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After Supreme Court ruling, Texas bans all chaplains from execution rooms

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 02:17

Austin, Texas, Apr 5, 2019 / 12:17 am (CNA).- The state of Texas has banned all prison chaplains from its execution chamber, following a Supreme Court decision that halted the execution of a Buddist man who was denied the presence of his chaplain.

Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist, had been scheduled to die this Thursday. Murphy requested access to a Buddhist minister a month before his scheduled execution, and his request was denied because the minister was not a state employee. The prison system only allowed clerics employed by the state to enter the execution chamber. Currently, the state only employs Christian and Muslim clerics.

Seven Supreme Court justices agreed that Murphy’s rights had been violated and that his execution should be stayed. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join the majority opinion.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s newest member, authored a concurring opinion on why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had violated Murphy’s rights.

Kavanaugh said that that allowing only Christian and Muslim ministers to be present with death row inmates in the execution chamber was discriminatory, suggesting that a more just resolution would be that no chaplains be permitted in the execution chamber and instead they be allowed to sit in the viewing area.

To avoid discrimination, Kavanaugh said, the Texas prison system should either allow chaplains of all faiths into the execution chamber or else not allow any chaplains at all.

New execution procedures signed April 2 say that chaplains and ministers may “observe the execution only from the witness rooms.” Currently, friends and family of the murder victims and prisoners, as well as media, are allowed to watch executions through a glass window in small viewing rooms adjacent to the death chamber, the Texas Tribune reports.

State employed chaplains will still be made available in the viewing room if the prisoner desires.

The state’s decision to ban all chaplains from the execution chamber comes two months after the Supreme Court denied an Alabama Muslim man’s request to have his imam present at his execution, citing the last-minute nature of his request.

Murphy, together with six other inmates known collectively as the ‘Texas 7,’ was present at the scene of a 2000 robbery in Irving, TX during which members of the group killed an off-duty police officer.

All members of the 7, except one who took his own life, were sentenced to death for the officer’s murder, as Texas law permits capital punishment for those who were involved in the act of a capital crime.

The Texas Catholic Conference last week applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to stay Murphy’s execution, saying, “Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church.”

Tenn. House passes bill to protect religious liberty of adoption agencies

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 18:01

Nashville, Tenn., Apr 4, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As other US states have defunded adoption agencies that won't place children with same-sex couples, the Tennessee House on Monday passed a bill meant to ensure these agencies' religious freedom.

HB 836 was passed in the lower house of the state legislature April 1 by a 67-22 vote.

The bill would grant legal protections to adoption organizations which uphold marriage as a union between a man and woman and provides its services accordingly.

It is sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd and five other Republicans.

The bill now faces the GOP-controlled Senate. Governor Bill Lee, also a Republican, has not yet given his position on the bill.  

The measure protects religious agencies from being subjected to lawsuits for not placing children with same-sex couples. It also states that the department of children’s services cannot withhold a license from agencies that do so.

“No private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies,” the bill states.

Although religious adoption agencies in Tennessee have not been prevented from acting out of their moral convictions, the bill comes at a time when Catholic agencies in other states have been shut down or denied access to funding.  

Rudd said the bill is comparable to cautionary steps taken by Kansas and Oklahoma, who passed similar laws last year.

“We’re doing the same as nine other states have done,” said Rudd of Murfreesboro, according to the AP. “Throughout the country, these faith-based organizations have been sued to the point they’re being driven out of business due to costs.”

Critics of the bill have said the legislation would be used to permit LGBT discrimination. According to the AP, Democratic Rep. John Clemmons questioned the practicality of religious agencies turning away same-sex couples.

“We have children across this state looking for loving homes, why are we doing anything to prohibit a loving family or a couple from being able to care of a child and take it in and provide for it, why?” said Clemmons.

Laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or barring state funding from adoption agencies considered discriminatory have shut down Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, among others.

Last month, it was announced that Michigan state funds would be barred from adoption agencies for the same reason. It followed a settlement headed by the ACLU and same-sex couples against two Christian adoption agencies. The lawsuit ruled that non-discrimination provisions must be enforced within state contracts.

SCOTUS won't hear Planned Parenthood investigators' First Amendment claims

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against a pro-life group that conducted undercover investigations into possible lawbreaking in the abortion industry may proceed, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal seeking to dismiss a lawsuit.

But David Daleiden, project lead at the Center for Medical Progress, was defiant.

“The biggest losers from today’s decision are Planned Parenthood who now must go to trial on fabricated claims with zero facts, while their own leaders continue to incriminate and perjure themselves in video-taped depositions on a daily basis,” Daleiden charged in an April 1 post on Twitter.

The lawsuit, filed in 2016, charges that the Center for Medical Progress violated federal and state laws against conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, surreptitious recording, and trespassing. It charges that the group violated California law by gaining access to its facilities through fraud, and it claims the group lied to the IRS and the state of California to secure tax-exempt status.

The Center for Medical Progress has argued that the lawsuit violated California laws barring strategic legal action that aims to silence individuals or groups, known as “anti-SLAPP” laws, the political news website The Hill reports. The appeal to the Supreme Court had argued that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals failed to defend First Amendment protections.

Two members of the center face criminal charges in California.

Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas School of Law professor and Supreme Court analyst for CNN, said the Ninth Circuit had held that Planned Parenthood’s claims were strong enough to allow its lawsuit to proceed.

“By leaving that ruling intact, the justices today stayed out, at least for now, of a messy dispute over alleged mischaracterizations of Planned Parenthood’s abortion-related activities,” Vladeck told CNN.

In a Nov. 27 statement on the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Center for Medical Progress characterized Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit as “retaliation.”

“Planned Parenthood got caught selling baby parts from abortions and remains under federal investigation–so they have relentlessly attacked the whistleblower instead of coming clean and reforming,” Daleiden said at the time.

Beginning in 2015, the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos allegedly demonstrating the illegal sale of body parts and fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The released videos appeared to show various Planned Parenthood and StemExpress executives discussing, often callously, their practices for obtaining and selling fetal body parts. Daleiden alleged that Planned Parenthood was profiting from these sales, which is illegal under federal law.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has said it abides by all relevant laws and has charged that the videos were deceptively edited. It faced a congressional investigation into the allegations related to the videos.

However, the deep political strength of Planned Parenthood appears to have blunted some of the impact of the investigations. Soon after the Center for Medical Progress videos were released, Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, launched an emergency response campaign, with initial costs projected at $7 to $8 million in partnership with allies and funders such as the Open Society Foundations, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance.

“(T)he release of these videos and the related attacks were severe and without warning,” said a 2015 internal document from the Open Society Foundations, apparently acquired in a security breach and later acquired by and posted to the website “Countering this offensive requires an enormous amount of resources and staff time, which is the intent of the opposition.”

The Center for Medical Progress has had to face several lawsuits seeking to halt the release of the videos. Legal charges against two of its members were dropped in Texas.

However, illegal sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies proved costly for two California bioscience companies, who reached a deal with the Orange County district attorney office.

DV Biologics and its sister company DaVinci Biosciences acquired fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and other sources. Sales brought in more than $1.5 million from 2013 to 2015, the Orange County Register reported.

They admitted fault, ceased California operations and met the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

Prosecutors began their investigation in 2015 after the Center for Medical Progress filed a complaint.

Gregory promises DC Catholics 'I will always tell you the truth'

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 13:40

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory made an uncompromising commitment to transparency during his introduction to the faithful of Washington, DC, at a press conference Thursday.


"First of all, I believe that the only way I can serve this local archdiocese is by telling you the truth,” said Gregory at his formal introduction as the next Archbishop of Washington on April 4.


Gregory’s appointment, which was first reported by CNA last week, was officially announced by the Vatican on Thursday.


The new archbishop pledged to be transparent and open in all matters, even when that means that he may admit that sometimes he is not entirely sure of something.


"Transparency includes sharing what you do know, and it also acknowledges that ‘that's not something that I'm sure of’ or ‘I simply don't know,’" he said. But, Gregory noted, “I will always tell you the truth as I understand it.”


Greogry’s pledge comes as the archdiocese is still reeling from the recent laicization of its former leader, Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was removed from the clerical state in February after being found guilty of numerous grave offenses, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults. McCarrick led the archdiocese from 2000 until 2006.


McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after allegations of sexual abuse of minors became public. Since then, it was revealed that multiple dioceses had paid settlements to men alleging sexual misconduct by McCarrick while they were studying in seminaries.


None of McCarrick’s abuse allegations date from his time in Washington.


The revelations about McCarrick’s conduct prompted questions about what his successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, knew about the allegations and what, if anything, he did in response. Over the last months of his tenure in Washington, following CNA reports that he first heard allegations against McCarrick in 2004, Wuerl subsequently had to clarify what he knew, when he knew it, and when he, apparently, forgot it.


Wuerl’s resignation was accepted by the Vatican in October 2018. Since then, he has served as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese. He was present Thursday at the press conference, and introduced Gregory as someone with exemplary pastoral abilities, intellectual gifts, and leadership skills.


In response to a question from the Washington Post, Gregory praised Wuerl, but also acknowledged that his predecessor had made mistakes, for which he has atoned.


“I know [Wuerl] is a gentleman, he works very hard for the Church, he acknowledges he's made mistakes,” said Gregory.


“That's a sign of the integrity of the man."


Gregory said that if a situation ever arises where he would have to account for a mistake made by Wuerl, he would do that. The archbishop decried a culture of clericalism that resulted in what he called a “circling of the wagons” to protect members of the clergy and prevent accountability by bishops.


“I think this moment has shown the folly of that approach to episcopal governance and episcopal collegiality,” said Gregory.


Gregory also spoke about his time leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 until 2004, at the beginning of the sexual abuse crisis in the American Church. He said that during his time as president of the USCCB he was able to meet with Pope St. John Paul II, and he informed him about the extent of the crisis in the United States.


“[The Pope] looked at me and says 'are you sure?'," Gregory recounted. "I said 'Holy Father, I am sure, and there is more.'"


It was this experience, Gregory explained, that will set the tone for his time again leading an institution grappling with a serious crisis.


"I walked away from my time as president knowing this one thing: that I told them the truth as best as I could. And that's what I will do with the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Gregory appointment a milestone in the history of African-American Catholics

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 08:13

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 06:13 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s appointment Thursday as Archbishop of Washington marks a significant moment for the Archdiocese of Washington. It is also a milestone in the history of African-American Catholics in the U.S.

Since the Archdiocese of Washington was established in 1947, every single archbishop to lead the archdiocese has been elevated to the College of Cardinals. If tradition holds, it is increasingly likely that Gregory will become the first-ever African-American cardinal.

Here is a timeline of some milestones in the history of African-American Catholics in the U.S.:

1565: Slaves and free Africans are a part of the foundation of St. Augustine, Florida, and help to build much of the city’s infrastructure.

1829: The first religious order for black women in the U.S., the Oblate Sisters of Providence, is established in Baltimore, Maryland.

1839: Pope Gregory XVI condemns the slave trade in an apotolic letter.

1875: James Augustine Healy, is consecrated the first African-American bishop.
1899: The National Black Catholic Congress is founded.

1909: The Knights of St. Peter Claver, an African-American fraternal order, is founded.

1920: St. Augustine Seminary, the first U.S. seminary for African Americans, is opened.

1962: Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans threatens the excommunication of those who oppose the desegregation of Catholic schools.

1979: U.S. bishops’ conference issues “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” a pastoral letter on racism.

2001: Bishop Wilton Gregory becomes the first African-American president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

2018: U.S. bishops’ conference issues “Open Wide our Hearts,” a new pastoral letter on racism.

Here are some African-American U.S. Catholic history-makers:

Bishop James Augustine Healy

The first person of African-American descent to be ordained a priest for a U.S. diocese is James Augustine Healy, who was also the first African-American to become a bishop.

Healy, whose mother was a mixed-race slave and whose father was an Irish immigrant, was born in Macon, Georgia in 1830. He is the oldest of 10 siblings, many of whom would also enter religious life.

His brother, Patrick, entered the Jesuit order and became the first man of African-American descent to earn a PhD. He was eventually named the 29th president of Georgetown University. His sister, Eliza, would enter the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal and took the name Sr. Mary Magdalen. She became the first African-American woman to be named an abbess after she became superior of the order in 1903.

At the time of Healy’s birth, interracial marriage was not legal in Georgia, and he and his siblings were legally considered slaves. Healy was prohibited from attending school in Georgia, so his father sent him and his siblings to schools in the north. He was the first valedictorian of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

After James discerned a call to the priesthood, he was not allowed to study at the Jesuit seminary in Maryland, because Maryland was still a slave state. Instead, he studied in Montreal and eventually Paris, where he was ordained a priest on June 10, 1854.  

At the time Healy was ordained, few in the Church were aware of his race.

Healy was a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, and in 1875, was appointed the second bishop of the Diocese of Portland, ME. Healy was consecrated a bishop on June 2, 1875.

He led the Portland diocese, which covers the entirety of the state of Maine, during a large influx of Catholic immigrants. Healy established 60 new parishes and over a dozen convents and schools during his time as bishop.

He died suddenly at the age of 70 in 1900.

Due to pervasive racism, Healy’s ethnic background was not public knowledge. Healy, who had a lighter complexion, was usually believed to have been entirely of Irish descent.

Father Augustus Tolton

In 1886, 34 years after James Healy was ordained, Servant of God Augustus Tolton was ordained a priest in Rome.

Tolton, the son of African-American slaves, was born in Missouri in 1854. Tolton is the first African-American priest in the United States whose race was widely known to his contemporaries.

It is not known how Tolton and his family gained their freedom. Some say that Tolton escaped to Illinois along with his mother and siblings during the Civil War. Others say that Tolton and his family were freed when the war began. However it happened, Tolton, along with his mother and siblings, moved to Illinois during the war.

A priest  eventually allowed Augustus to enroll in a Quincy, Illinois parochial school, which was a controversial decision at the time.

Tolton graduated from St. Francis Solanus College, and then attempted to enter seminary. He was rejected from every American seminary he applied to, but eventually graduated from Pontifical Urban University in Rome. Following his ordination, he returned to the United States.

In the United States, Tolton met with resistance from his mostly-white congregations in Quincy. He was eventually moved to the Archdiocese of Chicago, where he helped to found St. Monica, the city’s first black Catholic Church.

Tolton died at the age of 43 in 1897. In 2011, the Vatican began the formal cause for canonization, and in 2012 he was named a “servant of God.” Last month, the Congregation of the Causes of Saints advanced his cause by unanimously agreeing that Tolton led a “virtuous life.” Now, two miracles must be approved and attributed to Tolton before he can be canonized.

If he were to be canonized, Tolton would be the 13th American saint and the first of African-American descent.

Sr. Thea Bowman

Another African-American figure is also being considered for sainthood: Sr. Thea Bowman.

Sr. Thea, whose grandfather was a slave, was born in Mississippi. She converted to Catholicism as a child, and left home at the age of 15 to move to Wisconsin to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She was the community’s first-ever black sister.

While Bowman was enrolled at the Catholic University of America, she helped to found the National Black Sisters Conference, and began to speak on racial issues in the church. In 1980, she was involved in the creation of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans. She taught there for many years. Xavier University in New Orleans is the only Catholic historically black college or university in the United States.

Two years before her death in 1990, Bowman became the first African-American woman to address the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholics were involved in the Civil Rights movement in the United States, both with the support and opposition of their bishops.

A number of religious sisters and priests marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights, and black parishioners at Selma’s St. Elizabeth parish housed people who were in town for the march.

Catholic schools desegregated in Alabama in 1964, a year after Gov. George Wallace (D) issued a promise of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural address. Throughout the country, Catholic schools desegregated faster than their public counterparts.

Gregory’s predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, wrote in his 2017 pastoral letter “The Challenge of Racism Today” that racism of any form is "a denial of human dignity."

"No one is better than another person because of the color of their skin or the place of their birth. What makes us equal before God and what should make us equal in dignity before each other is that we are all sisters and brothers of one another, because we are all children of the same loving God who brought us into being," said Wuerl.

In 2018, the USCCB voted to endorse her cause for canonization at the organization’s November General Assembly. The process is now ongoing.

Also at the 2018 November General Assembly, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to endorse “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism." This letter was the first time the USCCB has collectively spoken out against racism since 1979.

Analysis: Gregory’s road to Washington

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 06:40

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 04:40 am (CNA).- The appointment of Archbishop Wilton Gregory to succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl brings an end to one of the most anticipated and drawn out episcopal appointment processes in recent memory.


Gregory’s arrival in Washington follows months of intense speculation in the United States, with many bishops sharing the frustrations of local clerics and laity at the apparent delay in replacing Wuerl after his resignation was accepted in October.


But the process of selecting the next Archbishop of Washington was no less frustrating for those in Rome charged with making it happen.


Ordinarily, when a bishop resigns, the apostolic nuncio – in this case also resident in Washington – collects and submits a list of possible candidates, drawn from the recommendations of local clergy, nearby bishops, and his own observations.


The outgoing bishop usually sends his own thoughts and recommendations to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops examines the candidates before, in conjunction with the nuncio, presenting a final list of three names for the pope to consider.


That, at any rate, is how the process has traditionally operated. But the process for replacing Wuerl has been anything other than ‘business as usual.’


Wuerl, along with fellow American Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, is a member of the Congregation for Bishops. Both cardinals have played an active role in the process of considering a long list of names proposed for Washington, travelling to Rome for the Congregation’s regular sessions and weighing in with their own thoughts and suggestions over the past several months.


With Congress and the White House virtually in his backyard, Washington’s archbishop is often expected to play an outspoken role in public debate, while keeping the Church above the political fray.


One of Wuerl’s great strengths as archbishop has been his ability to tread a narrow line: engaging with public affairs without appearing to take partisan political sides.


Finding a successor with the same skill-set was a bedrock concern for Rome.


One of the most talked-about potential successors for Wuerl was Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. An outspoken advocate for migrant and refugee rights, both in New Jersey and previously in Indiana, Tobin is known to be comfortable addressing hot-button issues.


Created a cardinal while still Bishop of Indianapolis, Tobin is also known to have the respect of Pope Francis who - according to multiple sources in the curia, including at the Congregation for Bishops - was personally in favor of his appointment to Washington.


While many speculated that Tobin would be a natural fit in an increasingly polarized Washington, sources say that objections were raised - including by several Congregation members - about how such a move would be perceived in the fallout of the scandals that rocked the Church in the United States last year.


The disgrace of Wuerl’s immediate predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, has made the archdioceses he once led - Washington and Newark - the epicenters of the recent abuse crisis in America.


While the Archdiocese of Newark continues to grapple with its own legacy of scandal from the McCarrick era, some at the Congregation expressed concern that moving Tobin to Washington would be poorly received by local Catholics hoping for a bishop wholly unconnected to the McCarrick scandal.


According to multiple sources in Rome, one of the strongest voices in favor of a “clean break” replacement in Washington was Wuerl himself.


In addition to cautioning against another Newark-Washington move, sources also told CNA that Wuerl expressed deep reservations about other candidates who, though often touted as potential successors to Washington, had some connection to McCarrick or the scandal he created.


While various names were proposed, with Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport known to have been suggested at one point, none were able to achieve both consensus at the Congregation and papal approval.


The eventual consensus that formed around Gregory’s name appears to have been shaped by a number of factors.


As the president of the USCCB between 2001 and 2004, Gregory is no stranger to dealing with the fallout of scandal, having played a leading role in the formation and implementation of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms after the last sex abuse crisis.


Together with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Gregory is part of a special task-force charged by the U.S. bishops with developing new proposals for enhanced episcopal accountability.


A Chicago native, Gregory arrived in Atlanta fourteen years ago, having previously served as Bishop of Belleville and as an auxiliary in his home diocese.


Known to preserve close ties to his hometown, Gregory was at one time considered a likely candidate to follow Cardinal Francis George in Chicago. According to several sources at the Congregation for Bishops, it was George’s eventual successor, Cardinal Cupich, who proved instrumental in cementing Gregory’s nomination.


In addition to his distance from McCarrick’s former dioceses and his experience in responding to abuse scandals, Gregory’s appointment also represents a long-awaited historic moment in the Church in America.


As the first African-American archbishop of an unquestionably top-tier diocese, he will be expected to be made a cardinal in the near future, possibly even before Cardinal Wuerl ages out of eligibility to vote in a papal conclave when he turns 80, more than a year from now.


Gregory himself is 71, and arrives in Washington fewer than four years from the normal retirement age for bishops. While he faces a difficult final task in restoring confidence among the capital’s faithful, his age may have weighed in favor of his appointment, because he comes with a built-in option either to retire at 75 if he does not take to the role, or to continue in office past 75 if he does.


There will be some in Rome and Washington who will greet Gregory warmly, while quietly viewing him as a stop-gap appointment, a compromise after months of curial back-and-forth.


But Gregory could confound such a view, by turning his age to his advantage.


Gregory could, if he so chose, seize the opportunity to be more than a temporary steadying hand. As Archbishop of Washington, likely a cardinal too, his will be one of the loudest voices in the Church in the U.S.


If he so chooses, the new archbishop could write himself into history as the face of transparency and reform in the American hierarchy, especially given the freedom that will come from having to lead his diocese for only a few years’ time.


Alternatively, he could opt to see out his term quietly, restoring a sense of normalcy to a diocese hit hard by scandal.


The saying goes: “beware the old man in a hurry.” It remains to be seen what kind of hurry Gregory will be in, and how urgently and deeply he intends to leave his mark on Washington.

How this priest came to celebrate Mass on the set of ‘Unplanned’

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 02:28

Stillwater, Oklahoma, Apr 4, 2019 / 12:28 am (CNA).- When a film crew arrived in the small college town of Stillwater, Oklahoma last spring, few residents realized exactly what kind of movie the crew was making.

The film, which residents soon learned was called “Redeemed,” was rather vaguely described as being “based on a true story of a woman's journey and God's redeeming love and forgiveness,” according to local media.

The most tightly-controlled and top secret film set in the town, however, offered some clues about the film’s subject matter. The film crew transformed a nondescript building on the edge of downtown into a replica of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.

Father Brian O'Brien, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Stillwater, told CNA that he noticed some changes in his congregation after the filming of “Redeemed” began.

“I started to notice a few more people at Sunday Mass, just some people I hadn't seen before, and they were there all the time, coming to daily Mass,” he said.

“And so eventually I connected with them, and they told me they were in town for the movie. Some of them were in the movie, some of them were the producers, writers.”

What Fr. O’Brien already knew was that the film known as “Redeemed” was actually “Unplanned,” the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, who eventually converted to Catholicism and became a leader in the pro-life movement.

Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa had called O’Brien last March to tell him that “Unplanned” was coming to Stillwater, and personally asked him to give any “spiritual support” that he could.

The filmmakers kept the film’s true subject matter— abortion— under wraps during filming, to allay any potential pro-abortion protests during the film’s production.

Did the people of Stillwater realize it was a pro-life movie?

“There was a general sense that that's what it was. People did not know the full extent,” O’Brien said.

Although not everyone who worked on “Unplanned” was Catholic, O'Brien said he met one day with the group who had been coming to his parish, and they asked him not only if he would like to visit and bless the movie set, but also to celebrate Mass there. He agreed to all of it.

“And so what ended up happening over the course of April and May, spring of 2018, I would go over super early in the morning before they started filming for the day and celebrate Mass on the set,” he said.

“It was early, and the goal was to have Mass before what was typically a 12- or 14- hour filming session.”

He said the other thing he did was a simple blessing of each set every time the film crew moved to different locations around Stillwater.

The directors of “Unplanned” have been open about the fact that several bizarre incidents took place during filming involving cast and crew, including a near-death experience involving the film’s lead actress, Ashley Bratcher.

“What was interesting is that the cast and crew, all throughout filming, reported kind of strange happenings,” O’Brien said.

“The goal was to offer God's blessings upon this project and see if we could prevent some of that.”

Though the time O'Brien spent on-site was not very long, he said he enjoyed sitting on the set while the crew was filming scenes for the movie, and to support two of the film’s co-directors, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, both Catholics.

“It was on the set where I met lots of the other pastors of other churches, so I think they put out a call to any church that was sympathetic to the pro-life cause and said, 'come,'” O’Brien said.

The broader population, meanwhile, was told little about the movie until later in production.

“We only announced it here to our people at church when they needed extras for what I think is the final scene, kind of an aerial shot of a bunch of people at the park,” the priest said.

“They needed extras for that, so we invited all of our people to go, and a lot of people did.”

Now that “Unplanned” is out in theaters, O’Brien said his parish is doing a lot of promotion for the film. They have already bought out two theaters and expect about 200 people to come to see the movie all together.

Sheryl Lacy, operations manager for St. Francis Xavier Parish, told CNA that she helped to encourage people to come and be extras in the film, even those from communities outside Stillwater.

“It was exciting being able to say it was happening in my hometown, but it was quiet, no one talked about it because not a lot of people knew about it,” she said.

Scottish bishop: Eulogies belong at the funeral reception, not Mass

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 19:43

Motherwell, Scotland, Apr 3, 2019 / 05:43 pm (CNA).- The funeral Mass is an important moment of prayer and faith after the death of a loved one - but it is not the appropriate time for eulogies, which are better suited for the funeral reception, said Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell, Scotland.

“The funeral liturgy in the Catholic Church brings great consolation and hope to those who have lost a loved one because we proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord and our hope of eternal life,” Toal said in a letter to priests and deacons.

“Its strength is in the faith of the Church and the words of the liturgy that express that faith. We need to accept therefore that it is what the Church offers us that counts most of all, rather than our own words.”

His April 3 letter on the celebration of funeral liturgies aimed to help clergy and lay faithful in arranging funerals.

“Since the liturgy has its own structure and rhythm, especially the Requiem Mass, it should not be interrupted to add in our extras,” he said. The homily during the funeral Mass is “not a time therefore for anyone else to be getting up to talk about the deceased, whoever they may be.”

The bishop suggested “a few words of tribute could be offered” before a funeral Mass or service begins. “These words though should be written down and shown to the celebrant beforehand and should not be prolonged,” he added.

“Often what families want to hear and share can be offered in a more appropriate and less formal manner at the reception afterwards,” Toal continued. “Those closest to the deceased gather for this part of the funeral and it may well be better to share there their happy memories about the deceased in this setting.”

The Motherwell diocese has 66 parishes in Lanarkshire and parts of Glasgow. As of 2015, it served an estimated 162,000 Catholics, the diocese website reports.

“The important point though is the full celebration of the Catholic funeral rites and our intercession that the deceased’s sins may be forgiven and that they will be worthy to share in eternal life with God,” he said. The homily is just one part of the Mass or funeral service, and its role is “reflecting on the Word of God which has been proclaimed and leading into the celebration of the mysteries in which we place our faith.”

The bishop said that Church instruction for funerals clearly state that the priest or deacon who celebrates the funeral should “preach a homily as on other occasions on the Word of God, emphasizing at a funeral the hope of resurrection in Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“The instruction specifically says the homily should not be a eulogy,” he added. “It is a homily therefore spoken by the priest or deacon.”

It is also not appropriate to add a final tribute to the deceased before or during the close of the funeral Mass, known as the Final Commendation.

Bishop Toal said it is fitting for the preacher to integrate some details about the deceased person’s life into the homily “so that it is personal and recognizes the family’s wish to recall their loved one in a sensitive way.” This requires some skill and “an effort to find out something about the deceased from their family.”

“Clearly the homilist is not there to give a blow-by-blow account of the deceased’s life but rather to use some of what he knows in a fitting manner through the course of the homily,” he said, adding “whatever is said about the deceased should be accurate and prepared.”

The bishop said the faithful should keep in mind that not all celebrants have the same ability to integrate the personal and the spiritual. He also offered guidance for family participation in the funeral liturgy.

While families sometimes want to do particular tasks during funerals, “it may be better to leave liturgical tasks to those who do them normally in the parish,” Toal said.

Discussing in particular lectors and those who say the prayers of the faithful, the bishop noted, “It is an ordeal for people to come forward to read if they are not used to doing so, or perhaps are not even regular attenders in church.”

He encouraged family members of the deceased person to look to the priest or deacon for guidance, given their responsibility to decide on these roles.


Why aren’t Americans having sex? It’s complicated

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 18:17

Chicago, Ill., Apr 3, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A new survey by the University of Chicago has left researchers speculating about why American adults are having less sex than in years past.

Data from the 2018 General Social Survey found that 23% of American adults had not had sex in the past year, an all-time high.

Broken down by age, the survey found that young people were largely driving the decrease in sex. Respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 were more than twice as likely to report not having sex in the past year than were those in their 30s or 40s.

While fewer than 10% of 18-29 year olds reported no sex in 2008, that share had risen to 23% one decade later.

Dr. Jean Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” suggested several factors that may be playing a role in the decline in sexual activity.

She told the Washington Post that fewer people in their 20s have a live-in partner than in past generations. She pointed to declines in labor force participation among young men, which has been tied to a decrease in stable relationships.

Technology may also be a factor, said Twenge, who is a psychology professor at San Diego State University. The rise of social media and streaming video mean there are screens frequently competing for people’s attention, which was not the case in previous generations.

Dr. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agreed that “screen culture” is at least partly responsible for the decline in sex among millennials.

“Young Americans are spending lots of time binging on Netflix, playing video games, and traversing social media. These things tend to reduce opportunities for socializing... and having sex in real life,” he told CNA.

He also stressed the importance of marriage in understanding the survey results.

“The sex recession is driven to a large degree by declines in marriage—especially among young adults. Very few married Americans don’t have sex, and quite a few unmarried Americans don’t have sex,” he said.

An article by the Institute for Family Studies last November noted, “Today, there are fewer Americans married, and more Americans single, than at any point in at least the past 140 years.”

A decline in marriage rates is correlated with a decline in the frequency of sexual activity among adults age 25-34, the article said. Unmarried adults in that category are far more likely to say they have had not sex at all in the past year than are their married peers.

Experts have further suggested widespread anxiety and depression, environmental hormone disrupters, and concerns over sexual misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement as possible factors in the decline in sexual activity.

The General Social Survey also found a significant gender disparity in results reported by young people. In 2008, the numbers of men and women ages 18-30 who had gone a year without sex both hovered around 10%. In 2018, 18% of women in this age group said they had not had sex in the past year, compared to 28% of men.

In her comments to the Washington Post, Twenge noted that more young men than women are living with their parents.

Pornography could also be playing a role. Pornhub, the most-visited pornography site in the U.S., has seen its daily visits triple from 2012 to 2017.

In a series of studies examining pornography use, “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” published by the Witherspoon Institute, researchers found that those who viewed pornography became less satisfied with their sex lives, and that viewing porn just once can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction toward a human partner.

According to a 2012 article in Psychology Today by clinical psychologist Tyger Latham, Psy.D, erectile dysfunction, once considered an issue plaguing old men, is arising more in young men who rely heavily on pornography to become sexually aroused. A study by the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine surveyed 28,000 men on their internet porn habits, and found that porn use over time led to a lower sex drive and an eventual inability to become aroused at all.

Pornography could also be contributing to the continuing decline in marriage rates.

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Catholic who has studied religion and sexual behavior, cautioned against assuming that correlation equals causation – but said that pornography use is likely part of a more complex reason for dropping marriage rates.

“We know that both things are occurring, but it's difficult to establish a causal connection,” he told CNA in a 2015 e-mail interview. “A variety of things are contributing to the declining marriage rate.”

“I don't think porn use necessarily causes that, but contributes to it (together with diminished earnings power, diminished confidence, etc.),” he added. “To be sure, porn use doesn't help build confidence in men, something that's pretty necessary (but not sufficient) to be considered marriageable. So I'd say porn use is a suspect here, but connecting the dots is hardly straightforward.”

In a new comments to CNA this week, Regnerus pointed to “the flight from marriage” and satisfaction derived from both social media and pornography as major factors driving the decline in sex.

This situation is aggravated, he said, by “the increasing ‘similarity’ of men and women in the modern marketplace…We're settling for something less than the age-old pursuit of wooing, or being wooed by, our spouse.”

“I doubt that a surge in human happiness is ahead,” he commented.



Virginia March for Life mobilizes new pro-life marchers

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 18:06

Richmond, Va., Apr 3, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- A crowd of thousands took to the streets of Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday to participate in Virginia’s first statewide March for Life.

Speakers at the rally included March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, Virginia Society for Human Life President Olivia Gans Turner, Victoria Cobb of The Family Foundation, adoption activist and speaker Ryan Bomberger, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, and Felicia Pricenor, associate director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Ohden was born at about 31 weeks of gestation, following her teenage mother’s attempted saline abortion. She told the crowd that her life was saved by a nurse who was “unwilling to just leave me to die” after the abortion failed.

While the National March for Life is officially a bipartisan affair, featuring speakers from both parties, Wednesday’s event also took a partisan tone, as speakers repeatedly criticized Virginia’s Democratic leadership at the pre-march rally on the steps of the state capitol building.

Republican members of the state House of Delegates and Senate appeared during the rally, which featured surprise speeches from State Speaker of the House Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and State Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Stephen Newman (R).

In November, every member of the state’s House of Delegates and Senate is up for reelection. Virginia has been described as a “test case” to see how abortion will impact elections.

During the pre-march rally, the crowd cheered when speakers criticized Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and efforts by Demcorats to expand abortion laws in the state.

Most of the marchers CNA spoke with were at their first-ever pro-life rally, and nearly all cited their opposition to Northam as for why they decided to march. Police told CNA they estimated the crowd to be about 6,500.

“When Gov. Northam said that he would leave it up to the decision of the doctor and the woman whether or not to save the life of a born child or not--I just thought that was too extreme,” Claudia Powell of Williamsburg told CNA.

Powell said she had never joined a pro-life march before.

In late January, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) introduced HB 2491, which would remove Virginia’s pro-life safeguards and permit abortion throughout an entire pregnancy. During a committee hearing, Tran admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from happening while the mother was in active labor.

Shortly before the bill failed to advance out of committee, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on a radio program on WTOP and defended the premise of the legislation. Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, explained that if a baby were to be born alive after an attempted abortion, the baby would be kept comfortable while the doctor and parents decided whether or not to intervene.

These comments sparked a firestorm of controversy, and Northam was condemned by both of Virginia’s Catholic bishops. A spokesperson for Northam clarified that he was only referring to infants who had abnormalities, but did not clarify further.

Several people CNA spoke to on Wednesday said that they had previously been unaware of Northam’s views on abortion prior to his comments in January.

“I figured as a pediatrician, that, you know, he would believe for life. He obviously saw it,” Rachel Campbell from Glen Allen, VA told CNA. Campbell said she had never been to any sort of political rally before, and that she had “absolutely” no idea how the governor felt about abortion.

Angela and Josie Wade, a mother and daughter attending the march, told CNA that even though they had both held pro-life values, they had never attended a march or demonstration before. They, too, cited the “extreme measures” that were considered by the Virginia legislature as for why they came out to march.

“I actually feel a lot of remorse for having not stepped into that battle earlier,” said Angela Wade. She told CNA that she was not aware about Northam’s views on abortion, but also did not vote for him.

Her 12-year-old daughter Josie said that while she had previously read in books that abortion “could be a good thing,” she now thinks that abortion is wrong.

Laura Murphy, who is represented by Del. Tran in the House of Delegates, traveled to Richmond from Fairfax.

“After hearing Gov. Northam’s statement about how he supports infanticide, and listening to Del. Tran try to explain her bill of infanticide, we decided to trek all down on a bus to show we support the pro-life movement,” said Murphy

Murphy believes that Northam helped to motivate the state’s pro-life movement.

“I think we’re mobilized, we’re energized, we’re enthusiastic. We’re gonna change Richmond and make sure there’s no pink lights here like New York,” she said.


Alabama bill would ban all abortions except for 'serious health risk'

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 12:26

Montgomery, Ala., Apr 3, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- New legislation in Alabama would ban all abortions in the state, except in cases where the mother faces a “serious health risk.”

The bill, introduced in both the Alabama House and Senate April 2, would make it a felony for doctors to perform or attempt an abortion. Women would not be criminally culpable or civilly liable for receiving abortions.

The bill would include an exemption “in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child's mother.”

It defines a serious health risk as a condition requiring an abortion “to avert [the mother’s] death or to avert serious risk of substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.” It only includes emotional and mental illnesses if they have been diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist and “there is reasonable medical judgment that she will engage in conduct that could result in her death or the death of her unborn child.”

Opponents have already pledged to challenge the legislation in court if it is enacted. However, its supporters say it could be the key to a reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which found a right to abortion nationwide.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham said the legislation reflects “the strong commitment that the people of Alabama have to life.”

In an April 3 statement, the bishop praised the lawmakers’ efforts.

“I strongly support these bills and stand behind the efforts of these legislators to promote life and to, hopefully in the near future, eliminate this evil we know as abortion from within the boundaries of the State of Alabama; and, eventually, to make the killing of unborn children in our country something that is no longer viewed as anything but the horrendous and inhumane killing of the most innocent among us that it is,” he said.

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), sponsor of the House bill, said the legislation is a follow-up to 60 percent of Alabama voters approving Amendment 2 last November. That amendment changed Alabama’s constitution so that it explicitly “recognizes and supports the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and provides that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

Although the amendment had no immediate effect due to the national applicability of Roe v. Wade, it would be significant if Roe were to be overturned, preventing a state-level legal ruling from finding a similar “right to abortion” in the Alabama constitution.

“With liberal states like New York rushing to approve radical late-term and post-birth abortions, passage of this bill will reflect the conservative beliefs, principles, and desires of the citizens of Alabama while, at the same time, providing a vehicle to revisit the constitutionally-flawed Roe v. Wade decision,” Collins said, according to

“It is meant to actually use some of the same language that is addressed in Roe vs. Wade. So, hopefully it just completely takes it all the way to the Supreme Court eventually to overturn.”

Collin’s bill has the support of 65 co-sponsors, out of 104 lawmakers. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, (R-Range), has 11 co-sponsors, of 35 senators, reported.

The Alabama legislation is among dozens of bills seeking to either expand or restrict legal abortion in states across the country, as changes on the Supreme Court have led to speculation that Roe v. Wade may be overturned.

In January, New York passed an expansive law declaring abortion to be a “fundamental human right,” broadening the legality of late-term abortions, and allowing non-physicians to perform abortions, as well as removing protections for babies born alive after a botched abortion.

A similar bill in Virginia failed in February after video circulated online of the bill’s proponents suggesting that it would allow abortion even during labor and that babies who survived an abortion attempt could be left to die of exposure.

Other states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, have passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion once the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

Several states have also passed “trigger bills” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the Supreme Court, placing the question of legal abortion back with the states.

Randall Marshall, executive director of Alabama’s American Civil Liberties Union, told WHNT 19 that the new bill would not hold up in court and would cost taxpayers a significant amount of money in legal fees.

Collins responded to this criticism by saying, “We think this is the bill that could overturn, what I consider to be a bad law, then it’s well worth spending the money.”

In addition to Amendment 2 last fall, Alabama has made several attempts to pass pro-life legislation in recent years.

Last August, a federal appeals court ruled against a state law that would have banned a second-trimester abortion procedure, known as “dialation and evacuation.”

The previous year, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring more scrutiny for minors who seek an abortion without parental consent.

The state is still considered to be one of the most restrictive in terms of abortion law. Alabama requires that women be given counseling and an ultrasound prior to having an abortion, though it is optional for the woman to view the ultrasound image. It also has restrictions on the health insurance coverage of elective abortions that are not performed for reasons of life endangerment, rape or incest.

During Tennessee 'Sex Week,' FOCUS volunteers a Catholic view on sexuality

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 21:00

Knoxville, Tenn., Apr 2, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- During an annual week of controversial sex-ed events at a Tennessee college, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has organized an alternative event based on a Catholic view of human sexuality.  

A student group at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has hosted “Sex Week” on its campus since 2013. Organizers bill it as “a week of free, comprehensive sex education events.” This year’s program includes a drag show, a cabaret, and free HIV testing, according to the organizers’ website.

Kara Logan, a FOCUS alum and doctoral student in theology at Ave Maria University, offered an alternative talk April 2 entitled "How to have Worthwhile Sex: An Alternative View.”

She based her talk on the teachings of St. John Paul II, and his series of addresses on human sexuality that have come to be known as the Theology of the Body.  

Logan told CNA in an interview before the talk that she hopes to help students understand that the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 20th century hasn't brought with it the happiness and  fulfilment that it promised.

"I think we just want them to see that this 'doing whatever we want' [attitude], sexual promiscuity, all these things— they're just not fulfilling,” Logan told CNA.

“We're not finding happiness here. And if I can just show them the beauty of the Theology of the Body, the beauty of true love, and of sacrifice, of making a gift to the other and not reducing the other person to an object of use, that would be great. That would be the main thing."

Logan said she plans to share statistics with the students about the negative effects of hooking up, pornography, contraception and other common practices that society consider part of normal sexual expression.

"The hookup culture is really making young adults less social; they're more anxious," she noted.

"The number one reason women go off of oral contraception is because she's depressed...People who take oral contraception are significantly more depressed than women who aren't."

She said she hopes to help the students understand what it means in the Theology of the Body to "give a gift of yourself," which is rooted in self-mastery and self-possession.

"The heart knows what it's called to be...that there's still a call to be a gift, but we're battling it now because of concupiscence, because of sin," she said.

"Christ comes to restore the human heart, to fix it...and he shows us, too, that true love is to die to one's self for the sake of the beloved."

Logan said that she hopes to show the students that it's possible to live out the Theology of the Body and be fulfilled in a meaningful way, as opposed to the “lie that you can do whatever you want, or that you don't really have any meaning, or that Catholicism is just a set of rules to enslave us.”

The concept of “Sex Week” was first introduced at Yale University in the early 2000s. Attendance at the Sex Week events at UTK has ranged from 1,650 participants to more than 3,500, according to Inside HigherEd.

Sex Week at UTK has been controversial ever since its inception in 2013, when it was revealed that student fees were going to fund controversial activities, including a condom scavenger hunt.

Sex Week is not unique to UTK’s campus— other public and private institutions across the country hold similar events— but Tennessee legislators have called the week a “national embarrassment” and have moved to exclude the event from using public funding. University administrators have said that they have done as much as they can to tone down the event without violating the group’s First Amendment rights.

The Tennessee state comptroller released a 269-page report in February about the use of public funds for Sex Week, which detailed the fact that university departments and programs originally committed over $11,000 in funds for Sex Week.

The university chancellor ultimately withdrew the public funds before the 2013 event, and the organizers of UTK’s Sex Week have had to use other funding sources, such as online crowdsource funding, for subsequent years’ events.

Colorado's death penalty repeal failure means 'unneeded violence', critic says

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 18:56

Denver, Colo., Apr 2, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- A death penalty repeal effort has failed in the Colorado legislature after failing to win enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Colorado Catholic Conference is “deeply disappointed” by the postponement of the bill, conference executive director Jennifer Kraska told CNA April 2.

“For the sake of our own humanity, we need to turn away from a mistaken idea of justice based – in practice – on further and unneeded violence,” Kraska said. “We pray that someday soon our legislators will have the wisdom and courage to end the death penalty in Colorado.”

“Pope Francis has reminded us that our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” she added. “The death penalty is a clear affront to the dignity and sanctity of human life that excludes the possibility of rehabilitation. There are much less costly alternatives available to the State of Colorado that would both punish offenders and protect society.”

While Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, repeal backers appeared to lack enough votes in the Senate, where Democrats have a 19-16 majority.

Senate Bill 182 was set to be debated before the full Senate April 2. Bill sponsor Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, then took the floor to ask that the bill be removed from consideration this legislative session.

“I could ask you to cast your vote publicly, to reject this irrevocably cruel, unusual and ghastly practice,” Gonzales said, according to Colorado Public Radio.

She said she wanted to give the bill “a dignified death, not a torturous one.”

“I believe wholeheartedly that the way in which we treat each other through this process is as important as the policy itself,” Gonzales continued. “So when this bill comes back next session, there will be nothing left to hide behind, except this abhorrent, terrible practice.”

The inmates now on death row in the state are Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people at a children’s restaurant, and Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, who both had been involved in the murder of a young engaged couple, Javan Marshall Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Fields was set to testify against Ray in court on charges Ray was an accomplice in a murder case.

The murders helped inspire Fields’ mother, Aurora Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields, to become active in public life. Fields was one of the critics of the bill, objecting to the speed with which it passed through committee consideration.

“I’m feeling just numb. I don’t think there’s any winners in what happened today,” she said in response to the outcome, the Colorado Sun reports. “I’m not elated. I’m really not sad. I’m just feeling really numb and empty inside.”

Fields had pledged to vote against the bill, while four other Democratic senators had not stated their position or had said they were uncertain.

State legislators have tried to repeal the death penalty five times since 2000.

Gonzales’ own family has suffered violence, with her father-in-law murdered and the suspect never prosecuted.

When she heard bill critics who had lost loved ones, she said, “I heard that same grief, pain, and rage that I have heard in my own family.”

“I had to ask myself, in the event that the man who murdered my father-in-law were ever brought to justice, whether I myself could support the death penalty as punishment. The answer simply is no,” the senator added.

Republican critics of the repeal bill have said it should be put before a popular vote.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, voiced gratitude that the bill was postponed.

“Whether or not you support or oppose the death penalty, it is important to recognize the emotional weight that this issue carries to many in our state,” Hill said.

In 2013, then-governor John Hickenlooper temporarily suspended the execution of Dunlap. Legal appeals continue for Owens and Ray.

House pro-lifers move to bring Born Alive bill to the floor

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Apr 2, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) filed a discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act Tuesday. The petition needs 218 signatures to force a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives.


The bill would make it a crime for a doctor to refuse to provide age-appropriate medical care to an infant who survived an abortion procedure. It also would provide mothers with the opportunity to file a civil claim against their doctor.


Speaking at a press conference April 2, several members of Congress criticized Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her refusal to give the bill a hearing. House Republicans have requested that the legislation be considered 25 times.


Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), chairwoman of the Republican Conference, said that for her colleagues to truly be for the people, “that has to start with being for the most vulnerable among us, for the babies.”


“If you don’t stand with the babies, and you won’t protect the babies, you are not for the people.”


Scalise echoed Cheney’s point.


“All of us here today have a message for Nancy Pelosi: if you won't bring it up, we'll bring it up,” he said. “And that's what this discharge petition is about."


“How can you be a leader in Congress and say that they think it’s okay to murder a baby once it is born outside the womb?” Scalise asked. “It’s happening, and we’re here to make it stop.”


Scalise said that the practice of denying medical care to infants who survive abortions is “not only wrong, it’s murder” and that this should not be legal. The Born-Alive Act would make laws “consistent all across the board” to ensure that babies are cared for.


The bill must garner the signatures of a simple majority of the House of Representatives. Scalise acknowledged that this will be an “uphill battle” in the Democrat-controlled House.


“But we don’t come here to do the easy things,” he said. “We come here because it’s hard.”


The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), said that her legislation was “a measure that has passed with bipartisan support in the past.”


Presently, 26 states have some sort of legal protection for babies who survive abortions. Wagner said that it was important that this be extended throughout the entire country.


“We need to make sure that we make this a criminal act,” said Wagner. “That we give mothers civil remedies, and that most of all, we give life-saving care to babies that are born alive.”


Wagner said she was grateful for the “brave” Democrats willing to sign the discharge petition. Right now, three Democrats have agreed to co-sponsor the bill.


“The Constitution provides for life, liberty, and equal protection under the law,” said Wagner. “Our founding fathers didn’t put an age limit on that.”


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) expressed shock that 25 requests for the bill to be considered had gone unanswered. He said that it should not come down to a discharge petition to protect the life of a newborn baby, and rejected the idea that this is a partisan issue.


“This isn’t about Republican or Democrat, it’s about life,” said McCarthy.


The members of Congress were joined at the press conference by three young women who were themselves survivors of attempted abortions.


Melissa Ohden was born at about 31 weeks of gestation, following her teenage mother’s attempted saline abortion. She described herself as “one of the children who deserve to be protected by the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”


Ohden said that after her birth, she was “laid aside” at the hospital, until a nurse saved her life and provided her with care.


“My life never should have been left in the hands of the abortionist that day,” said Ohden. “My life never should have been to the luck of the draw of who was working that day at the hospital.”


As part of the Abortion Survivors Network, Ohden said she has been in contact with 281 other abortion survivors. She urged lawmakers to give her and her fellow survivors “the basic dignity we deserve. Give us healthcare. It is a right.”


“We fought for our lives in the womb. Do not make us fight for our lives once again when we’re born alive.”

New study shows differences between male and female brains in utero

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 16:07

Washington D.C., Apr 2, 2019 / 02:07 pm (CNA).- A new scientific study has found significant differences in the ways that the brains of male and female fetuses function prior to birth.

Researchers conducted MRI scans on human fetuses in the womb, studying the functional connectivity (FC), or the neurological connections between different areas of the brain, for both males and females. They found connections between parts of the female brains that were almost nonexistent in the male brains.

“The present study demonstrates for the first time that development of fetal brain FC varies with sex,” the researchers wrote, concluding that the fetal brain networks they observed likely lay the “building blocks” for brain development throughout rest of the baby’s life.

Dr. Leonard Sax, a family physician and author of the 2005 book “Why Gender Matters,” told CNA that the fact that there is a difference in brain function at all— at a stage of development when a baby has not yet been exposed to any societal influences— is significant in itself.

“I think the importance of this research is that it shows that the brain of a baby girl in her mother's womb prior to birth is significantly different than the brain of a baby boy in the mother's womb at the same stage prior to birth,” Sax told CNA.

“Exactly what those differences signify is controversial,” he noted.

Sax wrote a March 27 article for Psychology Today summarizing the study’s findings, in which he asked why the study had received relatively little media coverage. In some parts of the brain, the differences between males and females were “truly amazing,” he wrote.

“The human brain is gendered prior to birth. That may be politically incorrect, but it is an empirical reality,” Sax stated.

“Male and female are of God. The are hardwired, they are innate.”

He cautioned that it is not yet clear to neuroscientists what exactly the gender differences in brain function might mean, in terms of how activity in the brain relates to human emotion and experience.

“How does thinking happen? How does the brain mediate the process of thought or feeling? We don't know the answers to those questions,” Sax said.

“In my article, I make no attempt to claim what that [brain function] difference signifies, because neuroscientists don't know.”

He said while there are “plausible” interpretations that can be made based on the data, the researchers themselves “make no attempt to guess at the significance of their own findings.”

“The claim I'm making is girls and boys are different— that image strongly supports that claim,” he said.

Sax noted in his Psychology Today article that academics such as Judith Butler have pioneered popular theories that “male” and “female” are merely social constructs.

“The category of 'girl' and 'boy' are meaningful categories, they're not a mere performance or a social construction as Judith Butler would have us believe. And they are clearly meaningful and real prior to birth,” he said.

Sax also pointed out that The New York Times published an op-ed April 1 in which Dr. Carol Hay, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, endorses Butler's understanding of gender, calling gender “fundamentally a performance” based on and learned from social systems.

Sax posited that the author is unaware of “research showing that ‘male and female’ are present in the human brain prior to birth.”

“I wouldn't say that she is lying, I would say that she is unaware of the relevant research,” he clarified.

CNA reached out to Hay for a reply. She told CNA in an interview that when it comes to gender, she tends “to be pretty critical of the science, because I think it's often motivated by a particular political agenda, as all science is motivated by a particular political agenda.”

Despite this, Hay said that in her view, even if science can prove that there are innate biological differences in the male and female brains, “I'm not sure that would tell us anything about why boys and girls end up acting completely differently.”

“The question is whether those brain differences— if they do exist— the question is whether they then actually translate into the kind of gender differences that we're used to associating with men and women and boys and girls,” she argued.

Sax, however, maintained that the data is meaningful, showing a concrete difference in brain function between males and females, even if it is not yet clear what that signifies.

“That claim that gender is meaningless, or gender as merely a ‘performance’ isn't a true statement. It's a false statement,” he said.


'Back in February'- How an unexpected pregnancy led to joy

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 13:48

Chicago, Ill., Apr 2, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- Alexa Hyman navigated her white Kia Optima, peering through sheets of rain as she made her way to a Southern California Rite Aid. She already the answer, but she had to see it in flashing black and white. Sixteen dollars later, sitting at home in the tiny bathroom of her apartment, she had her answer: she was pregnant. And she was alone.

It was February 2017. Hyman was 23.

Months earlier she had loaded that same white Kia up with boxes of clothing and a lot of hope, headed from her hometown in the suburbs of Chicago to a new job and a future on the West Coast. This - an unexpected pregnancy from a fleeting relationship that had already ended - was not in her plans.

In an interview with CNA, Hyman said she remembers feeling her whole life contract to that one moment, alone in her bathroom, the test in her hands confirming what she already knew.

“It was terrifying. Everything I thought about my future, my plan, my life… any perceived control, it was all in jeopardy,” she said.

Numb, she told her roommate the news and tried to wrap her mind around her situation. She called and made an appointment for a first trimester abortion.

“I just thought that I had to have an abortion. At that very moment I didn’t feel a lot of support, and I just kind of let my whole body go numb.”

“I just desperately didn’t want to be alone in my suffering,” Hyman explained. “I was a problem solver, I’d always seen myself that way. And I didn’t see any other way out.”

“If you had asked me before this happened, ‘was I pro-life?’ I would have said yes. I was raised Catholic. We went to Mass. I even went to a March for Life in Chicago once. So, absolutely. And yet, once it happened to me, once it was me facing the unplanned pregnancy, abortion seemed like it was my only way out.”

Hyman said she felt like she had no choice other than to take an abortion-inducing pill.

But the day before she was supposed to take the abortion pill, five days after the positive pregnancy test, she ran into a friend with whom she hadn’t shared the news of her unplanned pregnancy.

Hyman tells the story on her new website, ‘Back in February:’ “Wrapped up in my own fear, I hardly made eye contact - worried I’d just break down then and there and cry uncontrollably. He made eye contact with me intentionally and blurted out a sentence I didn’t expect, and that would change everything:‘You guys can do this.’”

“Confused by how he knew, I proceeded cautiously, ‘What?’”
“He responded, ‘You can do this. And, heck, if you don’t want this baby, I’ll adopt it. But you can do this.’”

Hyman writes that “It was the first time I felt courage to make the decision that deep down I knew I needed to make. I dropped all of my bags and fell down on my knees, ready to puke. After a few minutes, I left for work still wrapped up in fear but with a new energy to find my way out of it.”

Joy, she realized, would be the key to unlocking the fear and anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her. And joy would offer her a way forward.

Forward in joy

“Underneath the fear there was this tiny, little persisting sense of joy. Just this tiny little gut feeling that my body was starting to do exactly what it was supposed to do, and to do something unnatural to stop it just felt wrong,” she told CNA.

“I couldn’t bury that joy no matter how hard I tried.”

“I imagine it’s a tiny glimpse of what most women must feel like when they find out they’re pregnant under normal - or ideal - circumstances.”

“When I thought of abortion,” Hyman continued, “I felt this emptiness. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of exactly the grief I was going to feel afterwards. And that emptiness felt so much deeper and harder than even what I felt being about being pregnant.”

Later that morning, during a coffee meeting for work, Hyman revealed her news once again, bracing for shame, for judgement, for disbelief. The reaction from a colleague surprised her.

“Immediately he came around the table, placed a hand on my shoulder and with so much joy, said, ‘Alexa, there’s a baby inside of you!’”

“I immediately broke down in tears,” Hyman said. “He was pulling out that inkling of joy and magnifying it. [He] responded to my scary surprise pregnancy with the joy with which we respond to all other pregnancy announcements. His eyes filled with genuine excitement, he smiled and I smiled back - for the first time allowing myself to exhale with the news that a baby was really beginning to grow within me.”

Hyman knew then that we wouldn’t have an abortion. She called the clinic and cancelled her appointment. And then she began to make a plan for how she was going to tell her family, her friends, and her coworkers.

Katherine Meeks, the wife of one of Alexa’s coworkers, told CNA that while it came as a surprise, the pregnancy “very quickly became very purposeful. It was a growth opportunity for me, to put myself in her shoes and be the objective strength and shoulder when she was so scared and alone.”

“I think that our generation needs more models in the faith of hope and joy. It was hard, and in many ways I will never know, but Alexa had the support and the courage to make this experience a beautiful one and wasn’t ashamed to share this unexpected life with the world around her with such confidence and joy.”

“The Church as a community of people was really incredible,” Meeks continued. “Immediately, everyone recognized the joy of life within her. This decision and experience was not going to end her future, but rather was something to be excited about.”

“No one was quiet, no one made her feel guilty or shamed, they all genuinely wanted to see her through this and give her hope. Everyone I talked to within the Catholic community was not only supportive but shared joy,” Meeks said.

Meanwhile, Hyman was beginning to experience a glimmer of that joy for herself.

And while her parents, who visited LA just two weeks after she took the pregnancy test, were rocked by their daughter’s announcement, they emphasized their unwavering support.

Nanci Hyman, Alexa’s mother, told CNA that the day her daughter revealed her pregnancy to them she “was terrified for her, but I just kept repeating to her, we will help you, we are here, you are not alone.”

Nanci said that while incredibly difficult in the beginning, it soon became clear that this was not “the worst thing that had ever happened to us, but one of the best things.”

“You want your children to know that you love them unconditionally, that you will never stop loving them, no matter what. I am so grateful Alexa felt safe enough to come to us. Once her story began to get around, our eyes were opened to how many other women have walked this path, and how important it is to have support.”

Nanci said when Hyman did finally start to share the news of her pregnancy, several young women reached out to her and confessed that they too were pregnant and had been considering having abortions. Alexa’s story gave them courage to carry their babies to term.

“There are women out there - good girls from good homes who are being raised in the Church, attending Catholic schools, learning the Faith from their families, and we are not immune to this. The shame drives so many women to make irreversible decisions, and the silence enables the cycle to continue,” Nanci told CNA.

Alexa Hyman, meanwhile, was beginning to feel more confident that maybe her life wasn’t totally derailing after all.

“You can do this, Alexa.”

“It was a real turning point,” Hyman confessed, “when people responded to my situation with joy instead of fear or disappointment.”

“Women are so buried in this fear. And the future looks totally black. But in sharing this message, I want other women in this circumstance to know that there is another side to the story. I know that it feels like your life is ending, but it’s really just beginning.”

The pro-life movement expends heroic effort and resources on material assistance to women in crisis pregnancies, meeting women in their deepest need and helping them to make a way forward.

But Hyman says that fear is a huge motivator for many women facing unplanned pregnancies.

“A woman is so afraid she will lose her relationship if she goes down this road. But you can’t make a decision based on fear. At the end of the day, if the relationship doesn’t work out, the relationship wasn’t meant to be, but you’re still left with a darling child.”

“If you make a decision based on fear, based on trying to preserve a relationship - well, would you rather grieve the relationship or the baby who you sacrificed for the relationship?”

“Back in February”

Asked how her faith factored into her experience, Hyman said she grew close to Mary during her pregnancy.

“I kept praying the joyful mysteries of the Rosary, I became so infatuated with those reflections because I felt so alone, and I wanted to understand how she did it. And all the while, I kept hearing from her that I needed to share my story.”

And so, after two years of journaling and countless revisions and second guessing, last month Hyman launched a website and accompanying social media channels called “Back in February,” after that fateful month in 2017 when the course of her life changed.

“My big hope for ‘Back in February’ is that, specifically for women facing an unplanned pregnancy, this place becomes a living, breathing community of women … where you can realize that you’re not alone.,” Hyman said.

Hyman now lives in Chicago, close to her family, where she works full time in the financial services industry and navigates life as a single mom. Her daughter, Renley Jane, is now almost 17 months old, and splits her weekdays between her nanny and her grandma.

“There is not a single day that goes by - even my hardest days - that I would make a single different choice,” Hyman declared. “I have my daughter. She has opened me up to unconditional love.”


At the intersection of faith and autism – a Catholic priest shares his story

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 10:58

Bethesda, Md., Apr 2, 2019 / 08:58 am (CNA).- When Fr. Matthew Schneider was asked to move on after just one year of a three-year assignment as school chaplain and youth ministry leader, he was shocked.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I knew it was a new role and I had made some mistakes, but I figured, well there’s a learning curve, and almost anybody’s going to make a few mistakes given a new role like that.”

But his superiors believed the assignment was not a good fit for him. They cited struggles with social communications as a reason for their decision.

While the experience was frustrating for Schneider at the time, today he looks back on that moment as a blessing, because it eventually led him to be diagnosed with autism, a diagnosis that helped him better understand himself, and ultimately, to find roles in ministries that were better suited to him.

In a video released April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, Schneider decided to go public with his autism diagnosis.

“I realize the need to evangelize this segment of the population,” he said in the video. “We’re about 1.5–2% of the population. We have a much higher chance of being atheists, a much lower chance of attending religious services on a weekly basis…we need someone to reach out to that community, to inculturate the Gospel to the autistic mind.”

Schneider spoke with CNA about his life at the intersection of autism and the Catholic priesthood, and his hope of bringing the Catholic faith to more people who share the diagnosis.

Like many people in the autistic community, Schneider has a sharp memory and a good mind for facts. He tends to be a concrete  thinker, writer, and preacher. He describes himself as “intellectually driven” and he has always been a good student. He prefers to be called an “autistic person” or simply “an autistic” rather than a “person with autism.”

Unlike many of his autistic peers, however, faith plays a prominent role in Schneider’s life. Studies suggest that people with autism are less likely to believe in God and attend weekly religious services than those without autism.

Schneider said his faith is not just one aspect of his life, but is central to the way he views himself.

“Our Catholic faith affects all of what we are, and really we are called to incorporate our Catholic faith in every aspect [of life]. I’m somebody who struggles in this area or that area. But I can, through my relationship with Jesus, overcome those struggles, [and] reach a deeper level of understanding. We can have Jesus and have the faith enter in and help us…to live with those difficulties that come from autism in our lives, to have a greater degree of peace.”

Although Schneider exhibited signs of autism as a child, the diagnostic criteria were different in the 1980s than they are today. It was not until January 2016 – a little more than two years after being ordained a priest of the Legion of Christ – that he received an autism diagnosis.

“Autism is primarily a distinction in a way of thinking, a neurological difference,” he said. Autism presents challenges, including difficulty with picking up on subtle, non-verbal cues. For the priest, this means putting in extra effort when going into social situations.

“Realizing that I’m going to have these difficulties, I will try to put in as much effort as I can, even if that tires me,” Schneider said. “And sometimes I will second-guess: Ok, I might not have picked up the best on that.”

Ultimately, he said, he tries to keep in mind, “Ok, I’m not necessarily going to pick up every social cue, so I’m going to do the best I can and ask for clarification when I’m not sure.”

“There’s [no] magic bullet, and there’s not a time that I’m not autistic, that I can just understand perfectly those social cues. I can put effort into understanding them better, but it’s not going to be the exact same as non-autistic people would probably understand them.”

But there are also blessings to life with autism, Schneider said.

“I have what’s kind of a stereotypical autistic memory, which is a very good memory of details and facts, which has been helpful in different ways as a priest.”

He has also found that he can overcome some of the challenges associated with autism by using a method called Theory of Mind, in which he guesses what another person is thinking as he talks to them. It also helps him prepare homilies and write articles, by anticipating how his audience may react as they read or hear his work.

“That’s a conscious thing I do, whereas most people just do that subconsciously,” he explained.

Even with those tools, however, there are some assignments that would be especially challenging for an autistic priest, Schneider said. A typical parish assignment or role as a school chaplain would present struggles for Schneider, given the difficulty that autistic people tend to have in picking up on nonverbal cues, particularly during face-to-face conversations.  

Right now, Schneider is working on a doctoral thesis in theology, while also helping out at the Maryland retreat center where he lives. His said his goal is to become a seminary professor or a writer, since these “are fields that as an autistic I think I’m going to succeed in more than in a lot of other more stereotypical priestly ministries, like parishes or chaplaincies.”

The priest said his superiors in the Legion of Christ have been very supportive of him.

“I wasn’t sure what kind of attitude [they’d have] or what kind of things they’d want when I was diagnosed,” he said. But he was met with support and encouragement, “just in simple things such as helping me move toward ministries where I am going to be more likely to succeed in as an autistic person.”

Until now, Schneider has not has spoken widely about his diagnosis with people outside of his community. He maintains two Twitter accounts – a public one under his name and an anonymous one with the handle @AutisticPriest, where he posts about faith and autism.

Schneider said he decided to go public with his story out a desire for transparency and a hope of evangelizing.

“I thought that by coming forward, I would be able to go through and look at how we can better present the Gospel in a way adapted to the autistic mind,” he said.

A lot of contemporary catechesis presents the truths of the faith in ways that are not inherently wrong, but are not adapted to an autistic way of thinking, Schneider explained.

Often, he said, “we can present the faith in an emotional way that is good for a lot of people, but we autistics tend to think much more logically,” he said. “So just simply a more logical explanation is more helpful…so we understand why. We tend to be less easily satisfied asking why. We don’t have the social cue that a lot of kids have, or a lot of young people have, where after you’ve asked why three or four times, you kind of stop…we’ll keep asking until we understand it, because that’s kind of the more logical way our brain works in that regard.”

Prayer can also be a challenge for autistic people, at first.

“In prayer, a lot of times we struggle at the beginning because we struggle to understand how other people are thinking as we are talking,” the priest said. But once the expectations for prayer have been adapted for an autistic mindset, it “can be very freeing to realize we can communicate directly with God and we don’t have to go through the means of human language.”

Autistic people may struggle to bring concept or ideas into human language, while hoping other people will understand the point they are trying to get across, Schneider said. “But with God in prayer, I can directly share my ideas with God, without bringing it into human language.”

Schneider hopes to see catechetical materials and programs developed to better address these features of the autistic mind. He also noted that autistic people “tend to have very strong long-term memory. That can be an advantage for us learning the faith, in the sense that we don’t ever forget what we’re taught, so we don’t have to do as much repetition.”

In addition, he sees a need for better social inclusion for autistic people in schools and parishes, since they may feel isolated or have trouble integrating at first.

“We have to bring those people into the community,” he said, suggesting that a Christian understanding of charity should foster this inclusion.

He said he once spoke with a secular psychologist who told him that efforts to help autistic people enter social groups “have a much higher success rate with religious groups, because there is that sense of charity and that sense of openness to other people who may struggle and may have difficulties, more than in non-religious groups.”

Moving forward, Schneider plans to release YouTube videos on topics such as prayer and Christian theology, presented in a manner that is more conducive to the autistic mind.

He hopes to start a broader discussion within the Church on how to minister to people with autism, both those already in the pews and those who are not Catholic but may be interested in learning about the faith if it were taught in a way that was adapted to their mindset.

Asked what message he would offer other autistic Catholics, he said the message is fundamentally the same for all people.

“Jesus loves us, Jesus wants the best for us, whatever our situation is life is, and as autistics, we have the opportunity to experience God’s love in an autistic way. We don’t have to conform our own experience of God, in prayer and in the liturgy, to how others think, but we can experience it our own way, which is 100% valid.”


Pro-life health care network gets a boost from federal HHS grant

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 18:54

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2019 / 04:54 pm (CNA).- Low-income individuals and families in California will be able to receive taxpayer-funded services from a Catholic-backed pro-life health care network, thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and the end of a rule that required grantees to give abortion counseling.

“With this grant, the administration has opened up a new avenue of health care choices for low income and underserved women and their families in California,” Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of Obria Group, said March 29. “Many women want the opportunity to visit a professional, comprehensive health care facility – not an abortion clinic – for their health care needs; today HHS gave women that choice.”

The $1.7 million grant for 2019 will be used to expand services to low income individuals and families in four California counties. The grant could total up to $5.1 million through 2022, provided funds are available, the grantee complies with standards, and the project shows progress.

Before the Trump administration’s February change to federal rules, Title X-funded providers were required to counsel patients that abortion is an option to end pregnancy, a requirement dating back to the Clinton administration in the 1990s. That requirement discouraged many prospective grantees from applying.

Obria describes itself as “a nonprofit affiliate network of full-service medical clinics providing professional, comprehensive, and life-affirming care to low income women and men across the country.”

Its clinics do not perform abortions and do not provide contraceptives. It offers “comprehensive care” including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, breast and cervical cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and full prenatal care. It provides some remote medical care through a specialized smartphone app, which Obria said reduces barriers to quality health care.

“Obria clinics also provide parenting classes, adoption counseling and referral, sexual risk avoidance education, as well as referrals to other health and legal resources,” the network said on its website.

The organization launched in the 1990s as Birth Choice Pregnancy Centers, beginning as a volunteer-run nonprofit, the New York Times said.

At present Obria has eight affiliates with 21 clinics in five states. In addition, it has 11 mobile clinics. It is staffed by 126 employees, 78 of whom are licensed doctors and nurses. Another 15 affiliates are pending, which could expand its number of clinics by another 20.

Obria’s medical advisory board includes obstetrician-gynecologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. It is fully licensed and five of its eight affiliates are accredited through the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. Accreditation is underway for the other three affiliates.

Under the terms of the federal grant, Obria is the main recipient and will supervise the work of seven subgrantees, including three of its California affiliates.

Two of the four subgrantee clinics provide contraceptives but won’t be allowed to use the Title X family planning grant funds to pay for it, an HHS spokesperson told The Hill.

Tim Head, president of the advocacy group Faith & Freedom Coalition, said the grant to Obria represented a victory after decades of work.

“For decades, multiple Congresses and presidential administrations, the pro-life movement has fought to at least slow federal tax subsidies for abortion providers but has failed to do so — until now,” Head told the New York Times.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It gives out about $250 million in grants each year.

The HHS also announced multiple three-year Tile X grants to seven Planned Parenthood affiliates, with the total running at least $16 million, according to HHS grant listings. The department is cutting grants to some Planned Parenthood affiliates. Four affiliates in Hawaii, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia, lost funding. These serve about 40,000 people in their regions.

Direct federal funding of abortion is usually barred by law, but the abortion provider receives grants for other services.

Planned Parenthood was critical of Obria, its fellow HHS grantee, as well as the Trump administration.

“Today, they are removing funding from these trusted health centers and providing funding to entities that do not provide evidence-based treatment,” objected Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood.

She contended there was a “continued attack” on Title X that will result in “dismantling our nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, risking access to comprehensive health care for millions of low-income women and families.”

Essential Access Health, another California-based grantee, received $21 million for fiscal year 2019 to provide family planning services.

Julie Rabinovitz, president and CEO of Essential Access Health, said her organization was “very concerned” by the grant to Obria, alleging “they’re denying women information about all their health care options.” She said this could reduce progress in “reducing unintended pregnancies.”

New rules remove the abortion counseling requirement and require a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions, meaning that abortion clinics will be ineligible. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.

HHS announced these changes Feb. 22, characterizing them as the “Protect Life Rule.”

In February March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said the move prevents Title X funds “from being misused by those who promote and profit from abortion.”

“Abortion is not healthcare, yet for decades the federal government has voluntarily supported abortion by subsidizing the industry with hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year,” she said.

Planned Parenthood could lose about $60 million in federal funds annually due to the rule change. The organization is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X. Last year, Planned Parenthood received more than $500 million in federal funding.

Planned Parenthood and Democratic-governed states have filed lawsuits challenging the new rules.

While critics of abortion have long opposed giving Title X funds to the largest abortion provider in the U.S., Planned Parenthood has come under renewed controversy since Center for Medical Progress videos appeared to show leaders involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts.

Other critics of the Obria grant include the Campaign for Accountability advocacy group. Its counsel Alice Huling charged that the grant shows the Trump administration is “more interested in courting religious ideologues than in providing real health care to low-income Americans.”

The group has filed suit seeking Obria’s communications with the Trump administration. The New York Times said the group has found tax filings showing it has backing from Catholic Church organizations.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has donated about $2.5 million to the Obria network, while the Diocese of Orange has given about $560,000.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, is a member of Obria’s national advisory board.

Elderly pro-life protester back outside Planned Parenthood after assault

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 17:01

San Francisco, Calif., Apr 1, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- An elderly protester who was thrown to the ground and kicked outside a Planned Parenthood facility in San Francisco March 21 is still afraid for his safety, according to the California-based legal group representing him.

According to the Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF), the 85-year-old victim, identified simply as “Ron,” was peacefully taking part in a 40 Days for Life protest March 21 outside a Planned Parenthood facility.

A bystander’s video captured the moment when an as-yet unidentified attacker stole the victim’s “40 Days for Life” banner. Ron tried to stop the attacker’s bicycle by jamming the stick holding the banner into the spokes of the front wheel, but the attacker knocked him down and kicked him several times, telling him to “stay on the ground, old man, unless you want to get hurt.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">NEW: Video shows 85-year-old man getting kicked outside of a Planned Parenthood in <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SanFrancisco</a>. SFPD investigating. Hear from the 85-year-old about what happened, at 11 on <a href="">@nbcbayarea</a>. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Ian Cull (@NBCian) <a href="">March 28, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Ron is “bruised” but back outside Planned Parenthood to pray as of March 27, and says he thinks his attacker needs “therapy” to get help.

“The vicious attack against our elderly client is intolerable,” said Allison Aranda, Life Legal Senior Counsel, in a March 25 statement.

“We will pursue all legal avenues to see that justice is served and that the freedom to speak freely on the public sidewalk without threat of physical violence is protected no matter the message.”

The same attacker had thrown a sign, table and pro-life literature into the street two days earlier, LLDF reports. The attacker had reportedly knocked two peaceful protesters to the ground, including Ron, during that incident as well.

Police took statements from witnesses after the assault and Ron was treated by paramedics at the scene, according to 40 Days for Life campaign director Shawn Carney.

“While the 800,000 volunteers who participate in our peaceful prayer vigils around the world sign a statement of peace and have always been law-abiding, violence from abortion supporters has increased,” Carney said March 25.

“The gentleman who was attacked will not be deterred nor will other volunteers be deterred from peacefully being a voice for the unborn as many in America advocate for late-term abortion and infanticide. The pro-life movement uses science, medical alternatives, and compassion to change hearts on this crucial issue.”

Carney said in a statement that 40 Days for Life is active in “816 cities in 56 countries” and the group has been “blessed to never have an incident like this one before.”

San Francisco police are investigating the matter as an assault, NBC Bay Area reports.

The LLDF also reported that the Planned Parenthood facility has surveillance footage of the attack area, but is “unwilling” to release it or to cooperate with the police investigation.

CNA contacted Planned Parenthood of Northern California to confirm this, and was told by a spokesperson that PPNC “is fully cooperating with the investigation and the footage has been released to SFPD [San Francisco Police Department].” The spokesperson said it would be up to SFPD to decide whether the surveillance footage would be publicly released.

Georgia passes heartbeart abortion bill despite celebrity criticism

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 16:30

Atlanta, Ga., Apr 1, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Georgia state legislature has passed a controversial fetal heartbeat bill Saturday, despite protests from actors and business executives.


H.B. 481, which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, passed a March 30 vote in the House of Representatives by a vote of 92 to 78--just one above the 91 votes needed for passage.


An earlier draft of the bill had already been passed the House, with an amended version passed by the Senate last week before coming back to the House floor on Saturday. Governor Brian Kemp (R) has said that he will sign the bill.


Ahead of the vote, a group of 50 actors and actresses threatened a campaign to move film and television production out of Georgia should the bill become law. Led by Alyssa Milano, former star of TV show Who’s the Boss and direct-to-video film Poison Ivy II, the group co-signed an open letter urging Kemp and the state speaker of the house to re-think passage of the bill.


Owing to a program of generous tax incentives for the entertainment business, Georgia has eclipsed California as the center of the film production industry in the United States. Over the weekend, the actors were joined by corporate executives from Coca-cola and Amazon in objecting to the bill’s progress.


After the bill was passed, many of the Hollywood figures took to Twitter to criticize the legislation, with many repeating their pledge to pull business out of the state.


“If Georgia is going to stop pretending it cares about women’s rights by banning abortion, we should stop pretending we want to go there for work,” said Chelsea Handler, star of National Lampoon’s Cattle Call and other productions.


Former stand-up comedian turned director Judd Apatow agreed, saying “I guess we won’t be shooting movies and TV in Georgia anymore if this moves forward.”


One actress who did not join in on the calls for boycott was Ashley Bratcher, star of the newly-released pro-life film “Unplanned.” Bratcher, herself a resident of Georgia, wrote a rebuttal to Milano defending H.B. 481 and the sanctity of life.


“Unplanned,” which tells the story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s ideological conversion, had a successful opening weekend at the box office, doubling many projections for its initial receipts.


“Unplanned” earned $6.1 million, placing it in fifth place overall nationwide, and came in third for its per-screen average.


Vice President Mike Pence issued his own message of support for the film on Monday, calling it a “deeply inspiring” film via his Twitter account.


“More and more Americans are embracing the sanctity of life because of powerful stories like this one,” said Pence.


Although Gov. Kemp is expected to sign the bill into law, it is unlikely to come into force. Similar legislation in other states has been subject to immediate legal challenge, with court’s striking down heartbeat laws in Iowa and North Dakota as unconstitutional.