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: 2 hours 26 min ago

Man plows over 10 Commandments monument in Arkansas

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 19:51

Little Rock, Ark., Jun 30, 2017 / 05:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When Moses smashed the stone tablets in Exodus 32, out of rage for the sins of his people, he used his bare hands.

But maybe a car would have made the task easier?

Michael Tate Reed, 32, yelled “Freedom!” as he plowed his car into a statue of the 10 Commandments placed outside the state capitol of Arkansas early in the morning of June 28, demolishing it.

The privately-funded monument, the product of a years-long heated debate about its constitutionality, had been up for fewer than 24 hours when Reed filmed himself destroying it.

Reed posted the video to his personal Facebook, where he also self-identifies as a born-again Christian and “Pentecostal Jesus Freak.”

Reed was caught in the act by an on-patrol police officer at the capitol and is being held in the Pulaski County Detention Center on charges of defacing an object of public interest, criminal trespassing and first degree criminal mischief, according to authorities.

It is his second alleged 10-Commandment-smashing offense.

Oklahoma authorities confirmed to The Associated Press that Reed is the same man who was arrested in October 2014 for destroying Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol with his car.

At that time, Reed self-identified as a Satanist and said that Satan had told him to smash the monument. He was charged with destruction of state property or improvements, indecent exposure, making threatening statements, reckless driving, and operating a vehicle with a revoked license in 2014.

In 2015, Reed wrote an apology for the act that published in a local Oklahoma paper, saying he was sorry and that he had had a psychotic break that drove him to destroy the monument.

"I am so sorry that this [is] all happening and I wished I could take it all back," Reed said in a letter to Tulsa World.

Arkansas state Senator Jason Rapert, who pushed for the monument’s construction, told local media that the incident could be a call to consider the state of mental health care in Arkansas, but that it has not yet been a proven defense for Reed’s most recent act.

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson tweeted that “resorting to property destruction is never the answer to a policy disagreement”.

The American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the building of the Arkansas monument as well as other 10 Commandments monuments at state capitols around the United States. Its construction was also opposed by the Freethinkers Society and the Satanic Temple.

After the destruction of Arkansas’ monument, the ACLU has said that they “strongly condemn any illegal act of destruction or vandalism.”

“The ACLU remains committed to seeing this unconstitutional monument struck down by the courts and safely removed through legal means,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar said.

Monuments of the 10 Commandments have attracted controversy in the past. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a monument of the 10 Commandments in Texas was constitutional, and other federal courts have been divided on other such monuments.

Rapert said Wednesday during a Facebook live news conference that he intended to have the Arkansas monument rebuilt.

Is Virginia about to execute a man with a serious mental illness?

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 18:01

Richmond, Va., Jun 30, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- William Morva is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on July 6.

He has been convicted of murdering an unarmed security guard and a sheriff’s deputy at age 24, while trying to escape jail, where he had been charged with attempted robbery.

However, a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist who examined Morva concluded that he suffered from delusion disorder, and was impaired by the illness at the time of the crime.

Morva’s attorneys claim that had experienced persistent delusions in the past but had not received any mental health treatment in prison.

Fearing that he might die of a perceived gastrointestinal problem because of the deliberate negligence of the guards, and that the prison would not be held accountable for it, Morva, they say, decided to escape and shot the security guard and deputy out of a delusional fear for his life.

The scheduled execution is the latest in a series of controversial death penalty cases involving inmates who are arguably mentally ill or intellectually disabled, and whose mental disorders could well have impaired their reasoning at the time of their crimes.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Texas that the standards of Texas for evaluating the mental condition of inmates did not meet the standards set in previous Court decisions Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. States’ standards for determining one’s intellectual disability – and thus one’s eligibility for the death penalty – must meet the medical community’s consensus standards.

However, many states still execute inmates with severe mental illness. Many groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, have advocated for barring death sentences for persons who have been ruled by a psychologist to have been severely mentally ill at the time of their crime.

In Morva’s case, his lawyers claim he had suffered from delusional disorder that had gotten worse since he dropped out of high school in his senior year and his family moved across the state to Richmond.

He was evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist, Donna Maddox, M.D., who read statements from scores of witnesses who testified to his erratic and delusional behavior. Maddox reviewed his medical records and visited Morva in person.

She concluded that he was indeed suffering from a chronic psychotic disorder at the time of his crimes, and probably had been suffering from the illness several years prior.

After Morva’s family moved to Richmond, he remained in the town of Blacksburg after his time in high school and was “a bit of a vagabond,” Robert Lee of the Virginia Capital Resource Center, which represented Morva after he received a death sentence, told CNA.

While Morva’s high school classmates admitted he was a little odd, they hadn’t seen any serious signs of delusional behavior. However, that reportedly began to change as he walked around town barefoot and slept at the houses of various friends, Lee said.

Thinking that he suffered from a severe gastrointestinal problem, Morva ate raw meat, lots of cheese, berries, and pine cones. As his fluid living situation and poor health management continued, his mental condition deteriorated.

He thought he was destined to be a leader of indigenous tribes in North and South America, and he later believed that the authorities, especially members of the Bush administration, were trying to thwart his grand plan.

In 2005, Morva planned to rob a convenience store with other partners, wearing masks and carrying firearms. They left the storefront after finding it closed, but an employee inside spotted the group and called the police, who apprehended the suspects around town.

Charged with attempted robbery, Morva could not leave the Montgomery County Jail in Virginia because his family could not afford to pay the bail.

After hurting his ankle in a fall and being escorted to a hospital by a prison guard for treatment, he knocked the guard unconscious, stole his gun, and shot an unarmed security guard to death on his way out of the hospital. Hiding along a trail in Blacksburg, Va. for 24 hours, Morva was discovered by a Sheriff’s deputy, whom he shot dead with the stolen gun.

He was apprehended afterward, and was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

At his capital trial, mental health experts did give Morva an evaluation, but they relied on the testimony of his high school friends, who had not been regularly in touch with him as a young adult, when he had suffered his worst bouts of delusions.

Even his estranged mother and sister could only provide limited testimony, as they had lived across the state from him with little contact. They did tell experts of the time he showed up to his father’s funeral unkempt, exhibiting some bizarre behavior, and wanting to walk barefoot, Lee noted.

However, the experts ruled that Morva was not suffering from a psychotic disorder, but rather from a personality disorder that was comprised of odd behavior and a poor attitude. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, after which Robert Lee took up Morva’s case.

“They minimized his mental illness,” Lee insisted, saying that Morva’s psychotic disorders are “amenable to treatment” and medications. Nevertheless, according to the court proceedings, his record is that of his 2006 trial when he was determined to have a personality disorder, not his later determination of delusional disorder.

He is scheduled to be executed on July 6, and Catholics are petitioning Governor Terry McAuliffe to grant him clemency.

Furthermore, Morva’s brother Michael was diagnosed by the Virginia Department of Corrections with a delusional mental disorder. He received treatment and medications for the illness, and after six months the department determined he was “clinically improved and stable.” He is currently employed and living with family.  

“This is the case of somebody who is seriously mentally ill,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA, and “that mental illness precipitated the murder.”

Morva’s case is not the only controversial death penalty news of late. On Wednesday, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ended a federal district court’s halt of Ohio’s execution process by lethal injection.

The three-drug process was to be used in three scheduled executions, one of which is now set for July 26.

Ohio had used a drug combination of midazolam, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride in its lethal injection protocol. A federal district court had put a halt to that process after claims that midazolam, a sedative, was not effective enough in blocking the painful effects of the other drugs that would paralyze the subject and stop a beating heart.

Midazolam has been used in botched executions, like in Oklahoma where Clayton Lockett was seen visibly writhing on the gurney after midazolam and the ensuing drugs were administered to him. He eventually died of a massive heart attack.

While some pointed to the failure of midazolam to protect him from the painful effects of the ensuing drugs, others said that the problem was with a faulty administration of an IV into his vein.

A district court halted Ohio’s three-drug process, and the ruling was upheld by a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit. However, that ruling was appealed to the full court, which issued its 8-6 decision on Wednesday allowing the lethal injection protocol to proceed.

Although there was a risk of pain in the execution method, “the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution,” the court stated. The district court will now make a full decision on the use of the drugs. Ohio had used a three-drug protocol before but stopped the practice in 2009 before taking it up again recently.

 

Why this priest isn't afraid of Christianity's waning influence

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 05:02

New York City, N.Y., Jun 30, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA).- With Catholic proposals to literally head for the hills in response to Christianity's ever-lessening influence in secular culture, the leader of a global ecclesial movement has a provocative statement:

This is actually a great time for the Church.

“As a matter of fact,” says Father Julian Carron, “it is a precious occasion to verify the validity of the Christian proposal.”

Already garnering some notable attention since its release, a new book by Fr. Carron called “Disarming Beauty” takes on the question of the Church's relevance amid modern society's most pressing challenges. From terrorism to consumerism, “rights” culture to marriage and family, the book examines the plight of our current world and invites Christians to respond – not from a place of fear, but from the joy of their original encounter with the living person of Christ.

“The fact that the Church is no longer a moral majority is liberating; it allows us to rediscover the heart of the Christian event,” he told CNA. “The Church will survive and thrive only through Her witness.”

Fr. Carron heads Communion and Liberation, which originated in the 1950s with Italian priest Msgr. Luigi Giussani. The international movement focuses on the actualization of man's faith by living the Christian presence within community.

Please read below for our full interview with Fr. Carron:

Why 'Disarming Beauty'? What does the title mean to you?

The book speaks of the beauty of Christian faith, of its power and its attraction. When God takes on flesh, He strips Himself of His own power, entering into the history and poverty of the human condition, revealing to everyone the truth of His power. This is how Christianity, the greatest revolution of all time, began. Christ is the exemplar of a way of communicating truth that needs no other means beyond the beauty of truth itself. The book speaks primarily of this beauty, which is not just an aesthetic or sentimental one. Like all beautiful things, Christianity needs no other defense, other then its own beauty, to be communicated. With the expression “disarming beauty” I wanted to say: “We Christians, do we believe in the fascination that the disarming beauty of the faith can exercise?” With the phrase “disarming beauty,” I propose a Christian presence that would be sufficiently attractive so as to make life more interesting for everyone.

What exactly does beauty “disarm” us of? How does it do that?

Beauty disarms us from our narrow way of looking at ourselves and at reality; it opens our minds and our eyes to the totality of reality, of the real. The attractiveness of beauty moves us affectively, so much so that it allows reason to become truly opened to all the factors of reality. We discover this openness in Christ’s gaze on reality; we are surprised by the way Jesus looks at the publicans, at Zacchaeus or Matthew, or at the crowd. How is his gaze different from the one of the Pharisees, which reduces the person to his ability or his ethical performance? Jesus' gaze at Zacchaeus helps him discover himself, awakening his self-awareness, something none of the Pharisees’ reproaches could do. We can say the same about the Samaritan woman, or the tenth leper. We understand the shock that His presence provoked: “We never saw anything like this.”

What do you perceive as the single greatest threat in modern society?

I think it is feeling adrift, destabilized, alone, and uncertain. Most propose to fight these emotions with walls, or changes in the system at the institutional level (as depicted by T.S. Eliot). Men and women today wait for, perhaps unconsciously, the experience of an encounter with people for whom life is “solid” in the midst of change. What will wake people up today is a human impact, an event that echoes the initial event that occurred when Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. I want to stay at your house today.” I believe that the present era is a great opportunity to witness to the disarming beauty of Christianity, and to verify the fascination of the Christian event, which does not require a context to protect it.

Why is education so important? Why do you say it's the greatest challenge the Church faces?

We see so many students and teachers passive, skeptical, and even bored. Since we don't know what to do, we manage the symptoms. Yet, we must face the challenge. The challenge for the educator is to reawaken desire, to experience the restlessness which St. Augustine speaks about. To do so, we must introduce students to a relationship with reality in its totality, with all of its beauty and meaning.

For this reason, it is necessary to put the person at the center, to teach students to look at the world with their own eyes, to think with their own heads, thus developing a critical spirit that makes their “I” more of a protagonist and less a spectator, more a leader and less a follower, more a citizen and less a subject.

This dynamic is only possible when a teacher is a witness to this relationship with reality, not as one who imposes herself or her way of seeing things upon others, in an authoritarian way, but someone who challenges the other by her own way of living.

What changes must the Church make not only to survive, but thrive in today's modern culture?

Christians are faced with an unprecedented challenge. Yet, we are not afraid of wide-ranging dialogue, without any privileges. As a matter of fact, it is a precious occasion to verify the validity of the Christian proposal. The fact that the Church is no longer a moral majority is liberating; it allows us to rediscover the heart of the Christian event. The Church will survive and thrive only through Her witness.

Arguably, though, there are a lot of Catholics who do not find it “liberating” that the Church is no longer the moral majority. Many are actually afraid of this phenomenon, and feel as though Catholics either have to isolate from culture or hold even more tightly to the tenets of Christianity as an increasingly extreme counter-witness. What do you say to this?

That the Church is no longer the moral majority is a fact. It's useless to complain. The fact that many Catholics are afraid of this situation shows the lack of certainty in the unarmed beauty of faith, causing them to either isolate themselves from the culture to 'preserve' the faith, or to see their presence in society as a counter-reaction. To describe what kind of presence is needed today, this observation may be useful:

When we have to defend something in the context of a debate, in order to make our response stronger, we almost unconsciously accept the way the other frames the issue. In doing so, we allow our position to be determined by its opposition. It is reactive instead of being an original position, that is, a position that comes from our experience of faith. This leads to further reducing Christianity, or its testimony, to the mere repetition of a doctrine, of some values or ethics. (Disarming Beauty, pp. 70-71).    

Christian faith was born in a pluralistic society in Palestine and spread throughout a multicultural Roman empire. The first Christians based the communication of their faith only in their own witness. Their free and joyful position sprang from the core of their faith, not from fear of the world. “Man today expects, perhaps unconsciously, the experience of an encounter with people for whom the fact of Christ is such a present reality that their life is changed. What will shake up men and women today is a human impact; an event that echoes the initial event, when Jesus raised His eyes and said, 'Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today.'” (Luigi Giussani to the Synod on the Laity, 1987).

You reference the malaise of “lethargy and existential boredom.” How do modern men and women regain a sense of wonder and desire in front of their lives? In your view, what is the first step, and what is Church's role in this?

The first step is to encounter somebody who reawakens us from our lethargy and boredom. Regardless of the human situation, something unforeseen is always possible, something unexpected, which makes us regain the sense of ourselves. The Church has a unique possibility to offer a big contribution to the modern situation if she rediscovers the real nature of Christianity as an event, an event that reawakens the person, just as we see in the Gospels.

How do you encounter someone who awakens you? Is there a danger of moral subjectivity, here? Does one just follow anything that attracts?   

You can see this when you meet someone who awakens you in your own experience like when you fall in love with someone. You don’t need anybody else assuring you that it is that particular person who has awakened you from your apathy, or your meaningless life. It's something objective, something that comes out of you. We can use the same method looking at the origin of Christian faith. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1993: “we can recognize only something that raises a correspondence in us.” Anybody can recognize Christ “because he corresponds to the nature of man…the longing for the infinite which is alive and unquenchable within man.” In the opening lines of Deus Caritas Est, he brought this to everyone's attention: “Being Christian is not an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The person of Jesus is such a great and precious good, as He alone fully corresponds to the human thirst for happiness. And, the exceptional correspondence He brings about in those who meet him makes them capable of being in relationship with reality in an absolutely gratuitous way.

You speak of dialogue in the book a lot. How is this possible and why is it essential?

Dialogue is crucial because it is the possibility for a person to enter into a relationship with the other's experience. Sharing our own experiences with others, welcoming the experiences of others, is the only way to enrich our life.

Freedom in dialogue comes from the esteem one has for the experience of the other. This esteem permits one to enter into relationship with the richness of the experience of another person – in order to enrich one's own perspective. We can say with Terence: “Nothing human is foreign to us.” And when one has this certainty, he or she has no problem entering into a dialogue.

Why is it important for Christians to defend religious freedom?

Because of the relationship between truth and freedom. The Second Vatican Council enables us see that there is no other way to communicate truth than through freedom. Reason is the nature of truth, and truth needs only its own beauty to communicate itself. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth.”

Christian faith requires the use of reason and freedom. Without these two, Christianity isn't the least bit interesting. Today, therefore, only in a free environment will Christian faith be able to interest people, because for modern men and women (and in this the Enlightenment has played a foundational role), there is no greater good than freedom. No one today would think of proposing or imposing something that goes against freedom.

With the collapse of what was at one time evident (family, marriage, work, relative peace in our cities), where do we begin again?

The same way they did 2000 years ago, with a witness. Jesus introduced such a newness in history that people who met Him remained speechless, even to the point to saying: “We have never have seen anything like it.” There is no way to challenge human reason and freedom other then a life – the more fascinating life of a witness. People need to see and touch again, in a tangible way, the values that today are in crisis.

How graduates can thrive, according to one Catholic entrepreneur

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 02:14

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 30, 2017 / 12:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new book by entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank J. Hanna goes beyond the cliché advice often offered to college students, in an effort to help them focus on the things that really matter for true success in life.  

Hanna, the CEO of Hanna Capital, is the author of the newly-released book, "A Graduate's Guide to Life: Three Things They Don't Teach You in College That Could Make All the Difference."

In addition to his success as a merchant banker, Hanna is known for his philanthropy, particularly his commitment to Catholic education and evangelization. He is an EWTN board member. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

Amazon describes the newly-released book by saying, “The college years are often referred to as the best years of your life. Author Frank J. Hanna believes your best years are still ahead of you, but only if you have a strategy for living that goes beyond what you learned in school.”

“According to Hanna, wealth and success are not what you think. Drawing on a lifetime of business experience, he proposes a radically different approach. He shows that wealth is not merely money, competition has a higher purpose than simply getting ahead, and a life of happiness is simpler to attain than we imagine.”

CNA interviewed Hanna about his new book, his inspiration in writing it, and the advice he would offer college students today. The text of the interview is below:

You state in your book to young college students that “I want to change how you think about your future.” Why?

Unfortunately, we now live in a world of immediacy. This means that much of the advice we give to young people is catchy, and fits into a tweet or Facebook post, but at best it is often shallow, and at its worst, it is often wrong. Most college students have been filled with this kind of thinking for most of their lives, and so they are not thinking about their future in the manner most likely to lead to success.

You have a problem with the usual comment that college will be “the best years of your life”...

This is one of the clichés that happens to be bad advice. We want to encourage young people, as they head off to college; however, when we tell them that the next four years are going to be the best four years of their lives, we send two faulty messages. First, we imply that after college, the next fifty years are all downhill. And secondly, we put pressure on them while they are in college to try to live in a risky, extraordinary fashion – if these are the best four years of their lives, shouldn’t they be doing extraordinary things every day? This sort of adrenaline-seeking FOMO approach to life is not the way to happiness.

Why did you feel the need to describe human competition as opposed to animal competition?

All mammals compete for food, water, and mates. Humans do too. But if humans do not infuse their competition with love and prudence, they act like animals. If they compete like humans, they can bring out the best in one another.  

How are hope and meaningful community connected to wealth in life?

For many years, I have studied wealth in business, and happiness trends among really wealthy people. I found that the common denominator for wealth in business was hopefulness in the future, and I found that the common denominator for happiness among rich people was not how much money they had, but whether they had good relationships with others, and hopefulness about the future of those relationships. I dive into more of the background of this issue in the book, and how to develop these sources of wealth, but these are the factors that the data shows produce well-being, which is actually the essence of wealth.

Could you comment on the current education system and why it inspired you to write this book?

I think our current education system, especially higher education, does a pretty good job of transmitting information. College and high school graduates today have more information than their parents or grandparents had. However, our colleges sometimes mistake information for knowledge, and so students may not have as much knowledge as they ought. Moving even beyond knowledge, it is wisdom that leads to human flourishing. But because wisdom is so often tied to questions related to transcendence, many of our colleges not only fail to impart wisdom – some of them even deny its existence, for to acknowledge wisdom is to acknowledge truth, and in a culture of relativism, many do not want to, or are afraid to, acknowledge absolute truth.  

 

New Mexico bishop takes charge in fighting sex abuse, healing wounds

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 16:06

Gallup, N.M., Jun 29, 2017 / 02:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico added three names earlier this year to its list of workers against whom there are credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, as part of the diocesan commitment to transparency and youth protection.

The local Church is also holding healing services in many of its parishes across New Mexico and Arizona, in which Bishop James Wall listens to and prays with any who wish to do so, as they seek healing from sexual abuse.

The three new names on the list of credibly accused are Brother Mark Schornack, OFM, who served at parishes in the Gallup diocese between 1952 and 1984, and who is now deceased; Fr. Ephraim Beltramea, OFM, who served at St. Francis parish in Gallup from 1970 to 1973; and Fr. Diego Mazon, OFM, who served in parishes of the diocese between 1977 and 2003.

Emails sent by CNA to representatives of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Province of the Order of Friars Minor inquiring about Fr. Beltramea and Fr. Mazon were not acknowledged.

Bishop Wall spoke to CNA recently about the Diocese of Gallup's efforts at child protection, the need to find healing, and the central role that transparency plays in the life of the Church.

“We use transparency so much as a buzzword,” he reflected. “I think transparency's important because all things must be brought into the light; things shouldn't remain in the darkness.”

“In the past I think we've learned from some our mistakes, and some of that had to do with shielding those who committed abuses, or sometimes maybe turning a blind eye, or allowing people to remain in ministry – and I don't think that's a good practice, because that doesn't really protect young people, vulnerable adults. It doesn't allow for them to have a safe place to encounter the living Christ.”

Transparency means “showing our policies, our procedures, what we're doing,” he said, so that “everything is brought into the light, so there's nothing that's hidden.”

April's inclusion of three new names brings the list of those who have worked in the Gallup diocese who have been deemed by the diocese to have credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor against them to a total of 34.

Most of them (21) were diocesan priests. Another 11 were priests or brothers of religious communities, including the Order of Friars Minor, the Claretians, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, and the Crosier Fathers. There was also one seminarian and one lay CCD teacher.

Some two-thirds of the credibly accused (22) are deceased.

Bishop Wall explained that when the diocese receives an allegation of sex abuse of a minor, it undertakes an investigation, or has an outside investigator look into it. The investigator brings its findings to a review board, which makes recommendations to the diocese.

“Through that process, if we discover that the allegation is credible, then we will post that name on the diocesan website, as well as let the parishes where this person has served know.”

He added that the investigation is done because “we always have to make sure that we're protecting everyone's rights involved in this, being sensitive to everyone: the person bringing the accusation forward, as well as the accused,” noting that “the legal system is innocent until proven guilty.”

If the credibly accused person is a cleric, “immediately their faculties are withdrawn and they're informed that they are not to function or present themselves as a cleric in the Church.”

The bishop added that their case can be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where they can be assessed various penalties, such as dismissal from the clerical state.

When the credibly accused person is a member of a religious community, “the expectation is that (their community) take the lead,” Bishop Wall explained, though the diocese does work closely with the religious community throughout the process.

The Gallup diocese's list of credibly accused was first made in December 2014, and its recent update reflects the fact that “sometimes we don't have enough information on a particular case; we might not have enough information to investigate it, and then deem it credible.”

“If at a later date more information does come to us, so that we are able to investigate it, and then we are able to deem it credible, then we immediately put it on our list of credibly accused,” the bishop said. “So it all has to deal with the information that we have.”

The diocese's list reflects any local Church workers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor, whether while they were in ministry in Gallup or in another diocese. It also shows when and where they ministered within the diocese, whether or not the alleged abuse was carried out at those times and places.

Those who have been credibly accused were in ministry between the 1930s and the 2010s. There was a sharp rise of those in ministry in the 1950s, with a peak in the 1960s. Many of the credibly accused were also in ministry in the 1970s and '80s. The numbers fell in the 1990s and 2000s.

There was a sole case since Bishop Wall was named Bishop of Gallup in 2009: Fr. Timothy Conlon, a member of the Crosier Fathers. He served in two Arizona parishes from 2011 to 2013 before the diocese was informed by his religious community of an allegation of sexual abuse against him.

The bishop said the Church is now “really in the forefront of making sure that we provide a safe environment for our young people, and vulnerable adults as well,” with its screening of potential ministers leadings its efforts.

He cited the use of psychological screening and testing, and the fact that “our interview process is much, much more extensive than it was” in past times. Moreover, the Gallup diocese trains its volunteers, employees, students and clerics in child safety, and has a mandatory background check.

“We try to put in as many safety procedures as possible,” he said.

Reflecting on the spike of credibly accused clerics in the 1950s and '60s, Bishop Wall said that while there were a number of contributing factors, he believes that chief among them was the sexual revolution and “the groundwork [which] was already being laid prior to that.”

“But then again, these were bad people who did bad things to people; and these people should never have been placed in the positions to violate the trust, to violate these young people.”

In response to the crisis of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Gallup has also held healing services in parishes across its territory, in which Bishop Wall listens to and prays with survivors of sexual abuse, regardless of who their abuser was.

“It provides an opportunity not only to come together to pray, to pray for healing, but also gives an opportunity for anyone, and I stress that – anyone – who is a survivor of sexual abuse to meet with me,” the bishop explained.

“So we could have someone who is a survivor of sexual abuse by a worker of the Church, or someone who's a survivor of sexual abuse not by a worker of the Church, it could be family or friends, whatever the case might be … that's what the Church is about, it's what our ministry is about: offering the healing of Christ, so we provide that opportunity as well.”

Communities across the diocese have responded differently to the healing services, which began in November 2016.

In some places, Bishop Wall said, there is “a pretty good sized group that comes, and people who will want to meet with me individually afterwards; some people will bring family members in with them, they feel a little more comfortable, and some people just come to pray – you don't have to be a survivor of sexual abuse to come and pray.”

Healing services are scheduled at different communities in the diocese through March 2018.

While acknowledging that “it is difficult,” Bishop Wall also affirmed that “I think it's necessary, and it's a good thing, to allow people to come and sit and talk, and kind of, really unload their burden. Especially for someone who was abused by a worker of the Church, I think it's important for the bishop, who's the shepherd of the diocese, to sit with the person, to talk with the person, pray with them, apologize. I think that's one of the most important things were able to do in this.”

“These healing services, difficult though they are, provide a great opportunity for survivors of sexual abuse, whether at the hands of workers of the Church or someone else … to come before the Lord and find healing in the Lord,” the bishop concluded.

Survivors of sexual abuse are also afforded an opportunity “to pray, too, and also I think to realize they're not alone, because I think many times if someone is a survivor of sexual abuse, sometimes they feel like they're alone. And I think coming together with others, and the Church welcoming and inviting them to come together, it lets them feel that they're not alone, they're not isolated, there are people that are there for them, the Church is there for them.”
 

 

Fr. James Martin's LGBT book: Where it's strong, where it falls short

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 15:10

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2017 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- There’s been a lot of chatter about Fr. James Martin’s new book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” and given the topic, it’s understandable why. Pope Francis’ call to “encounter” has reinforced the necessity for Catholics to go bring the Gospel to those on the margins. Within American society at large, one of the most visible minorities on the margins are those who experience same-sex attractions or identify as LGBT, and ministry to this community has been of special concern among faithful Catholics in recent years. At the same time, both communities have borne legitimate struggles, as the Church faces pressures to choose between its teachings and public service, and those who identify as LGBT – including celibate Catholics who abide by Church teaching – have for years faced violence, ridicule and discrimination for their attractions.

The book contains many good and practical explanations for why conversations between these groups can come to a standstill. Fr. Martin points out how the scandal of the sex abuse crisis or mistreatment by persons in the Church can make it difficult for members of the LGBT community to listen to the Church’s guidance. Additionally, he explains to members of the LGBT community why it’s important to respect the teaching authority of the Church. Advice like this is clarifying and can help facilitate conversations with more patience and understanding. The book closes with a series of prayers and spiritual reflections, some of which provide a welcome antidote to the Pelagian poisons of our time: Fr. Martin rightfully reinforces God’s love for all his children in a world that places terms and conditions upon our human dignity and worth.

Yes, all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God and face the consequences of our actions. But all of us are created in the image and likeness of God; it is not our action or inaction, but God’s grace, which secures our salvation. I can only hope that these reflections provide spiritual fruit for all of the book’s readers who feel rejected, neglected, hurt, or who think their deeds somehow have rendered them unworthy of God’s love, particularly readers who experience same-sex attraction or identify as part of the LGBT community.

However, there were other aspects of the book that were troubling.  

Most of all, I was confused by the book’s avoidance of the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of marriage, as well as the importance of the gifts of celibacy and chastity for the life of the Church. Likewise, I was baffled by Fr. Martin’s reluctance to acknowledge Catholics who experience same-sex attraction who live in obedience to Church teaching – either through celibacy or in sacramental marriages to persons of the opposite sex. If the purpose of the book is to build a bridge between the Church and the broader LGBT community, why skip over the perspective of those at the crossroads of living a Catholic life and experiencing same-sex attraction?

Eve Tushnet, an author, pro-life activist and Catholic who identifies as a lesbian spoke to similar frustrations, particularly the book’s avoidance of sexual ethics, in her review of Fr. Martin’s book for the Washington Post. “The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.”  

Tushnet later continues: “In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance – or a duty – to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to non-marital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.”

Given the topic, it seemed jarringly incomplete to be denied even a reference to the call of Tushnet and other LGBT Christians trying to live in accord with Church teaching.

After reading, I also found myself wondering about the definitions Fr. Martin lays out, particularly those surrounding identity.

While certainly respect and sensitivity are necessary for any difficult conversation, I can’t help but wonder if Fr. Martin’s fixation on identity as LGBT overlooks Catholics who experience same-sex attraction but do not wish to identify as such. For instance, members of groups such as Courage share experiences of same-sex attraction, yet many choose not to identify as “gay” or “lesbian.” Furthermore, even within the LGBT community, those labels of “gay” and “lesbian” are falling out of use among the Millennial generation, with the terms like “queer” taking their place. If this book is to help bridge an understanding, why limit this conversation to their exclusion?

On top of that, all of these sexual identities – including that of “straight” – are very recent social constructions. This isn’t to say that identities don’t reflect on how we are shaped and encounter the world, or that they cannot be an effective shorthand for describing one’s background or community. Yet, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote while he was still Joseph Ratzinger, “the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation” (or any other temporal identity). While we might claim a given identity – Gentile, Jew, Gay, Straight – they aren’t essential to who we are as children of God, nor should they limit us in doing what the Church, our Mother, asks of us.

Sadly, this point of Church teaching and historical understanding doesn’t come across clearly in Fr. Martin’s book. In one section, Fr. Martin rightly points to the hypocritical “acceptance” of some other groups who publicly disobey Church teaching such as known usurers or those in cohabiting relationships. However, he doesn’t merely call for consistency, but for consistency in acceptance of these forms of public sin. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but most of all because it seems to despair of God’s grace and sells short Christ’s call for all of us to live lives of virtue.

Overall, there are some useful insights in the Building a Bridge’s prayers and descriptions of where many conversations on this topic come to a standstill. And, the book may be a useful tool for a well-formed Catholic who wants a better insight into the LGBT experience, or for a member of that community who wants to understand a neighborhood priest's perspective. However, bridge-building is a difficult task. Hopefully the fruits of this book will prove to be a solid plank, but there is clearly a need for other resources, materials and direction to make up for what is lacking in this book as we seek to span these waters.

 

 

Enforcement is key in fight against human trafficking, report says

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 18:51

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With an estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking today, all governments must step up their enforcement efforts, a new report by the State Department insists.

“We are all confronted with a choice: Do nothing or do something,” Ambassador Susan Coppedge of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said Tuesday at a press conference launching the 2017 Trafficking in Persons report.

“When it comes to human trafficking, everyone has a role to play and an obligation to act,” she added. “We must choose to do something to end modern slavery.”

The annual Trafficking in Persons report was released by the State Department on Wednesday, over 400 pages in length and detailing the state of human trafficking around the world.

There are an estimated 20 million persons being trafficked today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted on Tuesday at the launch of the report. This number includes children. Trafficking takes many forms, including sex slavery, debt bondage, forced marriage, and involuntary servitude.

“Human trafficking is as old as humankind. Regrettably, it’s been with us for centuries and centuries,” Secretary Tillerson stated. However, he added, “it is our hope that the 21st century will be the last century of human trafficking, and that’s what we are all committed to.”

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump and senior advisor to the president, was present at the launch of the TIP report on Tuesday. “On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited,” she said.

“Last month, while in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk firsthand with human trafficking survivors,” she said, recalling her meeting with trafficking victims at the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome after President Trump met with Pope Francis on May 24.

“They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped, and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives,” she said.

Pope Francis, during a November audience with RENATE, a network of European religious who fight trafficking and exploitation, emphasized that “much more needs to be done on the level of raising public consciousness and effecting a better coordination of efforts by governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and social workers.”

The TIP report is required to be compiled and released annually by the State Department to document how foreign governments are “prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime.” It was mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, of which Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the House global human rights subcommittee, was the prime author.

The 2000 law also set up a tier ranking system for foreign countries based on their commitment and success in fighting human trafficking. Tier 1 countries are those that are abiding by “the minimum standards” of fighting trafficking, which were set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Meanwhile, Tier 2 countries do not meet those minimum standards “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” the TIP report explained. A Tier 2 Watch List is for countries with more serious trafficking problems which are nonetheless making sufficient efforts to curb trafficking and meet the minimum standards of the TVPA.

Tier 3 countries are the worst trafficking offenders, because they have been determined to be not even working to meet the minimum standards for fighting trafficking.

To hold these countries accountable for their poor records on trafficking, the U.S. can take actions against these countries as allowed by the TVPA, like withholding non-humanitarian, non-trade related assistance or voting to bar them from loans by the International Monetary Fund.

China was downgraded to Tier 3 status in the most recent report, and Rep. Smith had “high praise” for the administration for recognizing China’s “shameful complicity in sex and labor trafficking.”

“They turn women into commodities for sale,” Smith said of trafficking of women from nearby Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam for commercial sex or forced marriages in China. Goods made from Chinese slave labor are also in the supply chains of U.S. businesses, he insisted.

During a Tuesday press conference at the State Department, Ambassador Coppedge outlined some other concerns with China’s record on trafficking. According to reports from NGOs, trafficking victims have not been cared for sufficiently.

Rep. Smith stated his desire for the designation to be utilized in the future to push China toward reform of its notorious trafficking record.

“Hopefully, the new tier ranking coupled with robust diplomacy – including the imposition of sanctions authorized under Tier 3 – will lead to systemic reforms that will save women and children’s lives and ensure that Chinese exports are not made with slave labor.”

Also, many North Koreans are also working in China in slavery, with their wages effectively going to the North Korean government, Smith noted.

“The North Korean regime receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the fruits of forced labor,” Secretary Tillerson stated on Tuesday. “Responsible nations simply cannot allow this to go on, and we continue to call on any nation that is hosting workers from North Korea in a forced labor arrangement to send those people home.”

Of the 187 countries considered for the tier system, 40 were listed as Tier 1 countries, 80 as Tier 2, 45 were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, and 23 were designated as Tier 3 countries, Coppedge said. Twenty-one of the countries were downgraded in status in the 2017 report, while 27 countries were upgraded.

Many countries do not prosecute trafficking as they should, Ambassador Coppedge noted, and this leads to greater impunity for traffickers to continue working. This was the theme of the 2017 TIP report, the need for governments to more strongly enforce laws against human trafficking.

“In addition to protecting victims from retribution or re-victimization, an effective criminal justice response brings traffickers to justice both to punish them for their crimes and to deter others,” the report stated.

Yet, at times, governments can be actively colluding with traffickers, Ambassador Coppedge said.

“We still see instances of government officials protecting brothels, taking bribes from traffickers, and obstructing investigations for profit, and while we still see governments criminalize and penalize victims for crimes their traffickers force them to commit,” she said.

“Trafficking in persons is a hidden crime rooted in deception,” she added. “Victims are coerced or intimidated into silence, and they often fear that if they do come forward they will be punished. When governments enact and enforce strong, comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, they send an unmistakable message to criminals: We will not tolerate this.”

The report also quoted Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, as saying that today, “wars and conflicts have become the prime driver of trafficking in persons.”

“They provide an enabling environment for traffickers to operate, as persons fleeing persecutions and conflicts are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked,” the archbishop said. “Conflicts have created conditions for terrorists, armed groups and transnational organized crime networks to thrive in exploiting individuals and populations reduced to extreme vulnerability by persecution and multiple forms of violence.”

 

Father Solanus Casey beatification set for November

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 13:40

Detroit, Mich., Jun 28, 2017 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Solanus Casey, an American-born Capuchin priest who died in 1957 known for his ability as a spiritual counselor, will be beatified at a Nov. 18 Mass in Detroit, the local archdiocese announced Tuesday.

“We are filled with joy at receiving the final date of the beatification of Father Solanus,” Father Michael Sullivan, OFM Cap. and Provincial Minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, said June 27. “It is a beautiful way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his passing.”

Venerable Casey was known for his great faith, attention to the sick, and ability as a spiritual counselor.

The beatification Mass will be said at Ford Field in Detroit, which can accommodate as many as 60,000.

Venerable Casey will be the second American-born male to be beatified.

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, he was the sixth child of 16 born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin. At age 17 he left home to work at various jobs, including as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, and a prison guard.

Reevaluating his life after witnessing a drunken sailor brutally stab a woman to death, he decided to act on a call he felt to enter the priesthood. Because of his lack of formal education, however, he struggled in the minor seminary, and was eventually encouraged to become a priest through a religious order rather than through the diocese.

So in 1898 he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Detroit and after struggling through his studies, in 1904 was ordained a “sacerdos simplex” – a priest who can say Mass, but not publicly preach or hear confessions.

He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He was also a co-founder of Detroit's Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929.

For 21 years he was porter at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

He is also known for his fondness for playing the violin and singing, although he had a bad singing voice because of a childhood illness which damaged his vocal chords.

Even in his 70s, Fr. Solanus Casey remained very active, and would even join the younger religious men in a game of tennis or volleyball. He died from erysipelas, a skin disease, on July 31, 1957, at the age of 87.

A miracle attributed to Venerable Casey's intercession was recognized by Pope Francis at a May 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“I’m grateful to hear from the Capuchin friars that the date of the beatification has been finalized,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit stated.

“The beatification of Father Solanus will be a tremendous blessing for the whole community of southeast Michigan, an opportunity for all of us to experience the love of Jesus Christ.”

Senate health care bill 'unacceptable,' bishop says after budget office report

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 08:36

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 06:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Senate’s health care bill remains “unacceptable,” one U.S. bishop insisted after a non-partisan government office estimated it would result in millions more uninsured.

“This moment cannot pass without comment,” said Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, in response to the scoring of the draft Senate health care bill by the Congressional Budget Office on Monday.  

“As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable,” he said of the office’s estimate that the number of uninsured could increase by 22 million by 2026. “These are real families who need and deserve health care.”  

The Congressional Budget Office released its scoring of the Senate health care bill on Monday, H.R. 1628, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

The bill eliminates the individual and employer mandates of the Affordable Care Act, replacing the individual mandate with a six-month waiting period for new insurance in non-group plans if one goes without insurance for more than 63 days.

Also, the bill makes it easier for states to waive essential health benefits, or the list of benefits like emergency services and maternity care that was mandatory in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The elderly can be charged up to five times more than younger persons in their premiums by insurers, as opposed to the limit being three times more than younger people.

The bill could reduce the federal deficit by over $320 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO, largely because of cuts to the rate of increased spending on Medicaid over that time (almost $800 billion in cuts) and cuts in the amount of federal subsidies for health plans.

The Medicaid cuts would take place through “per capita” caps on federal Medicaid funding of states. Thus, the funding in the future would be dependent upon the populations of the states.

An estimated 22 million more people would also be uninsured by 2026, increasing the projected number of uninsured from 28 million to 49 million.

Some of those uninsured would be persons who voluntarily forego having health insurance because of the removal of the individual mandate, which levies heavy fines on those without health insurance.

Instead, the new bill would fine persons with a gap in coverage once they sign up for insurance again, at a rate of 30 percent of their new premium.

In the short-term, this would be the “primary” reason behind the increase in the number of uninsured, the CBO said. However, after several years, other policies could increase the number of uninsured, like the cuts to Medicaid spending and federal subsidies.

For instance, for persons under the age of 65 by the year 2026, Medicaid enrollment would be down 16 percent, the office estimated.

The White House panned the CBO estimates in a statement released on Monday evening.

“The CBO has consistently proven it cannot accurately predict how healthcare legislation will impact insurance coverage,” the White House stated. “In 2013, the CBO estimated that 24 million people would have coverage under Obamacare by 2016.  It was off by an astounding 13 million people – more than half – as less than 11 million were actually covered.”

“To date, we have seen average individual market premiums more than double and insurers across the country opting out of healthcare exchanges,” the White House continued, urging action to be taken to reform health care.

Bishop Dewane, meanwhile, promised to pray for the Senate “to keep the good aspects of current health care proposals, to add missing elements where needed, and to not place our sisters and brothers who struggle every day into so great a peril on so basic a right.”

Last week, the bishop had outlined his serious concerns with the draft legislation. The bill, he said, in some ways made the problems with the House health care bill on health coverage for low-income persons worse.

“It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written,” he said on Thursday. The cuts to Medicaid funding in particular would “wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he insisted.

Bishop Dewane also noted the lack of language protecting “conscience rights” of those in the health care industry from mandates that they perform morally objectionable procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

He did praise the language protecting tax credits from being used to pay for abortions, but showed caution in warning that the language could very well be removed by the chamber’s parliamentarian because it could be ruled as not pertaining to the budget.

Other parts of the health care bill that the CBO scored included changes to premiums for persons in non-group plans.  

The average premiums for these plans would increase in the short-term, the CBO estimated, but by 2020 would drop to 30 percent lower than the premium estimates under the current health care law.

However, some could still see their health care costs rise because their benefits might be cut and their out-of-pocket health costs could be higher, especially those living in states which choose to waive the essential health benefits.

The marketplaces for non-group health insurance would still be stable in the coming years, the CBO estimated, but in certain areas for “a small fraction of the population,” insurers might not participate in non-group coverage.

This would be because fewer people would sign up for health plans due to fewer available subsidies, or even if the insurers participate in marketplaces, the plans themselves might be more expensive.

When asked on Monday if the White House would take CBO scores into account to the extent that they would go “back to the drawing board” on the bill if necessary, press secretary Sean Spicer answered that the White House would continue its current plan on health care reform.

“We feel very confident with where the bill is,” he stated. “And he [President Donald Trump] is going to continue to listen to senators who have ideas about how to strengthen it. But it's going to follow the same plan as we have.”

 

Detroit event combines biking, sacred architecture

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 00:08

Detroit, Mich., Jun 27, 2017 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 250 pilgrims made their way through downtown Detroit visiting different churches on Sunday.

What made this a spectacle? They were all riding along on two wheels.

“I love these architectural gems that were gifts to us from prior generations of the faithful. I love biking, I love bringing people together, I love celebrating our heritage as Detroiters,” said event organizer Danielle Center. “So here we are, the marriage of all these things.”

Center told the Detroit Free Press that she expected about 20 people to show up to the event, named “Holy Rollin’.” She had wanted to put on such a gathering for years, but feared that people would be reluctant to bike downtown Detroit, which has been undergoing a process of depopulation for years.

However, her fears turned out to be groundless: though she had expected 20 bikers to show up, more than ten times as many brought their wheels to downtown.

“To have so many people here is pretty special,” Annie Schunior told the Detroit Free Press.

Bikers stopped at four churches after departing from Center’s workplace, Ste. Anne – St. Aloysius, Sts. Peter and Paul, Old St. Mary, and St. Joseph Oratory. At each, bikers got a taste of the art and history of each building.

“In the Catholic church there is a lot of beautiful art but there are not a lot of opportunities for people to tour and see it,” said Schunior.

Fr. Loren Connell gave the group a tour at St. Aloysius, saying he welcomed the chance to let such a group into the church building.

"It's about hospitality," he told the Detroit Free Press. "We open our doors to street people and visitors and everyone in between."

'Texting suicide' case could impact assisted suicide legislation

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 05:25

Boston, Mass., Jun 27, 2017 / 03:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A case about whether a troubled teenager convinced her depressed boyfriend to commit suicide through her words and text messages may have possible implications for physician-assisted suicide cases.

On June 16, a Massachusetts judge ruled that Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, for words and texts exchanged with her depressed boyfriend Conrad Roy III as he attempted to commit suicide two years ago. Both Carter and Roy were teenagers at the time.

The ruling of manslaughter was decided based on Carter’s words to Roy, mostly in a phone call, urging him to re-enter a truck she knew to be full of carbon dioxide, where he was attempting his suicide. Carter had also sent Roy numerous texts encouraging his suicide and later texted a friend about her phone call with Roy.

In Massachusetts, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be brought when an individual causes the death of another person by engaging in behavior that is considered reckless enough to cause harm.

While some states have laws that criminalize the encouragement of suicide, Massachusetts does not, complicating Carter’s case.

Legal experts wonder whether the case could set new legal precedents when it comes to legalizing assisted suicide.

Daniel Medwed, professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University school of law, told USA Today that the case may set a precedent of criminalizing those who sympathize with someone who expresses a desire for assisted suicide.

“Don’t forget, there’s a still a big societal debate going on about assisted suicide,” he said. “This sort of verdict would imply that anyone being sympathetic to a loved one could be at fault.”

Matthew Segal, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the verdict “is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words.”

Anti-assisted suicide groups believe that the case is significant because of the weight it places on outside pressures on already vulnerable people to take their lives, though it remains unclear if the case will set any legal precedent regarding the issue in reality.  

Tim Rosales, a spokesperson for Patient’s Rights Action Fund, told CNA that when it comes to assisted suicide, there are often outside pressures that can influence the person’s decision to end their life.

“Whether it’s the denial of a certain type of treatment, or there is the insinuation by a physician or a family member or someone close to them about the potential of assisted suicide versus (continued care), all of those go into someone’s mindset and decision making,” he said.  

These outside pressures can be particularly strong “when they’re in a vulnerable state, and mental illness as well as physical illness can be one of those things that puts people in a vulnerable state,” Rosales said.  

“I think we have to be exceedingly cautious and that’s one of the big reasons why you have a lot of opposition to something like assisted suicide, because at its very core it is fraught with the possibility for abuse or dangers,” he said.

“I think in (the Carter case) certainly the dynamics surrounding it kind of give us an indication of how vulnerable people can be at times and how influential those close to us are during those vulnerable times.”

John B. Kelly, New England Regional Director of the disability advocacy and anti-assisted suicide group Not Dead Yet, told CNA that he does not believe the Carter case will affect future assisted suicide legislation because the decision drew heavily from a 2002 case, Commonweath v. Levesque.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Levesque, homeless couple Thomas S. Levesque and Julie Ann Barnes were found responsible for the death of six firefighters who ran into a factory building as it burned. Levesque and Barnes had been living in the factory, escaped the fire and failed to report it.

In the Carter case, Judge Lawrence Moniz drew from the case directly in his verdict, saying that “where one's actions create a life-threatening risk to another, there is a duty to take reasonable steps to alleviate the risk. The reckless failure to fulfill this duty can result in a charge of manslaughter.”

“I don’t think that it adds any legal precedent to deciding what are words and what’s coercion (in assisted suicide cases),” Kelly told CNA.

“But I think we can say that words matter, and that this ruling underlines the commonsense notion that we make choices in a context, and that those contexts can be influenced by other people,” he said.

“Assisted suicide proponents argue that an individual makes that choice freely without any impact, but we know that it’s hard to choose...when you’re seen as a burden by those around you and your doctor thinks you would be better off dead, those are influences that would be very difficult for vulnerable people to resist.”

 

 

 

The bishops have spoken up on two very different issues – and now the Supreme Court will, too

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 14:38

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2017 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Supreme Court wrapped up its latest term on Monday, it agreed to consider a major religious freedom case, as well as the case of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, this fall.

Both topics have drawn concern from the U.S. bishops, who have urged respect for freedom of conscience and religion in the face of legalized gay marriage, while criticizing the travel ban for abandoning vulnerable refugees in need.  

The court agreed to hear two cases next term which could prove to have major impacts – the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and the case of Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involves the rights of a baker to refuse out of conscience to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.

The latter case was relisted 14 times by the Supreme Court, which finally took it up on Monday, SCOTUSBlog.com reported.

“The issue in this case is a free speech case; whether or not the state of Colorado can coerce a person to write a message through culinary arts that violates his conscience,” said Michael Farris, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the baker Jack Phillips in the case.

Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. and has run the shop for over 23 years, explained on Monday how he operates his business in accordance with his religious beliefs.

The shop is “not just a bakery, but a place where I can use my artistic vision and talents to create cakes that communicate just the right message for my clients,” he said. “I gladly welcome and serve everyone that comes into my shop.”

His store is closed on Sundays and he refuses to craft cakes with messages that run contrary to his values, such as anti-American, atheist, or racist messages. He added that “my sincerely-held religious belief that marriage is a sacred relationship between a man and a woman.”

“In 2012, I was stunned when I became the target of a lawsuit relying on sexual orientation gender identity law that offers no exemptions for people of faith,” he said.

After he had declined to make a wedding cake for the same-sex wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission said he had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake at another shop in the vicinity of Masterpiece.

Phillips said he was barred by the commission from serving any weddings and ended up losing 40 percent of his business, “a crushing loss.” He was also ordered by the commission to enter anti-discrimination re-education, and submit quarterly reports on updating the policies of the business.

Furthermore, Phillips said he began receiving “vile and hateful calls at the shop, including one death threat that was so bad, that I hid my daughter and granddaughter in the back until the police arrived.”

On Monday, after the Supreme Court agreed to take Phillips’ case, lawyers for ADF hoped that the Court would ultimately uphold his free speech rights.

“We’re hopeful that the Court will affirm the basic principle that the government cannot punish artists like Jack for refusing to create art that violates his religious convictions,” said senior counsel Kristin Waggoner.

In an unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court also ruled on Monday that a travel ban on visitors from six majority-Muslim countries may go into partial effect, as the ban awaits a hearing and full consideration by the high court in October.

The court blocked full implementation of the executive order originally released by President Donald Trump in January, saying that the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”  

Thus, family members, students and employees from the six designated countries who wish to visit, live or work in the United States will be able to do so. Those who lack such ties to the U.S. will be banned under the executive order.

The order in question bars persons from six majority-Muslim countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering the United States for 90 days, and also requires that refugees wait 120 days before entering the country. The executive order also lowers the number of refugees accepted by the United States in FY 2017 to 50,000 – down from the 110,000 person limit and the 85,000 refugees accepted in actuality during FY 2016.

Initially released January 27, the executive order was then revised on March 6 after judicial challenge. The modified version removed Iraq from the list of countries subject to the ban, and also walked back provisions that would have prioritized refugee admissions for persecuted religious minorities.

The bans were challenged by courts in Maryland and Hawaii, who blocked them from taking effect. Those rulings were later upheld by federal appeals courts in Virginia and California, respectively, on grounds that they violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The federal government appealed those rulings to the Supreme Court, asking that the stay be lifted and the ban go into effect until arguments are heard before the Supreme Court later this year.

The Supreme Court’s decision only removes part of the stay on the administration’s executive order, allowing the travel and refugee bans to continue against those with no existing ties to the United States. Many of the plaintiffs in the original cases brought in Hawaii and Maryland had family members, schools or employers based in the U.S.

The executive order has come under harsh criticism by the U.S. Bishops and Catholic refugee experts. Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on migration, stated that the bishops were “deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban,” after the ban’s March revision. “The revised Order still leaves many innocent lives at risk,” he said.

“The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” the bishop said.

“However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, echoed many of Bishop Vasquez’s sentiments, urging in a March 6 statement that “now is not the time for the world’s leader in refugee resettlement to back down.”

The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference runs one of the nation’s largest refugee resettlement agencies, helping to resettle more than a quarter of all of the refugees admitted to the United States annually.

 

Supreme Court rules in favor of church in crucial First Amendment case

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 13:32

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2017 / 11:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In one of the biggest religious cases of the term, the US Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Chief Justice John Roberts, delivering the opinion of the Court, wrote June 26 that “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran,” the church at the center of the case, “from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer was about “religious people being treated just like everybody else,” stated Mike Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom.

At issue was a playground owned by Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., and operated by the church’s preschool. To resurface the playground for safety reasons, the church had applied for a state reimbursement program that provides rubber surfacing material made from used tires. Trinity Lutheran had ranked the fifth most qualified out of 44 applicants for the program.

The state’s natural resources department ultimately ruled the church ineligible for the program because of its religious status. The Missouri state constitution forbids taxpayer funding of churches. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state.

The Supreme Court reversed that ruling and sent it back to the lower courts.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan joined Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion of the Court that the denial of the church’s eligibility for the program violated the free exercise clause. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in Chief Justice Roberts' judgement.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the Court’s opinion except for a footnote stating that the decision was about “discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing,” and does not “address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

“I worry that some might mistakenly read” the footnote to apply only to “‘playground resurfacing’ cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy,” Gorsuch wrote.

He added that “the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the Court’s opinion.

The Church had argued that the new surface would be a safety upgrade for the playground operated by its preschool and used by members of the community during non-school hours.

It was used by both church members and non-members, they insisted, and should not be ruled ineligible for a state benefit program available to other entities just because it is owned by a religious institution.

Opposing the church was the ACLU, which had argued that to make the church eligible for state benefits would be an unconstitutional violation of the establishment clause.

Missouri’s denial of the church, however, “goes too far” under precedents of Supreme Court decisions, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, and “violates the Free Exercise Clause.”

The Missouri law was passed during a time when many other states were passing laws barring public funding of sectarian schools, widely viewed at the time to mean Catholic schools and other religious schools that were not part of the public school system. The laws were modeled after the federal Blaine Amendment, proposed in the 1870s and named after Maine Congressman James Blaine. His amendment was proposed, but never passed by Congress.

In oral arguments in the case, justices also discussed the broader constitutionality of religious groups having access to other public benefits, including a Jewish synagogue requesting a security detail.

Catholic leaders applauded Monday’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court is signaling in this decision that the government must stop its growing hostility towards religion and religious institutions, and that antiquated and anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments should not be used as a weapon to discriminate against people of faith,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated.

“For over a century, Blaine Amendments have enshrined into law discrimination against faith-based charities and schools that form an essential part of American society,” Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, stated. “In this case, a state Blaine Amendment was used to justify blacklisting a Christian elementary school from a playground safety program solely on religious grounds.”

“Blaine Amendments are anti-Catholic in their origin, and getting rid of them is more than a century overdue,” she added. “Today’s decision demands a more fair and inclusive approach to government programs meant to serve all people."

The decision “will have an effect” in the future, David Cortman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued the case for the church before the Court in April, said. “Whenever religious people, organizations, see themselves being discriminated against, this case will be the controlling precedent,” he added.

Members of Congress also weighed in on the decision. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) called it “an important ruling for religious liberty with profound significance for America’s civil society.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and who filed an amicus brief with colleagues on behalf of Trinity Lutheran in the case, stated that “today’s decision affirms the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion—to have more than just a belief but to live out your faith without discrimination from the government.”

The case was ultimately between the church and the state’s natural resources department. Missouri’s attorney general recused himself in the case.

Missouri’s governor Eric Greitens (R) had already announced that in the future, religious institutions could be eligible for benefit programs of the natural resources department. However, the Court stated on Monday that “that announcement does not moot this case.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, stated that “this case is about nothing less” than the relationship “between church and state.”

“The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church,” she added. “Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that “it is true the Department has not criminalized the way Trinity Lutheran worships or told the Church that it cannot subscribe to a certain view of the Gospel.”

“But, as the Department itself acknowledges, the Free Exercise Clause protects against ‘indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.’” And a church being denied participation in public benefits because of its religious character can be such an “indirect coercion” on the free exercise of religion, he continued.

“In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”

Judge halts deportations of Chaldean Christians to Iraq

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 17:26

Detroit, Mich., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A district court judge on Thursday halted the deportation of more than 100 Iraqis, including many Chaldean Christians, who were recently picked up by immigration officers and detained.

“We are thankful and relieved that our clients will not be immediately sent to Iraq, where they face grave danger of persecution, torture or death,” Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, which represented the Iraqi nationals, stated in response to the ruling.

On Sunday, June 11, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began picking up Iraqi nationals in the Detroit metropolitan area who had previous criminal records.

Ultimately, 114 Iraqis were picked up, some reportedly at their homes in front of their families and others in public places like restaurants. They were detained and informed of their immanent deportation.

Many of the detainees were Chaldean Christians, and members of the local Chaldean Church were dismayed at the arrests.

ICE stated that the detainees had criminal records and although they had entered the U.S. legally and had not yet become citizens, they were no longer eligible for full citizenship. Furthermore, they had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, although in some cases the orders were reportedly decades old.

Iraq had previously refused to accept the Chaldeans, “in some cases, for humanitarian reasons,” Thursday’s decision read.

However, they recently agreed to accept them as part of a deal with the U.S. that removed Iraq’s place on a list of countries where foreign nationals were barred from traveling to the U.S., except in special cases, as part of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit insisted that many of those who were detained were responsible residents since they had served their time in prison, and that many of the crimes had been committed decades prior to the June 11 arrests.

Pleas to stay the deportations reportedly reached the highest levels of government. The ACLU represented the Chaldeans in court, filing a habeas corpus action petition on their behalf, while the Knights of Columbus and members of Congress wrote Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Leading U.S. bishops also wrote Secretary Kelly, advocating for a stay on the deportations until Iraq could guarantee the safety of religious minorities.

“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” a letter by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, stated.

“The persecution that the Christian and Chaldean Catholic community has faced in Iraq is well- documented,” they added. “The deportations to this same country, under such scrutiny for abuse and genocide of Christian and other minorities, seems to run counter to what is happening in other parts of our government.”

Lawyers for the detainees insisted that under the Convention Against Torture they should not be sent back to a country where they have a reasonable expectation of persecution.

Furthermore, since the detainees have already served their prison sentences for their previous crimes, “we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community,” the bishops continued.

This past week, Bishop Kalabat noted in a Facebook post that Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako was also involved in the efforts to halt the deportations, and “spoke with an international Catholic organization that are in contact with Vice President Pence directly.”

Bishop Kalabat also said he had appealed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to pardon all those who had state felonies.

Then on June 22, Judge Goldsmith granted a two-week stay on the deportations of the Iraqi nationals “within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE Field Office with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE.”

“In light of these complex jurisdictional issues, and the speed with which the Government is moving to remove Petitioners, it is necessary to stay Petitioners’ removal pending the Court’s determination regarding its jurisdiction,” Judge Goldsmith stated.

He also cited the threat of “irreparable harm” claimed by the detainees through the “significant chance of loss of life and lesser forms of persecution” if they were to be deported to Iraq, as well as “the public interest” in due process that their requests for relief be heard by a federal court before their deportation.

“The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, stated. “They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”

US Senate healthcare bill 'unacceptable as written', bishops warn

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:10

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2017 / 11:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops' conference has warned that the proposed Senate health care bill will put serious burdens on poor families and is “unacceptable as written.”

After the draft of a Senate health care bill was finally released on Thursday, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated that “this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them.”

He had previously explained, in a March letter to members of Congress, how the House bill was problematic for vulnerable populations such as the poor, the seriously ill, and the elderly.

After the Senate draft, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released June 22, he reiterated that “it is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

After the House narrowly voted May 2 to pass its own version of a health care reform bill, the US bishops wrote to Senators urging them to reject the “grave deficiencies” of the American Health Care Act.

The bishops had asked the Senate to reject major changes to Medicaid, to retain protections for human life, to increase tax assistance for those with low-income and the elderly, to retain a cap on health care plan costs for the elderly, to protect immigrants, and to add health care protections.

Senate Republicans released the draft version of their bill after weeks of anticipation and controversy that the draft was being worked on behind closed doors. The bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.

A major sticking point for pro-life groups and the U.S. bishops was Hyde Amendment-language protecting taxpayer subsidies from being used to pay for abortions.

However, pro-life leaders are concerned – or are even certain – that the pro-life language will be removed by the Senate Parliamentarian before the bill reaches the Senate floor.

This could happen because the language might be determined to be not pertaining to the rules of budget reconciliation. Since the bill may be passed through the budget reconciliation process – thus requiring a simple majority vote, rather than the normal 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for a vote – its measures would need to be ruled as pertaining to the budget.

Senate Republicans can also afford no more than two members of their party voting against the bill, as no Democrats are expected to support it. Several moderate Republicans in the chamber have voiced concern about the bill, and four conservatives have said the draft does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The draft also strips Planned Parenthood of taxpayer funding and redirects that funding to community health centers which do not provide abortions.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, approved of the Planned Parenthood language but added that “the reality is that necessary pro-life protections in this bill will be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian, as we have now publicly heard from two Senators.”

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) both admitted that the Senate Parliamentarian would not approve of the pro-life language being used in a bill passed by reconciliation.

“If this happens, one of the most egregious aspects of Obamacare – tax credits for plans covering abortion – will continue under this Administration and Congress,” Mancini continued.

Pro-life groups have insisted that the Affordable Care Act ushered in a massive expansion of abortion funding through tax credits paying for abortions and federally-subsidized plans offering abortion coverage, without sufficient guarantees that the subsidies were not being used themselves to pay for the abortion coverage.

While President Obama issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer dollars from funding abortions under the health care law, many – including then-president of the U.S. bishops, the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago – insisted that would not offer sufficient guarantee against taxpayer dollars funding abortions.

A 2014 GAO report found that in five states, all the taxpayer-subsidized plans offered on the health exchanges covered abortions, thus leaving no choices for those who wanted a health plan on the exchanges which did not include abortion coverage.

Furthermore, the report found that 15 insurance issuers and one state exchange were not billing abortion coverage separately from other coverage in federally-subsidized plans, thus leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were going to fund abortion coverage.

“The expectations of the pro-life movement have been very clear: The health care bill must not indefinitely subsidize abortion and must re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding to community health centers,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a joint statement released Friday.

“The Senate discussion draft includes these pro-life priorities, but we remain very concerned that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons,” they added.

“We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition.”

Bishop Dewane echoed those concerns that the pro-life language could be stripped from the bill. He insisted as well that “full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

Moreover, there are other serious problems with the Senate draft legislation that carry over from the House bill, he maintained.

Changes to Medicaid could cut vital coverage for low-income families; conscience protections for everyone in the health care system are lacking; and access for immigrants to health care would not be furthered, he said, which the bishops pointed out as one of the problems in the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010.

The “per-capita cap” on Medicaid dollars to states would limit Medicaid funding based on the populations of the states themselves, “and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill,” the bishop stated.

“These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he stated.

While efforts to assist people “living at an above the poverty line” are laudable, he continued, the proposed bill “stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net.”

The bill would phase out the expansion of Medicaid more gradually than did the House's version, but the program would see larger cuts in the long run under the Senate's plan.

Bread for the World, a social welfare organization of Christians that advocates for the ending of hunger the US and abroad, was also critical of the Senate bill's changes to Medicaid, saying it will increase hunger and poverty domestically.

“Rolling back the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of vulnerable Americans will lose their health care coverage,” said David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president. “Without health insurance, people must often choose between putting food on the table and receiving the medical care they need.”

He charged that “any senator who supports this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.”

Bishop Dewane also said the bill “fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy,” he stated.

For instance, the bill could set up conscience protections for religious organizations that refuse to comply with previous mandates that coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives be provided in their employee health plans, the bishop noted. Or doctors who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions or gender-transition procedures could be protected against federal or state mandates that they do so.

“The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system,” Bishop Dewane stated.

A doctor prescribed a procedure, but insurance offered death

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 08:01

Reno, Nev., Jun 23, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. T. Brian Callister chose to become a physician for the reason many choose to go into the medical field – to make a difference in people’s lives.

But that difference has recently been cut short by assisted suicide legislation.

An internal medicine specialist and the National Medical Director at The LifeCare Family of Hospitals based in Reno, Nevada, Callister sees many patients from out of state, since the Reno-Tahoe area is a vacation destination.

Recently, he had two patients within two months who both needed life-saving procedures.

In both cases, he requested a hospital transfer to their home state: one in California and one in Oregon, both of which have legalized assisted suicide.

Both patients were denied the requested transfer and requested life-saving procedure by their insurance companies, who instead asked Callister if he had offered his patients assisted suicide.

“I was just floored. The best I could muster was ‘uh, that’s not legal here yet.’ And they said if you get them back home we can take care of it,” Callister told CNA.

He said he had not at any point indicated that he or his patients would be interested in assisted suicide. It was offered simply because it was the cheapest option.

HIPPA laws, which govern the privacy of patient information, limit the specifics that Callister can go into on these cases.

However, he said one of these patients ended up going to a lower level of care but did not get the lifesaving procedure, and the other got so frustrated that they left the hospital.

Neither received the care recommended by their doctor.

Callister said in both cases, the recommended care was a standard medical procedure and not an experimental therapy, which are often not covered by insurance companies for other reasons.

“Most people look at (assisted suicide) as a freedom and autonomy thing, and it really is the opposite when you look at my cases, since access to care and choices are being limited by this law,” Callister said.

“It’s cutting your choice, not adding to it.”

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in a handful of states, gaining momentum ever since the high profile suicide of cancer patient Brittany Maynard in 2014.

Many prominent Catholic leaders, such as Pope Francis, have spoken out against assisted suicide, calling it “false compassion.” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said assisted suicide “represents a failure of solidarity” and abandons the most vulnerable in society.

Callister’s cases are not the first time patients have been denied care and offered death instead.

Stephanie Packer, a terminally ill wife and mother, was recently denied chemotherapy, but was offered assisted suicide by her insurance for just $1.20.

Packer said it was the ultimate slap in the face: her insurance company denied the coverage of critical chemotherapy treatment that her doctors recommended for her condition.

Particularly concerning is that the insurance company had initially suggested that they would cover the chemotherapy drugs. It was one week after assisted suicide was legalized in 2016 that they sent Packer a letter saying they were denying coverage. Despite multiple appeals, they continued to refuse.

Often, proponents of assisted suicide will argue it is necessary for people to avoid unending pain or unbearable suffering at the end of their life.

This argument ignores the advances made in palliative and hospice care which can control pain and symptoms at the end of life, Callister noted.

“In this day and age, we have outstanding palliative care, hospice care, we have the education, the skill and the drugs to keep you comfortable,” he said.

Opponents of assisted suicide say there are not enough legal safeguards possible to guard against coercion and abuse, whether by insurance companies or by family members who may benefit financially from the death of a family member.

“It’s illegal for a family to coerce the patient. How are they going to regulate that? The coercion police are going to go to your house? It all sounds good on paper, but none of it is practically enforceable; it really isn’t,” Callister said.

Another argument used by proponents of assisted suicide is that they follow the same guidelines as do doctors for referring patients to hospice and palliative care – they only suggest assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis with six or fewer months to live.

But the problem with that, Callister said, is that doctors are often wrong when it comes to terminal diagnoses: the margin for error is 50-70 percent. Some patients die sooner than expected, while many also go on to outlive their prognoses, sometimes by years.

“My take on it is: if we’re not sure how much quality time you have left, why would you throw that away? And the second part of that is once it becomes clear that you are dying, you’re in your last weeks, we have the ability to keep you comfortable. So why do we need this law?”

He added that as a physician for 30 years, he has seen the end of life be some of the most important times in a family for healing, for reconciliation, for self-giving love.

“I see more self-giving love for other people, I see more families healed and brought together, and bad rifts healed and reconciled at the end of life than any other time.”

Dating apps and the death of romance – what's a Catholic to do?

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 05:22

Denver, Colo., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If a recent Vanity Fair issue is to be believed, there's some disheartening news for single people: the “dating apocalypse,” brought on by wildly popular dating apps like “Tinder,” is upon us.

Young singles are too busy swiping left and right on their phones making shallow, transient connections, rather than finding real love with real people. Romance is dead, proposes author Nancy Jo Sales, in the September 2015 issue of the publication.

What sets Tinder apart from most other dating app or online dating experiences is speed and brevity. Based on a photo, first name, and age alone, users decide whether to swipe left (to pass) or right (to like). With GPS tracking, the app also tells users exactly how far away potential matches may be, making life even easier for those just looking for a quick hook-up. 

Shallowest dating app ever?

The biggest criticism of Tinder? It's a seriously shallow app that turns people into quickly-judged commodities on a screen.

In a 2013 article by The Guardian, “Tinder: the shallowest dating app ever?” author Pete Cashmore explains the ick-factor, yet addictiveness, of Tinder when compared to another dating app called Twine.

“Of the two apps, though, Tinder sounded worse, just because it seemed so contemptuously superficial. There are hundreds upon thousands of women, about whom you know almost nothing, and you snap-appraise them with a single swipe. It's a finger-flicking hymn to the instant gratification of the smartphone age. It's addictive.”

Matt Fradd is a Catholic speaker and author and founder of The Porn Effect, a website with a mission to “expose the reality behind the fantasy of pornography and to equip individuals to find freedom from it.” In his ministry, he’s heard a lot of stories from young people about their struggle to overcome objectifying people through porn.

Fradd had some harsh words for Tinder.

“Tinder exists for those who would rather not purchase a prostitute,” he told CNA.

“I would imagine most people who use that app aren’t there because they’re looking for a chaste relationship,” he added. 

And indeed, quite a bit of colloquial evidence backs him up. Alex in the Vanity Fair article said dating apps have turned romance into a competition of “Who's slept with the best, hottest girls?”

“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger,” he said. “It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

But Tinder doesn't always have to be that way, users argue. It is possible to find people on the app who want to go on some good old-fashioned dates.

Tinder users speak

Ross is a twenty-something Nebraska-to-New York City transplant and a cradle Catholic who’s used his fair share of both dating apps and sites. When signing up for Tinder, Ross said, probably the most important factor in whether someone will find potential dates or hook-ups is location, location, location.

“Your region matters so much,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “In Nebraska, women date on Tinder. They really do… In New York, (most) want a distraction, attention, and/or a hook up. Not emotion or connections.”

Holly, a twenty-something devout Catholic living in Kansas City, said she has had success finding a date – and a pretty decent one at that – on the app.

“I went on a great Tinder date. Granted it was the only Tinder date, but we even went out a few times before things ended. At the time Tinder sort of freaked me out, but I decided to jump in head first and it was an enjoyable experience over all,” she said. 

Many young people who've used Tinder also argue that the “shallow” critique is a bit overblown, considering that dating always takes into account whether or not a potential mate is physically attractive.

“How is me swiping right on a guy that I find attractive, and swiping left (on those) that I'm not that into any different than someone approaching a guy that I find attractive in a bar? We make snap judgements all the time. Why is it suddenly so much worse if I'm doing it online?” asked Michelle, a twenty-something practicing Catholic who lives in Chicago.

While she's definitely experienced the creepier side of Tinder – with guys sending her “rankings” on a scale of 1 to 10 and other, um, less-than-endearing messages, she said she found the app could be used as a way to maybe meet some new people in person and to get recommendations of things to do in the city.

“I think to immediately classify Tinder or any other dating app as a 'hook-up' app or as a very bad thing goes against the idea that things are morally neutral,” Michelle said. “Just like alcohol is not inherently bad but can be used for evil, I don't think Tinder is inherently evil as well. I definitely think you can use Tinder if you're using it to meet people – not to hook up with people.”

The morality of Tinder

It's admittedly a bit difficult to find someone who can speak with moral authority specifically to dating apps in the Catholic world. Because of the very recent explosion of smartphones, followed by the subsequent explosion of dating apps, or because of vows of celibacy, many clergy and moral experts have actually never used dating apps themselves.

Fr. Gregory Plow, T.O.R., falls into that category. Even though he's a young priest and friar who’s never used Tinder, Fr. Plow works with hundreds of young people every day as the director of Households at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (kind of like Greek houses, but faith-based).

Fr. Plow said when Catholics determine the morality of any act or tool, like Tinder, three things must be considered.

“Whenever discerning the morality of an act not explicitly defined by Church teaching, we must examine the object, the intention, and the circumstances,” he said, referencing paragraph 1757 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Regarding the 'object,' apps – in general, as an invention – are not bad in and of themselves. Like most other technologies, they are morally neutral in and of themselves,” he said. “Apps do, however, possess a certainly quality of being transitory that can factor in to the other two components (intention and circumstances) that factor in to judging the morality of an act.”

The transitory, cursory nature of swiping based on one picture in Tinder can be morally dangerous if that same mentality transfers to relationships with people, he said. Instead of pausing and taking the time to form real relationships, some people may decide to move on to the next best thing because they have so many options.

“Therefore, in as much dating apps are impersonal and transitory, or are used with the intention for receiving gratification and pleasure, they are immoral,” he said. “If, however, online dating apps or services assisting people in leading them to find another person to share the love of God with in the uniqueness of a dating relationship or marriage, it can be (morally) good.”

Mary Beth Bonacci, a Catholic speaker and author on John Paul II's Theology of the Body, said what's concerning about Tinder when compared to online dating sites such as CatholicMatch is the rapidity with which people can be turned into objects.

“The entire realm of dating is full of opportunities to turn a human person into a commodity. We get so wrapped up in thinking about what we want for ourselves that we forget we are dealing with another human person – and image and likeness of God. It's always been a temptation,” she said.

“But the rapid-fire nature of Tinder's 'scan and swipe' makes it easy to turn many, many human persons into commodities in a short period of time. That is what is scariest to me.”

Bonacci said while it's possible to find someone who’s interested in a virtuous dating relationship through apps like Tinder, the chances of that happening are probably pretty low when compared with online dating sites that have more extensive profiles.

Meeting someone in person as soon as possible is also key, she said, in determining whether or not a match made online or in an app has a chance of turning into a dating relationship. But apps like Tinder aren’t exactly helping breathe new life into romance, she said.

“Everything is instant. The nearly-anonymous sex is of course the antithesis of anything romantic or respectful. In the old days of the 'meat market' singles' bar, a person had to get dressed up, leave the house, buy a few drinks and at least pretend to have some real interest in the other person.”

The Church has a duty, she said, to offer young people better alternatives in the dating world than the instant gratification that they find in the current culture.

“The Vanity Fair article reminded me once again that we have to offer teens and young adults an alternative to the degrading, hook up world that surrounds them. We can't scare them out of it. They need to be inspired, to fall in love with the real beauty of the Christian vision of human sexual morality,” she said.

“They need to see their own dignity, their own importance, and how respecting their bodies and the beautiful language of human sexuality is the only way to finding real love. We have to. We can’t allow another generation of kids to fall into this cesspool.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 13, 2015.

Calif. court drops 14 charges against Planned Parenthood investigator

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 18:43

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 22, 2017 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A California court on Wednesday dismissed 14 of 15 criminal charges against an undercover journalist behind the video exposé of Planned Parenthood’s role in the fetal tissue trade.

“This is a huge victory to have 14 criminal counts dismissed,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which defended Sandra Merritt in court as she faced 15 felony charges. One charge of conspiracy to invade privacy has still not been dismissed.

“We will now turn our attention to dismissing the final count,” Staver continued. “Sandra Merritt did nothing wrong. The complaint by the California Attorney General is unprecedented and frankly will threaten every journalist who provides valuable information to the public.”

In March, California Attorney General Xavier Beccerra charged Merritt and her colleague David Daleiden with 14 criminal counts of recording others without their consent in a confidential conversation, and one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.

Merritt and Daleiden were undercover journalists at the Center for Medical Progress, a group which seeks to expose the role of Planned Parenthood clinics and tissue harvesters in the trade of fetal tissue of aborted babies. The group began releasing videos in July of 2015 that were undercover video recordings of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

CMP alleged that Planned Parenthood clinics illegally broke the law by profiting off of the transfer of the fetal tissue to harvesters. Federal law does allow for reasonable compensation for fetal tissue in cases where it is procured for medical research purposes. The compensation cannot be for “valuable consideration,” but may cover operating expenses like storage and transfer costs.

The recorded conversations Merritt and Daleiden had took place as they posed as representatives of a tissue procurement company BioMax seeking to possibly partner with Planned Parenthood clinics and other representatives in the abortion industry to obtain body parts of aborted babies.

In the criminal complaint against Merritt and Daleiden, Beccerra had alleged that both persons had recorded confidential conversations without the consent of other parties involved. Each of the 14 counts involved a separate conversation that allegedly took place.

Eight of the charges had to do with secretly recorded conversations with attendees at a National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco. Other conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and tissue procurement representatives were recorded at other times.

California is a “two-party consent” state, which means that both parties of a conversation, where it is expected to be private and confidential, must agree to it being recorded.

An affidavit from a California Peace Officer claimed that, according to accounts from multiple persons to whom Daleiden and Merritt allegedly talked, they recorded conversations that were believed to be confidential by the other party.

Liberty Counsel, on the other hand, said that the “the videos produced by Merritt and Daleiden exposed unethical and potentially illegal conduct by Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood itself has admitted, under oath, that the recorded conversations took place in ‘non-confidential’ and public venues,” such as restaurants.

Beccerra also charged Daleiden with conspiracy to invade privacy, alleging that Daleiden used a password from a former employee at the tissue procurement company StemExpress, accessed the company’s email system, and took documents.

The affadavit also alleged that Daleiden and Merritt set up a tissue procurement company of their own – BioMax Procurement Services, LLC – and used false names to “pose” as representatives of the company and to be admitted to a National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco, “where they secretly video recorded conference speakers, vendors, and attendees.”

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Superior Court dismissed the 14 recording charges, but the charge for conspiracy to invade privacy has not yet been dropped.

Beccerra, a former Democratic congressman, had previously received small donations from Planned Parenthood as a candidate for Congress amounting to around $6,000 over the last 20 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Sandra did not break any law and the criminal complaint against her is legally deficient, vague and full of inconsistencies,” Horatio Mihet, Liberty Counsel's vice president of legal affairs and chief litigation counsel, stated.

“No other citizen journalist or organization has ever been charged with a crime for undercover recordings,” he added.

After Center for Medical Progress began releasing its recorded conversations with officials at Planned Parenthood and tissue procurement companies, Congress and several states launched investigations into Planned Parenthood to find out whether it broke the law in the fetal tissue trade.

A final report from a House select investigative panel released in January detailed various abuses in the abortion industry in the fetal body parts trade.

Consent forms required by law were not obtained from mothers to have the fetal tissue of their aborted child used for research. Private medical information may have been shared between abortion clinics and tissue procurement companies in a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

In another case, the University of New Mexico established a possibly illegal relationship with a local abortion clinic where students and fellows performed abortions at the clinic and the clinic’s abortionists were reportedly granted “volunteer faculty” status at the university where they received benefits like insurance coverage and access to university facilities.

'A saint for our times' – the inspiring story of Chiara Corbella Petrillo

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 11:05

Manchester, N.H., Jun 22, 2017 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Chiara Corbella Petrillo lived a short life.    She met her husband Enrico Petrillo at age 18, became the mother of three children, and died at the age 28.    But what happened within those 10 years has touched the hearts of thousands across the globe. Chiara's sainthood cause was opened last week, five years after her death. Her story is told in the 2015 book, “Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy,” published by Sophia Institute Press.    “In the story of the Petrillo couple, many people recognize a providential consolation from heaven,” said Simone Troisi and Christiana Paccini, close friends of the Petrillo's who wrote the biography of Chiara's life.    “They discover that in any situation, there is no real reason to be sad. This is because Chiara shows that if you have God as your guide, misfortunes do not exist,” they told CNA.     Chiara and Enrico married in Italy on September 21, 2008 after having met at Medjugorje in 2002. During the early years of their marriage, the young Italian couple faced many hardships together, including the death of two children, who both died only 30 minutes after birth.    Chiara became pregnant a third time with their son, Francesco. However, the joyful news of their pregnancy also came with a fatal diagnosis of cancer for Chiara. Her cancer was an unusual lesion of the tongue, which was later discovered to be a carcinoma.    Chiara rejected any treatment that could have saved her life during pregnancy because it would have risked the life of her unborn son. As the cancer progressed, it became difficult for Chiara to speak and see clearly, eventually making her final days on earth particularly excruciating.    “Her [Chiara's] suffering became a holy place because it was the place where she encountered God,” Troisi and Paccini recalled.   Although many couples face hardships, Troisi and Paccini remembered something different about the Petrillos - they leaned on God’s grace which made their family particularly serene. They made peace with the reality that Chiara would never grow old with Enrico or watch Francesco grow up.    During Chiara’s last days, Enrico embraced God’s grace just as Chiara did, saying, “If she is going to be with Someone who loves her more than I, why should I be upset?”     Chiara died on June 13, 2012 at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends. Although her earthly life was over, Chiara would continue to be a witness to joy.   Troisi and Paccini believe that Chiara’s legacy is still living on because she gave witness to the truth that “love exists.” Neither she nor Enrico were afraid of love, marriage, or of committing themselves to their family.    According to the authors, the young couple showed how “the purpose of our life is to love... to be married is a wonderful thing, an adventure that opens you up to Heaven in the home.”    Chiara and Enrico's remarkable story is “a story of salvation in which God shows himself as a faithful God: they trust in Him and are not disappointed,” they stated.    However, they were quick to note that Chiara was not “an extraordinary young woman, in a way that makes her different from us.” Rather, she struggled with many human fears and anxieties, especially with thoughts of pain, vomiting, and purgatory.    “She had the same questions that we have, the same objections and struggles, the same fears,” Troisi and Paccini noted, saying what made her different was her “capacity to cast everything on the Father, to welcome the grace needed for whatever step she had to make.”   With Chiara, the ordinary always became the extraordinary. Troisi and Paccini have fond memories of everyday life with the Petrillos, when a conversation about cooking chicken would end in talking about heaven.    “We would share simple things like dinner, chatting, games on the rug with little Francesco... always very simple, without masks,” they remembered.   “But when we were together, there was no difficulty in believing that eternal life was here and now!”    Chiara has been called “a saint for our times.” Although her death was only five years ago, her legacy lives on and has inspired others around the world to be the same witness to joy.   “Today, this joy is visible in those that lived alongside her: even if they miss her, they experience a mysterious and profound joy,” Troisi and Paccini stated.   “We cannot insist enough on the fact that Chiara did what she did, not trusting in her own strength, but trusting in the grace and the consolation of God... She never doubted God's faithfulness to His promise of happiness for her story.”   An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Dec. 2, 2015.  

This pro-life talk at Google's headquarters was a hit

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 07:52

Mountain View, Calif., Jun 22, 2017 / 05:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A pro-life activist walks into Google’s headquarters and delivers a speech so compelling that within 24 hours, the online video of it surpassed a similar speech given by the head of Planned Parenthood.

It may sound like the start to a far-fetched joke, but on April 20th, pro-life speaker and activist Stephanie Gray did just that.

Gray was the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and served as its executive director for several year before starting the ministry which she now runs, Love Unleashes Life.

She spoke in April as a part of the Talks at Google series, a program that brings a variety of speakers to the company’s headquarters to discuss their work. Gray has participated in more than 800 talks and debates on abortion.

Gray’s talk centered around the idea that there are three qualities that lead us to call someone “inspiring:” They place others ahead of themselves, have “perspective” on their sufferings and situation in life, and do the right thing even in difficult situations. She linked these criteria to the process of dialoguing with others about abortion, emphasizing question asking.

She began by contrasting two stories, that of the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012 and the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency plane landing in 2009. In the first story, she explained, the captain had jumped ship along with the rest of the crew. In the second, the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, had been the last off the flooding vessel, ensuring his passengers all exited safely.

In comparing the two stories, she noted that Sullenberger was lauded as a hero, and the captain of the Concordia internationally shamed.

“If you agree that it was correct for the pilot to put the passengers ahead of himself, to prioritize the needs of his dependents,” she said, “then wouldn’t it follow, that when it comes to the topic of abortion and an unplanned pregnancy, that a pregnant woman ought to prioritize the needs of her dependent?”

However, she noted that the comparison was only valid “depending on, indeed, whether embryos and fetuses are human beings, like the passengers on the airplane.”

To determine whether or not a fetus is a human being, Gray displayed an image of a human fetus and posed the question, “What are her parents?” It would logically follow that two human parents’ offspring must be the same species, she said.

Despite the ambiguity around the origin point of human life when it comes to abortion, she said, in discussing other topics “we have great clarity.” For example, an IVF specialist or dog breeder would agree that the life they attempt to create begins at fertilization.

Taking a look at what qualifies as “personhood,” Gray considered the terms used by pro-infanticide philosopher Peter Singer, that a person is a being which is “rational, conscious, and self-aware.” She contrasted a human embryo with an amoeba: the embryo lacks these qualities “because of how old she is,” where the amoeba lacks them “because of what it is.”

 “Should personhood be grounded in how old we are, or should personhood be grounded in what we are?” she asked.

“The quality of age shouldn’t be the basis for which someone has personhood status,” she answered, noting that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the rights of “all members of the human family.”

She then addressed the question of the fetus’ dependence, arguing that the fetus’ greater dependent status as a weaker entity than a baby entitles it to greater, not less, protection. She related this to the story of a friend’s husband who, faced with the choice between rescuing a mother or her baby first from the roof of a sinking car, made the “obvious” choice to take the baby.

“Since you believe that we should prioritize weaker and more vulnerable people ahead of stronger people, then shouldn’t we actually prioritize the needs of the pre-born child?” she said.

She recalled meeting a Rwandan genocide survivor who, seeing a picture of a child killed in the conflict next to an aborted fetus, pointed to the image of the fetus and said, “That’s worse, because at least my family could try to run away.”

Considering the concept of perspective, she posed another question: “How can we change our perspective in an unplanned, crisis situation?” She recalled dialoguing with a college student whose stepmother had an abortion upon learning her baby was expected to die at birth. Responding with a thought experiment involving a terminal cancer diagnosis, she answered the student, “Why would we cut short the already short time we have left? Instead, wouldn’t we want to savor every moment of every day of the next 20 weeks (of the pregnancy)?”

Moving to her final criterion for what makes a person inspirational – “do the right thing” – she listed a number of circumstances that make pregnancy hard and often lead to abortion, including poverty or rape. But when we look at parents raising an already-born child in the same circumstances, she said, we can see that we ought to have the same attitude towards carrying an unborn child as towards parenting a child in the same situation.

Gray closed with a number of stories from people she knows personally, including a woman who was raped and had a child at age 12, a woman who cared for her baby daughter with respiratory issues, and a woman who regretted her own abortion and ended up counseling another woman to carry her baby to term.

“They’re inspiring because they put others ahead of themselves, because they had perspective, and because they did the right thing, even when it was hard,” she said of all the stories she had told throughout the talk. “And that’s the challenge that I leave all of you with today.”

In a question-and-answer session after her talk, she recommended that audience members seek to start dialogue on the difficult topic of abortion with open-ended questions, and to “seek to understand where (another) person is coming from.” She also used the analogy of a person choosing rape to address the thought that pro-life views cannot be “forced on” pregnant women, saying that just as it is illegal to make the choice to rape someone, it ought to be illegal to choose to end the life of a fetus.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also gave a Talk at Google, in a video published March 7. Gray’s talk, published June 19, had surpassed Richards in views within 24 hours of being uploaded.

 

Pages