CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 53 min ago

New Michigan vocational school combines Catholic education, skilled trades 

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 05:18

Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec 26, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- A new vocational school in Grand Rapids, Michigan will open its doors next year to young men interested in learning both a skilled trade and formation through a Catholic curriculum.

Harmel Academy is founded by Brian Black, head of Grand Rapids Builders, and Ryan Pohl, a journeyman CNC machinist. The program is supported by Kuyper College and Micron Manufacturing, both located in Grands Rapids, Michigan.

Black told CNA that the first year will begin with 12-15 students, and the program will grow each year. The goal is to offer students an authentically Catholic experience, like they might find at Thomas Aquinas College or Ave Maria University, he said, but with trades instead of a bachelor’s degree.

He said the students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on-experience in actual trades and grow in an understanding of “Christ in their lives as it relates specifically to work, their family life,  and their own mission in the Church.”

“We are going to tell you about the integrity of your life. We are going to inform you about Christ who chose to become man as a carpenter, as a tradesman,” he added.

The two year program’s initial education will be centered on Machine and System Technology, which includes experience in electrical, machine operation, and 3D printing. The school will eventually add other skilled trades, including HVAC and plumbing. The curriculum is split into three parts: lessons, apprenticeship, and humanities.

Classes will take place both online and on the Kuyper campus, which can house 300 people. Students will work part-time in a particular trade as part of a paid apprenticeship. After two years, graduates will receive a certificate in their trade and be half-way through the completion of their journeymen card.

In addition to their education in a trade, students at Harmel Academy will receive spiritual formation through a two-year long humanities course. They will study history, philosophy, theology, and politics, with texts including papal documents and the works of Aristotle.

Black said the humanities course will not include lengthy written assignments, but is still designed to be challenging to the students, though classroom discussions and light reading.

“It's going to be very practical. It’s going to be rigorous and vigorous at the same time. We are planning on challenging and [investing] into some of this stuff because there are a lot of issues that young men have to face now.”

The humanities course will be split into four sections: the self, the other, the family, and the community, which includes courses on the nature of work, economics, politics, taxes, the structure of the state, and military service.

Students will also gather daily for the Divine Office’s morning prayer. Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids has approved the project and is helping the school find a priest so the campus can eventually hold Mass and retreats.

Black said the school wants to remain small to help to ensure strong relationships among the students and with the staff. The campus environment will be conducive to building genuine friendships, he said, noting that college relationships are a considerable aspect of formation.

“We want faculty and students to know each other well,” he said. “The key thing here is to foster a physical environment that fosters community. The college experience is a unique opportunity to form lifelong friendships.”

Tuition at Harmel Academy is $18,500 per year, which covers room and board. To apply, candidates must have their GED or High School Diploma, a car, and letters of recommendation. The students must also take a personality test, pass a criminal background check and drug test, and undergo an interview process. The school’s accreditation process is in progress.

Black said he and Pohl came up with the idea for the school several years ago, upon noticing that some men were uninterested in a four-year college but still wanted to prepare for a career while in a Catholic environment.

“[Some] young men struggle with what to do when they had a strong mechanical interest. They don’t want the enormous debt of college and they didn’t feel called to spend that much time at something that didn’t really have a direct relationship to their lives,” he said.

“[These] men are more mechanically minded and it seemed like there really wasn’t anything in the Church [for them].”

Across the U.S. the skilled trades industries are seeing a labor shortage, as the number of workers retiring far outstrips the numbers entering the field.

Black said many young adults are a good fit for the typical four-year university experience, but others are more naturally suited for skilled trades, working with their hands, and seeing the results of their labor. He noted that Christ himself was a carpenter.

“I think the trades give young men a unique ability to truly imitate Christ and that’s pretty powerful stuff.”

Black is enthusiastic about the opportunities Harmel Academy will provide for its students. He said the goal of the academy is not only to lead young men to a career, but to form their understanding of work and faith.

“The key thing we are looking at here is forming a fully integrated man who knows what he is about [and] knows how God built him.”


This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 9, 2019.

Rorate coeli désuper: Louisiana church blesses community from plane

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 12:08

Lafayette, La., Dec 24, 2019 / 10:08 am (CNA).- Father Matthew Barzare blessed 100 gallons of water on the Ember Saturday of Advent, which was then loaded into a crop-duster and sprayed over fields and the town of Cow Island, Louisiana.

“The blessing was the brainchild of L'Eryn Detraz, a missionary currently stationed in Ohio who is a native of Cow Island,” according to a Facebook post from the Diocese of Lafayette.

The Dec. 21 blessing took place after Mass at St. Anne church in Cow Island, about 35 miles southwest of Lafayette.

Fr. Barzare told NPR that "It does have a history for us in our Catholic faith, that the priests would bless the fields, and of course the community, around certain times of the year, especially harvest times. We call them ember days."

“Most parishes have a central location, but my area that I have to cover is a good 30 minutes to the next church, and so by plane, we realized, it might be the easiest way to sprinkle people's fields, rather than me going in a car to different locations,” he added.

Ember Days were traditionally days of fast and abstinence. They are tied to the seasons of the year, and are held on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of four weeks: the third week of September, the third week of Advent, the first week of Lent, and the octave of Pentecost.

Mentors are key in program to get civilly married couples back to Church

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 08:45

Lafayette, La., Dec 24, 2019 / 06:45 am (CNA).- When Mary Rose Verret first welcomed Douglas and Elizabeth into her home, Douglas’ boots squished with the sewage he worked with, and Elizabeth smelled of french fries from her fast food job. Douglas was also just a few years of out jail.

Burnt out after years of ministry, Mary Rose didn’t think she would have anything in common with this couple, whom her pastor had asked Mary Rose and her husband, Ryan, to mentor through a process to convalidate their marriage in the Church.

“It was a difficult, complex situation that on paper didn’t look like it was going to go well,” Mary Rose recalled. Often, she saw couples like Douglas and Elizabeth disappear from the Church as soon as their marriage was blessed.

But when Douglas opened up about how he found Jesus in prison, and about their desire for a sacramental marriage in the Church, Mary Rose was humbled.

“On my end, working with this couple, I thought I was going to teach and I was going to form, and Ryan and I thought we were going to give everything to them,” she told CNA.

“But when we started listening to them and the husband’s experience of getting to know Jesus at a bible study while he was in jail, and the relationship he had with Jesus, and how he wanted to make things right with God, and how he wanted to have a marriage in the Church and he wanted Jesus to be part of their marriage, it was very humbling...and it really changed the way Ryan and I lived our ministry and lived our faith and lived our marriage,” she said.

The Verrets founded Witness to Love, a Catholic marriage prep renewal ministry, several years ago with the intent to give newly-engaged couples an older mentor couple of their choosing in the Church that could walk with them through marriage preparation and beyond.

Now, they are launching a Witness to Love track specifically for couples who are seeking to have their civil marriages blessed by, or convalidated in, the Catholic Church.

“We saw that with Witness to Love, in the parish where we started this, engaged couples were benefitting so much, but we were seeing couples who were having their marriage blessed who didn't go through Witness to Love, they met with Father a few times...they were getting divorced quickly, some of them even a month after having their marriage blessed,” she said.

Couples seeking to convalidate their marriage in the Church make up a significant percentage of sacramental marriages in the Church each year - roughly 20 percent, Mary Rose said. In 2017, the total number of sacramental marriages in the U.S. was 144,000 - meaning approximately 28,800 of them were convalidations.

In response to this growing need, the Verrets tweaked their marriage prep program to offer a track specifically fitted to couples seeking convalidations in the Church. They interviewed couples seeking convalidations and looked at best practices throughout the country for bringing them into the Church. Many couples seeking convalidation would do so around the time their children needed sacraments - baptism or communion or confirmation. It was a time they could reconnect with the Church and felt they needed to “get right with God,” Mary Rose said.

But old approaches of bringing these couples into the Church weren’t working - couples would fail to connect with the Church community and drop off, or even divorce, shortly after they received the sacrament. That’s where Mary Rose thought the Witness to Love mentorship model could work.

What’s different?

What sets Witness to Love apart in marriage convalidation preparation “is every other mentor model out there says: the Church is going to choose and train and assign mentor couples to you. You don't know them, you didn't pick them, you don't know how old they are or their background,” she said.

“And we're telling this to a generation that doesn't trust the Church, many of whom have been abused, have a pornography addiction, haven't been to church in 15 or more years. And we're asking them to talk to complete strangers, who are like uber Catholics, about their faith life and sex life and we wonder why it doesn't work out.”

The choice in mentor couples provides the “skin in the game” for the marriage prep couple and the room for the Holy Spirit to work, Mary Rose said.

Beyond that, the program is tweaked to match the language that civilly married couples use, and to emphasize how the grace of the sacrament builds on the natural goods of a civil marriage.

“There are two ways of looking at marriage. One is just on the natural level - you're living together, balancing a checkbook, you have kids, you share groceries - you know, life,” Mary Rose said.

“And there's a lot of natural goodness there, but there's also a lot of natural challenges and we have fallen nature. So the grace of the sacrament helps you get through some of those things, love through things, grow through things, work through things, offer things up, pray for your spouse,” she said.

“The reason that we have the grace of the sacrament is that it’s impossible, on a human level, to love completely, totally, freely and fruitfully. It is impossible,” she noted.

“With the grace of the sacrament, you just have to ask God everyday to please help me keep my wedding vows,” she said, which also differ in wording and intent between civil and sacramental marriages.

Often, couples who have convalidated their marriages become the best witnesses of the grace of the sacrament of marriage, Mary Rose noted, because they know what it’s like to live without it.

“When they have their marriage blessed, if they are formed, then it's a whole different experience, because if they just have one or two quick meetings and then never really understand this grace they receive, they can't really tap into it.”

Going through the process

Meghan Reily and her husband Brendon were high school sweethearts who met in middle school, dated through college and got married civilly in 2016 - Meghan was Catholic, Brendon was not.

Once Meghan discovered that her marital situation was keeping her from the sacraments, she talked to Brendon about having their marriage blessed in the Church.

“After much discussion and prayer, we decided to go through the process. I think that shows a true testament to Brendon’s character,” Meghan told CNA.
“I could tell that this was something that was important to her and for the Church,” Brendon added, though he admitted to being “a little apprehensive at first.”

“Opening up about your relationship is something that is very personal to me,” he said. “But going through this, I have never felt closer to Meghan than I do now. Same with our mentor couple. I’ve known them for several years, but I feel like they are family now too. They will always be someone who we can call on for anything.”

For their mentor couple, the Reily’s chose a couple that Meghan had known since childhood.

“We were in the same parish and I grew up with their daughter. We became best friends and her family was like a second family to me. Since I was always so close to them, Brendon got to get to know them when we were dating,” Meghan said.

“When asked who to choose as a mentor couple, it was a no-brainer for us. Their love for God and putting Him right at the center of their family is exactly the type of environment we want to have for our family.”

Meghan said the mentorship and the program of Witness to Love brought a “self-awareness” to their marriage that they hadn’t had before. It gave them tools to know and love their spouse better, and to work on virtues together.

“It was both challenging and rewarding. It in a way forced you to have those difficult conversations you don’t necessarily want to have,” she said.

“While we have been civilly married for two years, we are nowhere close to having it all figured out! The workbook provided great tools to give you insight on how you are wired and how your spouse is wired so you can better understand each other and how to handle situations, or discover what things you need to work on that you didn’t think was even an issue,” she added.

Brendon said the program changed their relationship by emphasizing that “it takes three to get married” - the couple and God.

“We are much more open in sharing what’s on our hearts so that we can pray for each other and build each other up,” he said.  

Much of the content of Witness to Love is virtue-based. It encourages couples to examine different virtues - love, honor, courage, respect, humility, and so on - and how those virtues can best be lived out in a marriage.

“By learning the virtues, you are growing closer to God and understanding fully how much He loves you and how you need to love your spouse in return, because God loves your spouse that much and He put you together by His grace,” Meghan said. “Doing that, well, that’s what gets you closer to Heaven - knowing how to love and accept someone for all of who they are.”

Meghan and Brendon’s marriage will be blessed in the Church this March. Meghan said she would “absolutely” recommend the Witness to Love mentorship program to other couples in similar situations.

“It’s definitely something I’ll want to reference going forward in our marriage,” she said.

Responding to the needs of the Church

When Bishop Joseph Strickland was first made bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas in 2012, strengthening marriage and family life was one of his top priorities.

“I wanted to really focus on marriage formation because in some ways I think we find ourselves needing to rebuild Christian society, and the stronger the marriages are, the stronger the families will be, the stronger (the faith of) the children will be, and I think that's where we can begin of a joyful revolution of deeper faith,” Strickland told CNA.

About a year ago, the Diocese of Tyler began using Witness to Love’s marriage prep program - “I liked the solid theology on marriage and the beautiful presentation of what the sacrament of marriage is about for us as Catholics,” Strickland said.

Located in a minority-Catholic area, Strickland said he sees the need for good convalidation formation continuing to grow, as more couples delay marriage, or decide to come back to the Church later in life.

“There are so many couples that need convalidation, and we’re really encouraging and wanting to support those couples,” he said.

Having worked on a marriage tribunal for years, Strickland said what appealed to him about Witness to Love, besides being theologically sound, was that it didn’t feel as “bureaucratic” as some other marriage and convalidation programs.

“You’re having to talk about this very personal information with a priest that you don’t know, maybe you don’t feel you’re that comfortable with them, maybe you’re not Catholic or haven’t been practicing your Catholic faith for a long time,” he said.

“So I think to have the mentor couple, who would be someone who is faithfully living their Catholic faith, to help them feel like they’re welcome and to navigate any issues they might have...would be important especially for couples who may have been married civilly for quite some time and have had a number of kids and are having to negotiate some significant complexities.”

Mary Rose said the mentor couple relationship is so key to Witness to Love because it works both ways - the convalidating couple receives formation, but the mentoring couple is also challenged to examine their marriage and “step it up”, so to speak, in order to be a good example. She said some mentor couples have told her that being asked to mentor another couple is what saved their own marriage.

“It’s kind of a dead end if you don’t open at least a crack for the Holy Spirit, and in Witness to Love that risk has always been allowing the couples to choose their own mentor,” she said.

“But it’s that invitation, that personal relationship - it’s a two-for-one evangelization effort that has made all the difference and transformed parish communities, because instead of a couple coming through the Church and never seeing them again, their mentor’s marriage is renewed, the community is renewed.”  


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 10, 2019.

College freshmen found faith through friendship

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Dec 23, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The phenomenon is well-documented. When young Catholics go away to college, a troublingly high percentage of them stop practicing their faith. And many who stop going to Mass in college never return.

Initiatives like FOCUS, and Newman Centers across the country, are all geared toward helping young Catholics stem the tide - to grow as Catholics in college, rather than wither.

Last Easter, three young men in Colorado were part of a different trend. They didn’t leave Catholicism in college. Instead, they became Catholics.

Jake Keller, a civil engineering major; Ian Horton, a finance major; and Anthony Ascolese, a natural resource management major, will be upcoming sophomores at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Keller and Ascolese began their freshman year in 2018 with little religious formation at all. Horton, who had been a committed atheist until age 17, entered the University of Colorado at Boulder as a newly converted Protestant. He transferred to CSU during his second semester.

Ascolese told CNA that he grow up occasionally going to Baptist services with his grandmother, or to Mass with Catholic families, but that he had never given much attention to faith. But when he began attending CSU, he connected with some Catholic friends and was invited to some events at the Catholic student cener.

“[Growing up,] they have always invited me to [Catholic] stuff, and [they] invited me to the intramural fields that are on campus,” Ascolese said.

“I saw this big flag that said ‘Ram Catholic,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, here they go again,’” he told CNA.

Initially, Ascolese said, he felt uncomfortable at Catholic events.

“I would just feel really out of place because I didn’t have much of a knowledge of God or anything like those traditional stories... So anytime I was there, like a Bible study or Mass, I felt really out of place.”

But he was joined at some of those events by other non-Catholics, among them Horton and Keller. That helped overcome the awkwardness.

Ascolese said the community was friendly and he soon realized that “religious people” could be “ordinary people.”

As he spent time in a Catholic circle, he grew more comfortable with the faith.

“I just kept growing and learning and hanging out with everyone and really falling in love with Mass. Everything about the Church was really coming together, and God was doing so much work through that,” he said.

Eventually, Ascolese attended a campus ministry retreat: “Ram Awakening.” There students participated in the sacraments, praise and worship sessions, and had religious discussions.

One of the major turning points, he said, was receiving letters of encouragement from his family and strangers during the retreat.

“The amount of love I felt from them, even just reading a piece of paper. You can really see how genuine and loving every letter was, even though I didn’t know any of the people staffing it. It shows how happy, joyful, and loving they were for me being there. It was really amazing,” he said.

“I think three days after that, I went over to the Church and met with Jessica Harris who leads RCIA at St John [XXIII Catholic Church].”

Keller has a similar story. He told CNA that he and his family and attended nondenominational services a few times each year.

At Colorado State University, Keller was invited to attend some religious events by some Catholic friends from high school. He said the events began as an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but the faith soon became his point of interest.

“I started to become more in touch with God, praying a lot more, and believing a lot more. After joining their Bible study [and] doing a bunch of stuff with the Church, I eventually went on this retreat called Ram Awakening, we have at CSU,” he said.

“That retreat really changed me. I learned a lot about suffering and how that can make your life better,” he further added.

Keller said he especially struggled with the clergy sex abuse scandals and the Church’s stance on marriage and abortion. He said, through discussions with friends, he was better able to understand these issues.

“[The scandal] was the main thing holding me back. I guess just trying to think about priests not as someone who is representing God but someone who God is acting through. It’s hard to look up to someone but also understand that they are still human and they’re imperfect,” he said.

“Going through with them, I wasn’t doing it alone. It helped me look past the scandals in the Church because I am not doing it alone and there are other people doing it with me. Working through community helped a lot.”

Holton was a staunch atheist for about 10 years; as a teen he devoured the work of intellectual atheists like Christopher Hitchens. But when he was 17, he became focused on researching and understanding Christianity. After reading books by authors like Thomas Aquinas and GK Chesterton, he realized, to his surprise, that he accepted Christianity.

A new believer, Holton said he didn’t know where to fit in among Christians when he began attending college. He said that one day he visited the Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, just off campus in Boulder. There, he said, a priest answered a lot of his questions about faith, and set him in the direction of Catholicism.

“From then on, I recognized that I appreciated Catholicism more than Protestantism because it was far more beautiful, interesting, and, most importantly, that is when I realized it was true.”

He started RCIA in Boulder, but he transferred to CSU in Fort Collins, where he is from.

There, he said he discovered a rich and active Catholic community among the youth. He said he was further inspired to the faith by Fr. Rocco Porter, the pastor of St. John XXIII Catholic Church near the university.

Holton said he is inspired by discovering the traditions of the Church and participating in Mass, noting he has had a strong connection to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Latin Mass. He said he’s realized, through the impact of the saints and Catholic intellectuals, that the Church has been the most influential institution in the world’s history.

“I love to know that I’m part of the faith and the Church that Jesus himself founded. And to know that I’m participating in the original sacrifice of the Mass that’s been going on for 2000 years.”

“I love to couple the Bible with the Sacred Tradition that we have of how we do love Mary [and] how we do venerate the saints,” he said. “Not only do we have [these saints], we have 2000 years of some of the best philosophers and theologians the world has ever seen.”

The three men said that through RCIA, they were able to grow closer to Christ together, pray for each other, and discuss the intricacies of the faith.

Ascolese said it is exciting to have a group of men who shared in each other’s enthusiasm and kept each other accountable.

“We talked about God, but we were also there to be there for each other and love each other. You could really see the good from that, like God was just with us during that time,” he said. 

“When I knew I wanted to become Catholic, saying prayers and working with Jake...and God was working through my prayers and that really helped me too, seeing something was working.”

Ascolese recalled the power of prayer: One night all of the men went to Qdoba in place of Bible study. Keller had not yet decided to become Catholic. But after their conversation at Qdoba, he received a text from Keller about his conversion.

“When I got to my dorm room I got a text from him saying ‘hey, can you send me [the RCIA] number?’ which was wild to me, because I was just praying about that stuff,” Ascolese said.

All the men said they felt supported by their parish and the RCIA program but added that it has been a challenge to face ethical questions, including abortion and gay marriage, with other students on campus.

When asked about additional tools parishes should offer to support new Catholics, Horton said there should be mentorship opportunities or an apologetic course.

“I think what parishes can do to support new converts would be to have a bit of spiritual mentorship by either a priest, an RCIA leader, or a theologian,” he said.

“I am in favor of apologetics,” he said. “I think it is very important in this day and age when most young people leave the Church because of questions about science and genesis.”

All three men are excited and joyful for their encounter with new faith. They said the experience has not only challenged each other to entertain intellectual properties of the faith but it also has encouraged them to embrace a life of virtue. 

The change in his lifestyle has been a thrill, said Anthony, “seeing the difference of having God in your life can do for you, especially in the truest form through Catholicism. You can see so much good from it and the suffering you do get ultimately leads to good.”


This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 25, 2019.


Are millennial Christians really killing evangelization?

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 17:06

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- Millennials are notoriously blamed for being killers of previously-thought-necessary industries and activities: Applebees. Napkins. Golf. Mayonnaise. Lunch. And so on.

For the ever-shrinking number of millennials who are practicing Christians, could evangelization be on the chopping block next?

Data released this year from the Barna group, which researches the intersection of faith and culture, shows that of millennials practicing their Christian faith, almost half - 47 percent - believe it is at least somewhat wrong to “share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” This is significantly higher than the number of Gen X-ers (27 percent), and Boomers (19 percent), who said the same.

But while at a glance this statistic may be alarming, given the missionary mandate of the Church, there might be more behind it than just another hit on the millennial kill list.

Elizabeth Klein is an assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. One of the main goals of the institute is to prepare students to respond to the New Evangelization - a term popularized by Pope John Paul II that emphasizes a renewed call to share the Gospel with the world.

Klein said before sounding the alarm about the death of evangelization, the statistic should be read in light of the others also shared by Barna - that 96 percent of millennials believe “part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus,” that 94 percent said that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus,” and that 73 percent said “I am gifted at sharing my faith with other people” - higher than every other generation included in the data.

And in 2013, 65 percent of millennial Christians said they had shared the Gospel with someone in the past year, compared to the national average of about half of Christians in general.

“I thought it was interesting that they didn't highlight that millennials in fact evangelize more than the older generations do,” Klein said of an article from Christianity Today on the data.

Furthermore, she said, the phrasing of the particular question about evangelization probably also affected the way millennials responded.

“I thought the phrasing of the specific question - it’s about people who already have a religious faith, so I thought that was a big factor,” Klein told CNA.

“I think millennials are more likely to see someone of a different faith as more of an ally maybe than in the past,” she said, “because we are in such a post-Christian, post-religious world that anyone else who is practicing a faith may be more likely to be seen as someone you have a lot in common with, rather than the chief object of evangelization for millennials,” which would probably be atheists or fallen away Catholics, she said.

Vince Sartori is a regional director with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which trains students and missionaries on college campuses to form disciples through friendships and Bible studies. Evangelizing in a millennial culture is at the heart of the group’s work.

Sartori, who served as a missionary on two different campuses before becoming a regional director, said he has noticed a hesitancy in millennials on campus to engage in evangelization.

“I think some of it comes down to a misunderstanding of evangelization versus proselytization,” Sartori told CNA.

Proselytization, Sartori said, happens when “the person is preaching or going out to be heard, not listening to someone but rather just trying to get a point across.”

Evangelization, on the other hand, is “about building trust, encountering a person, understanding a person, and introducing them to Jesus and proposing ideas, as opposed to just telling them something.”

Sartori said the way millennials answered this question also reflects the current political climate and a culture that prioritizes people’s comfort over everything else.

“In this culture of ‘if you disagree with me you hate me,’ I would say most millennials would say: ‘I’m not trying to convert anyone,’” Sartori said.

“But I would hope everyone is trying to convert someone, it’s just that there’s a right and true way, and then there’s a way that’s just kind of yelling at people, and that’s obviously not what I’m about and not what anyone would desire. And I think in general millennials are really sensitive to that.”

Klein also said that millennials are reacting to the polarization that characterizes the political and social media world of today.

“Actual authentic dialogue has in fact broken down, and I don't think that's a delusion of millennials; things are often so polarized that it is very difficult to have a dialogue which is perceived as open and a back and forth, and not somehow inauthentic or aggressive,” she said.

“It’s not that they don't want to share their faith, but it seems that sharing via dialogue or speaking makes people uneasy, and I don't think that's inexplicable, that seems to make sense,” she said.

Part of the training of FOCUS missionaries is teaching them how to evangelize, Sartori said - which includes building friendships and trust with people before proposing that they consider going to church or learning more about Jesus.

“The three habits (taught to missionaries in training) are the things we emphasize that help us to go and do evangelization,” Sartoir said. “The first is divine intimacy (with God), the second is authentic friendship, and the third one is clarity and conviction for what we call spiritual multiplication. So this idea that you’re investing deeply in a few people, and sharing your faith in a way that they can then go and do that with others.”

“You’re listening, you’re building trust, you’re speaking in a way that they’re going to be able to hear you,” Sartori said, “but you’re also hearing where they’re coming from on things.”

Once a friendship is established, Sartori said one of the easiest ways to talk to someone about God is to ask them about the faith tradition they had while they were growing up.

“It’s the basic questions of like - did you ever go to church growing up? Something like that that’s less attacking than, say, ‘How do you feel about abortion?’ or something that’s more politicized or a hot topic,” Sartori said. “You want to do something that’s a softer, more inviting conversation, so you can just understand the person.”

After a conversation about faith has been opened, then it can be time to invite someone to events at a parish or into a Bible study, if the person is open to it.

“While there’s an urgency for someone to accept the Gospel as quickly as possible, we also want to propose it and not impose it, so we’re not going to rush into anything on that,” Sartori said.

Klein said millennials are also most likely to be tuned into the need for authentic witness - that someone must be living a personal life of holiness and friendship with God before they can propose it to someone else.

The article on the Barna research from Christianity Today ended with: “Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, ‘If we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character.’”

“This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix,’” it said, quoting Hannah Gronowski, the founder and CEO of Christian non-profit Generation Distinct.

But Klein said this kind of attitude is overly dismissive of the importance of personal holiness.

“Witnessing personal holiness - it's not like that's easy, its plenty important,” she said, especially with the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.

“I don't think that millennials are crazy to think that personal holiness is the most important thing right now, especially when dialogue has broken down and there has been a lot of - with the recent scandals - insane hypocrisy where people's lives are not matching what they're saying,” she said.  

“I think a big part of it is...holistic Catholic formation,” Klein added. “If you're not prepared to pursue wisdom and pursue personal holiness, you're not going to have that authentic witness and authentic life to share.”

While that doesn’t remove the necessity of evangelizing with words, Klein said, it does point to why millennial Christians may have answered that particular question the way they did, beyond a trend toward universalism and relativism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself recognizes the disconnect that may exist between a person’s holiness and the preaching of the Gospel: “On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the ‘discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.’ Only by taking the ‘way of penance and renewal,’ the ‘narrow way of the cross,’ can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For ‘just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.’” (CCC pp. 853).

“It’s very clear that the Church has a missionary mandate, but I think it nuances that very well and talks about the hypocrisy that has been found,” Klein said. “I think that tension is what millennials are most keyed into, that personal holiness comes first before you can even think about opening your mouth.”

An oft-quoted line, typically attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, speaks of the tension between personal holiness and evangelizing: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,” the saying goes.

But if that quote really came from St. Francis of Assisi, Sartori said, it came from a saint who preached the Gospel so prolifically that he was known to preach it “to the birds.”

“He couldn’t stop preaching,” Sartori said, “so of all the people to have said that, St. Francis is one of the greatest examples of preaching (the Gospel).”

So while personal holiness is a must, he said, so is preaching the Gospel with words.

“To preach the Gospel is an integral part of being a Christian,” he said, “and we can’t separate that.”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2019.

U.S. bishops praise rule publicizing abortion 'surcharge' in health plan exchanges

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops have welcomed changes to the way abortion coverage is billed in some federally-funded health plan exchanges, saying the changes will allow Americans to choose health care plans consistent with their views.

Those who purchase health plans “have a right to know if they are paying for elective abortion,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“While the Affordable Care Act still allows government-subsidized plans to cover abortion, at least with this rule, Americans can now see and try to avoid complicity by choosing plans consistent with their consciences,” he said Dec. 23.

“I commend the administration for enforcing the law, for its efforts to ensure transparency in healthcare, and for attempting to respect unborn human life.”

Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account. The previous regulations allowed for health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices and without collecting it separately.

That changed on Dec. 20, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued the Exchange Program Integrity final rule.

One of its new provisions concerns health insurance exchange plans set up under the Affordable Care Act and covering elective abortions—procedures which under federal law cannot be funded with federal funds.

These plans must now send customers separate health insurance bills for abortion coverage. The agency justified the rule on the grounds that it better aligns with congressional intent in segregating payments for elective abortion.

The rule appears to allow consumers to avoid payment on the surcharge without losing coverage. The fact sheet for the rule states “if the policy holder fails to pay the separate bill in a separate transaction as instructed by the issuer, the issuer may not terminate the policy holder’s coverage on this basis, provided the amount due is otherwise paid.”

Critics have long argued that enforcement of these regulations under the Obama administration was so permissive as to render the rules meaningless. A Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring requirements to segregate abortion coverage funds.

The Trump administration rule had been proposed about a year ago, but it had not been finalized and implemented.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the rule “will ensure compliance so that 'separate' no longer means 'together' when it comes to funding abortion.” The law will “provide transparency about abortion funding hiding in Obamacare,” she said, referring to the 2010 health care legislation.

“President Trump has delivered an important victory for American consumers and taxpayers, the majority of whom oppose using tax dollars to pay for abortions.”

Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood, opposed the rule on the grounds it tried to reduce access to abortion.

“This rule won't just require separate payments, it further splits off abortion from other reproductive health care and puts up massive barriers to access,” she said.

Ayers added that Planned Parenthood, which is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., “vehemently opposes this rule and will continue our work to stop the administration's attacks on our health and rights.”

The Association for Community Affiliated Plans, which has 60 Medicaid-focused health care plans, also opposed the rule, CNN reports.

“Requiring people to pay two bills for one product -- health coverage -- is a non-solution in search of a problem,” said Margaret Murray, the association's CEO.

Critics of the previous rule have sought change under the Trump administration. In 2018 U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), in a letter to the Department of Health and Human services signed by 102 Members of Congress, requested regulations to make consumers aware of the surcharge.

In October 2019, more than 40 pro-life organizations sent a letter to the Trump administration backing the new changes. Signers included leaders with the Susan B. Anthony List, the National Right to Life Committee, March for Life Action, Americans United for Life, and the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNS.

They said that insurance companies could create “hidden abortion surcharges” which mean health plan enrollees are “unknowingly paying into plans that subsidize elective abortion.”

Their letter cited the Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, which bars federal funding for most abortions. They objected that the treatment of abortion coverage violates the amendment in principle. Requiring separate payments would help provide transparency.

While the Hyde Amendment applies to federal health care programs including Medicaid, pro-life advocates have voiced concern for years that the Affordable Care Act does not follow its requirements.

Federal rules against taxpayer funding for abortions have had longtime support even among pro-abortion rights politicians, but the Democratic primary candidates for president have increasingly rejected them. Following criticism from pro-abortion rights activists, former vice president Joe Biden retracted his support for the Hyde Amendment in June.

Safety first: How parents can know who is working with their kids

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The abuse of children is not limited to one organization, and predators can be found anywhere. Headlines in recent months have pointed to abuse withing USA Gymnastics, the Boy Scouts of America, public schools, the Catholic Church, figure skating, Hollywood, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the list goes on.

Keeping a child under constant watch is neither feasible nor a sensible option, most parents conclude. And while children are statistically to be harmed their family already knows, vigilance, especially about strangers, is important.

So what are parents to do to ensure that their children are safe outside the home?

According to Dr. Michaela Zajicek-Farber, an associate professor from the Catholic School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America, parents need to be proactive in examining not only the organizations they affiliate with, but how those organizations screen their employees and volunteers.

“It’s a good rule of thumb to have a parent really ask the organization or the program, ‘how do you screen your staff? What policies do you have in place to protect children?’,” she said. These types of questions are not meant to be accusatory, but rather as a parent, Farber said it is a primary responsibility to protect their child.

Particularly, Farber said that parents should inquire about background screenings or checks, and what type of screenings are done. While it is common for places to require references, they are not always followed up or confirmed, she said. Parents should ask how seriously these precautions are taken before enrolling their child in a program.

Farber told CNA that parents should look for organizations that utilize the “rule of two” when adults are working with children. This means that at any given time, there should be at least two adults present with at least two children at all times.

According to KidCheck, a company that makes software and equipment to assist with child protection, the rule of two is beneficial for both adults and children. The presence of another adult would dissuade a predator from harming a child, and it also helps to prevent any false accusations against someone. The presence of two adults also helps to reduce liability and negligence claims, and can be beneficial in the case of an emergency situation.

“There should not be secrecy, there should be transparency,” said Farber. Parents should also speak to any coach, volunteer, or mentor and get to know them, and identify why it is they went into coaching. Parents should also ensure that anyone they leave their children with is properly educated about what the policies are if things were to go wrong, she said.

“I as a parent should consider how well (the caregiver) interacts with me,” said Farber. “I mean, in other words, it’s like, as a parent you are putting your child in the care of another person, another adult, so you have a responsibility to really get to know that person,” she added. If a parent is made uncomfortable by something a coach or supervisor says or does, they should have no qualms about taking their child out of that situation.

Parents, said Farber, have a right to know who their child is associating with, is talking to, and who is part of their lives, and they should not be afraid to inquire about these things.

As for tools parents can use to further ensure their children’s safety, Farber suggested both background checks and the “Parent Toolkit” that was published by the U.S. Center for Safesport. The U.S. Center for Safesport is a federally-authorized organization that was founded in 2017 after numerous sexual abuse scandals among children’s sports.

The Center, per their website, “develop(s) resources and policies to safeguard athletes from bullying, harassment, hazing, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct,” and is the “exclusive authority to respond to reports of allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct within the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and their recognized National Governing Bodies.”

The Parent Toolkit is available online and contains age-specific appropriate resources for parents in how to identify abuse and other risk factors, as well as how to examine a situation for potential danger.

As for background checks, Farber suggested that there are many websites and programs that parents can utilize to screen out potential caretakers and employees for any sort of behavior.

Among the most commonly recommended of such sites are Intelius, US Search, TruthFinder, BeenVerified, and PeopleFinders, in addition to court information available online by public record.

Farber also recommended a more old-fashioned approach for concerned parents: picking up the phone.

“There’s nothing wrong with calling your local police station and finding out (information) about screening for my babysitter or gardener we hired,” Farber told CNA.

But most of all, parents should trust their innate sense if something seems off about a situation.

“Listen to that gut (feeling) and find out more, or go elsewhere,” said Farber. “There’s no reason why you should stay with the program or sport coaching situation which makes you uncomfortable.”


A decade of characters! Some of CNA's best features and profiles of the 2010s

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 14:20

Denver, Colo., Dec 23, 2019 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- As the 2010s draw to a close, CNA offers you just a few of our favorite features and profiles of the decade.

Read them all!

Unsung heroes, and quirky characters

'No greater love' — Denver Catholics remember Kendrick Castillo, who died in STEM school shooting

'Have to kill me first': Florida woman refuses to remove Guadalupe from mobile home

Knights on parade: With the Knights of Columbus at the March for Life

How a 22 year-old Texan began a Catholic school for Uganda’s deaf children

How the Lord’s Prayer led this North Korean defector to freedom

This man spent a week on the street with his homeless son


The little-known vocation of consecrated virginity

The life of a hermit: A glimpse inside the little-known state of life

Chasing the devil from Tasmania

'Life is always beautiful': What 81 years and 6,000 babies have taught Flora Gualdani

The last Irish priest in Wyoming

‘I just wanted to be a priest’: Archbishop Gomez elected president of USCCB

The bishop who reaped a hundred-fold

Catholic teaching

Is it weird that Catholics venerate relics? Here's why we do

Spiritual direction: What is it, who needs it, and why?

What the Church does - and does not - teach about gun control

Why married priests won't really fix the shortage

Survivors Speak

Where is Jesus in the midst of the Church's sex abuse crisis?

Speaking out, hopeful, and waiting for change

'Freedom to forgive' - How one man abused by a priest found healing

After the abuse: A bishop's ministry of healing and trust

Alleged abuse victim searches for justice in the Diocese of Crookston

Living the Christian life

'I had to flee for my life' – The reality of being a Syrian refugee

From North Korea to Catholicism: Mi Jin’s answered prayer

Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Catholic Center in Jerusalem takes care of the 'forgotten kids' of Israel's immigrant workers

Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic refugees wait to leave Lebanon

Holy tattoo! A 700-year old Christian tradition thrives in Jerusalem

Who's behind the mysterious Eye of the Tiber?

What did the Vatican just Google? A satirist speaks

With a lifelong Catholic at the helm, Oregon eyes prison reform


The Siena Option: What one saint did in the face of a troubled Church

The quirky Father Solanus: Squeaky violinist, tamer of bees

Stories of Fr. Stanley Rother, from those who knew him

The modern miracle of Fatima



Catholics in Camden help working families get homes of their own

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 09:19

Camden, N.J., Dec 23, 2019 / 07:19 am (CNA).- Affordable housing is a problem for many Americans, but for the low-income residents of Camden, a Catholic non-profit is working hard to make sure they have the budgeting skills, the life skills, and the community connections to become homeowners—and to stay that way.

“Anyone can work on converting abandoned houses. What makes us different is that we’re actually totally invested in our families,” Pilar Hogan of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society told CNA. “We see this as a means to creating some homeownership wealth.”

“We’re really starting to see a vibrant difference in our neighborhood.”

Some potential clients aren’t where they need to be financially and need years before they can think of buying a home.

“The one thing that I always tell them is not to ever give up,” Rosie Figueroa, director of counseling at St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, told CNA. “I always tell them ‘I will tell you when to give up’. And that doesn’t happen easy.”

St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society was begun by Monsignor Robert “Bob” McDermott, who passed away in early 2019. He grew up in East Camden in the 1940s and 1950s when it was a working-class neighborhood. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Camden and decades later, in 1985, returned to become pastor of his childhood home parish, St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral.

“When Father Bob moved back in the mid-80s, he was really struck by the dilapidation and the deterioration,” said Hogan. “Right across from the church were four or five abandoned burned-out houses.”

Hogan said the area showed “a lack of hope.” Residents who looked out their windows were only able “to see buildings crumbling.” They wouldn’t hear children playing in the streets and they wouldn’t find a safe place for families.

Camden, N.J. has a reputation for being a city that has seen better times. The city overlooks Philadelphia from the east side of the Delaware River. Its 74,000 people suffer high unemployment and high crime. In 2012 it ranked as the poorest city in the U.S.

The city is “consistently ranked as one of the poorest and actually one of the most violent cities in the U.S.,” Hogan told CNA.

Back in the 1980s, one of Father McDermott’s parishioners, a Vietnamese refugee, could not find adequate housing for his family of nine. The priest founded the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society to respond to the family’s need—and to respond to the hardships of life in Camden. The society renovated a home for the family and used that effort as a starting point to transform the neighborhood.

Now, the organization identifies vacant and abandoned houses to renovate and sell to people who need a home – after giving careful training to low-income clients about budgeting, the homebuying process, and what it takes to be a homeowner.

“When we started working, 1 in every 6 houses was abandoned,” said Hogan. “We’re now up to 1 in 40. We’re really making a difference. We have entire blocks now that don’t have an abandoned house on it.”

The society claims success in stabilizing the East Camden neighborhood, citing low vacancy rates and high homeownerships that are both better than Camden in general, its website says.

Since Father McDermott started St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society more than three decades ago, it has graduated 3,000 people through its education program. It has helped with 450 home repairs and sold close to 1,000 homes. Once people buy, they rarely leave. Eighty-five percent of these homeowners still live in the home they bought from the non-profit.

Behind each number is a personal story.

“The exciting part is when we hand over keys to a family,” said Hogan. “A lot of them just look at us like they never felt that this was going to happen.”

Figueroa described the joy of closing day for clients: “sometimes they start crying, sometimes they run out and start screaming with their kids.”

One beneficiary family was paying very high rent--so high that when they later became homeowners, their mortgage payment was only two-thirds the cost of their previous rent payment, Hogan said.

“The conditions were so bad that a young mother and young father spent most of their day in the car. The kids did their homework in the car, the kids ate in their car,” Hogan recounted. Their vermin-infested rental apartment was in such bad shape that “they wanted to limit the time that the kids were in that environment.”

Now they have gone through the St. Joseph’s program and have a home of their own.

“She couldn’t have been more pleased with the fact that she was now controlling her life in a much better way, and the lives of her children,” Hogan added. “She was still working, like she had been before, but now the house was hers and she could keep it clean. And do everything she needed to do to keep her kids safe.”

“This woman was all smiles,” she said.

Figueroa said the mother is now back in school, which she wasn’t able to do before. The father recently received a promotion at work. Contributing to this, she said, is “the fact that now they have their home, that space for their kids, and that backyard for the kids to play in, and for them to barbeque.”

The typical client of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, according to Hogan, is “a hardworking, dedicated small family.” Typical household income ranges from $20,000 to $35,000 per year. Clients are mainly Latino, but many come from Camden’s African-American community or its small South Asian communities.

Figueroa said clients face housing issues and financial difficulties. Some need to learn how to save or to budget money. Sometimes their credit isn’t what it should be, or they need to learn how to apply for grants, programs and loans.

“Those are things that we help them address when they come here,” said Figueroa. “A lot of them don’t know anything about banking. We help them maintain banking accounts, a line of credit and help them use it properly.”

“We teach them about savings and the importance of long-term savings,” she added.

It’s not always easy to become a homeowner, especially in Camden.

“Sometimes the suggestions that we have for people are harder,” said Hogan. “It’s things like: you’re going to have to work on finding a better job or taking a second job.”

Other priorities for the society are teaching civic responsibility to clients. This includes caring for their new home and caring for their neighbors. They ask beneficiaries to take leadership training or neighborhood organizing, clean a park, support local organizations, and act with others “to change the entire neighborhood.”

“Camden is more than simply everyone’s perception of the city. We are changing that and we are working on that every day, which I think is reverberating throughout the city of Camden,” said Hogan, pointing to new restaurants, festivals and stores.

“It’s really a community on the rise and that’s exciting for us too.”

The St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society is affiliated with NeighborWorks America, an umbrella group with 240 similar groups nationwide.

Its website is


This article was originally published on CNA May 1, 2019.

Denver initiative aims to reduce barriers between Catholics, lonely seniors

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Dec 22, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- When John O’Brien was in high school, his father, while only in his forties, was admitted to an assisted living facility because of Pick's disease, a rare disorder similar to Alzheimer's.

"I spent many nights of my high school days and my college days spending time with him in the nursing home. And I realized that not only did my dad need accompaniment and love, but there were a lot of people there that I could tell were very lonely and down and out,” O’Brien told CNA.

“I found it was the simplest things they were looking for, whether it was my dad or other people— they're just looking for some companionship, someone to talk to, someone to listen to them, someone who would be interested in them. These people are so lonely, but they're only looking for the simplest things."

O’Brien recently founded the Aquinas Forum, an initiative to strengthen faith through intellectual formation in the form of courses and lectures. Part of that initiative is a program called Works of Mercy, whereby on any given Sunday, a team of 10-15 people show up for an hour and a half to two hours at a local assisted living facility, Porter Place, to visit seniors.

O’Brien said people often bringing their kids with them, making it a family experience. And of course, he said, the seniors love seeing the children. He said he consulted with people who had done similar ministries in other places, such as in his hometown of Kansas City, and got tips on activities, board games, and other ways to connect with the seniors.

He said he asks team members to sign up for a six-week commitment to start out, and often the experience hooks them in for longer.

Kali Craig is one such participant, who had had a desire to do this kind of ministry for a while in the area where she lives, northwest of Denver, contacting her parish and various other organizations, but was never quite able to get connected until she heard about the Aquinas Forum through an archdiocesan young adult newsletter.

"It wasn't easy for one person to figure out how to do this and start visiting regularly with seniors," Craig told CNA.

"The Aquinas Forum opened the door to something I felt I was already called to do."

Craig said she had helped to take care of her grandmother during her battle with cancer a few years ago, which had confined to her bed for months at a time.

"When [my grandmother] passed, I just felt this longing. I just wanted to reach out and comfort the elderly when they're sick, or lonely, or whatever their case is," Craig said.

"I had this longing to do this...but I could never find the way to do it."

Craig said she was nervous the first time she went to the nursing home, worrying about how she would manage to carry on a conversation with strangers beyond small talk. She said before she went in she was thinking of questions in her head to ask the seniors in case she started to run out of things to say.

Having done the visitations for several weeks now, she said she recommends taking the leap and trying something like this regardless of whether you're nervous.

"It's a door that God is opening to you to show your love and be present, and He shows His love through you. You're not only helping others, but it's an incredible experience for yourself as well," she commented.

"It's transforming our lives just as much as the people we're talking with."

She said one of the seniors she and her husband have met on their visitations, Jeff, has only one close family member, who lives three states over. He's a musician, an avid record collector, and a traveler.

"He is kind of the perfect person we were hoping to find," she said, laughing.

"Every time we talk with him, it’s like a whole new part of his life that he shares with us. He definitely does most of the talking, we kind of just sit and take it all in and listen, which makes us feel good. That's kind of our purpose of being there, when someone wants to talk and share their life experiences.”

O’Brien said he sees this apostolate as a fundamental part of the Christian life; sharing mercy with the broken, the lonely, and the oppressed, who are highlighted in the Gospels as people with whom Christians ought to share love.

O’Brien said he had often heard from people, like Kali, who wanted to get involved in an apostolate such as this— often sparked by an experience of a family member in a nursing home, like his father— but had no idea where to start.

"Being involved in faith formation for many years, I heard people say: ‘I love my faith, but I do want to give myself more, though, and serve more, and I've found that it's hard to do that,’" he said.

When considering how he would start such an initiative, O’Brien contacted his friend Dorothy, whom he knew did a Communion service once a week for the elderly at the nursing home. He spent time with her, helping out with the Communion service.

He said he knew getting involved in an apostolate like that would be a wedge to start inviting other friends, so they could befriend some of those seniors that came to the Communion service.

Now, he encourages team members to “gently insert themselves into people's presence.” The people who want to talk will do so, he said, and the people who don't want to talk will “just keep moving.”

Spiritual and corporal works of mercy are about loving people through personal presence, he emphasized, and the main mode of evangelization with an initiative like this is giving God's love through personal presence.

For those not in the Denver area, O’Brien recommended talking to the receptionist at the local nursing home and asking if you and friends can come over, and perhaps even lead a Communion service. He also recommended reading Father Michael Gaitley's book "You Did it to Me: A Practical Guide to Mercy in Action,” which goes through all the works of mercy and offers practical suggestions.

O’Brien said one of his goals in starting the initiative was to remove as many of the bureaucratic barriers as possible for people who want to start practicing the works of mercy.

"In a bureaucratic society, we always think there's going to be some method that's given to us to just do it, and we think we have to learn the right method to do this— whereas the beautiful thing about works of mercy is it's a lot simpler than that,” he said.

“It's personal, focused attention. It's listening. It's sharing what you're passionate about. It's the mystery of personal presence, which actually isn't bureaucratic at all. So whatever form that someone can take to share their person and God's love through their person, whatever small humble wedge that is in their corner of the Pope John Paul II said, when we give mercy, we receive mercy," O’Brien concluded.

"To share God's love through friendship and through personal presence, at the same time, we receive that."

US bishops support Congressional resolution against assisted suicide

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 18:15

Washington D.C., Dec 20, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is encouraging members of Congress to support a continuing resolution criticizing assisted suicide as “deadly, discriminatory and non-compassionate.”

“Assisted suicide fractures the human family by targeting its most vulnerable members, including the elderly and persons with disabilities, suggesting that their lives are not worth living,” said a Dec. 20 statement signed by Archbishops Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City.

Naumann, who chairs the USCCB’s pro-life committee, and Coakley, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said it is necessary to “do what we can to uphold the dignity of life, cherish the lives of all human beings, and work to prevent all suicides.”

“We urge the U.S. Congress to do all it can to protect Americans from this cruel practice, and to ensure those who are ill, disabled, or facing the end of life receive comprehensive medical and palliative care instead of a facilitated suicide,” they added.

House Concurrent Resolution 79 is titled “Expressing the sense of the Congress that assisted suicide (sometimes referred to using other terms) puts everyone, including those most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm.” The resolution was introduced on Dec. 12 by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of representatives.

“That it is the sense of Congress that the Federal Government should ensure that every person facing the end of their life has access to the best quality and comprehensive medical care, including palliative, in-home, or hospice care, tailored to their needs and that the Federal Government should not adopt or endorse policies or practices that support, encourage, or facilitate suicide or assisted suicide, whether by physicians or others,” says the resolution.

It also defines assisted suicide and cites situations where doctors have exploited loopholes to provide lethal medication to people who did not have terminal illnesses.

Assisted suicide has been legalized in nine states, as well as the District of Columbia. In 2019, Hawaii, Maine, and New Jersey all legalized the practice. Other states debated it, but did not pass legislation.

Mary Forr, the manager of Catholic policy and advocacy at the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that assisted suicide legislation, such as the law in the District of Columbia, “promotes a false compassion.”

Assisted suicide “champions the lie that some lives--especially the lives of the elderly and people with disabilities--are burdensome and less valuable than others. As the Church, we must speak out against this narrative and promote the truth that all life, at every stage, in every condition and circumstance, is valuable and is worth living,” said Forr.

“We stand with the USCCB in urging the U.S. Congress to protect those targeted by assisted suicide--especially the elderly and those with disabilities.”

Erie diocese opens sainthood cause of lay educator, advocate for those with disabilities

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 17:45

Erie, Pa., Dec 20, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- When Dr. Gertrude Barber became the assistant superintendent of the Erie School District in Pennsylvania, the standard practice for educating children with disabilities and special needs was to institutionalize them.

This did not sit well with Barber, who had dedicated her career to the education of children with mental and physical disabilities.

In 1952, with the help of teachers volunteering their time and efforts after-hours, Barber opened Erie’s first community-based program for children with special needs in a room at the YMCA that allowed them to return to their families at the end of the day.

This was the beginning of the Dr. Gertrude A. Barber Center, now called the Barber National Institute, which currently serves more than 4,000 children and adults with disabilities in Pennsylvania.

Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie announced Dec. 12 that he was formally opening the cause of canonization of Dr. Barber for her life-long efforts to help those in need, influenced by her Catholic faith.

“It is an honor to open the cause for sainthood for Dr. Gertrude Barber,” Bishop Persico said in a statement.

“Her family members, and the thousands of families who have been touched by the work she initiated in her lifetime, are surely thrilled to be part of this historic moment. But I am particularly pleased that the good work of Dr. Barber, motivated by her Catholic faith and undertaken on behalf of those in need, will now be known more fully by those throughout our region and beyond.”

Barber was born in Erie Sept. 16, 1911, the seventh of ten children born to John and Kathryn (Kate) Barber. When Gertrude was just seven years old, her father died during the influenza epidemic. Her oldest sibling did not survive infancy.

According to the Association for the Cause of Gertrude Barber, friends and family encouraged Kate to place her many children in an orphanage. But Kate was determined to keep them all at home, to give them a good education, and to instill in them the value of serving others which she had shared with her husband. All nine of the surviving Barber children graduated high school, and five earned college degrees.

Gertrude earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Penn State University, where she continued her education and earned a master’s in psychology and doctorate in educational administration. She finished post-doctoral work at Syracuse University, the University of Buffalo, and Adelphi University.

Her faith, as well as the values of education and service to others, were foundational to Barber’s career as an educator and advocate for people with disabilities. According to the association, Barber at one time expressed a desire to be a missionary in foreign country, but was encouraged by a superintendent to be a missionary in her home town by becoming an advocate for children with learning and physical disabilities.

In 1933, Barber became a special education teacher for Erie’s school district. Ten years later, she took the position of home and school visitor for the district, and in 1945 she became the district’s coordinator of special education programs.

As a home and school visitor, part of Barber’s job included telling some parents of children with disabilities that their child could not enroll in their local school, and must either be educated at home or sent to faraway institutions.

"I would have to go to the parents and tell them that their children could not go to school anymore," Barber once said.

The experience solidified her convictions to help children with disabilities in a way that kept their families as involved as possible in their lives and education.

In 1952, with a small group of parents, teachers, and volunteers, she opened a classroom for children with disabilities at a local YMCA, and continued to advocate for a more permanent space for her programs. As previously mentioned, this first classroom was the foundation of what is now the Barber National Institute.

In 1958, a former hospital used to treat polio patients was given to Barber by the City of Erie as a space for both a school for children and a program for adults with disabilities, and Barber’s programs quickly expanded. In 1962, Barber was appointed to President John Kennedy's White House Task Force on the Education and Rehabilitation of the Mentally Retarded, where she helped bring national awareness to the needs of children and adults with disabilities.

As the years went on, the Dr. Gertrude A. Barber Center sprouted satellite locations throughout the region. Legislation protecting the rights of children and adults with disabilities passed, and the Center became a hub for implementing new and improved methods of education and training for the disabled.

In the 1970s, Barber established local group homes for adults who had been institutionalized for their disabilities as children, the beginning of now more than 50 group homes for adults with disabilities operating in Erie County today. In the 1990s, Barber worked to turn the center into a national institute for the best research, education, training and care available for people with disabilities.

Barber received numerous awards and honors for her work throughout her life, including an honorary LL.D. degree from Gannon University in 1982, the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from St. John Paul II in 1984, and the Unitas Award from Gannon University in 1984.

Barber died suddenly while on a trip to Florida in 2003 at the age of 87. She is remembered for her selfless, compassionate, personal, and groundbreaking care for children and adults with disabilities.

“Dr. Barber served as a model for all of us to become more giving and to see God in one another,” John Barber, nephew of Dr. Barber and president of the Barber National Institute, said at the announcement of the opening of his aunt’s cause for canonization.

“She established the philosophy which we at the Barber National Institute live by, which is ‘all children are welcome here.’ I know that she would look at this honor today not as a recognition of her, but as an honor for the children and adults she served.”

The opening of the cause means that Barber can now be referred to with the title “Servant of God”, and that the Diocese of Erie will open a formal inquiry into her life and works. Msgr. Thomas McSweeney, a retired priest and former director of the Office of Evangelization for Communications for the Diocese of Erie, will serve as postulator for the cause. He will be interviewing those who knew Barber and want to share testimonies about her impact on their lives.

Once the inquiry is complete, the cause will be presented to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for further approval.

If canonized, Barber could be the first United States layperson to be canonized a saint.

HHS rule again allows religious adoption agencies to serve in face of LGBT demands

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 16:59

Washington D.C., Dec 20, 2019 / 02:59 pm (CNA).- A federal rule change once again allows faith-based adoption agencies to receive federal funding without being required to place children with same-sex couples. The move was welcomed by a religious freedom legal group, but drew opposition from all Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

The previous rule, enacted at the end of the Obama administration in 2016, “threatened to shut out faith-based social service providers” if the adoption and foster care agencies “respect a child’s right to a mother and a father,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said when the proposed change was announced Nov. 1.

The rule change cited several complaints, requests for exceptions, and lawsuits, according to the Department of Health and Human Services notice published in the Federal Register. Some entities outside the federal government voiced concern that the 2016 rule violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the U.S. Constitution, exceeded the authority of the HHS, or reduced the effectiveness of programs.

The change drew support from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

“Every child deserves a chance to be raised in a loving home. That’s why ADF supports HHS’s revision of its regulations to allow both secular and faith-based providers to compete for federal grants on an equal footing,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Zack Pruitt said Dec. 19.

Pruitt said faith-based adoption and foster care providers play “an integral role” in serving vulnerable children, like the 430,000 in foster care system and the 125,000 eligible for adoption.

“Unfortunately, the previous regulation—finalized in the 11th hour of the Obama Administration—failed to protect all providers and discriminated against faith-based providers simply because of their beliefs about marriage. That is not keeping kids first,” Pruitt added.

“HHS’s proposed rule to end this discrimination offers hope for children, more options for birth parents, support for families, and increased flexibility for states seeking to alleviate real human need, he said. “We commend HHS for protecting a diversity of providers to ensure the greatest number of children find a permanent, loving family.”

The Obama administration's rule interpreted existing law to forbid discrimination in the child welfare system not only on basis of sex, but sexual orientation as well. Thus, it began taking action against adoption agencies that did not place children with same-sex couples, on the grounds that they were discriminating against an individual’s sexual orientation.

The Trump administration's rule guarantees legal protection based only on existing statute, which does not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity.

The HHS notice said the previous rule would reduce foster care placements in the HHS Administration for Children and Families. The department acknowledged that some grantees and subgrantees could cease to provide services if forced to comply with the previous rule. Such grantees make up a “substantial percentage of services” and are “effective partners” of federal and state governments.

The Trump administration's action drew protest from all of the U.S. Senate's Democrats, The Hill reports. Every Democratic senator signed an objecting letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

“It is unconscionable that HHS has disregarded essential nondiscrimination protections, chosen to no longer enforce them and has pursued a rollback of the very protections that ensure HHS funding benefits all people in an equitable way,” said the Senate Democratic Caucus' letter.

“We strongly urge the department to enforce existing federal nondiscrimination regulations that protect against discrimination based on sex and religion and rescind this proposed rule,” they said.

A federal court recently blocked the Obama-era regulation from going into effect in a case involving the Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities and a family looking to adopt, represented by the legal group Becket.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Catholic Charities West Michigan in a federal lawsuit against state officials who withheld funding from faith-based adoption agencies over their stances on marriage.

Religious adoption agencies in several states and the District of Columbia have been shut down by anti-discrimination laws that require them to place children with same-sex couples. Anti-discrimination provisions in state funding laws have also resulted in the shut down of agencies that cannot in good faith follow funding requirements that they place children with same-sex couples.

The federal rule would not necessarily change these laws and funding rules at the state level.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) introduced an amendment in a 2018 funding bill to withhold some HHS funding from states that would not allow faith-based organizations to carry out their religious mission in child welfare. The amendment was removed from the legislation before a final House vote.

When the rule change was announced Nov. 1, the U.S. bishops' conference said the previous regulation “threatened to shut out faith-based social service providers, namely adoption and foster care agencies that respect a child’s right to a mother and a father”

“To restrict faith-based organizations’ work by infringing on religious freedom – as the 2016 rule threatened to do - is unfair and serves no one, especially the children in need of these services.”

In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese stopped its adoption services in 2006. Catholic Charities in California and Illinois stopped their adoption services in 2006 and 2011, respectively.

In 2018, Philadelphia stopped placing adoptive children with Catholic Social Services, only days after the city called for 300 new families to adopt foster children.

The city faces a lawsuit by several foster mothers for its decision to stop working with Catholic Social Services. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether or not to review the case, Fulton v. Philadelphia.

Critics of religious freedom protections have established a significant network of NGOs, legal experts and activists to limit religious freedom they consider to be discriminatory on issues of LGBT equality and contraception and abortion access. As CNA has previously reported, some $10 million has been earmarked specifically for this purpose through groups like the Arcus Foundation and the Proteus Fund.

Changes at Houston's University of St. Thomas leave some doubtful

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 16:10

Houston, Texas, Dec 20, 2019 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- As a Catholic university in Texas says it is making necessary faculty cuts to survive, some alumni and faculty are questioning the future of the school’s Catholic liberal arts identity.

The University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, recently announced that the contracts of 30 faculty members, including three tenured professors, would not be renewed for the 2020-21 academic year as part of the school’s “restructuring.”

Of the 30 contracts, 11 were those of faculty who were retiring or would be phased into retirement.

One dismissed tenured faculty member is philosophy professor Fr. Joseph Pilsner, CSB, the former dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Basilian Fathers, the religious community that founded the university in 1947 and has served the school to this day.

Pilsner was originally a tenured theology professor but had been teaching in the philosophy department for several years, and was reportedly popular among students.

Some alumni and current and former faculty have voiced concern over the priest’s contract status, saying that the departure of the university’s last full-time Basilian faculty member is a sign that the college was moving away from its founding.

When alumnus Margaret Cronin, who graduated in December of 2009, attended the university, Fr. Pilsner was the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and chair of the theology department. He was “incredibly intelligent” and a great teacher, Cronin said, in the vein of the order’s charism for teaching.

“I think that it’s just an enormous mistake,” she said of the university’s decision. “Nothing that the university has said has been a sufficient explanation.”

The Basilian Fathers built a residence on the edge of campus several years ago, still maintaining a presence near the school, but no Basilian now serves as a full-time faculty member or campus minister.

“The fact that there are a number of Basilians who could be teaching here but aren’t teaching here does worry me a good deal. Fr. Pilsner is a tremendous loss,” said Mary Catherine Sommers, a former philosophy professor and director of the Center for Thomistic Studies at the university, told CNA.

Concerns about the university run deeper than Fr. Pilsner. Sources that CNA spoke with said that the university’s restructuring process, which resulted in the faculty cuts, is part of a rebranding process that will deemphasize the liberal arts and its Catholic identity to attract more students.

Both the supporters and the critics of the restructuring process agreed that the university is in serious financial trouble and needs to take action.

“The university’s been sustaining an operational deficit for several consecutive years,” Dr. Christopher Evans, the school’s vice president for academic affairs and former chair of the theology department and dean of the school of arts and sciences, told CNA.

Evans told CNA that “the main issue at hand was really a fiscal reality.” Faculty and staff had not received a raise in five years; and across the country, a 15% drop in the number of college-bound students is expected in the next several years.

According to the recent “Report to the University Community on Restructuring Plan,” the restructuring is expected to save the university five to six million dollars per year.

Under the plan, already approved by the board, the School of Arts and Sciences will be reorganized into three divisions: “liberal studies,” “mathematics, technology and life science,” and “social & behavior sciences and global studies.”

Departments, but not majors, will be eliminated and the theology department will become a separate division within the School of Arts and Sciences, “in consultation with the Archdiocese.”

Evans said that the school’s Catholic identity will still be a fundamental part of its future. Several Basilian Fathers remain on the school’s board, he said, and the university has hired several Dominicans to teach philosophy and theology.

The absence of Basilians on the faculty is “more a reflection of the Basilians themselves,” he said.

Professor Andrew Hayes, chair of the university’s theology department who helped craft the proposal for academic restructuring, agreed that the Catholic identity remains a core part of the university.

“UST is blessed with a large number of faithful Catholic faculty: priests, religious, and lay, both men and women. I think we all take seriously that the University’s Catholic identity is a shared responsibility,” Hayes told CNA in a statement.

He added that “we, the faculty, have been faithfully living out the Catholic intellectual life under the inspiration of that [Basilian] charism for many years now. I certainly expect to carry that tradition forward.”

Not all of those affiliated with the university feel that way.

“I love the university, I’ve taught there for over 30 years,” Sommers said, adding that in her view the university has “a real genius” but has failed to recognize it.

One professor, speaking with CNA on condition of anonymity, challenged claims that the vast majority of faculty at the school are Catholic. “The facts are not there,” the professor said. “For 10 years, there’s been no count.”

Still, the restructuring process is necessary to preserve the university and its Catholic identity, those familiar with the process told CNA.

“In order to really distinguish ourselves from the state schools that are much cheaper than us, the crisis also brings a perfect opportunity in my opinion for Catholic higher ed,” Evans said.

“In other words, this is the perfect time to double down on our Catholic identity.”

The university’s choices were to cut whole departments or make across-the-board cuts distributed among departments, Evans explained. The school opted for the latter.

With the new changes, by next year the university’s operations are expected to be budget-neutral for first time in decade. “The cuts were an unfortunate part of the plan, but I think a necessary one,” Evans said.

The changes will also reduce administrative costs and provide faculty more time for teaching, Evans said.

“The idea was that it’s to free up the faculty time to do the teaching, spend the time with the students, rather than having to fill out paperwork all day,” he told CNA.

Hayes agreed, and said that the reorganization would promote a more wholistic view of knowledge for students, rather than a compartmentalized one.

“We are actually freeing the liberal arts, those disciplines that perfect the human being as human, to be more true to themselves,” he said.

The university’s decision to start three new sports—seen as investing in the athletic department while making faculty cuts—is a concern to some, including Sommers.
“I think what boggles the faculty’s mind is the embrace of athletic spending, and spending on things which are not central to academic life, in the face of a large structural deficit. I think that’s probably what gets the faculty most,” Sommers told CNA.

Evans disputed that notion, saying that the school no longer offers athletic scholarships and had to create the new sports out of necessity to comply with NCAA regulations. Money once spent on athletic scholarships will go back into the general scholarship fund, he said.

Alumni were also claiming that a prominent board member at the university—Cecilia Abbott, First Lady of Texas and wife of Governor Greg Abbott—resigned in the middle of the restructuring, in an apparent sign of protest.

The university confirmed to CNA last Friday that Abbott resigned her position on the board “earlier this fall.” The university did not specify the exact date of Abbott’s resignation.

“Although she is no longer on our Board of Directors, we look forward to continuing that strong relationship with her for many years to come,” the university stated on Dec. 13.


US international religious freedom commission reauthorized, with strings

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 17:51

Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2019 / 03:51 pm (CNA).- The Senate is set to re-authorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom for the next three years, in a compromise bill that has drawn charges of hampering its ability to do good work.

The re-authorization is found in an omnibus spending bill that was released Dec. 16.

The move was praised by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s spokeswoman, who said, “The inclusion of provisions related to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020 is vital for continuing to advance religious freedom worldwide.”

She praised the “bipartisan compromise” that will “enhance its credibility and transparency.”

But the new omnibus bill clarifies that commissioners of the USCIRF cannot accept travel expenses from any non-federal source, a change that angered former USCIRF commissioner Kristina Arriaga.

Arriaga resigned from the organization in November, citing “a move towards more bureaucratic controls.”

“USCIRF's strength is derived from its independence, its nonpartisanship, and its nimbleness. It's good that USCIRF lives on but the reauthorization has seriously disabled its effectiveness,” Arriaga told CNA in an email.

Earlier this year, the Senate proposed bills that would have included further restrictions on what the USCIRF’s commissioners were able to do, and what they must report. Arriaga resigned in part due to these proposed policies.

“USCIRF needed reform and transparency, but instead of creating legislation stipulating qualifications required of staff and commissioners, Congress offers legal representation to the staff alone,” she added. This means that “the government becomes both partner and enforcer” and that those who do not “read from the script” of the government will be punished.

“The message from Congress is clear: Commissioners are no longer in charge of the Commission,” said Arriaga.

Lawsuit challenges Nashville suburb's limits on abortion clinics

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 17:28

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 19, 2019 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates warned against efforts to expand abortion after backers of abortion provider Carafem filed a legal challenge against a Nashville suburb’s zoning regulations that limit surgical abortion clinics.

“Wilson County Right to Life is deeply saddened by the fact that Carafem is not only performing medical abortion, but is working toward expanding its abortion services to include surgical abortions in our community through this suit,” Trecia Dillingham, president of Wilson County Right to Life, said Dec. 19. “We regret that we now share the label of abortion destination along with four other Tennessee communities.”

The abortion provider Carafem opened in Mt. Juliet March 1. It said it would initially offer birth control and medical abortions up to 10 weeks into pregnancy. Carafem said it planned to offer surgical abortions in the future, The Tennessean reports.

Carafem’s website bears the motto “Abortion. Yeah, we do that.” It has three other clinics in the U.S., in Atlanta, the Chicago metro area, and the D.C. metro area.

Mt. Juliet, an eastern suburb of Nashville, has a population of about 35,000 people. The Carafem clinic in Mt. Juliet is in a commercial zoning district in a medical pavilion with several medical providers.

Two days after the Mt. Juliet clinic opened, city commissioners met at a specially called Sunday meeting March 3. They introduced an ordinance allowing surgical abortion clinics only in special industrial zones. The ordinance also provides that these abortion clinics cannot be located within 1,000 feet of any churches, parks, schools, libraries, child care facilities, or residential areas, the Associated Press said. Commissioners passed the ordinance unanimously in April.

The lawsuit charges that the ordinance is “a complete ban on surgical abortion clinics within the city limits of Mt. Juliet” both “in purpose and effect.” This illegally targets the constitutional right to an abortion, it argued. It cites city commissioners and the city’s mayor who said their motivations included opposition to aboriton.

The lawsuit aims for a ruling that the ordinance is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction against its enforcement.

Backers of the lawsuit include the ACLU, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

In discussions about the clinic, former city Commissioner Brian Abstom told a local television station, “I am pro-life, so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here,” the Associated Press reports.

Soon after the ordinance passed, Mayor Ed Hagerty said that zoning in general aims “to protect the health, safety and welfare” of city residents, The Tennessean reports.

Other pro-life advocates criticized the lawsuit.

“It's tragic that as most Tennesseans are preparing to celebrate the birth of a child, pro-abortion activists are attacking the fundamental right to life,” Will Brewer, the legislative lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, said Dec. 19. “This litigation underscores the paramount importance of carefully drafting public policies that can withstand the highest constitutional scrutiny.”

Thomas H. Castelli, the legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, defended the lawsuit.

“No matter how someone feels about abortion, it is not their place to judge someone else’s decision to end their pregnancy,” Castelli said. “When a person has made that decision, they should be able to get the care they need without facing unnecessary obstacles.”

“Mt. Juliet politicians passed this targeted ordinance solely to interfere with a woman’s personal decision-making,” he said. “We cannot allow those who want to put abortion completely out of reach to implement another law that stands in the way of necessary, constitutionally-protected health care.”

The ACLU of Tennessee cited the remarks of City Commissioner Brian Abston, who said of the abortion clinic: “I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here.”

His March statement to NewsChannel5 Nashville also said: “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. If there is anything we can legally do to keep them from opening in Mt. Juliet we will do it.”

City Commissioner Ray Justice said that he has talked with commission members who are “100 percent behind shutting this abomination down.”

“This is not Mt. Juliet. This is not us,” he said.

The lawsuit claims that within two days of the clinic’s opening, it was completely booked for 30 days.

Nashville’s Planned Parenthood abortion clinic temporarily halted abortions in December. The Carafem clinic in Atlanta reported many more women traveling from Tennessee to get an abortion during this time, the lawsuit said.

About 8,600 abortions were performed in Tennessee in 2017, according to figures from the Tennessee Department of Health Services.

Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi is among the plaintiffs challenging Tennessee’s 2015 law requiring a 48-hour waiting period and mandatory in-clinic counseling for a woman seeking an abortion. A federal judge has not made a ruling in that case, the Associated Press reports.

Texas Right to Life fined for illegal funding of political ad

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 16:10

Austin, Texas, Dec 19, 2019 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- Pro-life group Texas Right to Life has been issued a $7,500 fine by the Texas Ethics Commission for illegally funding a political radio ad for the 2018 re-election campaign of a Republican state senator, Texas sources have reported.

The ethics commission’s general counsel, Ian Steusloff, told The Dallas Morning News that corporations are normally banned by state law from politically funding candidates or representatives currently in office.

The commission issued the fine to Texas Right to Life, the state affiliate of National Right to Life, in November after it was found that the group’s corporate branch, not its political action committee, had paid $37,915 for a radio ad for the campaign of Senator Bob Hall.

Kimberlyn Schwartz, director of media and communication for Texas Right to Life, told The Dallas Morning News that the group had already “self-corrected and self-reported” the error, and said that the ethics commission “is known for targeting citizens and nonprofits, including Texas Right to Life.”

“Due to the commission's web of rules aimed at limiting free speech, average citizens find it very difficult to be engaged in the political process without incurring hefty fines and lengthy court battles,” Schwartz added.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the funds were used to air radio ads on Dallas stations featuring Hall’s voice starting in December 2017. The ads included a disclosure that they had been paid for by Texas Right to Life.

The expenses were disclosed in a January 2018 finance report, and attributed the funds to Texas Right to Life’s corporate arm.

In February 2018, Texas Right to Life issued a correction, noting that the source of the funds had been “inadvertently” misidentified and that they instead came from its political action arm, just before an ethics complaint was filed against the group.

In March 2018, Texas Right to Life provided documentation to show that their corporation had reimbursed their political action committee for the funds.

That same month, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops encouraged Catholics to sever ties with the group and instead give their time and efforts to other pro-life groups, including Church-sponsored pro-life ministries, after taking issue with Texas Right to Life’s stance on multiple political problems, as well as their voter guide.

In a parish advisory notice issued to Catholic churches in the state, the bishops objected to the group’s opposition to incremental pro-life reforms, such as laws that restrict certain types of abortion rather than outlaw the act entirely, and mentioned “conflicts on end-of-life reform” and issues with the organization’s voter guide among their concerns about the organization.

“The bishops have been compelled to publicly correct Texas Right to Life’s misstatements on end-of-life care and advance directives,” the bishops stated.

“Texas Right to Life implied that the legislation the bishops were supporting allowed euthanasia and death panels rather than the reality that the legislation reflected the long-standing Church teaching requiring a balance of patient autonomy and the physician conscience protection.”

The bishops added that the group’s voter guide excluded pro-life members of the Texas legislature, and “was not based on a fair analysis of a legislator’s work.”

In response, Texas Right to Life issued a statement that they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the bishops’ “uncharitable mischaracterizations” of the group.

Drop in support for the death penalty matches decline in its use

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- As support for the death penalty decreases in the U.S., so does the number of inmates executed by the states, said a new report this week.

The non-profit Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said in a Dec. 17 report that 22 state executions were carried out in 2019, three fewer than in 2018 and the second-lowest rate in nearly three decades.

According to the DPIC, this is the fifth year in a row that states have carried out fewer than 30 total executions, and fewer than 50 new sentences for the death penalty have been handed down. The organization said this drop has coincided with a decrease in public approval for capital punishment, and an increase in public advocacy against it.

A November poll from Gallup found that for the first time in more than three decades, a majority of Americans favor life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

The poll found that 60% of survey respondents said life without parole is the preferable sentence for a person convicted of murder, while 36% said the death penalty is preferable.

The DPIC reported that 32 states have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in a decade. Fewer than 40 new sentences will have been imposed by the end of 2019, the organization projected, which is significantly less than the 1994-1996 peak of capital punishment in the U.S., which saw more than 300 sentences issued annually.

In 2019, Ohio, California, and New Hampshire have either permanently banned or temporarily halted state executions, with other states limiting the crimes eligible for use of the death penalty, the organization said.

This year, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty, completely eradicating use of the punishment in New England. Rep. Renny Cushing (D), a sponsor of the bill and family member of two murder victims, said the practice does not ensure public safety.

“I think it’s important the voices of family members who oppose the death penalty were heard, the voices of law enforcement who recognize that the death penalty doesn’t work in terms of public safety, and the voices of the people in the state that know the death penalty is an abhorrent practice were all heard today by the Legislature,” he said, according to the DPIC.

Ohio suspended executions in February after a court ruling found that part of the lethal drug combination used in the state was comparable to waterboarding, suffocation, and being chemically burned alive. Governor Mike DeWine then halted executions until a humane protocol can be guaranteed.

“Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment,” said DeWine at the time.

California became the fourth state to issue a moratorium on executions in 2019. Governor Gavin Newson announced the new policy on March 13, saying capital punishment is costly, ineffective, and has proven racially biased in its application.

Brandon Garrett, a Duke law professor and an author of several books on prosecution and the death penalty, said the California moratorium is particualrly significant because the state has by far the biggest death row in the nation. California has 729 death row inmates, twice the number in the next largest death row state, Florida.

“Over time, more states that are not executing anyone may reconsider the considerable expense of the death penalty as not a worthwhile use of resources,” he told the Washington Post.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles praised California’s decision, hailing it as a pro-life move that is good for the state and the nation.

“Every human life is precious and sacred in the eyes of God and every person has a dignity that comes from God. This is true for the innocent and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those who commit grave evil and are convicted of the most cruel and violent crimes,” said Gomez.

The Death Penalty Information Center said that numerous cases in 2019 involved mental illness or an error in the legal process.

“Those sentenced to death this year included defendants whose juries did not unanimously recommend a death sentence, a brain-damaged defendant who was permitted to represent herself, a foreign national who waived his right to consular assistance, and others who waived their right to counsel, waived their right to a jury trial, and/or pled guilty and presented no case for life,” the organization said.

It added that two men on death row - both convicted in the 1970s - were exonerated in 2019, bringing the number of exonerations since 1973 to 166. Clifford Williams Jr. was released from Florida’s death row in March and Charles Ray Finch was released from prison in North Carolina in June.

For the World Day Against the Death Penalty in October, three U.S. bishops encouraged mercy during a live video stream. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington emphasized the cases of people who have been found innocent through new evidence or modern DNA testing.

“With the death penalty, there are no re-tries. It concludes and ends a life that may have been wrongly [convicted],” Gregory said.

“The Gospel calls us to mercy. Mercy is never cruel,” he added.


SCOTUS to hear Catholic school religious freedom cases

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Supreme Court will decide two religious freedom cases concerning Catholic schools during its upcoming term, the court announced on Wednesday, Dec. 18.

The court consolidated the cases Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel, and will consider them together.

Both lawsuits concern teachers at Catholic schools who did not have their contracts renewed, apparently after poor performance. In one case, a teacher sued, claiming age discrimination, and in the other, sued claiming that she was discriminated against rights established by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Parents trust Catholic schools to assist them in one of their most important duties: forming the faith of their children,” sMontserrat Alvarado, vice president and executive director at Becket, the law firm providing counsel in both cases, said in a statement to CNA. 

“If courts can second-guess a Catholic school’s judgment about who should teach religious beliefs to fifth graders, then neither Catholics nor any other religious group can be confident in their ability to convey the faith to the next generation,” she added.

The “ministerial exception,” which permits a church or school to hire and fire teachers to their liking, was expanded in the 2012 Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the firing of a teacher at a Lutheran school was not unlawful due to the religious nature of the school.

In the cases in question, courts disagreed that the teachers were in “ministerial” roles at the school. In the Our Lady of Guadalupe School case, Agnes Morrissey-Berru, a teacher at the school in Hermosa Beach, CA, taught religion and led students in prayer. In 2015, her teaching contract expired and was not renewed. She claimed her contract was not renewed because of her age; the school says that she was not a good teacher and received complaints. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Morrissey-Berru.

Kristin Biel was a fifth-grade teacher at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California. Her contract was not renewed. She claims that the school opted not to renew her contract after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. As with Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Ninth Circuit also ruled in favor of Biel and against the school.

Biel was the only fifth-grade teacher at the Catholic school, yet was judged by the court not to have a “ministerial” role in the faith formation of her students.

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement provided to CNA that he is “confident” that the schools will win at the Supreme Court.

“Under our Constitution, government officials cannot control who teaches kids what to believe,” said Rassbach.

“Do we really want judges, juries, or bureaucrats deciding who ought to teach Catholicism at a parish school, or Judaism at a Jewish day school? Of course not,” he added.

“Religion teachers play a vital role in the ecosystem of faith.”

Rep. Loudermilk defends comparison of Trump impeachment to Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A Georgia congressman’s office defended a claim made Wednesday that Jesus Christ was afforded more rights during the trial that led to his crucifixion than President Donald Trump has been given during impeachment proceedings.

“Before you take this historic vote, today, one week before Christmas, I want you to keep this in mind: When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) said on Wednesday on the House floor, amid House debate on a motion to impeach Trump.

“During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus, than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process,” he added before yielding his time.


“...When Jesus was falsely accused of Treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus, than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.” #ShamImpeachment

— Barry Loudermilk (@RepLoudermilk) December 18, 2019  

“Congressman Loudermilk was simply making a comparison about the process; that Pontius Pilate allowed Jesus face his accusers, but the Democrats refused to allow the president or Republicans to even know who the accuser was, much less the right to question him or her,” Brandon Cockerham, Loudermilk’s press secretary, said in an email to CNA.

The 23rd chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke recounts that Jewish religious leaders took Jesus, who had been arrested while praying in Jerusalem's Garden of Gethsemane, to the home of Pontius Pilate, who was then governor of the Roman empire’s Judean province.

“We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king,” the crowd with Jesus told Pilate, according to St. Luke’s Gospel.

While Luke’s Gospel recounts that Pilate found “no guilt” after questioning Jesus and sent him to be questioned by Galilean tetrarch Herod Antipas. Pilate eventually acquiesced to repeated insistence that Jesus be executed.

Christ, subsequent to that execution, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Loudermilk’s Dec. 18 remarks also took issue with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said in November that if Trump had proof of his innocence, “he should make that known.” The congressman claimed that Trump has repeatedly been denied his Constitutional rights throughout the impeachment process.

“The Constitution also guarantees that the accused can call witnesses to testify on their behalf,” said Loudermilk. “But the Republicans and the president were continually denied that right throughout this process.”

The congressman’s remarks refer to a “whistleblower,” who earlier this year accused the president of abusing the power of his office by apparently implying to Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky that military aid to the country would be withheld unless the president worked to assure an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The “whistleblower” and as such, Trump has not been able to question the party. This, said Loudermilk, is a violation of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that people have a right to a fair trial and to face their accuser.

The impeachment process officially began on September 24, 2019, and concerns whether or not Trump abused his power. The two articles of impeachment filed against Trump accuse him of “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” regarding the legislative body’s investigation of Ukraine.

The House of Representatives is set to vote on Wednesday evening to impeach Trump. There will be separate votes for each of the two articles of impeachment that were filed against the president. If the vote passes, the Senate will then hold a trial to decide whether or not to remove Trump from the presidency.