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 (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 59 min ago

For opposing gay marriage, she’s facing death threats and million-dollar lawsuits

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 05:04

New York City, N.Y., Nov 3, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Barronelle Stutzman took a stand for her Christian beliefs four-and-a-half years ago, she never imagined that she would eventually be appealing to the US Supreme Court to defend her decision.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“This was never on my bucket list,” Barronelle told CNA.

The 72-year-old grandmother is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and is currently involved in a lawsuit involving a customer of nearly 10 years, Rob Ingersoll.

Barronelle knew Rob was gay from the beginning. “It was never an issue,” she said. She enjoyed working with him, and said he would pick out creative vases and containers, and would come in with flower requests for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

“I loved doing arrangements for Rob, because I got to think outside of the box, and do something special for him.”

But when Rob came in and told Barronelle that he had gotten engaged to his boyfriend, she took him by the hand and explained that she believed marriage to be a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so she could not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Initially, Rob said that he understood and asked if she could recommend another florist, which she did.

Later, however, his partner posted a message on social media about Barronelle declining to take part in the wedding, and it went viral. Soon, she was informed that she was being sued by the Washington State attorney general and the ACLU. Today, more than four years later, Barronelle is waiting to hear whether the US Supreme Court will take her case.

And while the actual damages being sought by the couple are only around $7 – the mileage cost of driving to another florist – Barronelle could be responsible for more than $1 million in legal fees to nearly a dozen ACLU lawyers opposing her in the case.

Barronelle, who is Southern Baptist, spoke at a Nov. 1 panel discussion in New York City, hosted by ADF International, the global branch of the non-profit legal group that is representing her in court.

The panel discussed Australia’s ongoing marriage referendum and the threats to religious freedom that accompany a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

“Because I have a belief that is marriage is between one man and a woman, we could possibly lose everything we own, everything we’ve saved for our kids and grandkids,” Barronelle said.

She explained that while the decision to decline a same-sex wedding was difficult, it was the only way she could stay true to her beliefs. For her, weddings are much more than simply a job – they’re a deeply personal labor of love, and she pours her heart and soul into her work.

“I spend months – sometimes years – with the bride and groom. I get to know them personally, what they want to convey, what the bride wants, what her vision is. There’s so much personal involvement in this.”

At the wedding, Barronelle will often help greet guests and calm nervous parents. “When we get the bride down the aisle, then I know I’ve done my job,” she said.

With floral arrangements for weddings being such a personal endeavor, she knew that she would be betraying her relationship with Christ if she participated in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, Barronelle has received an outpouring of support – customers coming in to offer a kind word or a hug, strangers telling her they are praying for her family, and messages of encouragement from 68 countries.

But she’s also received death threats. She’s had to install a security system and change her route to work.

“Even today, were very aware of people who come in who might do us harm,” she said.

Also hard, she said, has been losing her relationship with Rob. She said she misses him and harbors no anger against him.

“I can tell you that if Rob walked into my store today, I would hug him, catch up on his life, and I would wait on him for another 10 years if he’d let me.”

She also has a message for her fellow Americans: stand up for religious freedom, before it’s too late.

“Don’t think this cannot happen to you,” she said. “I never thought that we would have a government that would come in and tell you what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create – and if you don’t do it, you’ll be totally destroyed.”

“If we don’t stand now, there will be nothing to stand for.”

Death in the modern age – and how to prepare as a Catholic

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 17:03

Washington D.C., Nov 2, 2017 / 03:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Death. It’s a subject seen as sad, morbid and fearful, something that people would rather not think about, and certainly not discuss.

Yet for Catholics, death is an essential part of the faith.

“For those who die in Christ's grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The celebration of the sacraments hearken for a kind of death: death to self, death as a consequence of sin, a remembrance of Christ’s death and entrance into eternal life.

As the 20th century priest Fr. Henri Nouwen remarked, “Dying is the most general human event, something we all have to do.”

The question, he asks, is “Do we do it well?”

Hiding from death

Advances in medicine and technology have drastically increased life expectancies in the past century. In 1915, most people would not expect to live past age 55. A child born in the US in 2017 is expected to see their 85th birthday.

As a result, death has become something distant and even foreign, argues Julie Masters, a professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

“We get lulled into thinking death doesn’t hit us very often, because it waits until people are very old,” she told CNA. “We know that younger people do die, that middle aged people do die, but in this country, the majority of people who die are going to be older people.”

The average American in the 21st century simply doesn’t have the experience with death that previous generations had, she said. And this lack of experience can lend itself to fear and a tendency to ignore the uncomfortable unknown of the future.

“So we’ll put it off until we have to talk about it, and when we do talk about it, then we get in a pickle because we’re not sure what people want,” Masters said.

Hiding from death can have other consequences, as well. Cultural unease and inexperience with death can affect how we approach loved ones as they die.

“If we’re uncomfortable with death, if someone is dying, we may be unwilling to visit them because we don’t know what to say, when in reality we don’t need to say anything,” Masters said. “We may be less available to comfort them.”

Avoidance of death can also impact vulnerable members of society who are not actively dying, Masters warned.

“Our uncomfortableness with dying may be symptomatic of our desire to control dying and death,” she said. When that control or the fear of becoming a “burden” gives way to conversations about physician-assisted suicide, she continued, “we look at the most vulnerable and say ‘are they really worthy of living, think of all the resources they’re taking up?’”

“Each step in that slope, it gets easier to get rid of people who are no longer valuable or are vulnerable. Yet don’t we learn from the vulnerable?” she questioned. “They’re the ones who teach the strong what’s most valuable in life.”

But Masters also sees a desire to move towards a broader discussion of how to die well. She pointed to the spread of Death Cafes and other guided discussion groups that encourage conversations about death, dying and preparation for the end of life.

Churches can offer a similar kinds of programming, she suggested: “People want to talk about it, they just need the place to do that.”

What does it mean to have a ‘happy death’?

While a person may plan for their death, ultimately the circumstances of one’s passing will be out of their control. However, everyone can aspire to a “good” or “happy” death, said Fr. Michael Witczak, an associate professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America.

He told CNA that the essential qualities of a happy death are being in a state of grace and having a good relationship with God.

The idea of a happy death, or at the very least the aspiration of it, gained popular consideration in the Ars Moriendi – a collection of 15th Century Catholic works laying out the “Art of Dying,” he noted.

The texts elaborate on the temptations – such as despair – that face the dying, questions to ask the dying, advice for families and friends, how to imitate Christ’s life, and prayers for the bedside.

Resources such as these, from ages of the Church that had a more daily experience of death, Fr. Witczak suggested, can be a good resource for beginning to live “intentionally” and to think more about death and how to die well.

Masters agreed that intentionality is key in shifting the cultural mindset on death and dying.
“What if people approached death with the same joy that they greet the birth of a new baby?” she asked.

It’s a fitting analogue, she argues. Both processes – birth and death – are the defining markers of human life, and natural processes that all the living will experience. Both processes also open the door to a similar set of unknowns: What comes next? What will it be like afterwards? How will we cope?

She added that the modern tendency to view death with suspicion and trepidation – or to ignore it altogether – reflects something about the culture.

“If we’re so afraid of death and dying, I have to wonder if we’re also afraid of life and living.”

Last wishes

Discussing death is the first step in making practical preparations for it.

Without planning, Masters said, loved ones may not know a person’s preferences for treatment, finances, or funeral preparations, which can lead to sometimes sharp divides between friends and family. “When we get comfortable talking about death,” she noted, “we can let people know what our wishes are, so that hopefully our wishes are followed.”

Thorough planning includes setting advanced directives and establishing a power of attorney who can make medical decisions on one’s behalf if one is unable to do so.

It is also important to be aware of different care options in an individual’s geographic location. These include palliative care, which focuses on improving quality and length of life while decreasing the need for additional hospital visits. Not just limited to end-of-life situations, palliative care is available for a range of long-term illnesses, and seeks to relieve pain rather than cure an underlying condition.

Hospice care is also an option when the end of life approaches. At this point, the goal is no longer to extend the length of life, but to prepare for death, trying to alleviate pain and offer comfort, while also helping mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to prepare for death.

Funeral planning and creating a will are also important steps in the preparation process. Even for the young or those without material possessions, planning for one’s death can be useful for grieving friends and family members, Masters said. She explained that the idea of creating an “ethical will” is a Jewish tradition in which a person writes a letter or spiritual autobiography, leaving behind the values and morals they found important in their life to pass on to the next generation.

The practice, which is growing in popularity, is available to anyone “to put down into words what’s given their life meaning,” and can have special meaning for those who “feel, because they don’t have a lot of wealth or a lot of possessions, that they have nothing to leave their family.”

Masters pointed to a student of hers who wrote an ethical will shortly before passing away in college and the example of her own grandparents instilling the recitation of the Rosary as people who left behind some of their most meaningful gifts to their loved ones.

“It’s a testament to what that person believed in. What a gift that is!”

Paul Malley, president of the non-profit group Aging with Dignity, stressed that planning the more specific details of end-of-life care can help respect a person’s dignity during illness or on the deathbed.

“Those who are at the end of life, whether they may be suffering with a serious illness or disability, tend to have their dignity questioned,” he told CNA.

The sick and dying are often isolated, receiving care from medical professionals, he explained. And while advanced care planning often focuses on decisions regarding feeding tubes, ventilators, and other medical treatment options, that discussion “doesn’t tell your family anything about what dignified care means to you.”

“It’s important not to just talk about caregiving in terms of medical issues,” Malley stressed. “That’s a small fraction of a day – the rest of the day plays out at the bedside.”

Aging with Dignity promotes planning for acts of comfort, spiritual issues and family relationships in order to make the time surrounding death easier and more dignified for all involved.

“These issues were never talked about when it came to end-of-life care or advanced care planning.” Among some of the requests participants make, he elaborated, are small acts of comfort like cool cloths on a forehead, pictures of loved ones in a hospital room, favorite blankets on a bed, or requests for specific family or friends to come visit.

Planning to incorporate what Malley calls “the lost art of caregiving,” was important to his own family when his grandmother died. “One of the most important things for her was that she always wanted to have her feet poking out of the blanket because her feet were hot,” he recalled.

Although nurses and care providers would often bundle her feet up to try to keep her warm, her family was able to untuck her feet afterwards so she could stay comfortable.

“That might be something that sounds very trivial, very small, but for her, for my grandmother, laying in that bed where she couldn’t get up and couldn’t reach down to pull up her own blanket, having her feet stick out at the edge of the blanket was probably the most important thing to her all day long,” Malley said.

The end of the earthly pilgrimage

For Catholics, spiritual preparation for death should always include the sacraments, Fr. Witczak said.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, important for all the faithful throughout their lives, is a particularly important spiritual medicine for those nearing death.

Anointing of the Sick should be sought for those who have begun to be in danger of death due to sickness or old age, and it can be repeated if the sick person recovers and again becomes gravely ill, or if their condition becomes more grave.

“The Church wants people to celebrate the sacrament as often as they need to,” Fr. Witczak said.

The Eucharist can also be received at the end of life as “viaticum,” which means “with you on the way.”

“It’s receiving the Lord who will be with you on the way to the other side,” said Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

He added that the Eucharist can be received as viaticum more than once, should a person recover, and can also be given even if someone has already received the Eucharist earlier during the day.

A good death is a gift

Prayer, reception of the sacraments, and seeking forgiveness from God and one another can mark death as a time of peace, Fr. Petri said. Death can also be a time of surprise, as it “either amplifies the way a person has lived their life or it causes a complete reversal,” with some people undergoing profound conversions or surprising hardenings of the heart during their last days.

“Much of it really does really on the will of God,” he reflected, adding that we should all pray for the grace of a holy death.

Dying a happy death is not only a blessing for the person dying, but can be a gift to others as well, Fr. Petri said, noting that family and friends can be drawn closer to one another and to God as the result of a holy death.

Masters agreed, adding that “the dying can serve as examples or role models,” by teaching others how to die without fear.

Ultimately, Fr. Witczak said, Christians “do” death differently because Christians “do” life differently.

“I think as human beings, death is a topic we’re afraid of and we’re told not to think about, and the Christian tradition keeps trying to bring it before people, not to scare people, but rather to remind people of their ultimate destiny,” he said.

“This is not simple and it’s something people ultimately have to learn for themselves, but it’s the important task of life. I think what the Church tries to do is to help people live their life fully and even live their death as an entryway into the life that is promised to us by Jesus Christ.”

Looking toward death and the vulnerability that surrounds it can be a vital way of encountering death – and overcoming the fear of it, he said.

Masters agreed, noting that those who have had encounters with death or profound suffering often “look at life differently.”

“They understand it is so fleeting. But because they know how close death is they look at life in a different way.”

For many people, this different approach to life includes an increased focus on family, friends and service, she said. “That’s how you’re remembered at the end of the day: what did you do for other people?”

Starting with even the most basic conversations about death, she added, can be beneficial for those wanting to confront mortality.

“When you can acknowledge that you’re going to die, you can begin to live your life.”

Bishop Morlino: don't let funeral controversy overshadow Christ's love

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 14:51

Madison, Wis., Nov 2, 2017 / 12:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, misconceptions and negativity are dominating the reaction to his diocese’s private message to priests about funeral rites for people in a same-sex union.

The reaction includes a well-publicized internet petition asking Pope Francis to remove him from office.

“The observations and reactions that have been made simply do not account for the total context,” Bishop Morlino said in his Oct. 30 column. “And what has grown from there is a flurry of opportunity for people to jump to every sort of negative conclusion and to air those negative judgements freely and widely. All of this has occurred very much absent the reality of the situation.”

His column for the Madison diocese’s Catholic Herald newspaper was titled “Church invites all to encounter Jesus Christ”.

The bishop said news coverage of an internal message to priests have confirmed some people in their long-held judgements, but have left others “sad and scratching your heads.”

“In truth, I find myself in that latter group,” he said. Bishop Morlino said he prayed and reflected on the controversy and thought there were “misconceptions at the most basic level.” The Church loves everyone and invites them to encounter Jesus Christ, he said, adding: “so long as we live and breathe we are being called by the Risen Lord to know Him, to follow Him, and to be changed by Him.”

The Diocese of Madison was more critical of the negative reaction.

“It is lamentable that some who have willfully and flippantly spread gossip, rumor, and sadly even calumny, in recent days on this subject, have done so without asking the diocese for any clarification whatsoever,” the diocese said Oct. 24. “Likewise, those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls ‘a work of darkness’.”

Vicar general Msgr. James Bartylla, in the message to priests, addressed funeral rites for a person in a same-sex union. The communication concerned various topics like whether the deceased or his or her partner was a promoter of the gay lifestyle and whether the deceased gave signs of repentance.

The memo discussed ways to avoid causing scandal and confusion to the faithful, which could lead others into sin or confuse or weaken people regarding Catholic teachings, and reflected existing canon law. One way to avoid scandal would be to avoid giving a partner a prominent role in a church rite or service, the memo said.

Local media and the Associated Press have reported on an online petition at Change.org that has attracted more than 6,600 signatures calling on Pope Francis to remove Bishop Morlino.

The petition may be signed from anyone in the world, not simply those in the Madison diocese. It was addressed to Pope Francis as well as apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, but the petition misspelled “apostolic.” Others addressed in the petition were Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland; and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

CNA sought comment from the apostolic nunciature and several canon law experts but did not receive a response by deadline.

The petition claimed the instruction encouraged priests to “invasively inquire” about a deceased’s lifestyle and about whether he or she had repented prior to death. It claimed that the bishop is “an open and practicing bigot whose attitudes and opinions about the LGBTQI members of his Diocese (and our beloved families) are nothing short of inhumane.” It also claimed he has a “corrosive and corrupt influence over the diocese” in ways like trying to influence voters. Characterizing the statement as “threats to priests,” it charged that these amount to “a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.”

Amelia Royko Maurer, a self-described human rights advocate from Madison, Wis., launched the petition. In a message at the petition site, Maurer charged the bishop and his vicar general have a “hateful, bigoted agenda,” harmful to those who identify as LGBTI, that “does not belong anywhere much less here in Madison.

She said she grew up attending several Catholic parishes in the diocese and currently had family at several parishes. It was not clear whether she was still a practicing Catholic.

The Madison diocese that the message to priests was not an official policy, but it conforms to the thinking of Bishop Morlino. It was delivered in a weekly email to priests from the diocese’s vicar general, in response to pastoral questions from priests themselves. It aimed to address these questions in “a confidential setting.”

No policy could adequately cover any case, the diocese said, and pastors are responsible for addressing particular situations of their people “whom they ideally know well and whom they have accompanied, even until their death.” Priests are advised to think through the questions “thoroughly and prudently.”

Bishop Morlino said that the rites and sacraments of the Church have been given by Christ “to be dispensed liberally by the Church upon all those who seek to live that life of discipleship.”

“Ideally, the expression of a desire to follow Jesus does not occur at the last moment of life, but is lived joyfully each day,” he said. “But even for those who make the slightest turn to follow Him with their very last breath, Jesus Christ and His Church welcome them with tremendous rejoicing.”

Those who have the impression the Church is closed to them should speak to a priest and learn the truth, “and the truth will set you free,” the bishop said.

He said that individuals who attempt to follow Christ while experiencing same-sex desires are “laboring under a tremendously heavy cross.” He stressed all Christians’ duty to support them. He encouraged those who want to know Christ to use “every means that the Church offers and to which you are disposed.” He encouraged them to speak to their local priest or if they feel they cannot, to ask God to help them.

Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of America Magazine, was critical of Bishop Morlino’s vicar general in an Oct. 23 Facebook post, claiming Catholic teaching is almost always applied selectively in such cases and would not be applied to a heterosexual who is in an irregular situation, such as an illicit union.

Also critical of the vicar general was New Ways Ministry, a group whose claim to be Catholic was rejected by the U.S. bishops in 2010. The group has taken funding from wealthy groups like the Arcus Foundation that aim to change religious groups that do not support LGBT causes. New Ways Ministry linked to Fr. Martin’s post.

The last major advocacy campaign seeking the removal of a U.S. bishop took place in early 2015.

San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone was targeted by a public relations campaign due to a controversy over a Catholic K-8 school and its connected parish, Star of the Sea. Alumni, schoolchildren’s parents and other allies objected to several policies, including priests’ decision to have only boys, and not girls, as altar servers.

“Everyone is praying that the Pope will remove the San Francisco Archbishop and these priests,” Sam Singer, the head of the San Francisco-based Singer Associates, Inc., had said in a February 2015 Google Plus post.

That campaign then fed into controversies surrounding the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s proposed morality clauses in its handbook for teachers at its Catholic high schools.

Archbishop Cordileone still heads the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

What society can learn from the Catholic Church regarding child protection

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 02:02

Denver, Colo., Nov 2, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One month after an avalanche of sexual assault accusations were lobbed against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, another Hollywood scandal broke.

This week, actor Anthony Rapp accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexually assaulting him as a minor. Spacey apologized, but said he didn’t remember the encounter, and also took the opportunity to come out as gay.

In the early 2000s, the Catholic Church in the United States was also reeling from a sex abuse crisis when the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting 130 minors, mostly young boys, over the course of more than 30 years. This led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has put into place numerous policies and practices to protect children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Charter for Child and Youth Protection.

The charter, implemented in 2002, obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive annual report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Heidt Kozisek is a psychologist and the director of the Child Protection Office for the Diocese of Grand Island, which is in compliance with the charter.

Her diocese, like most throughout the country, has an abuse prevention program called Safe Environment training that is required for all adult employees and volunteers within the diocese, which trains them in preventing abuse, recognizing warning signs, and reporting incidents of abuse.

They also provide children in the diocese with education on appropriate relationships, Kozisek said.

“We educate children and youth in the qualities of right relationships and what to do when a relationship isn’t right; and provide continuing education for youth and adults with a goal of helping all experience right relationships throughout their lifespan,” she said.

“We strive to create a culture of healing and protection, where fostering right relationships, building resilience, and promoting healing are an integral part of who and how we are with children and youth, rather than merely a series of programs.”

Kozisek added that the USCCB charter provides the basic guidelines and principles for child protection in the U.S. dioceses, which then implement them with some specific considerations for their individual communities and the resources available within them.

When abuse allegations are reported, Kozisek said the protocol is first to report the abuse to local law enforcement authorities and to Child Protective Services. The accused person is immediately suspended from ministry pending a legal and internal investigation.

If someone is legally charged, they are immediately barred from ministry. Even if an accused individual is not legally charged, but the internal investigation still finds them “unfit for ministry”, they are removed from their employment or volunteer position, Kozisek said.

The Archdiocese of New York is also compliant with the USCCB charter, and has trained more than 100,000 people in providing a safe environment for children.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy for the New York archdiocese, told CNA that the local Church has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sexual abuse of minors, and that they also follow the protocol of having both legal and internal investigations of each allegation of abuse.

“At the conclusion of our investigation, if the accused is a cleric we submit the case to the Advisory Review Board for evaluation,” he said.

“If they determine that the allegation is substantiated, then a recommendation is made to the cardinal that the cleric be permanently removed from ministry. If the accused is a layperson, and we determine that the allegation is substantiated, then they are discharged from employment or volunteer service and permanently barred from any ministry. As a result, we have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity.”

Last year, the USCCB found widespread compliance throughout the country in their annual report on the implementation of the charter.

The report, carried out by the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board, found that 189 dioceses and eparchies were compliant with the charter and one diocese was partially compliant, specifically with Articles 12 and 13, which require proof that training programs are in place and that background checks are conducted on employees, clerics, and volunteers.

The one diocese not fully compliant is that of Lincoln, though according to the report the diocese plans to fully participate in the audit next year.

According to the 2016 report, 386 out of the 838 people who reported past abuse as minors accepted diocesan outreach and healing, and continued support was provided to 1,646 victims.

Mechmann said the key to combating abuse is combating a culture of abuse, which the Church has worked hard to do since the scandal of the early 2000s. The Church continuously reviews and updates recommended abuse prevention and reporting procedures and strives for full disclosure and a zero-tolerance policy of abuse.

“In the area of child protection, the corporate culture is the most important element. In the Church, we have successfully made child protection a key part of our regular course of business and we have made it unequivocally clear that any kind of sexual sin against minors is utterly unacceptable,” he said.

“We have put into place strong policies that are aimed to prevent any abuse. These policies are taken very seriously by the leadership of the Church (laity and clergy alike) who have all demonstrated repeatedly that they are committed to the program. We have demonstrated over and over again that we are open to receiving complaints, we take all allegations seriously, we vigorously investigate them, and we are firm in correcting any problem,” he said.

Hollywood, he noted, could learn from the Church’s work in combating a culture of abuse.
“The contrast with the entertainment industry couldn’t be more stark - there is clearly a corporate culture of sexual vice, there is no commitment to cleaning out the bad elements, and they are doing little or nothing to prevent further abuse.”

The USCCB declined to comment on this story.

Theologian resigns from USCCB committee after publishing letter to Pope Francis

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 19:14

Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2017 / 05:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission has resigned his position as a consultant to the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, following the publication of a letter written to Pope Francis asking the Pope to correct the “chronic confusion” of his pontificate, which he says “fosters within the faithful a growing unease.”

Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., who previously served as Executive Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Doctrine, sent the five-page letter to Pope Francis July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Weinandy told Crux that he sent the letter after a powerful experience of discernment convinced him that “Jesus wanted me to write something” that would “be of help to Pope Francis, to the Church, and to the faithful.”

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, James Rogers, Chief Communications Officer of the USCCB, said that “after speaking with the General Secretary of the Conference today, Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., has resigned, effective immediately, from his position as consultant to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine. The work of the Committee is done in support of, and in affective collegiality with, the Holy Father and the Church in the United States. Our prayers go with Father Weinandy as his service to the Committee comes to a close.”

Weinandy’s letter, published by Crux on Wednesday, addressed five points. Weinandy told the Pope that his pontificate had fostered confusion, diminished the importance of doctrine in the Church’s life, appointed bishops who teach and act in harmful ways, fostered a culture of fear among bishops, and caused faithful Catholics to lose confidence in the papacy.

The letter also expressed Weinandy’s “love for the Church and sincere respect” for the office of the Pope. The priest expressed hope that by recognizing “darkness, the Church will will humbly need to renew herself, and so continue to grow in holiness.”

Father Thomas Petri, OP, academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, told CNA that Weinandy “is a theologian of the highest caliber,” and that the “letter to His Holiness is quite obviously written with a deep filial piety and loyalty to both our Holy Father Pope Francis and to the Church.”

“There is no need to continue to litigate theological points in the public square and so Father Weinandy says directly but, I think, charitably what he believes is on many people's minds. Many priests are confronted daily by members of the lay faithful expressing confusion and concern in reports they read or hear about Pope Francis and his advisors,” Petri added.

Chad Pecknold, professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, agreed. Weinandy “is arguably the most distinguished Franciscan theologian working in the English language today,” Pecknold told CNA. “He is a theologian centered in the Church, and not at all at her outermost fringe. So his letter carries the weight of the center.”

“Rather than presume to correct, Father Weinandy describes the current situation, and informs the Holy Father that what seems to many like ‘intentionally ambiguous’ teaching has led to confusion, leading some of his own advisors to publicly advance error….There is something admirable about the impassioned plea of a son of St. Francis writing to Pope Francis, in truth and love, as a son to a father. His love for the pope is evident throughout his appeal.”

While Pecknold called Weinandy’s letter “deferential,” he told CNA “it is certainly reasonable to ask whether it should have been published in the media.”

Jacob Wood, theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, raised similar concerns. “If Father Weinandy’s intention is fraternal correction, publishing his letter might not be the best way to go about it,” Wood told CNA. “It is easy for our intentions to get warped when treated in the mass media by people who don’t share the perspective of faith. There does exist some danger of scandal.”

Weinandy told Crux that he published the letter because it “expresses the concerns of many more people than just me, ordinary people who’ve come to me with their questions and apprehensions,” adding: “I wanted them to know that I listened.”

RR Reno, editor of First Things magazine, and formerly a professor of theology at Creighton University, told CNA that publishing letters like Weinandy’s can be helpful to Catholics.

“Weinandy’s letter is an attempt to clearly state problems we face,” Reno said.

“Everyone in the Church has a role – priests laity and bishops – and each of us is going to have to make a discernment how best to serve the Church in the current climate. We have to discuss how to move forward in this pontificate as loyal members of the Church,” he said, adding that Weinandy’s letter is a helpful catalyst for such discussion.

Reno also said that publicizing letters like Weinandy’s “aids people who are in positions of responsibility,” in the Church, “providing some support for those who want to address the challenges the Church is facing.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, “on the nature of dialogue within the Church,” which he said was occasioned by the publication of Weinandy’s letter and his resignation. DiNardo said that theological debates are often the subject of media attention, which “is to be expected and is often good.”

DiNardo added that theologians and bishops should make every effort to interpret the Holy Father’s teaching charitably, and that all Catholics should “acknowledge that legitimate differences exist” among Catholics, “and that it is the work of the Church, the entire body of Christ, to work towards an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth.”

Father Charles L. Sammons, OFM Cap, told CNA that he lived with Weinandy in 2015. “I experienced Fr. Thomas as an uncomplicated and earnest person who simply loved the Lord and his Church, and didn't seem to have many concerns apart from that. I remarked to myself more than once that this seemed like a blessed way to live,” Sammons told CNA.

Sammons said that time with Weinandy “had been given to me as a grace of good example, for my own religious life as a Capuchin friar.”

Notre Dame to cut birth control coverage for faculty, students

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 18:55

South Bend, Ind., Nov 1, 2017 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The University of Notre Dame has announced to its employees and students that it plans to end birth control coverage in 2018, following broad religious exemptions recently added to the federal contraceptive mandate.

According to Indiana Public Media, the University sent out letters to staff and students Oct. 27 informing them of the coming changes, which will go into effect in January 2018 and August 2018 respectively.

Notre Dame is taking advantage of recently-added religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services Oct. 6.

Father John Jenkins, president of the university, welcomed the changes because "critical issues of religious freedom were at stake."

"For that reason, we welcome this reversal and applaud the attorney general’s statement that ‘except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,'" he said in an Oct. 6 statement.

Previously, the Catholic university was one of several organizations that sued the government over the federal contraceptive mandate, which required most organizations to provide birth control coverage either directly or through a third party service.

As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame objected to this mandate on the grounds that all forms of contraception are against Catholic moral teaching. The university, along with dozens of other Catholic institutions, argued in the lawsuit that the third party option would still make them cooperate in an act to which they were morally opposed.

A federal judge ruled that the mandate did not infringe on the university’s religious freedom, and Notre Dame was legally obligated to allow for contraceptive coverage through the third party service.

Now, the new broadening of exemptions to the contraceptive mandate on religious or moral grounds will allow the university to drop all coverage of birth control.

Notre Dame will still cover birth control medications or procedures if they are being used as a treatment for other medical problems, such as endometriosis.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, challenging the new religious exemptions.

The recent expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate was issued the same day that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined new principles of religious freedom that federal agencies and departments were to adopt.

Speaking to CNA Oct. 6, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said the new religious freedom protections, including the contraception exemptions, were a “victory for the First Amendment, and a victory for all Americans, even those who don’t agree with the Church’s” teaching on contraception.

“I think it restores a balance that was lacking,” said the archbishop, who is chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty. “It permits us to do our ministries” without violating Catholic moral principles, he added.

Cardinal Wuerl: We must address the challenge of racism

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a new pastoral letter on racism, the Archbishop of Washington has encouraged Catholics to recognize the dignity of every human person, and to address the challenges – both subtle and obvious – posed to that dignity by various kinds of racism and discrimination in the United States.

The Catholic Church has a very important role in speaking out on racism – particularly within the Archdiocese of Washington, explained Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, in an interview with CNA. “As I say in the letter, it falls to the Church to be the conscience of the nation. That’s our task.”

“When it comes to something as critical as what’s happening in the area of racism, we all agree that our people, our priests, should give some sort of spiritual and pastoral leadership.”

The process of writing the letter, titled “The Challenge of Racism Today” began years ago, after an archdiocesan synod identified racism and diversity as priorities to be addressed by the archdiocese, Wuerl told CNA. Prominent instances of racial discrimination over the past several years, in addition to movement by the U.S. bishops to address racism around the country, demonstrated the need to issue a pastoral letter addressing the issue for the archdiocese, he said. The letter is addressed to the clergy, religious, and laity of the Archdiocese of Washington.

In August, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formed an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism in order to confront racism around the nation, following violence in Charlottesville, Va. The bishops last issued a collective pastoral reflection on racism in 1979, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.”

In his letter, Wuerl pointed to both “subtle” and “obvious forms of racism, and called on Catholics to recognize all forms of racism and discrimination operative in American communities. He noted that while racism is a complex social problem, “there is something we can do about it even if we realize that what we say and the steps we take will not result in an immediate solution to a problem that spans generations.” Wuerl especially encouraged Catholics to know that there are steps they personally can take to mitigate racism.

Wuerl pointed out that the United States has experienced “exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples,  Asians,  Latinos,  Japanese-Americans  and others,  including people  from various parts of Europe,” but noted that African-Americans have faced the most racial discrimination in American history. “In our homeland, the most profound and extensive evidence of racism lies in the sin of centuries of human trafficking, enslavement, segregation and the lingering effects experienced by African-American men, women and children,” he wrote.
Discrimination continues today through “ignorance,” the “silent support of other expressions of discrimination” within some sectors of society, and a lack of interaction with those from other backgrounds.

He wrote that racial prejudice is “a hindrance to unity and a heavy burden for some to bear. The pain it causes in people’s lives is very real.”

Wuerl also pointed to the “witness of African-American Catholics who through eras of enslavement, segregation and societal racism have remained steadfastly faithful,” as well as the perseverance of the faith of immigrant communities “who have not always felt welcome in the communities they now call home.”

To address racism, Wuerl highlighted the importance of understanding that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and of recognizing their fundamental equality and dignity as a human person. He also called for parishes and individual Catholics to actively work against racism in their churches and in their own hearts, also encouraging evangelization efforts “to welcome and  reach out to people of every race, culture and nationality.”

Wuerl pointed to initiatives within the Archdiocese of Washington that celebrated diversity of the Catholic Church in the Archdioceses of Washington, such as the celebration of Black History month with the archdiocesan Gospel Choir, events for Our Lady of Guadalupe among the Latino community, or the training of priests, Church staff and teachers in cultural competency for the vast array of backgrounds present in the Archdiocese.

The cardinal called for social action addressing fair housing access, non-discrimination in the workplace, education which truly respects diversity, and reform of the criminal justice system.

“Intolerance and racism will not go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone’s part.  Regularly we must renew the commitment to drive it out of  our  hearts,  our  lives  and our community,” he stated.

While the Church and society have gradually improved their response to racism throughout the centuries, more work is done, Wuerl said. “We’ve been at this now for centuries, but each generation can build on what we’ve learned,” said Wuerl in an interview with CNA. “You can’t just say ‘finally we’re all done.’”

Wuerl said that addressing racism is, in some ways, similar to the efforts required for sanctity. “You just can’t say at some point in your life ’there it is, I’ve done it,’ and so it is with any of the living out the Gospel issue: racism one of them. Society can’t just say, ‘there, we’ve done it.’”

Pro-lifers laud US Senate's confirmation of judicial nominee

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 13:53

Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2017 / 11:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic and pro-life groups are welcoming the Senate's confirmation on Tuesday of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Barrett had faced hostile questions about her Catholic faith during her confirmation hearing.

“Amy Coney Barrett will make an excellent judge and we welcome her confirmation despite unprecedented and unconstitutional attacks on her faith,” Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said Oct. 31. “Catholics were alarmed by the anti-Catholic bigotry on display from Democrats during her hearings, but her confirmation is a testament to the enduring constitutional principle that there can be no religious test for office.”

President Trump's nominee was confirmed by a 55-43 vote, largely along party lines.

Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, was pointedly questioned by Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee in September on how her Catholic faith would influence her decisions as a judge on cases of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, told Barrett outright that her Catholic beliefs were concerning, as they may influence her decisions as a judge on abortion rights.

“I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern,” Feinstein stated.

Reacting to Barrett's confirmation, Americans United for Life said it is “especially encouraged,” and added that her scholarship has “demonstrated her dedication to preserving the originalist legacy of her former boss, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.”

Pro-life group the Susan B. Anthony List also welcomed the confirmation, calling it “a victory for the pro-life movement as well as for the fundamental freedom of all Americans to live out their faith in the public square.”

SBA List's president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, added that “We thank President Trump for keeping his promise to nominate judges who will respect the Constitution and not impose a pro-abortion agenda from the bench. We also thank Leader McConnell and Senator Grassley for their commitment to getting these excellent judges confirmed.”

During her confirmation hearings Barrett repeatedly said that as a judge, she would uphold the law of the land and would not let her religious beliefs inappropriately alter her judicial decisions.

She told Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that “it's never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”

In 1998, Barrett co-authored an article in the Marquette Law Review with then-Notre Dame law professor John Garvey, now president of The Catholic University of America. The article focused on Catholic judges in death penalty cases.

Catholic judges, if their consciences oppose the administering of the death penalty, should, in accordance with federal law, recuse themselves from capital cases where a jury recommends a death sentence, Garvey and Barrett wrote. They should also recuse themselves from cases without a jury where they have the option of granting a death sentence, they wrote.

During her confirmation hearing Barrett said she continues to uphold “that if there is ever a conflict between a judge’s personal conviction and that judge’s duty under the rule of law, that it is never, ever permissible for that judge to follow their personal convictions in the decision of a case rather than what the law requires.”

Barrett has twice been honored as “Distinguished Professor of the Year” at Notre Dame, and had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Senate also confirmed, on Nov. 1, the confirmation of Joan Larsen to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, by a 60-38 vote. Larsen is also a former clerk for Scalia, and her confirmation was also welcomed by SBA List.

Bishop calls on Congress to consider tax reform’s impact on ‘the least of these’

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:30

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2017 / 07:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With House lawmakers set to release their tax reform bill on November 1, one U.S. bishop has laid out moral principles encouraging Congress to care for the poor, families, and the common good.

"You are urged to recognize the critical obligation of creating a just framework aimed at the economic security of all people, especially the least of these," wrote Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida in a letter addressed to Congress.

The letter outlines moral principles to be considered alongside the "Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code,” the Trump administration's template for rewriting and simplifying federal taxes.

“Care for the poor” is first among the bishop’s principles, which also include avoiding cuts to poverty programs to finance the tax reform.

Bishop Dewane, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, cited the U.S. bishops’ commitment to evaluating the tax system in terms of its impact on the poor. He emphasised that the burden of tax reform should not fall upon those struggling to meet their daily needs.

One possible impact of the proposed tax changes could be a reduction in charitable giving, Dewane warned.

Although the simplification of the tax code in the “Unified Framework” retains tax incentives for charitable contributions, the elimination of the estate tax and increase in the overall standard deduction could reduce incentives to give, leaving the poor vulnerable, he said.

While particularly concerned about the reform’s potential impact on the poor, Dewane’s letter affirmed that some proposed tax changes in the “Unified Framework” could be instrumental in strengthening and encouraging families. An increase in the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit could be of particular benefit to families, especially if the “marriage penalty” in the existing tax credit is removed, he said.

The pending overhaul of the current tax system, if passed, is likely to leave a lasting impact on U.S. tax revenues and public spending for years to come. The U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development seeks to ensure that these changes secure a positive future for the poor and for families, DeWane said.

Quoting the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” Bishop Dewane’s letter reminded lawmakers that “the goal to be sought is public financing that is itself capable of becoming an instrument of development and solidarity.”

 

This Native American is officially on the path to sainthood

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 20:57

Rapid City, S.D., Oct 31, 2017 / 06:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lakota medicine man turned Catholic catechist Nicholas Black Elk has begun the path to potential canonization with a Mass in South Dakota opening his cause for sainthood.

“From a very young age, there was an openness to the Spirit of God in his life,” Bishop Robert Gruss of Rapid City, S.D. said at an Oct. 21 Mass. “God used a personal invitation from a Jesuit priest to lead this child of God, Black Elk, down a new path to becoming this great disciple in the Catholic faith for the Lakota people.”

The Mass, which opened Black Elk's cause for canonization, was celebrated at Holy Rosary Church near Pine Ridge, S.D. Family members of Black Elk were in attendance.

“For 50 years, Black Elk lived this mission in leading others to Christ,” said the bishop, crediting his love for God and Sacred Scripture for motivating him to become a catechist. In that role, he brought hundreds of people to the Catholic faith.

The bishop cited Black Elk's own words from his missionary letter: “I spoke mainly on Jesus – when he was on earth, the teachings and his sufferings. I myself, do a lot of these things. I suffer, and I try to teach my people the things that I wanted them to learn.”

If Black Elk is canonized, he will be the first official saint from the Diocese of Rapid City, according to his biography on the diocese website.

He was born sometime between 1858 and 1866. Like many of his ancestors, he served as a medicine man, which combined the roles of medical doctor, spiritual adviser and counselor.

Despite the promises of the Great Sioux Treaty of 1868, gold-seeking settlers and prospectors began moving into Dakota Territory in 1874. This led to the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. Black Elk was at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.

The following year, he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which toured Europe, including a performance before Queen Victoria. Black Elk continued to tour the continent with another Wild West show, encountering the cultures of England, France, Germany and Italy. He learned to speak some English and returned to the U.S. in 1889.

In 1890, he was injured at the Wounded Knee Massacre, where a bullet grazed his thigh.

Two years later, he married Katie War Bonnet. They had three children. After she converted to Catholicism, all three children were baptized.

The year after she died, Black Elk converted to Catholicism and was baptized on Dec. 6, 1904, the Feast of St. Nicholas. He took Nicholas as his baptismal name because he admired the saint's generosity.

He married again in 1905. His second wife, Anna Brings White, was a widow with two children. They had three children together and she passed away in 1941.

The practice in the Diocese of Rapid City was for Jesuit priests to select Lakota Catholic men to teach the faith as catechists. They taught the faith, prayed and prepared converts in the Lakota language, traveling by foot or by horseback until automobiles became available.

Black Elk became a catechist in 1907, chosen for his enthusiasm and his excellent memory for learning Scripture and Church teaching. His work brought more than 400 people into the Catholic Church.

The medicine man became prominent through “Black Elk Speaks,” John G. Neihart's biographical work. The work covers his Lakota upbringing, though not his adulthood as a Christian.

Black Elk passed away Aug. 19, 1950 at Pine Ridge.

Bishop Gruss reflected on the possible saint's life.

“He embraced the mission to which he had been called – to help others live in the balance of the Lakota and Catholic culture leading to a deeper life in Jesus,” the bishop continued. “He melded whatever he could from his Lakota culture into his Christian life. This enculturation can always reveal something of the true nature and holiness of God.”

“He challenged people to renew themselves, to seek this life that Christ offers them,” he said.

“Of course, Christ’s work is never done,” said the bishop, adding that all Christians have been called into the missionary field.

“Our baptism leads us there. Like Black Elk, if we are docile to the Lord’s will, devoting our lives to Him, we will be out working for His Kingdom of mercy, love, and peace.”

Bishop Gruss stressed the need to continue to gather more information and testimony about the life of Black Elk and to pray that his cause merits advancement.

Bill White of Porcupine, S.D., is the diocesan postulator for the cause. He is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation. White is being assisted by Fr. Joe Daoust, S.J., of Pine Ridge.

Deacon Ben Black Bear from St. Francis Mission is translating some of Black Elk's writings from the Lakota language to English, the diocese said.

 

Cardinal Dolan calls New Yorkers to unite 'in faith and love’ after attack

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 18:11

New York City, N.Y., Oct 31, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has called New Yorkers to unity, prayer, and mutual respect after at least eight people were killed and 12 were injured in an act of terrorism on Tuesday afternoon.

“Today our city and our nation are stunned and horrified by another act of senseless violence. While details continue to emerge, one thing is clear: once again, no matter our religion, racial or ethnic background, or political beliefs, we must put our differences aside and come together in faith and love,” the cardinal said in a statement.

The attack took place on West Street in lower Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed by an act of terrorism on September 11, 2001. A rented Home Depot truck drove through a crowd on a pedestrian and bike path, before striking a school bus, New York City officials reported. The attacker was apprehended by police, and remains in custody.

“This was an act of terror, a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference shortly after the attack.

Dolan encouraged New Yorkers of all faiths “to support those who are injured, pray for those who have died as well as their families and loved ones, and work towards greater respect and understanding among all people so that heinous and evil acts like this become a thing of the past.”

What to do about Halloween? Catholic moms – and an exorcist – weigh in

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 05:01

Denver, Colo., Oct 31, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing,” Cunningham told CNA. “People were just out talking while kids were trick or treating, and it had been really nice up until that point.”

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character “Freddy Krueger,” a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cunningham’s youngest at that point was a year and a half, “and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger.”

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn’t alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

“We knew it would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected,” Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas – what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a “baptized” form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast – All Hallow’s Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus “baptize,” the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist’s perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it’s important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that’s all good clean fun,” Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it’s just for entertainment.  

“In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like,” he said, “because it’s a violation of a Church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God.”

“And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil.”

It’s also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

“It’s because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they’re celebrating that day, they’re actually inviting more evil into our lives,” he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said.

“A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we’re not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do.”

Trick-or-treating Catholics

Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she’s found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

“Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?” she said.

“Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It’s just so different from when we were little.”

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

“We let them know that we’re having a party because it’s celebrating the saints in heaven, we’re celebrating them, so when they’re trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it’s because it’s a party for all the saints.”

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it’s important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

“I think as Christians we’re so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us,” she said. “But then we lose the history of it, and we think, ‘Oh well this is the devil’s day,’ just because some people say it is.”

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they’re not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

“I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we’ll talk about different saints,” Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off-limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

“As Catholics it’s important that we don’t become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith,” she said. “If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don’t even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture.”

 

This article was originally published Oct. 31, 2015.

Memento mori - How religious orders remember death

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 19:00

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- There’s an old Latin phrase that’s suddenly new again - at least in the realm of Catholic Twitter™.

The resurgence of the the Latin phrase “memento mori” (remember your death) is thanks in large part to tweeting nun Sr. Theresa Aletheia, a “media nun” with the Daughters of St. Paul, who has been recording, via tweets, what it’s like to have a (plastic) skull sitting on her desk:
 

 

Day 94 w ????on my desk:  

If we could taste the joys of heaven for even a moment, we would have no fear of death.#mementomori

— Sr. Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) October 27, 2017


 

 

The phrase, and practice, has caught on, and a quick Twitter search of #mementomori now reveals hundreds of results.

But even before nuns and Catholic millennials were tweeting about the skulls on their desks, religious orders have been “memento mori”-ing for centuries. Here’s how various religious orders have kept their mortality in mind throughout the ages.

Origins of the phrase

According to legend, the phrase “memento mori” may have originated with the Roman empire. Allegedly, when victorious Roman generals returned from battle, in the midst of their festivities, a slave or another low-ranking citizen would follow them around and whisper “memento mori,” or some other reminder that their earthly glory was temporary.

Even before the Roman empire, meditation on death and the last things was a common practice of ancient philosophers like Plato, who once said that philosophy was "about nothing else but dying and being dead".

The phrase and the practice was then incorporated into medieval Christianity - death was especially poignant as the plague spread throughout Europe and Asia, killing millions of people within the span of just a few years.

“Memento mori” was such a popular religious theme in this period that it inspired a genre of art, music and literature.


Memento mori myths and the Brothers of the Dead

One of the most common myths surrounding “memento mori” is that the phrase is used by monks, particularly the famously-ascetic Trappist monks, as a form of greeting among brothers.

Fr. Timothy Scott, a Trappist brother and priest, said that this myth originated with a now-obsolete order of French monks called “The Order of the Hermits of Saint Paul,” who came to be known as the “Brothers of the Dead.”

According to “La Sombre Trappe,” by Fr. M. Anselme Dimier, this order “pushed its tastes for the macabre to the extreme,” wearing scapulars with skulls and crossbones, and kissing a skull at the foot of the cross before each meal.

The words “Memento Mori” were found on the seal of the order alongside a skull and crossbones, and skulls were prominently displayed in most parts of the monastery, including in each brother’s cell.

The brothers of this order were also known for greeting each other with “Think of death, dear brother,” and rumors have spread that the Trappists adopted this tradition, even after the Brothers of the Dead were suppressed by Pope Urban VIII in 1633.

“In no period of the Order’s history, in no Trappist monastery, have these words been in usage; the brothers greet one another in silence, as in the early days of the Order of Citeaux,” Dimier wrote.

Fr. Scott confirmed that a silent greeting “is the constant tradition and practice of the Order.”

How Trappists “memento mori”

Trappists are a branch of Cistercian monks, a reformed branch of the Benedictines, who desired to live the Rule of St. Benedict more authentically.

But while Trappist brothers don’t use “memento mori” as a greeting, other reminders of death have been present in the Trappist order, particularly in older monasteries, Fr. Scott said.

In his book “A Time to Keep Silence”, Patrick Leigh Fermor recalls these symbols of death, particularly present in Trappist monasteries during the 18th and 19th century.

“Symbols of death and dissolution confronted the eye at every turn, and in the refectory the beckoning torso of a painted skeleton, equipped with an hourglass and a scythe, leant, with the terrifying archness of a forgotten guest, across the coping of a wall on which were inscribed the words: ‘Tonight perhaps?’”

Fr. Scott added that he has heard of several other monasteries with various “memento mori” traditions, such as the monastery of la Val Sainte in Switzerland, which kept a white-wood cross and a skull in the middle of the refectory, or dining hall. Another Trappist monastery in France had the words “Hodie mihi, cras tibi” (Today I die, tomorrow it will be you) written above the door leading to the cemetery.

These skulls, inscriptions, and the various prayers for the dead help the brothers “to keep in mind that our time on this earth is limited and what we do now matters for eternity,” Fr. Scott said.

“We will be accountable one day before God for all that we do. It makes no sense to waste the precious time that has been allotted to us. We must use it to do good and to love others now.”

“However, the theme of memento mori, remembrance of death, needs to be set within the larger theme of the memory or mindfulness of God,” he added. “The monastic life is oriented primarily toward cultivating a living relationship with the persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who have been revealed to us in the Son, Jesus Christ, and who, through his passion, death, and resurrection have called us to full communion and fellowship with them now and in eternity.”

The bone churches of Europe

Several orders of monks, including the Capuchins, Franciscans, and the Cistercians, are also known for having built churches or crypts decorated almost exclusively with the remains of their forebearers, a stark “memento mori” for any visitors to these sites.

One of the best-known such churches, sometimes called an Ossuary, is the Capuchin crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto in Rome, Italy, which includes six chapels, five of which are covered in the skeletal remains of Capuchin friars of yesteryear.

The crypt was built in the 1630s, when Pope Urban VIII ordered some Capuchin friars to set up residency at the Church, and asked that they bring the remains of their bygone brothers with them, so that they would not be abandoned.

In total, an estimated 4,000 skeletons, from friars deceased between the 1520s - 1870s, decorate the insides of the various chapels. The various crypts include a crypt of the resurrection, a crypt of skulls, a crypt of leg and thigh bones, and a crypt of pelvises. A plaque in on display in the crypt reads: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”  

Allegedly, this Roman ossuary inspired a similar “Bone Church” in Prague, in the Czech Republic. There, the Sedlec Ossuary, built by Cistercian monks, is decorated with the remains of an estimated 40,000 people.

The reason for the large number of remains dates back to the 1200s, when a Cistercian monk returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he brought back dirt from Golgatha, the hill where Christ was crucified, and sprinkled that dirt in the cemetery at the monastery.

As word of this holy dirt spread, the cemetery became a popular place in which to buried. By the time the plague hit, the number of people requesting burial in the cemetery became so great that the monks began exhuming the bones, storing them in the church, and using them for interior decoration.

The Church has been restored several times and is no longer in possession of the Cistercian order, but the popular site receives thousands of visitors annually.

A third popular “Bone Church” is the Capela dos Ossos, in Évora, Portugal, next to the Church of St. Francis.

Built by a Franciscan in the 16th century, the chapel has similar origins to the Czech Ossuary, in that it became a creative way to store the bones contained in cemeteries running out of room to house remains.

Reportedly, the monk also believed that the Church could be a force for the Counter-Reformation, and a good place for Catholics of the area to come and remember their mortality.

Like the Roman ossuary, the bone church in Portugal has several “memento mori” themed inscriptions, including Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A good name is better than good ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”


Dominicans - the best order in which to die

For Dominican friars, their “memento mori” comes every day when they recite prayers for the dead, said Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, professor of moral theology for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

The Dominicans pray for the dead so frequently that it’s become part of a joke, he told CNA.

“There are many reasons you want to live in the other orders - the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Jesuits - but out of all of them, you want to die with the Dominicans, because we constantly pray for the dead,” he said.  

Whenever a Dominican friar dies, all the priests in his province celebrate a Mass for him. The order also prays what is called the “De Profundis” - a daily prayer, typically before a main meal, that includes praying Psalm 130 in remembrance of all of the men of the province whose death anniversary is on that day.

Dominicans also celebrate an additional “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day” -  they celebrate these feasts with the Church on Nov. 1 and 2, but then they celebrate a second round of these feasts on Nov. 7 and 8, particularly praying for the Dominican saints and souls.

“In terms of praying daily for the dead, it is a constant reminder of our own mortality, that heaven and eternal life is the goal, and it’s also a reminder that death is something that we all face,” Guilbeau said.

“When we die, we go alone, there’s no one who accompanies us in that at that moment. But by praying for those who have gone before us in death, we get a sense of that union and community that endures into the next life, and insofar as we aid the dead by our prayers, they’re waiting for us and aiding us by their prayers. It’s a daily reminder of the common prayer that we have for each other.”

“In terms of...sleeping in our coffin or having skulls on the desk, we don’t do that,” Guilbeau said, but he added that the black cape that Dominicans wear is meant to serve as a physical “memento mori” for the order.  

The daily reminder of death isn’t something “macabre or depressing,” Guilbeau added, “but it’s something hopeful and joyful, that this veil of tears is not the end of our existence, it’s not the goal.”  

“If we live in the love of Jesus Christ and we live in the light of the Holy Spirit, there’s constant preparation  and help and grace and strength for that moment when we pass from this life to the next,” he said.

Therefore, for the saint, death isn’t something to be feared, but welcomed and embraced like a sibling, Guilbeau said, recalling the words of St. Francis who once wrote in his “Canticle of the Sun”: “Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.”

 

Was the last 'witch' of Boston actually a Catholic martyr?

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 17:32

Boston, Mass., Oct 29, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The last person hanged for witchcraft in Boston could be considered a Catholic martyr.

In the 1650s, Ann Glover and her family, along with some 50,000 other native Irish people, were enslaved by Englishman Oliver Cromwell during the occupation of Ireland and shipped to the island of Barbados, where they were sold as indentured servants.

What is known of her history is sporadic at best, though she was definitely Irish and definitely Catholic. According to an article in the Boston Globe, even Ann's real name remains a mystery, as indentured servants were often forced to take the names of their masters.

While in Barbados, Ann's husband was reportedly killed for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. By 1680, Ann and her daughter had moved to Boston where Ann worked as a “goodwife” (a housekeeper and nanny) for the John Goodwin family.

Father Robert O'Grady, director of the Boston Catholic Directory for the Archdiocese of Boston, said that after working for the Goodwins for a few years, Ann Glover became sick, and the illness spread to four of the five Goodwin children.

“She was, unsurprisingly, not well-educated, and in working with the family, apparently she got sick at some point and the kids for whom she was primarily responsible caught whatever it was,” Fr. O'Grady told CNA.

A doctor allegedly concluded that “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies,” and one of the daughters confirmed the claim, saying she fell ill after an argument with Ann.

The infamous Reverend Cotton Mather, a Harvard graduate and one of the main perpetrators of witch trial hysteria at the time, insisted Ann Glover was a witch and brought her to what would be the last witch trial in Boston in 1688.

In the courtroom, Ann refused to speak English and instead answered questions in her native Irish Gaelic. In order to prove she was not a witch, Mather asked Ann to recite the Our Father, which she did, in a mix of Irish Gaelic and Latin because of her lack of education.

“Cotton Mather would have recognized some of it, because of course that would have been part of your studies in those days, you studied classical languages when you were preparing to be a minister, especially Latin and Greek,” Father O'Grady said.

“But because it was kind of mixed in with Irish Gaelic, it was then considered proof that she was possessed because she was mangling the Latin.”

Allegedly, Boston merchant Robert Calef, who knew Ann when she was alive, said she “was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic."

Mather convicted Ann of being an “idolatrous Roman Catholick” and a witch, and she hung on Boston Common on November 16, 1688. Today, just a 15 minute walk away, the parish of Our Lady of Victories holds a plaque commemorating her martyrdom, which reads:

“Not far from here on 16 November 1688, Goodwife Ann Glover an elderly Irish widow, was hanged as a witch because she had refused to renounce her Catholic faith. Having been deported from her native Ireland to the Barbados with her husband, who died there because of his own loyalty to the Catholic faith, she came to Boston where she was living for at least six years before she was unjustly condemned to death. This memorial is erected to commemorate “Goody” Glover as the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts.”

The plaque was placed at the Church on the tercentennial anniversary of her death in 1988 by the Order of Alhambra, a Catholic fraternity whose mission includes commemorating Catholic historical persons, places and events. The Boston City Council also declared November 16 as “Goody Glover Day,” in order to condemn the injustice brought against her.  

Ann Glover has not yet been officially declared a martyr by a pope, nor has her cause for canonization been opened to date, partly because her story has faded into obscurity over time, Fr. O’Grady said.

“Part of the dilemma here (too) is that when she was hanged, Catholics were a tiny, minuscule, minority in Boston, so picking up her ‘cause’ was not easy or ‘on top of the list’,” he said.

Ann Glover's trial also set the tone for the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, during which 19 men and women were hanged for witchcraft, and in which Reverend Cotton Mather and his anti-Catholic prejudices played a major role.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 31, 2014.

'Tis the season: Dominican Sisters climb charts with new Christmas album

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 18:10

, Oct 28, 2017 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Among other things, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have been known to appear on game shows and to chat with Oprah Winfrey on television.

This year, the Dominican Sisters of Mary are being recognized for their angelic voices, climbing the charts with their new Christmas album “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” which is now ranked third on Billboard’s Overall Holiday Chart, number one for classical music on Amazon, and third overall at Barnes and Noble.

“We had been asked many times over the years for a CD to share our Christmas songs,” said Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P, co-foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

“Because we can’t be with everyone during Christmas and not everyone can come here to the Motherhouse, we wanted to invite people into our special celebrations and traditions for honoring Our Lord’s birth through this music, which is certainly a beautiful manner of doing so,” she told CNA.

Founded 20 years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have grown from four sisters to over 138. They serve as educators for students from preschool through college, as well as librarians at the North American Seminary in Rome.

With an average age of 30, this young community of sisters is proclaiming Christmas tidings this year through its new album, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

The Christmas CD, which was recorded by De Montfort Music at the Ann Arbor Motherhouse Chapel, features classic tunes such as Carol of the Bells and Away in a Manger. However, it also includes songs from ten different countries, mixing the classic with contemporary.

Sr. Joseph Andrew noted that her favorite song on the album is “Sleep, Little Jesus,” which is a Polish lullaby.

“It is a dear song to our community and already seems to be getting much feedback from those who have the CD,” Sr. Joseph Andrew said, pointing to the community’s founding under the beloved Polish pontiff, Pope John Paul II.

“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is not the first album that the sisters have produced. In fact, both of their previous records have been chart-topping – “Mater Eucharistiae” and “The Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, & Music.”

“This is our third recording, and so the process was more familiar to us,” Sr. Joseph Andrew said, adding that recording the holiday album during the summer gave them some room to be more creative with the process.

“It is always a lot of fun, but this time we were able to decorate portions of the Motherhouse for the Christmas recording, which was in June. In this manner, it became all the more fun and spirited so that we would be at our very best in prayer and song for the recording,” she continued.

Moving forward, Sr. Joseph Andrew noted that many young sisters who are joining the community “have many musical treasures to bring to us.” As far as another album, she said that “only God in his infinite wisdom” knows.

“There are so many lovely ways to celebrate Christmas and we hope to be part of many family Christmas celebrations by our caroling in the background,” Sr. Joseph Andrew said.

“Our Sisters want to be there with others during prayer, song, cooking, decorating the tree and family dinners.”

“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was made available for purchase on Oct. 13 on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes and Noble, and is being distributed internationally by Sony.

Death penalty repeal a growing trend among Republican lawmakers

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 08:02

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Republican lawmakers play an increasing role in opposition to the death penalty. Both political principles and, for some, their Catholic faith, play a role in motivating their stand.

“Since the Tea Party revolution, growing numbers of Tea Partiers have been elected to state legislative posts, and many of them campaigned on promises of instituting fiscal responsibility and limited government,” said Marc Hyden, national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. “Yet, the death penalty conflicts with these ideals.”

Hyden’s organization, a project of the national anti-death penalty group Equal Justice USA, has 11 state chapters in the U.S.

The makeup of legislatures is changing, he said. More millennials are taking office, and their generation is less likely to support the death penalty. They have joined with older Republican colleagues who have quietly disapproved of the death penalty.

“Furthermore, many Catholic legislators are taking a moral and religious stand against the death penalty,” said Hyden, adding: “The shift in the grassroots and among conservative political leaders has encouraged Republican lawmakers to champion repeal.”

His group has published a report called “The Right Way,” examining Republican support for death penalty repeal.

The number of Republican lawmakers who sponsored death penalty repeal legislation peaked in 2016 at 40, it said. This is a strong contrast from the years 2000-2012, when they never numbered more than nine. Since that period, their numbers have stayed in the double digits. In 2017, 31 percent of all death penalty repeal bills were sponsored by Republicans.

The report cites Catholic Republican lawmakers like State Sen. Paul Wielan of Imperial, Mo., and State Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge, La., who both backed pro-repeal bills in their state.

In Hyden’s view, there are several reasons why more Republicans are turning against the death penalty. There have been “numerous failures” of the death penalty: wrongful convictions, botched executions, rising costs, and failure to keep society safe. These failures have become “so frequent and egregious that the public and elected officials can no longer ignore them,” he said.

He cited Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty’s own work and education campaigns about what he called the death penalty’s “practical failures.”

“I believe we’ve made great strides in our endeavors too,” said Hyden, deeming death penalty repeal as consistent with conservative priorities like limited government and valuing life.

According to Hyden, there is a broader shift against the death penalty, according to various surveys such as Gallup and the Pew Research Center, which last year showed support for the death penalty at a 40-year-low. In North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Kentucky some polls suggest that most respondents wanted to repeal the death penalty.

Greek Orthodox patriarch: Christians are not strangers in Middle East

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 17:58

Washington D.C., Oct 27, 2017 / 03:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Middle Eastern Patriarchs reaffirmed the deep history of Christianity in the Middle East and called for its perseverance into the future at this week's In Defense of Christians summit in Washington, D.C.

They called for Western partners to remember that history, and to help keep Christianity in its ancient homeland, as people from around the world work for peace and an end to conflict in the Middle East.

“We as Christians in the Middle East: we are going to remain and stay there,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch John X Yazigi. “We are not strangers in that part of the world: we are people of light and of truth.”

Patriarch John X spoke Oct. 24 at the opening press conference for the In Defense of Christians (IDC) 2017 Summit, bringing together Patriarchs of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Middle Eastern Christians of all denominations, and policy leaders from the United States.

The organization and the summit seek to preserve and protect Christian and other religious minorities living in the Middle East.

This year’s theme for the Oct. 24-26 summit was American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East.

The keynote speaker at the event was US Vice President Mike Pence, who promised direct American aid for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) was the recipient of IDC's Cedars of God award.

Speaking alongside Yazigi at the press conference held at the National Press Club were Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Boutros Rai and IDC Vice President Andrew Doran.

Patriarch Rai pointed to the high number of refugees who had fled to his country of Lebanon, as well as to the West and other areas, as violence and instability has increased over the past several decades.

“The conflicts that have beset the Middle East have driven out millions of busy citizens, including so many Christians, and with their exodus, our region becomes more extreme, more dangerous to the outside world,” the patriarch said.  

He pointed out that Lebanon has taken on an immense number of these refugees over the past 70 years, first from Palestine and now Syria, stressing the nation’s resources.

He noted that the proportion of refugees now living in Lebanon would be analagous to more than 150 million refugees living in the United States. He thus called on Americans to help solve these problems. "We have been abandoned to solve the problems we did not create," the patriarch urged.

“We look to America to exercise its diplomacy to solve the many challenges in the region that have a direct and indirect impact on Lebanon,” he stated. “We have a long tradition of pluralism in the Middle East, but in recent years we have been divided against one another,” he lamented, calling for Middle Eastern Christians to come together with Muslims as well as with people from the West who wish to help in order to form a solution together.

Rai also pointed out that the West’s approach to refugees could be more helpful. While he emphasized that Christians want to go back to their countries, he questioned rhetoric from nations that say that “refugees should be allowed to live in dignity wherever they may be, while those nations have closed their borders and prevented them from entering into their countries.”

“Where is the human dignity of all that? If the family is living under a tent and you’ve given them a meal, do you think that’s enough for their human dignity to be guarded?” he asked.

Patriarch John X echoed many of Rai’s concerns, especially the ability of Christians to have the “right to express on our destiny and our own plight.”  He stressed that the Christian message is one of peace, of truth, and of the Good News: “The Church is the beacon of truth in this agitated world and we will continue to witness to that truth even if we are hanged on the Cross.”

In addition to calling for the end of war, the Greek Orthodox patriarch also stressed the necessity for Middle Eastern Christians to be involved in finding the solution to the problems they face – to be partners in finding peace. “Sometimes the media may portray us in a negative way, not necessarily in the way that we would have us portrayed,” he said, adding that “ if we are talking about our destiny in our land, we have something to say.”

One of the solutions Christians of the Middle East want, he stressed, is the ability to “seek unity of our own country” and rebuild their lives in their own homelands.

“We call all Christians and Muslims to work together for the well-being of their country.”

Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, founder of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and an Iraqi Christian, offered a statement as a member of the audience, saying that many Christians from the region “are lost in-between” political and military struggles of actors within the region and from overseas.

She urged Americans to consider the long history of Christianity in the Middle East, where it has thrived since the first century, and asked if “we expect it will be easy for people to leave their land?” when proposing solutions that require resettlement into new areas or permanent residency in the West.

She called for increased awareness and education on Middle Eastern Christianity among the American people, and advocated for all to seek permanent peace.

Our Time: Reflections on the Women’s Convention

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 17:07

Atlanta, Ga., Oct 27, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA).- Today, October 27, the organizers of January’s historic Women’s March are starting their convention in Detroit with the theme “Reclaiming Our Time.” But while the event was covered in the news, is it really “new” that women are doing just that?  

The theme reminds me of a proclamation from Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, “the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.”

Saint John Paul II expanded on this special quality in his 1995 Letter to Women, noting that women, “perhaps more than men…acknowledge the person.” Through their gift of seeing and acknowledging others, women find new ways to give of themselves, and in doing so, achieve what they were made for: relationship with others.

It is easy to see truth about women at work in the sweeping vision of the Women’s March. Their unity principles state, “We must create a society in which women…are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.” They seek to build a world in which people of all genders, races, sexual preferences, religions, and abilities are protected and respected and in which the environment is cared for. In a beautiful, feminine way, they connect the welfare of all human beings to each other and clearly recognize the goodness of each person “in their greatness and limitations.”

Yet the movement also misses the mark in some important ways. Sadly, their goals include “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people,” and they seem to embrace the view that sexual expression, marriage, and children are independent of each other.

While the movement is comprised largely of women hoping to serve others, its Unity Principles also emphasize a radical sort of “self-determinism” which is very far from the Christian ideal of “finding oneself by losing oneself.” Unsurprisingly, January’s March itself led to disunity- though it was supposed to give all women a voice, the organizers disinvited pro-life women.

And disconnected from that “spiritual beauty” which “God bestowed…in a particular way on women,” vulgarity abounded at the protests.

The Women’s March movement is beautiful, ugly, virtuous, vice-filled, impressive, messy, and in a word – human.  It will likely lead to both good and evil: how much of each remains to be seen.

Thankfully, for a woman of faith, “women’s time” does not depend on participating in a huge, visible movement of millions. As John Paul II said, real human social progress “often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family.”

You probably already know “inconspicuous” women who are living their “hour.” I can think of a mom who serves on our town’s city council. I can think of women who are re-envisioning pregnancy care centers through the creation of Guiding Star clinics. I can think of women who spend their days helping others escape domestic violence. I can think of friends who embraced a religious vocation. I can think of a neighbor who decided to offer people on the street a place to get warm one winter and has spent every day since ministering through friendship to the poor, addicted, and prostitutes in my town. I can think of friends who have been through horrible experiences, but who use those experiences to help others. I can think of the many, many women I know who make great sacrifices to raise and educate their children.

I’ve seen the “feminine genius” explode in other pro-woman grassroots efforts, too. One humble movement started in 2012 when two women penned an open letter stating that those who held up contraception as the sum of women’s health, freedom, and equality did not speak for all women.

That letter received tens of thousands of signatures, was read in Congress, and caught the attention of the Daily Show. What started as a letter eventually turned into the Women Speak for Themselves movement, uniting women around the country who want “to speak…about how women are disadvantaged respecting dating and marriage, especially because of contraception and abortion, and about how to reconnect sex with marriage and children for the good of all people.”

I’m privileged to be a part of this movement, which includes non-religious and religious members, “speaking for myself” with other women through rallies, service days, social media campaigns, and in other ways.  

To be sure, there are still obstacles which – in the words of Pope John Paul II – “keep women from being fully integrated into social, political and economic life,” even today. But the good news is that we don’t have to wait for these obstacles to be removed to do good in our communities.

All we must do to live our “hour” is ask of ourselves, “How am I called to serve?”  WSFT members, and millions of average women, have been responding to that call for a long time. We’ll keep responding to it. We don’t need to participate in the “Women’s Convention” to know our impact, and our value. Our time has already started and will continue for the good of all people.    

.....
     
Laura Doroski is a homeschooling mother to four young children. A graduate of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA, Laura founded the college’s Catholic Student Union and Students for Life. She is a member of Women Speak for Themselves.


 

Vice President Pence promises direct US aid to persecuted Christians

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 18:08

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2017 / 04:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- US Vice President Mike Pence’s promises Wednesday of better aid for persecuted Christians and others in the Middle East has drawn praise from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus.

Pence addressed In Defense of Christians’ annual Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East Oct. 25. The vice president said groups such as the Islamic State have singled out Christians for persecution. He noted that Christianity could disappear from some parts of the Middle East.

“Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are – vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ,” said Pence.

Pence said that President Donald Trump has told the State Department to stop funding “ineffective” U.N. relief efforts.

“Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,” he said.

Instead, the U.S. will provide humanitarian assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development, faith-based groups, and private organizations “to help those who are persecuted for their faith.”

“This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need,” the vice president said.

Pence charged that the U.N. has often failed to help “the most vulnerable communities, especially religious minorities” and has repeatedly denied funding to faith-based groups with “proven track records.”

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” he said.

Commenting on Pence's speech, Anderson noted that “A year ago the United States used the right word to describe what was happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. That word was genocide,” said Anderson, referring to a March 2016 State Department declaration.

For Anderson, Pence’s speech meant “those words were put into action.”

“The Knights of Columbus applauds Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement that the Trump administration will begin providing aid directly to religious minority groups impacted by ISIS’ genocide,” he said.

Anderson said a lack of aid to Christians and other religious minorities has been a major problem.

“For almost two years, the Knights of Columbus has warned that Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East have been falling through the cracks in the aid system, and has been urging the United States government to provide aid directly to genocide-targeted communities,” he said. “We are pleased that tonight, the administration has promised to do just that.”

In 2014 the Catholic fraternal organization launched a Christian Refugee Relief Fund that has given more than $13 million in humanitarian assistance, largely in Iraq, Syria, and nearby countries. The group was among those documenting Islamic State group atrocities and advocating on behalf of Middle East Christians and other minorities.

According to Anderson, the impact of Pence’s announcement on the survival of threatened minority communities “cannot be underestimated.”

Awaiting hearing, Georgetown pro-marriage group draws support from Catholic leaders

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A pro-marriage student group at Georgetown University has drawn support from prominent Catholic scholars, after a student petition accused the group of promoting intolerance.

Love Saxa is a pro-marriage student group at Georgetown, which faces an Oct. 30 hearing before the Student Activities Commission, an advisory body to the university’s Vice President of Student Affairs.  

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of “Building a Bridge,” a book on dialogue between the Catholic Church and LGBT groups, said that he supports the right of “Love Saxa,” to promote its views at Georgetown.

“Why should a student group that espouses Catholic teaching respectfully be defunded by a Catholic university? As long as Love Saxa treats LGBT people (both on campus and off campus) with 'respect, compassion and sensitivity,' as the Catechism requires, then they should be able to have their say on campus,” Martin told CNA.

The group, which says it “exists to promote healthy relationships on campus through cultivating a proper understanding of sex, gender, marriage, and family among Georgetown students,” has been accused by a student petition of violating university standards for student organizations by “fostering hatred and intolerance.”  

Robert P. George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University and noted scholar of marriage and religious liberty, also voiced support for Love Saxa.

“The illiberal – even authoritarian – spirit infusing the effort to defund Love Saxa at Georgetown ought to be a matter of grave concern for honorable people across the ideological spectrum,” he said.

“And on top of that, as Fr. Martin suggests, there is something approaching absurdity in the idea that at a Catholic university a group ought to be defunded for upholding and teaching the idea of marriage and the principles of sexual morality upheld and taught by the Catholic Church.”

If Love Saxa is found to be in violation of university standards, as the student petition alleges, the commission could recommend that the university impose sanctions, including a loss of funding and access to university facilities.

A spokesperson for Georgetown University told CNA that such sanctions are only used as a last resort, and that groups in violation of university standards are first given opportunities to rectify violations.

“We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic tradition and identity. Love Saxa is one of many groups operating on campus with positions that affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church. We also support a climate that is welcoming to all students and supporting of our LGBTQ communities,” the spokesperson added.

As the complaint is reviewed by the Student Advisory Commission, Georgetown’s spokesperson told CNA that “we encourage all students to follow our community commitment to open dialogue and mutual respect.”

Martin also encouraged respectful dialogue, rather than conflict, at Georgetown.  

“Groups that oppose the point of view of Love Saxa should also be able to have their say,” he told CNA. “For a true dialogue to happen around LGBT issues, especially at Catholic universities, all participants should be willing to, first, treat one another respectfully and lovingly; second, listen to one another with open minds; and third, be willing to learn from one another.”

George also called for respectful conversation on the matter.

“The sheer, brute, undeniable fact is that reasonable people of goodwill disagree today about fundamental questions having to do with the nature and social purposes of marriage and with sexuality and sexual morality,” he said.

“When reasonable people of goodwill find themselves in disagreement, even on issues of profound social importance and deep personal meaning, they engage each other in robust but civil and respectful discourse – they do not attempt to win cheap victories by smearing those who disagree with them as ‘bigots’ or ‘haters’,” he continued. “They recognize their own fallibility and do not try to immunize their beliefs from responsible criticism. They acknowledge that their deepest, most cherished, even identity-forming beliefs could be wrong. That motivates them to listen to critics, rather than trying to banish them.”

George added that as a Catholic university, Georgetown “does not present itself as a non-sectarian institution that maintains a stance of neutrality on moral questions currently in dispute among reasonable citizens.”

“So it would be fully within its rights in declining to fund a group that promoted values contrary to its own,” he said. “But, as Fr. Martin observed, it is Love Saxa that is upholding the values of Georgetown as a Catholic institution. It is those who are pressing Georgetown to defund Love Saxa who teach doctrines concerning marriage and sexual morality that are contrary to those of the Catholic Church.”

Pages