border wall. The government is seeking to access the land for soil testing, among other things.


Bishop Flores is “unwilling to do anything that facilitates [the construction of a wall],” Marshak explained. While he is not going to give permission for the government to survey the land and potentially construct a wall, Marshak explained that the bishop would comply with a court order.


“If the government is otherwise able to do that through a court order that doesn’t require the bishop to do anything, then the fact that he is unwilling to facilitate it probably cannot stop [the construction of a wall], which we recognize in our brief,” said Marshak.

NY Child Victims Act passes, Cuomo takes aim at bishops

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 11:35

New York City, N.Y., Jan 29, 2019 / 09:35 am (CNA).- New York state legislators yesterday passed the Child Victims Act. The new measure extends the period of time in which both civil suits and criminal charges can be brought in cases of child abuse. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the act into law in the coming days.


The act, versions which had been passed by the state assembly six times over the last twelve years, was given approval by the state senate for the first time on Jan. 28, passing 63-0.


The act allows for victims of child abuse to bring civil charges against their abuser until the age of 55, previously this had been 23. Criminal prosecutions can be brought up to the age of 28.


The act also creates a one-year window for victims of any age to come forward.


Previous versions of the bill drew a distinction between private and public institutions, broadening the scope for the law for the former but shielding the latter. The most recent version eliminated this disparity, allowing lawsuits to be filed for allegations of abuse in public schools.


The bishops of New York issued a joint statement in response to the bill.


“We pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation,” the bishops wrote.


“The legislation now recognizes that child sexual abuse is an evil not just limited to one institution, but a tragic societal ill that must be addressed in every place where it exists.”


Director of the New York Catholic Conference, Dennis Poust, told CNA that the conference supported the changes and had not opposed the final version of the act.


“For years, we have advocated against treating abuse survivors differently depending on where they were abused,” he said.


Although the NY Catholic Conference did not oppose the bill, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who had previously told state legislators he “stood with Pope Francis” in supporting the bill, used its passage to take aim at the state’s bishops.


On Monday he told WAMC radio in Albany that the bishops of the state were an obstacle to bringing justice for abuse victims.


“I think the bishops have worked to protect the church over doing justice,” he said. “They compounded the problem by covering it up and not taking responsibility . . . I don’t think I’m against the Catholic Church. I think the bishops may have a different position than the pope, and I’m with the pope.”


In response, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told the television show Fox & Friends that “we have a governor that takes quotes from Pope Francis out of context to draw lines between bishops of New York and the Holy Father himself.”


Poust told CNA he was “puzzled” by the Cuomo’s comments.


“Previous versions of the bill sought to shield public institutions, which would have treated abuse survivors differently depending on where they suffered their abuse. Thankfully, the bill’s sponsors amended this, and the conference dropped any opposition to its passage,” Poust said.


“Why the governor has doubled, or even tripled down on his criticisms of the Church in recent days I couldn’t say for sure, though I would note he shared our reservations on previous versions of the bill until recently.”


“In the wake of recent abortion legislation, the governor seems to think the Church is a useful common enemy to have with some legislators.”


The bishops’ statement said that “sadly, we in the Church know all too well the devastating toll of abuse on survivors, their families, and the extended community. Every Catholic diocese in New York has taken important steps to support survivors of child sexual abuse, including the implementation of reconciliation and compensation programs.”


“We are proud that these pioneering programs have not only helped well more than a thousand survivors of clergy abuse in New York, but have also become a model for how to help survivors in other states and in other institutions,” the bishops wrote.


Poust told CNA that "it’s truly unfortunate that Gov. Cuomo continues to portray the social issue of child sexual abuse as a Catholic-only problem. Thankfully, the legislature and victim advocates understand this is not the case.”

Love God? Let your music aim high, Archbishop Sample says

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 19:16

Portland, Ore., Jan 28, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sacred music has a special role in the Catholic liturgy, and Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon has written a pastoral letter reflecting on how Catholics can help provide the best music for Mass.

“We should always aim high to offer God the best and the most beautiful music of which we are capable,” Archbishop Sample said. Mass requires an “art of celebrating” in which perhaps nothing is more important than the place of sacred music.
Citing a sermon of St. Augustine, he said, “the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love.”
The archbishop’s pastoral letter, “Sing to the Lord a New Song”, was dated Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Sample voiced hope the letter will be well received in the archdiocese and help advance “an authentic renewal of the Sacred Liturgy according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the mind of the Church.”
Sacred music has a twofold purpose: “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.” This has serious implications for its place in divine worship.
Sample’s pastoral letter traces teachings about sacred music from various popes and councils of the Church.
Benedict XVI said that the Church has created, and still creates “music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love.” This heritage “must not be lost.”
Pope Francis, too, has lamented “a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality” in liturgical celebrations that acts to the detriment of their “beauty and intensity.”
According to Sample, there are “serious challenges in our own day” for efforts to seek to renew the liturgy “in a way that respects, fosters and promotes the true nature of the Mass itself.”
He criticized the reduction of music selection at Mass to “a matter of subjective ‘taste’.” Liturgical music is not simply “an addendum to worship” or something external added on to the form and structure of Mass.
“Rather, sacred music is an essential element of worship itself,” he said. “It is an art form which takes its life and purpose from the Sacred Liturgy and is part of its very structure.”
Because sacred music is so essential, Catholics must reject the common idea that four songs can be chosen and “tacked on.” Sacred music’s role is “to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself, not just ornament it.”
Sacred music, rightly understood, has three qualities of “sanctity, beauty and universality.”
Quoting St. Pius X, Sample said sacred music must “exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.” The documents of the Second Vatican Council say sacred music is more holy the more closely connected it is with the liturgical action, “whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.”
Everything associated with the Mass must be beautiful, to reflect “the infinite beauty and goodness of the God we worship.” Pope Francis has said liturgical and sacred music can be “a powerful instrument of evangelization, because it gives people a glimpse of the beauty of heaven.”
Sample explained that universality in music means “any composition of sacred music, even one which reflects the unique culture of a particular region, would still be easily recognized as having a sacred character.” Holiness is “a universal principle that transcends culture.”
There is a lack of understanding and confusion about what music is proper to Mass, the archbishop said, adding, “not every form or style of music is capable of being rendered suitable.” A Gloria set in a polka beat or in a rock music style is not sacred music, because these styles, however delightful in a dance hall or concert setting, do not have the qualities of sanctity, beauty and universality proper to sacred music.
While all forms of genuine sacred music have spiritual and emotional impact, there is “a necessary divide” between sacred music and “what generally we call entertainment.”
Sample reflected on the treasury of sacred music. Gregorian chant should enjoy a “pride of place” in the Roman liturgy, according to the Second Vatican Council, and the faithful should be led to sing in Gregorian chant as far as is proper as a way to participate in the liturgy.
Sample acknowledged that Gregorian chant does not presently enjoy pride of place; it is rarely if ever heard. He said this situation must be addressed with “great effort and serious catechesis” to help it more widely become a normal part of the Mass.
Other forms of sacred music which accord with the spirit of the liturgy are not excluded, especially polyphony. Sample cited composers such as Palestrina, Victoria, Tallis, and Allegri.
His general guidelines include an explanation of the right understanding of “active participation” in the liturgy.

He said that “popular” sacred music doesn’t mean the music of pop culture, but rather “forms of sacred music suited to the musical abilities of the people.”
Sacred music is native not only to Europe but draws on organic developments among other peoples who are part of the Latin rite. Music that is truly “sacred” in their cultures deserves due consideration to help adapt worship and to help form their attitudes towards religion.
He criticized as erroneous the idea that lyrics alone determine whether a song is sacred or secular.
He praised musicians who worked hard to accomplish the goals of the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, he said much of his letter may contravene their musical formation.
This contradiction should not be interpreted as criticism of “those dedicated church musicians who have offered their service with a generous heart and with good will.”
Musicians and music directors should have opportunities for ongoing education and liturgical formation. Musicians bear much of the responsibility for bringing beauty to liturgical celebrations. Pastors should encourage them to “aspire to the highest levels of beauty in sacred music” and musicians should be sure to practice, rehearse, and prepare their contributions to worship.
Sample says sacred music directors deserve “just compensation” for their time, skills, experience and training. The renewal of liturgical music includes “a solid musical education for clergy and laity.” He encouraged church musicians to join or form associations “committed to an authentic implementation” of the Church’s instructions on sacred liturgy and sacred music.
Even parishes and missions without a large talent pool and other resources should work to provide sacred music that fits best with their abilities.

Pre-recorded music may not substitute for actual musicians. At the same time, music serves the needs of the liturgy, it does not dominate. Music “should not seek to entertain or draw attention to itself or the musicians.”
The location and self-presentation of musicians in the church building is also important to consider. They and their instruments should never be located in the sanctuary, except for cantors and psalmists at the appropriate time. Where musicians are visible, they should strive not to draw attention to themselves.
Bishops and their cathedral parishes have a special duty to ensure archdiocesan liturgies are “exemplary” in adhering to musical norms. Musical standards should have their fullest practice at the Chrism Mass, ordinations, and other liturgies the archbishop celebrates with the clergy and the lay faithful.
Sample’s pastoral letter considers many other aspects, from church acoustics to the importance of silence.
“Silence in the liturgy allows the community to reflect on what it has heard and experienced, and to open its heart to the mystery celebrated,” he said.
Every parish should have a sung Mass every Sunday, offered “with consistency and with the greatest care and attention the community can give it,” the archbishop said.
The pipe organ should have “pride of place” as the instrument “most in harmony with the spirit of the Roman liturgy.” Despite its diminished use, Catholics must be willing to invest for the future. The archbishop encouraged all parishes to include the pipe organ in their repertoire.
Other musical instruments must truly contribute to the beauty and sanctity of the Mass. Instruments like electric guitars “are not suitable for accompaniment at Holy Mass,” and the rock drummer set is “never appropriate.”
Sample entrusted the effort to improve sacred music to St. Cecilia, the patroness of church musicians, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculately Conceived.
“May the renewal and reform of sacred music in the Archdiocese of Portland lead us together to a beautiful and worthy celebration of the sacred mysteries of the Holy Mass, for the glory of God and the sanctification of all the faithful,” he said.
As Bishop of Marquette, Sample wrote a 2013 pastoral letter “Rejoice in the Lord Always” on sacred music. He said he thought the previous letter promoted “universal and enduring” values and ideas that are “as valid today as they were then.”

New state-level laws show time is running out for Roe, pro-lifers say

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Efforts are underway across several states to codify and expand abortion rights in state law. Pro-life advocates told CNA the moves signal a growing acceptance by abortion advocates that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade could be either overturned or revised.

Several states, including New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, have either passed new laws expanding abortion access or are moving towards removing old laws from the statute books that would criminalize or limit abortion in the event of a change at the federal level.

“Advocates of abortion seem finally to recognize that Roe is destined to be overturned on the federal level, and so are shifting their fight to create rights to abortion on the state level,” Steven H. Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel of Americans United for Life told CNA.

Aden said that he believes the shift to state-level politics shows that abortion advocates “implicitly acknowledge what advocates for life have pointed out since Roe--that there is no constitutional right to abortion.”

“While the expansion of abortion in states like New York is extreme, unscientific, and lamentable, the state level is, at least, the correct level at which abortion issues should be decided and the level which allows Americans to directly impact the culture of their state," Aden added.

New York recently passed one of the most expansive abortion laws in the country, the Reproductive Health Act. This law permits abortion for any reason through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy and afterwards if a medical professional deems it necessary to protect the health of the mother.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said that the pro-life movement has made “significant strides,” particularly in the confirmation of pro-life judges onto federal courts.

“The growing effort by states to codify Roe v. Wade into law signals that the pro-abortion forces are panicking,” Mancini told CNA. “Many states already have laws on the books that protect both mother and child in the case that Roe v. Wade is overturned.”

Mancini also pointed to recent polling that shows that most Americans are in favor of states deciding their own abortion policies if the Supreme Court were to overturn the decision. She said that is “clear” that states attempting to expand abortion access are “working against the American consensus.”

A January poll conducted by Marist and the Knights of Columbus showed that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed would like the Supreme Court to either outlaw abortion entirely, or allow states to make individual regulations. Prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, individual states regulated abortion independently.  

Archbishop Coakley: Keep tilling the 'good soil' of discipleship

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 17:52

Oklahoma City, Okla., Jan 28, 2019 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- Being and making disciples of Christ is a life-long project that requires a continued renewal of focus and recommitment to the Lord, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said in his new pastoral letter.

“It is my prayer that we continue to advance in a direction that bears abundant fruit in the coming years, even ‘thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.’ I call you to be disciples and go make disciples! This is why we are here! This is our mission,” he said.  

Five years ago, Coakley released “Go Make Disciples,” a multi-year vision of holiness and mission for his Archdiocese. It laid out three specific areas of missionary need, including the new evangelization, Hispanic ministry and faith formation.

In his new letter, titled “Go Make Disciples: Building a Culture of Conversion and Discipleship” Coakley looks back and gives thanks for the good fruit born in the archdiocese since the first letter, and he also shares his desire for the archdiocese to recommit to discipleship and evangelization in new ways.

“Much has happened in the past five years, and there is much to celebrate,” he said, noting the establishment of a new evangelization office, the strengthening of faith formation, and the “tremendous momentum” within the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry.

Coakley’s letter also gave thanks for the beatification of Blessed Stanley Rother in 2017, a “momentous occasion (that) marked a new chapter in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and attracted Catholics and non-Catholics from around the world to celebrate the life and witness of the first U.S.-born martyr and parish priest ever beatified,” he said.

“We celebrate these accomplishments and acknowledge the undeniable signs of God’s grace and favor,” he said. “We never would have accomplished these things without his divine assistance. God always takes the initiative. He awaits our response.”

Amid these blessings, Coakley also recognized the time of crisis that the Church as a whole is currently undergoing.

“...I am aware of our struggles and scandals as well,” he said. “We are living through a time of crisis in our beloved Church due to recent revelations of sexual abuse and the abuse of power, and violations of trust by members of the clergy, the very men in whom we should be able to recognize the loving image of Christ the Good Shepherd. Such an evil betrayal understandably provokes anger, confusion and sadness.”

“In these times when our faith may be shaken, we must turn to God and humbly rededicate ourselves to repentance and the pursuit of holiness. God has not abandoned us. He will always be faithful, even when we are not.” In these times of both blessings and challenges, the call to be and make disciples is always being renewed, but the ultimate goal “has not changed,” Coakley noted. “We are called to be disciples; called to pursue holiness and mission; called to become saints. We are still called to evangelize, to be witnesses, and to live authentic lives as missionary disciples. After five years, we have greater clarity and alignment in our mission.”

His new letter aims to chart out the direction of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City for the next 12 years, he said, with plans to both attract new disciples and to nourish those already on the way.

“The deepest desire of my heart is to see the Church of central and western Oklahoma flourish as a community of faith that nurtures and raises up fervent missionary disciples,” he said. “Our task is to prepare good soil to receive the seed of faith.” In his letter, Coakley asked the members of his archdiocese to meditate on the parable of the sower, found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 13. In the parable, seed is sown on three types of soil - hard soil, rocky ground, and good soil. The seed in the parable is a symbol for the Word of God, while the soil symbolizes a person’s heart and disposition towards the word of God. Coakley encouraged Catholics in his archdiocese to consider what kind of soil they had in their hearts. “How well does one dispose oneself not only to the seed of faith, but to all else that God provides to help with the growth – spiritual nourishment, the watering of grace, the fellowship of other believers?”

It would be a mistake to think one’s heart only contains one kind of soil, he added.

“These varied soils are present in the hearts of each one of us. In our hearts, we all experience hardness. Sometimes our hearts are rocky ground or the thorny soil. All of us face temptations and distractions. There are things that divide our hearts and compete for our allegiance and diminish our fruitfulness,” he noted. “But, we all have good soil as well, and we are invited to constantly cooperate with grace to expand our receptivity to God’s Word in our hearts. Indeed, the primary work of a spiritual life is to cooperate with God’s grace and cultivate the good soil in our hearts to rid ourselves of those things that compete, distract and hinder our receptivity to God’s life-giving Word.” There are many things present in today’s world that can choke off the Word taking root in good soil, Coakley noted.

He mentioned busyness, distraction, and even legitimate responsibilities as things that can overwhelm disciples if they are not careful. He also mentioned the “noise” of the world through constantly available technology as a possible obstacle to fruitful faith, as well as a culture, “practical” atheism that permeates much of the world today, which acts as though God does not exist. The flesh can also be a serious source of temptation and can pull Catholics away from their work as missionary disciples, he noted. “Missionary discipleship is the fruit of good soil. If the goal throughout our archdiocese is to make more disciples, then we must address these kinds of obstacles, and do all we can to prepare good soil in our hearts,” he said. And not only do disciples need to understand the obstacles they face, but they also need to actively till the “good soil” in their lives so that they do not grow complacent, Coakley said.

“God loves each of us and desires to pursue such a relationship with us. He invites us to make room for him in our daily lives,” he said.

“One of our most life-altering discoveries when we embrace the call of discipleship is to recognize that all time belongs to Christ,” he said. “The person who says he never finds time for prayer, obviously has never made time for prayer. Going to Mass, frequenting the Sacraments, spending time in prayer, taking time for fellowship with other believers, spending time in study of the Scriptures or Church teaching, serving the poor, lifting up the lowly, the corporal works of mercy, etc., are all ways we can use the gift of time in the pursuit of holiness rather than merely for what we desire.” “Till the soil of your heart, be generous in your response to Christ,” he added. “Say ‘yes’ to him and embrace the call to holiness. Be a disciple and accept his challenge to go and make more disciples!” In the final part of his letter, Coakley outlined four things necessary for the building and maintaining of missionary disciples: encounter, accompaniment, community, and sending forth. These will be guiding pastoral priorities that the archdiocese will focus on in the coming years, he noted, and called on priests, religious and lay faith leaders to work to articulate a clear path forward for missionary disciples who must experience personal conversion and evangelization.

First of all, a disciple must have a personal encounter with the Lord, he said. “It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him; not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly; not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it; and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to,” he said, quoting Pope Francis. Second, a disciple must be accompanied on their journey with the Lord, which includes catechesis and a deepening of formation, Coakley said. Third, a disciple needs a community of faith.

“Evangelization invites someone not only into relationship with Jesus, but also into relationship with everyone else who is in relationship with him. This is the community we know as the Church, which is brought together by the unique work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And finally, missionary disciples must be sent forth to create more missionary disciples, he noted. “Holiness and communion lead necessarily to mission. We cannot separate the call to holiness and communion from the universal call to mission, that is, to the work of evangelization,” he said, referencing his first letter.

Coakley entrusted the mission of building and sending missionary disciples to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“As we renew our commitment to this journey of conversion and discipleship, I entrust our archdiocese to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization,” he said.

“As her appearance to Saint Juan Diego at Tepeyac became a wellspring of grace in the evangelization of the Americas, may her intercession today lead us to encounter Jesus anew. Under her spotless mantle may she form us as his missionary disciples for the evangelization of our homes, our parishes and our archdiocese.”

Detaining migrant children 'immoral and inhumane,' says Catholic group joining lawsuit

Sun, 01/27/2019 - 18:14

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2019 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- More than 10,000 migrant children still detained by the U.S. government are wrongly being used to lure undocumented family members into a situation where they can be detained, says a Catholic immigrant advocacy group that has joined a federal class action lawsuit seeking their release.

“We cannot allow this administration to continue to intentionally keep children away from their families, it is immoral and inhumane,” Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), said Jan. 23.

The lawsuit charges that the Trump administration aimed to deter illegal immigration by adopting a policy “to use detained immigrant children as bait to arrest immigrants who come forward to sponsor them, even while explicitly acknowledging that this would prolong the detention of immigrant children.”

This “twisted the sponsorship process” from the intentions of Congress to ensure migrant children’s safety and to place them “in the least restrictive setting as quickly as possible,” according to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 18 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Trump administration policy for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has led to the illegally prolonged detention of the migrant children, it charged.

Atkinson said the Office of Refugee Resettlement is “ignoring the law established by Congress by detaining rather than releasing the children to their loved ones.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched CLINIC in 1988 to support community-based immigration programs. CLINIC and its affiliates represent low-income migrants. The network has about 330 programs in 47 states and the District of Columbia, its website says.

CLINIC cited a late 2017 memo from the Trump administration, obtained Jan. 17, 2019, that said the administration intended this prolonged detention of children to serve as “a deterrent to migrants who want to travel to the United States.”

“Among other things, it showed that information gathered during the reunification process was being used to facilitate ICE’s efforts to arrest and deport potential sponsors and relatives of the detained youth,” said CLINIC’s statement.

As of Jan. 20, the number of children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement is at 10,700, down from a peak of 14,600 in December 2018. Lydia Holt, a spokesperson for the office, told National Public Radio.

The office abruptly streamlined its sponsor screening process last month, after a federal contractor of the largest migrant shelter, a desert tent camp in Tornillo, Texas, refused to agree to a contract extension.

On May 4, the Department of Homeland Security began referring all people crossing the border illegally to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

This “zero-tolerance policy” was implemented in response to a report that unauthorized border crossings increased 203 percent in 2017. The majority of people arriving at the U.S. border had fled Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, according to the U.N.

The goal of the policy is to prosecute 100 percent of the people who cross the border illegally, Melissa Hastings, a policy advisor for the U.S. bishops’ migration and refugee services, told CNA in June 2018.

The policy has no exceptions for families who turn themselves over to U.S. border authorities on the grounds that they are seeking legal asylum. In the majority of cases, border patrol never asks the parent or accompanying adult if they can verify their relationship, Hastings said.

Once a child is separated and their parent detained, communication between family members becomes very challenging. The shelters caring for the children have to identify where the separated parent has been detained and establish contact.

Since March of 2018 at least four federal lawsuits have been filed challenging the policy.

Migrants’ advocates say there are family members who can take in minors as an alternative to detaining the minors for months. Most underage migrants traveled from Central America alone or without a parent or legal guardian. Most ask for asylum, citing the danger of violent street gangs in their home neighborhoods, National Public Radio reports.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose longtime criticism of U.S. migration policy has become more prominent under the Trump administration, also rejected the practice of separating children and parents.

“Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, said in June 2018.

Separating families at the U.S. border “does not allay security concerns,” he said, adding, “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.”

In June 2018, the United Nations human rights office condemned the U.S. practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border as “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

CLINIC’s partners include faith-based institutions, farmworker programs, domestic violence shelters, ethnic community organizations, libraries and other entities that serve immigrants. It has about 2,300 accredited representatives and attorneys who serve hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year.

The organization has joined the class action lawsuit to an amended complaint on behalf of the approximately 10,000 detained children. The legal case is known as J.E.C.M. et al v. Lloyd et al.

The latest lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Legal Aid Justice Center and Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is not without controversy. Founded in 1971, it originally monitored persons and groups fighting the civil rights movement. It then began tracking racist and white supremacist groups like neo-Nazis and affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan. It also claims to monitor other “extremist” groups it considers to be anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim.

More recently, the SPLC has listed as “hate groups” mainstream Christian groups like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom, saying they take an “anti-LGBT” stance. The Ruth Institute has also been included in this list.

The designation has had financial consequences. The Amazon Smile donation program and payment processors have dropped several of the groups based on the listing.

In 2012, an armed shooter at the Family Research Council’s D.C. headquarters wounded a security guard before he was detained. He told FBI agents he was motivated by “their stance against gay rights” and cited the SPLC’s listing of the group as a “hate group.”