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Bioethicist responds to Japan's approval of human-animal hybrid research

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 12:45

Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2019 / 10:45 am (CNA).- The Japanese government is expected to approve funding for a research project, led by stem cell scientist Hiromitsu Nakauchi, to use stem cells to create animal embryos that contain human cells.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that the research involves the implantation of human cells, typically human stem cells, into non-human animal embryos, such as embryos from pigs and sheep, for the purposes of growing human hearts, kidneys, and other organs in those animals.

“These organs would be generated for potential use in organ transplantation situations and to alleviate organ shortages...which could be a very helpful development for many people currently on the waitlist for an organ,” Pacholczyk explained.

“The aim is to make one species grow an organ of the other, rather than seeking to somehow ‘combine’ two species into a new, third species.”

That being said, however, Pacholczyk warned that if such research must be done, it should not include the creation or destruction of human embryos.

In general, he said, research destructive of human embryos is always morally unacceptable, because it involves “the purposeful destruction of younger humans to serve the interests of older and more wealthy humans.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life stated its 2000 Declaration on the production and the scientific and therapeutic use of human embryonic stem cells that “on the basis of a complete biological analysis, the living human embryo is - from the moment of the union of the gametes - a human subject with a well-defined identity,” and that as “a human individual it has the right to its own life; and therefore every intervention which is not in favor of the embryo is an act which violates that right.”

These will not be the first experiments done involving human-animal hybrid embryos, but it is the first to receive official support from a government. The National Institutes of Health in the US has had a moratorium on funding such work since 2015, according to Nature.

Nakauchi is the director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Tokyo and team leader at Stanford's Nakauchi Lab. He is still awaiting final approval from the Japanese government to begin his research.

Nakauchi told Tech Explorist that he plans to inject animal embryos, which have been engineered to lack a specific organ such as the pancreas, with human stem cells in order to see if they can grow the missing organ using those cells.

Rather than embryonic stem cells, Pacholczyk said, the researchers should consider using adult stem cells— typically harvested from the bone marrow consenting adults— or what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell–like state.

“These kinds of experiments require very careful ethical discernment, and the scientific community, with ethical input from the Church and appropriate outside regulatory control, must adhere to clear moral lines, meaning they need to agree that there are practices they will not do,” Pacholczyk said.

“This kind of research has the potential to be done in an ethical way, and to produce solid scientific advances, or in various unethical ways and to result in harmful and controversial scientific practices.”

Japanese scientists were previously forbidden from allowing human cells to grow within other animals past a 14-day period, but in March the government relaxed the rules on embryonic stem-cell research aimed at creating human-animal hybrids, allowing such creations to be brought to term.

Bioethicists have raised the possibility that human cells might stray beyond development of the targeted organ, travel to the developing animal’s brain and potentially affect its cognition, Nature reports.

To that end, Pacholczyk said that for any chimeras— third, hybrid animals— produced, care must be exercised to avoid the replication of major pillars of human identity in animals, such as the brain system.

In addition, chimeras which produce human sperm or human eggs should never be generated, he said, to avoid the production of the basic building blocks of human reproduction.

The Japanese scientist plans to begin with mice and rats, experimenting for two years, and said it is his hope to eventually apply for government approval to grow human-pig hybrid embryos for up to 70 days.

“Human cells generally do not grow very well in pigs or sheep, likely due [to] the evolutionary distance between us and them, so additional ‘tricks’ and genetic manipulations may be needed to help the human cells grow,” Pacholczyk commented.

“There is also a chance of transmitting new viruses from, say, pigs into the human organs that the pigs are growing, so this will have to be carefully addressed to be sure that if such organs were ever used in transplants, humans would not become susceptible to new infections.”

In the US, the NIH proposed in 2016 federal funding of projects to possibly create a human-animal hybrid, prompting serious moral and legal concerns from Catholic ethicists.

In comments submitted to NIH at the time, the National Catholic Bioethics Center stated that using human embryonic stem cells for research is wrong because “human beings at these vulnerable stages must be safeguarded, not exploited, in both clinical and research settings.”

On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 05:18

New York City, N.Y., Aug 2, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Today's feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola and its associated indulgence is a way to focus on the importance of Mary and the Franciscan tradition in the Church, said one friar.

The Aug. 2 feast is found in the Franciscan tradition, and marks the dedication of the parish church, called Porziuncola or “little portion,” which is one of those Italy's St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”

“The Porziuncola is at the heart of the Franciscan journey,” Father David Convertino, the development director for the Holy Name Province of the Observant Franciscans, told CNA.

“For Francis, it was his most beloved place. He lived near it with the early followers … and he loved the Porziuncola, as it was part of his devotion to Our Lady.”

The Catholic Church teaches that after a sin is forgiven, an unhealthy attachment to created things still remains. Indulgences remove that unhealthy attachment, purifying the soul so that it is more fit to enter heaven. Indulgences are either plenary (full) or partial.

A plenary indulgence also requires that the individual be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

Anyone who visits a Catholic church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and recites the Creed, the Our Father, and prays for the Pope's intentions, may receive a plenary indulgence on Aug. 2.

“Any kind of a prayer form that helps people come closer to God is obviously a good prayer form, and certainly an indulgence is one way,” Fr. Convertino said.

“It helps us focus on, in this case, the meaning of the Porziuncola and the Franciscan tradition, how it's situated in the greater idea of the Church.”

Porziuncola located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Credit: emmav674 via Flickr (CC BY_NC_SA 2.0)

The Porziuncola was built in honor of Our Lady of the Angels in the fourth century, and by St. Francis' time had fallen into disrepair. The church, which was then located just outside of Assisi, became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscan orders.

“Although Francis realized that the kingdom of heaven is found in every dwelling on earth … he had learned nevertheless that the church of Saint Mary at Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and visited more frequently by heavenly spirits,” says the life of St. Francis written by Friar Thomas of Celano, read today by Franciscans.

“Consequently he used to say to his friars: 'See to it, my sons, that you never leave this place. If you are driven out by one door return by the other for this is truly a holy place and God’s dwelling.'”

Fr. Convertino added that the Porziuncola “was the place he chose to lie next to on his deathbed, and at that time of course you could have looked up to the city of Assisi, which he also loved so well.”

The Porziuncola, a rather small chapel, is now located inside a large basilica which was built around it, to enclose and protect it.

“You have this large basilica built over this teeny tiny little chapel,” Fr. Convertino reflected. “If that chapel wasn't there then the basilica wouldn't be there, but if the basilica wasn't there, the chapel probably wouldn't be there either, given 800 years of war, weather, and turmoil.”

For Fr. Convertino, the duality of the big church and the little church is a reflection of the relationship between the world-wide Catholic Church and the smaller communities which make it up.

“We feel the Franciscans kind of convey, we're the ones at the heart of the Church, the little church there.”

He said that each time he visits Assisi, the “experience” of the Porziuncola is “compounded more and more,” and added that “it's such a magnificent place, and the friars there are wonderful.”

Fr. Convertino also discussed the fresco now painted around the entrance of the Porziuncola, which shows St. Francis, together with some of his followers, receiving the indulgence from Christ and Our Lady.

“The idea behind the story is that Francis is asking Jesus for a Porziuncola indulgence, and Jesus is saying to Francis, 'Well, you really better ask Mary, ask my mother.'”

This article was originally published Aug. 2, 2013.

What the Philadelphia foster care case could mean for the Supreme Court

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 19:28

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2019 / 05:28 pm (CNA).- When the U.S. Supreme Court mandated legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the majority opinion argued that doing so “would pose no risk of harm” to those who disagreed with it.

In his dissent, however, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that serious religious liberty issues had been left unanswered by the majority, and that the country would ultimately have to contend with the question of how individuals who object to the recognition of same-sex marriage should be treated.

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example… a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples,” he said.

In just four years, Roberts’ prediction has become a reality. Last week, the Supreme Court was asked to hear a case regarding the city of Philadelphia ending a contract with a Catholic foster agency because it was unwilling to place children with couples in a same-sex marriage.

Catholic Social Services, run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, notes that no same-sex couple has ever sought certification through the agency and been denied. If such a couple were to do so, the agency says it “would refer the couple to one of 29 other agencies in Philadelphia—several within blocks of Catholic’s headquarters.”

Referrals are common, the agency notes, and are routinely carried out for reasons including geographic proximity, a specific agency’s medical or behavioral expertise, language needs, or a specialization in pregnant youth or other types of foster situations.

The case contains echoes of another Supreme Court case – the June 2018 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which the Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Colorado cake baker Jack Phillips, who in 2012 declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, because of his religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Phillips maintained that he was not declining service because of his clients’ sexual orientation, but because he objected to the ceremony in which they were asking him to participate. He said that he would happily create a birthday cake or a graduation cake for a gay client, but that he would not make a cake for a gay wedding. A devout Christian, he also refuses to bake cakes for bachelor parties, divorce parties, and Halloween.

In the Philadelphia case, Catholic Social Services is arguing that certifying a home study for a same-sex couple - married or not - is a tacit endorsement of the union, which is forbidden by the Catholic faith.

“[Catholic Social Services] sincerely believes that the home study certification endorses the relationships in the home, and therefore it cannot provide home studies or endorsements for unmarried heterosexual couples or same-sex couples,” the agency’s lawyers argued in a brief.

The Philadelphia case thus addresses head-on the question that has been lingering since Obergefell: Does the principle of religious freedom protect those who say they cannot in good conscience accept legal same-sex marriages?

Catholic Social Services has several strong arguments in their favor.

A key part of the Masterpiece decision was the finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Phillips’ religious convictions. Catholic Social Services is arguing that they too have faced this impermissible hostility toward religious belief.

They note that the agency was told by city officials to change its religious practices because it is “not 100 years ago” and “times have changed.” Officials also instructed the agency to follow the city’s view of the “teachings of Pope Francis.”

“One of the City’s highest officials called a religious organization into a meeting to tell its leaders how to interpret the Pope’s teachings, then penalized them when they arrived at the ‘wrong’ answer,” the agency’s lawyers argued in a brief.

In addition, the agency says Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has demonstrated “a long history of publicly criticizing the Archdiocese” and once said that he “could care less about the people at the Archdiocese.”

Catholic Social Services also argues that the City of Philadelphia’s actions are not neutral, and its policies are not generally applicable.

The city claims that it has a policy requiring foster agencies to provide home studies to every applicant who wants one. However, Catholic Social Services’ lawyers argue in a brief, “The City also admitted it never told secular foster agencies about this policy, nor monitored their compliance.”

The city also allows exemptions at the commissioner’s discretion, without any identifiable written guidelines, but told Catholic Social Services that they would not be getting an exemption.

For these reasons, Catholic Social Services is arguing that the case should be reviewed under the judicial standard of “strict scrutiny,” meaning that the government is not permitted to place a substantial burden on free exercise of religion unless there is a compelling state interest for doing so, and the least restrictive means of doing so are used.

In the Obergefell decision, the majority dedicated a paragraph to the question of religious liberty, clarifying that religious groups and individuals maintain the right to “advocate” and “teach” their beliefs against same-sex marriage. Court observers, however, noted that this language reflects a commitment to free speech about religious beliefs, rather than the freedom to put those beliefs into action – to practice or exercise religion, as the First Amendment states.

At the heart of the Philadelphia case is the question of whether the newly-recognized “right to gay marriage” precludes religious individuals and organizations from living out their centuries-old beliefs.

If the Court were to rule in favor of Catholic Social Services, it could have significant implications. A narrow ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services, based on the city’s alleged display of hostility toward religion, would affirm the Masterpiece decision and prompt lower courts to examine the language that is used by government officials in similar cases, looking for signs of hostility. In cases where this blatant hostility is absent, courts may be split in their decisions.

If the Supreme Court ruled more broadly, affirming that the principle of religious freedom protects individuals and agencies that object to tacitly endorsing same-sex marriage, it could offer widespread legal protection to wedding vendors of all types – photographers, florists, bakers etc. – as well as adoption agencies, marriage counselors, homeless shelters and other service providers.

A ruling against Catholic Social Services would also have significant repercussions for Christians who object to same-sex marriage, potentially leading wedding vendors and service providers to close their businesses. While such a ruling would be surprising to many observers given the Court’s current composition, unexpected results are always possible.

Four years after the Obergefell ruling, it is clear that Chief Justice Roberts was right in suggesting that the larger question of religious freedom and how it relates to same-sex marriage would need to be answered. A ruling in the Philadelphia case, should the Court choose to take it up, could play a significant role in answering that question.


Pro-lifers applaud budget deal, judicial nominees 

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 17:54

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2019 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- The Senate confirmed a slew of judicial nominees and passed a budget deal this week, drawing praise from pro-lifers.

“We’d heard that our Democratic colleagues across the Capitol were clamoring to take us backwards on the issue of life, perhaps even targeting the Hyde amendment or forcing more taxpayer dollars back toward Planned Parenthood,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stated on the Senate Floor on Thursday.

However, the White House scored a “win” on the life issue and on keeping funding for border security, McConnell said.

In addition to confirming over a dozen judicial nominees and a new United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, the Senate also passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, sending the legislation to the President’s desk. The budget deal to raise the debt ceiling was the fruit of negotiations between President Trump and congressional leaders.

The deal was hailed by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List as a “major victory for life,” because it contained no pro-abortion “poison pill” riders—amendments that would undo existing protections against taxpayer funding of abortions, such as the Hyde Amendment. Furthermore, the deal mandated that no such riders could be attached to spending bills in the next two years without the consent of the President and leaders of both chambers of Congress.

“We urge Republicans to be vigilant in holding Speaker Pelosi accountable to this groundbreaking deal,” SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated.

McConnell requested “that the terms of this agreement -- and the specific prohibition of poison pills -- be included in the record.”

Twenty-eight senators voted against the budget deal because it would add to the national debt; Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said that under the deal, debt would become 97 percent of the U.S. GDP.

As the Senate rushed to finish its work before taking a recess in August, there was also the work of confirming judicial nominees to the federal courts. Among the nominees confirmed this week were several whom Planned Parenthood criticized for their alleged opposition to abortion.

Planned Parenthood said that William Shaw Stickman IV, nominated for the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania, “staunchly opposes safe, legal abortion.”

Jeffrey Brown, tapped to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, has been “hostile toward access to reproductive health care and safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood said, and “has given public praise to the dissenting opinions in Roe v. Wade.”

The “public praise” that Planned Parenthood referenced was a tweet of Brown’s on the anniversary of Roe that quoted from the dissent of Justice Byron White, as well as Brown’s praise of Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent.

Both Stickman, listed as a candidate of the Order of Malta, Federal Association, in his nominee questionnaire, and Brown faced questions from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee about their views on the law regarding abortion and same-sex marriage; both candidates replied that they would uphold Supreme Court precedent that found rights to abortion and same-sex marriage in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and Obergefell v. Hodges.

“For a district court, all Supreme Court precedent is superprecedent in that it is binding on all district courts. If confirmed, I would fully and faithfully apply Roe and its progeny,” Stickman stated in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Brown responded to the same question from Feinstein that he would also uphold Roe as the law of the land, as well as Obergefell.

“If confirmed, I will faithfully apply Obergefell,” Stickman said in response to Feinstein’s question on Obergefell.

Both nominees were also pressed by Feinstein on whether corporations may claim religious freedom rights under the First Amendment. In 2014, the Supreme Court said that Hobby Lobby, as a “closely-held corporation” with its owners posing religious objections to the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, did not have to comply with the mandate.

Stickman said that corporations could make their case in court under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—the law that Hobby Lobby appealed to—but that the Court did not decide their right to “assert a claim under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.”

Brown, for his part, said that he would be “bound” by the Hobby Lobby decision and that the question of corporations invoking religious freedom claims involved pending litigation and it would be “inappropriate for me to comment further.”

Responding to questions from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Brown said that there was a “right to privacy” under the Constitution that “protects” rights to use contraceptives and obtain abortions.

Brown was also asked about an endorsement his campaign received from Texas Right to Life PAC when he ran for the Texas Supreme Court. He responded that judges in Texas run on “partisan elections” and that as a federal judge he would not participate in any political activity.


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

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 14:40

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- This story is the first part of a two-part series about how one victim of sexual abuse found healing. The second part will be published Aug. 2.

While every effort has been made to cover difficult subject matter appropriately, parents may wish to exercise prudence regarding the availability of this story to their children.


Michael* remembers vividly his high school speech class, 1982.

Each member of the class had to stand in front of the room to answer a randomly assigned question. Michael held his question on a piece of paper: “When was the last time you were in an awkward situation?”

Michael could not speak. He tore the paper into small pieces, nervously. And then, because he could not tell the truth, Michael invented a wild tale about hitchhiking home from school, getting picked up by a gay man and being trapped in his car.

Michael was then 15 years old.

He knew he couldn’t tell the truth in that speech class.

He couldn’t tell his peers that their classroom was only down the hall from the place where he had been sexually abused just days before.

Eventually, though, Michael had to speak. In the years after he was first abused, Michael told CNA that he would spend nearly $60,000 on therapy, and be diagnosed with PTSD.

About half that amount the Church would eventually reimburse.

Therapy helped, Michael told CNA. But what really helped was learning to forgive.

His abuser was Fr. James Rapp, a Catholic priest and teacher at his Catholic high school. The abuse Michael suffered at the hands of Rapp, and later others, drove him from the Church in which he was raised. He was convinced he would never again trust a priest, or set foot in a confessional.

But it was a priest, and the sacrament of confession, that eventually brought Michael the healing he needed. A miracle, he says, for which he is grateful to God.


Michael was raised in a Midwestern Catholic home in the 1970s and 80s. His mother and father went to Mass, worked hard and saved to see their three children through Catholic school.

Priests were more than just men in Michael’s household. They were local celebrities. To his family, priests seemed to stand somewhere between ordinary men and God himself. In Michael’s family, the homily was more than a pastoral exhortation--it was a missive from heaven. His parents were proud that Michael served as an altar boy.

As a child, Michael was, he says, “fascinated that God could speak through these men.”

On his first day of high school, Michael heard about a religion teacher at the school, Fr. James Rapp, a priest of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

Rapp stood six feet tall, was strong, and seemed tough. Stories about him circulated among the freshmen: that he had once been a police officer, that he let kids drink liquor in his office.

 “Like any thirteen year-old kid, I thought to myself ‘that is so cool!’”

In November of his sophomore year, Michael introduced himself to Rapp at a school dance.  “In a matter of minutes he invited me to his office,” Michael told CNA.

As the two walked down the hall Michael says he felt “elated.”

“I felt like a ‘big shot’ to be with him, I was beaming inside. I thought I might make it into his circle of boys that he told stories of what it’s like to be a priest, the stories from NYPD, the gun, and maybe even drink liquor with him.”

Michael says he now cringes at the memory.

Years later, following his conviction for the sexual abuse of several minors, Rapp admitted that his homosexual fantasies were tied to violence.

“I can only wonder what he was thinking as he walked me down that hallway to his office,” Michael says now. “I don’t know why I let myself think about it, but I do.”

That night, Rapp sadistically abused Michael.


Michael was not Rapp’s first or last victim. Michael’s was not the first or last school where Rapp would groom, and then abuse, young men.

Michael says he does not know how many other boys suffered the “pure evil” he did at the hands of Rapp. He says he does know that the responsibility for it is shared by those who shielded Rapp – “by all his superiors and peers would cover his tracks and let him hunt boys in the Catholic schools.”

“But that night, my number was up, and my life would be forever affected.”

Michael says that because of how he was taught to view priests - as figures next to God -  he had no way to understand or resist what was done to him. Rapp did not just abuse him, he hurt him, taking conscious pleasure in causing pain, asking Michael to describe it.

Michael says nothing had prepared him for such a situation.

“I did not know what to do other than endure and obey. I know that sounds absurd, but it’s the way my mind was working at the time.”


Hours after the dance was over, the school then empty, Michael says Rapp walked him back down the same hallway, passing by the same classrooms, “but I was a different human being, I looked down the dark halls, the light had gone out for me, in every way.’”

Rapp gave Michael a ride home, a long midnight drive into the countryside. They sat in silence.

Halfway home Rapp slowed down and pulled over in the middle of a stretch of marshland.

Michael fought waves of panic and adrenaline as Rapp stared at him in silence. The swamp stretched on both sides of the road, Michael was 10 miles from home.

“I was certain he was thinking about killing me and dumping me in the swamp. He didn’t say anything for five or ten minutes.”

Without speaking, Rapp eventually put his 4x4 back in gear and continued the drive.


The next day, Rapp appeared in the doorway of Michael’s biology class and summoned him into the hall.

“I felt something happen inside my chest, like an intense heartache. I wanted to cry. I wanted my mom. I hovered above consciousness and walked to him at the front of my classroom, under the watchful eye of my peers.”

There, outside his office, Rapp apologized to Michael.

“He told me not to tell anyone – and I swore I never would – I did not want anyone to ever know.  He was the priest and I was looking for some sort of absolution, something to make it go away. I told him I was worried about the sin of what happened. He scoffed at me and told me God wanted it to happen. He told me that God wanted me to give him pleasure.”

Rapp made Michael repeat this phrase.

“He made me say, ‘God wanted me to give you pleasure,’ he made me repeat the words until I could say them clearly and without stammering. It took me three attempts to say the whole sentence without stammering.”

Michael says he hated the word “pleasure” from that day on.

Decades later, in therapy, he was trained to say it 100 times a day for a week to break the hold it had on him.

When he returned to class, the other students wanted to know where Michael had gone, what did Rapp want with him?

“I perpetuated the rumor, that he called me out of class so that I wouldn’t tell anyone I drank alcohol in his office during the dance.”

Michael told CNA he struggles with the pain and shame which trapped him, preventing him from coming forward as a fifteen year-old.

“I effectively widened the net he used to catch more boys by adding to the validity of the rumor.  I was petrified and didn’t know what else to say. Kids believed it and sure enough he went on to rape more boys.”

He told no one what had actually happened.

He came close only in speech class, as he tried to focus his eyes on the slip of paper he had been handed by the teacher.

He froze, considering the question written on it: “When was the last time you were in an awkward situation?” Rapp’s office was just down the hall.

The teacher tapped his watch. “I was melting down,” Michael says.

“Electricity spread from the top of my head to my fingers. I felt like my skin was on fire.”

As he shredded the slip of paper, he poured out his half-invented tail of hitchhiking.

“As parts of the truth came out, I stopped speaking. The room went out of focus. Maybe I stopped mid-sentence, maybe I trailed off. I can’t remember.”

When he finished, his teacher pulled him aside and challenged his story and implied he had made the whole thing up.

“He was right, sort of, but I lied again and told him it was true. My friend came up to me after class and asked if I was ok. ‘What happened up there?’ he asked me. I told him I was fine.”

By the time he was 16, drugs and alcohol had become a daily habit.


For seven years, Michael told no one about what he had endured. Then he went to confession.

“I knew I could not continue on with my drug and alcohol use as I was getting ready to enter medical school. I also longed to reconnect with God, as that connection had been severed.  I wanted to start over, and hoped that confession might get me back on my feet.”

A priest at his college campus church, Fr. Francis, heard Michael’s confession from behind a screen. He volunteered to help.

Michael got off drugs, he began to pray, he felt that his life was on track. And Fr. Francis, whom he sometimes called Frank, became a good friend.

One night, as Michael watched a movie with his girlfriend, the phone rang. He let the answering machine pick up the call, only to hear Fr. Francis, his confessor and confident, pour out his sexual desires on Michael, loud and graphic, onto the answering machine tape.

He ran to pick up the phone, horrified, but the priest immediately hung up. Questions from his girlfriend followed: Who was that? What did it mean? She knew nothing of the priest or Michael’s past abuse. Michael did not know what to tell her.

Fr. Francis called back minutes later, offering an incoherent explanation about how he often received obscene phone calls at the rectory.

The evening resumed, but Fr. Francis called a third time, repeating his explicit sexual advances into the answering machine, only to hang up again when Michael answered. He stared at the phone, then at the wall, then out of the window, remembering the high school hallway seven years before.

The 15-year-old boy was now a 22-year old man, but Michael says that night tore through his understanding of God, faith, relationships, the priesthood.

Now, he realizes, the priest was grooming him. But then, Michael told CNA, “I was spiritually eviscerated that night. I tried to go back to church the next day, but could not endure it. Church was the last place I could connect with God. I made one last phone call to Frank, and he denied it all. We never spoke again.”

It marked the end of an 18-month relationship with a spiritual director, and the only person Michael had told about Fr. Rapp. It also marked an end to Michael’s faith.

“I had met Fr. Frank through the sacrament of reconciliation. I vowed to never step foot into a confessional again.”


Two years later, Michael married his girlfriend. She was Catholic and they married in the Church. During their pre-Cana course, Michael says “the dam broke” and he told her everything. But communion with his wife could not bring him back to the Church.

After searching for a spiritual home in different Protestant denominations, evangelicalism, and eastern spirituality, he settled into an accidental agnosticism.

When his sons were born, more than a decade later, Michael and his wife decided to raise them as Catholics.

“I grappled with how to raise the kids. We made the decision to raise them Catholic, including Catholic schools, but we weren’t going to church.  As our sons entered elementary school, I made a firm commitment to re-engage and attend mass regularly, if for nothing else, for my sons to see me in the pew.”

That was in 2002, the year of the Spotlight scandals.

“The news was everywhere, in the car, the newspaper, on TV, table talk at work. My anxiety was intolerable. It took me to the breaking point. I turned to training for endurance sports - marathons, triathlons - just to deal with it.”

One Sunday, Michael heard a priest address the scandal from the altar. “He said, ‘We’ve been instructed to offer anyone counseling who might be affected by this abuse scandal, please contact me if needed.’”

Michael spoke to his wife that night and decided to reach out, telling only the third person in 20 years the story of his own abuse. 

His parish priest ran marathons. They ran together, and talked about faith.

“He was there for me through much of the 2002-2003 scandal, but I was still struggling, badly.  My wife wondered why I couldn’t ‘get over it’ – and I wondered the same thing.” 

Michael says he coped with the trauma of his own experiences through endurance training, and working long hours as a surgeon.

“Work gave me a sense of control that I needed,” he told CNA.

By 2010, Michael was a leader in his field. When asked to give a speech in front of a large crowd, that control slipped away.

“I began to question my work. Was I really in a position to be lecturing anybody?  I was still this messed up kid inside with tremendous anxiety.  Before that talk, I broke, and realized I needed to get help.”

Michael contacted the physician wellness counselor at his hospital. In their first session he spoke about his anxiety.

When, the counselor asked, was the first time Michael had felt this way? He remembered: it was in speech class, 1982. 

28 years later, he knew the answer to the counselor’s question but could not yet say it.


It was the start of a long and expensive process for Michael, which led to his diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and years of therapy.

As he continued in treatment, Michael began to wonder what had happened to Rapp. Was he still alive? Was he still around kids?
He discovered Rapp had been arrested in Oklahoma. Michael’s feelings of guilt increased.

“He had raped more boys there, boys that could have been spared if I had said something.”

After making contact with the local diocese, Michael received financial help with his therapy. But, he says, the contact with the diocese and the local province of the Oblates - Rapp’s order - started him back on the road to the Church.

The diocese recommended Michael make a police report. “It was difficult. I realized there was no way I could have handled it at age 15.” 

Investigators went through Rapp’s file and found multiple victim complaints. They also found that Rapp had repeatedly moved across state lines, opening a window for prosecution.

On April 29, 2016, Michael had his day in court, one of ten victims to testify against Rapp. There were many more victims who did not wish to appear in court. With Michael were his family, his sons, his parents, and his closest friend.

He sat two feet from Rapp as he testified. When it was over, Rapp was convicted of three first-degree criminal sexual crimes against Michael, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Rapp would eventually be sentenced to more than 40 years in prison in total.

After the trial, Michael realized he wanted to meet Fr. Ken, provincial head of the Oblates, and with the local bishop, both of whom had offered to meet with him, and he wanted to go back to his high school.


Early one Saturday morning in 2017, the school’s principal gave Michael the master key to his old school. While she worked in her office, Michael walked the halls.

“There were school spirit signs on the lockers. There was evidence of normal, healthy, young student activity everywhere. I felt relief seeing these signs of high school life.”

He went to the office where he was assaulted, praying to the Holy Spirit as he unlocked the door.

“I stood where Rapp made me repeat the words. I remembered how it felt, when he made me say it, over and over. I believe the Spirit was with me that day, told me that it wasn’t true.”

It was a small room, like he remembered, but it had changed. The new occupant was a family man. Pictures of his smiling young kids were on the walls. 

“I felt so good to see it that way. The room had new life, seemingly unaware of it’s past.  I cried a little bit, but I was calm, and believe Jesus had his arm around my shoulder as I stood there.” 

Michael went back to the classroom where he had been asked to give his speech. He gave the speech he’d wanted to give decades ago, speaking this time to rows of empty chairs.

“I suppose anyone looking would have thought I’d lost my mind,” Michael said, but it was a healing moment for him.

“I was overwhelmed with joy, I had a renewed enthusiasm for my youth.”


Michael says his visit with the bishop and his return to his old school were both unexpectedly helpful, but his visit with Fr. Ken proved to have the greatest impact on him.

They met in September 2017. They sat on a farmhouse porch and talked. 

Michael explained how he had recovered his faith in medical school, only to have it broken again by Fr. Frank.

“I told him that faith had been a life-long struggle for me. I told him that after everything I’d been through, all that I really wanted was advice on how to get my faith back.”

Michael says that Fr. Ken gave him two pieces of simple advice: that he should pray, and go to confession.

“I saw him catch himself when he said that, I had just told him about what happened with Fr. Frank in the confessional.” 
Michael brushed off the advice.


He went on attending the occasional Mass, mostly to be there for his wife and family. That was to change when, a few months later, Michael was  back in his hometown for a funeral.

He arrived early the night before the funeral, offering to help set up the hall for the wake and found himself invited to say the rosary.

“I could not remember the last time I said a rosary, and I had planned on getting out of the funeral home before it started. I always remembered it being dreadfully long. When it started, I decided to set my watch timer to see how long it took.” 

After the first few Hail Marys, Michael says he felt an “unexpected peace.”

“Before I knew it, 18 minutes later, it was over. I came away from it like, wow, what was that all about? I was so peaceful and calm just then –I wished it was a little longer.”

The next morning, Michael got up early and had nowhere to go before the funeral. He drove by his high school, he drove to the swamp where he thought Rapp was going to kill him.

“I was feeling good about going through therapy, being able to visit these places with a sense of being healed. I felt that I could look back on everything I’d been through and feel like I had run the gauntlet and I had arrived at the finish line.”

Over the years, Michael says he had decided he was going to have “some sort of bespoke faith, where God was going to allow me to do whatever I wanted when it came to faith.”

“I accepted that I would not have a ‘normal’ spiritual life. I figured that God would not hold me accountable for lack of faith or practice.”

As he drove, he passed St. Mary’s Church, where his grandfather had sometimes taken him.

“I suppose it was a seed of grace that my grandfather, now in heaven, took me there as a kid. As I drove by St. Mary’s, something compelled me to turn my car around. I pulled up in front of the church doors and I just stared at them. I really didn’t know why.”

It was 9:55 am on Saturday, the funeral did not start until 10:30.  Michael wanted to see the stained-glass windows that he remembered from his childhood.

He read the sign at the front of the church: CONFESSIONS 10 AM SATURDAY. 

“Man, I cannot tell you how my heart rate picked up. Fr. Ken’s words roared into my head, ‘You need to go to confession to integrate back into the church.’  I thought, “It’s a sign”, then I thought, ‘No, it isn’t.’”

It had been 28 years since Michael was last in a confessional, with Fr. Frank.

“God and I had come to an understanding that I was excused from ever having to go to confession again, and maybe I didn’t even have to go to church anymore either.”

Michael says he resolved that he was not going to confession, but would go in for a look around. Nevertheless, he found himself in line.

“When my turn was up, I could hardly feel my legs. I felt the same as I did when I was 15 being summoned out of biology class by Fr. Rapp. It was the exact same feeling in my chest and in my legs. I couldn’t believe I was walking into a confessional. I had not planned on it. In fact, I planned on never doing it.”

The confessional was tiny. The priest seemed kind. Michael says the priest let out a good laugh when he said it was 28 years since his last confession.

“Well,” the priest asked, “what brings you in now?” 

“I told him I was a victim of Fr. Rapp’s. His face changed immediately. He knew of Fr. Rapp. I told him that I just wanted to have my faith back and that Fr. Ken of the Oblates told me I would need to go to confession for that to happen.”

Michael says that the priest began to speak about the devil, whom St. Peter describes as prowling a lion. “When the lion strikes, it sinks its claws in us, and the initial strike is very painful, but the injury leaves us with lasting disabilities,” the priest said.

Michael, a veteran of numerous volunteer projects in Africa, had seen more than a few lions. He says he found a spiritual metaphor for his PTSD.

“He was telling me something I already knew, but I had never thought about it in terms of good and evil. I had a disability from the strike of the lion - I was dialed into what this priest was telling me.”

“Then he told me that I needed to forgive.”

The priest explained that forgiveness is not primarily for the benefit of the person who has hurt you, it is a liberation for the one who forgives.

“When he told me that, that when I forgive I will be free, and compared the experience to Christ on the Cross, it was so inspiring. I became tearful in the confessional. To think that a soul like mine could experience something as beautiful as what he described to me, well, I’m crying again just remembering it.”

The priest also told Michael to pray the rosary, a simple recommendation that, Michael says, 24 hours earlier he would have dismissed out of hand. Having so recently experienced the peace of prayer, he embraced the direction.

“I have said the rosary every day for over 18 months now.”
Michael was also told to read the Gospel of Luke the whole way through, to immerse himself in the whole narrative of Christ’s life and power.

“He couldn’t know that I was a physician like St. Luke, or that I had said my first meaningful rosary just the night before, or that I have seen more actual lurking lions than anyone I know,” Michael says. 

“He put his hands on my head and absolved me of my sins, and man, it was powerful!  It was an amazing catharsis and I was CHARGED UP!  I HAD GONE TO CONFESSION!  And it was really good!  I drove to the funeral feeling like a MILLION BUCKS!,” Michael wrote in an email to CNA.

Michael was late to the funeral, but he didn’t care. He arrived to hear the second reading, from St. Paul, announce “I have run the race to end, I have kept the faith.”


A few months later, Michael was running early one morning, by himself. He came to a sudden stop in the snow.

Michael told CNA he heard a voice saying “Forgive them now.” 

“And I did. I forgave all the people who had abused and used me, driven me from the Church: Fr. Rapp, Fr. Francis, all of them, all at once. It was powerful.”

Michael says he dropped to his knees on the trail, sobbing in the dark and thanking God for the freedom to forgive.

Later, he wrote to James Rapp. It was a two paragraph letter.

“Dear Mr. James Rapp,” he began.

“I am writing to tell you that several months ago, after much reflection and counseling, I unequivocally forgave you. By the grace of God I finally found my way back to the Faith last year and came to understand many good things, including what it means to forgive. I forgave you with God as my only witness and it was a tremendous liberation of your unknowing grip.” 

“Later, I became aware of the concept of merciful forgiveness, the act of letting the offender know they are forgiven. I do not carry the hatred for you that I spoke about at your trial. Rather, I want you to know that I forgive you for the multiple felony counts, and the psychological and spiritual inflictions that followed for decades. I am healed, I have received many blessings, and I truly forgive you. I hope that you will make an appeal to heaven for the forgiveness you need from above.”

Michael signed it simply “Victim A.”

By September 2018 Michael says he was happier in his faith, in the Church, than he had ever been.

The McCarrick scandal, he says, he took in his stride, but the Pennsylvania grand jury report was something else.

“Thinking I was recovered, and wanting to stand as a witness to fellow survivors, I read the first few pages of the report. I was not as strong as I thought. I had to stop reading it, and it knocked me down really hard.”

Michael says he is still in therapy, but in a way that expressly affirms his faith. The real road to recovery, he says, may take longer than he hoped or imagined.

“But as others have said before me, I believe in Catholicism because I believe it is true.  I believe Catholicism is at the intersection of faith and reason. I am fascinated with our Faith. After facing so much adversity I have been blessed to know God’s grace.”


*After consideration of his particular circumstances by CNA's editors, Michael's name has not been used in this story.

Biden quizzed over abortion flip-flop during debate

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 12:30

Detroit, Mich., Aug 1, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) used Wednesday evening’s Democratic primary debate to challenge former Vice President Joe Biden on his past opposition to federal abortion funding.

“On the Hyde Amendment, Vice President, where you made a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive health care, including women who were the victims of rape and incest, do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?” asked Harris during a debate hosted by CNN August 1. 

The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services. 

Biden supported the Hyde Amendment, both with his votes and publicly in writing and speeches, for over four decades. He reversed his position on the issue in June this year, just one day after reaffirming his support for the policy. Harris was quick to point this out during the debate. 

“Only since you’ve been running for president this time, [have you] said that you in some way would take that back or you didn’t agree with that decision you made over many, many years and this directly impacted so many women in our country,” said Harris. 

Biden responded by saying that it was “not my position” and that the rest of the Democratic primary candidates who have served in Congress have voted for the Hyde Amendment in one way or another. 

He further defended his past positions, saying that there were alternative, privately-funded programs that would assist with abortion access for low-income women. Biden also touted his past work writing legislation that would enable federal funds to be used for abortions. 

“Once I wrote the legislation making sure that every single woman would in fact have an opportunity to have healthcare paid for by the federal government--everyone--[the Hyde Amendment] could no longer stand,” said Biden. 

The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010, permits insurers to cover abortion services in their plans, as long as they are in a state that does not ban insurance coverage of abortion and that private money is used to pay for the abortions. 

Biden, who is Catholic and has frequently cited the role of his faith in his life and political career, said Wednesday that he supports “a woman’s right to choose” and that it is a constitutional right that should be enshrined in federal law.

“I’ve supported it, I will continue to support it, and I in fact will move as president to see that Congress legislates that that is the law,” he said. 

In the past, Biden has presented himself as a moderate on the issue of abortion. In an interview shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, he refused to support unrestricted access to abortion and said that he thought the Supreme Court “went too far” in their decision. 

In 1981, he leant his name to the “Biden Amendment,” which banned the use of federal funds for biomedical research involving abortion or involuntary sterilization.

In 2007, Biden described his views on abortion as “middle of the road” and said that he was against both the federal funding of abortions and the technique of partial-birth abortions. In 2012, during the vice presidential debate, Biden said he was personally pro-life. 

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. This was the first time this plank has been included in the party platform. 

While three out of four women who undergo abortions are living in poverty, the Hyde Amendment is actually far less popular among low-income voters. A 2016 poll found that only 24% of people making under $25,000 a year said they were in favor of the public funding of abortion services, compared to 45% of people making over $75,000.

Gregory says Trump tweets “deepened divisions and diminished our national life”

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Washington condemned racist and divisive rhetoric Thursday in response to controversial tweets by President Donald Trump about his critics in Congress.

“We must all take responsibility to reject language that ridicules, condemns, or vilifies another person because of their race, religion, gender, age, culture or ethnic background,” said Archbishop Wilton Gregory in an interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper, published August 1.

“Such discourse has no place on the lips of those who confess Christ or who claim to be civilized members of society,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump tweeted on July 14 that “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” who criticized him “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all),” and that the congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

The tweet was seen as a reference to, among others, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to the U.S. as a Somali refugee. At a rally in North Carolina several days later, audience members chanted “Send her back!” in reference to Omar. Trump the next day said he “was not happy” with the chant and disagreed with it.

On July 27, Trump also tweeted that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Mary.), an African-American member of Congress who represents much of Baltimore City, should look to his own district which he called a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

In his interview, Gregory said that there are times “when a pastor and a disciple of Jesus is called to speak out to defend the dignity of all God’s children.” 

“I fear that recent public comments by our President and others and the responses they have generated, have deepened divisions and diminished our national life,” said Gregory.

“Comments which dismiss, demean or demonize any of God’s children are destructive of the common good and a denial of our national pledge of ‘liberty and justice for all,’” the archbishop said.

Gregory was picked in April to succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington. Wuerl had been serving as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese after his resignation, originally submitted in 2015, was accepted by Pope Francis last autumn.

Gregory, the former Archbishop of Atlanta, is the first African-American archbishop of Washington. He served as the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference from 2001 until 2004. He also chaired the U.S. bishops’ Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities in 2016, formed after incidents of racial tensions and violence drew national attention.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, along with auxiliary bishop Dennis Madden, joined other religious leaders in The Ecumenical Leaders’ Group of Maryland in a joint letter to President Trump on July 29, calling his tweets a “slur” against the city and “horrible, demeaning and beneath the dignity of a political leader who should be encouraging us all to strive and work for a more civil, just and compassionate society.”

That letter noted the efforts of “people of faith” in Baltimore to fight drug addiction, unemployment, gun violence and other problems, and invited Trump “to come visit us in Baltimore; see us in action, and see how our communities survive and even thrive in the face of adversity.”

In 2018, the U.S. bishops approved a new letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” Archbishop Gregory referenced the letter and appealed to Catholics in the archdiocese to reject racist and other harmful and demeaning rhetoric.

“As an American, a Christian, a Catholic pastor, I pray that our President, other national leaders and all Americans will do all we can to respect the dignity of all God’s children and nothing to further divide our nation. The growing plague of offense and disrespect in speech and actions must end,” he said.

Senators introduce bipartisan paid family leave bill

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 09:00

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Senators introduced a new bipartisan proposal for parental leave Tuesday, as the push for a national paid family leave policy grows stronger.

“In many cases, the first year of life is the most expensive for a family. This legislation addresses this, focuses resources and eases financial strain to provide a longer bonding period for the family,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the sponsor of the bill, at its launch July 30.

“Too many parents are forced to choose between losing time with a new child or taking on debt to make up for lost wages,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the bill’s lead cosponsor, who said that it “represents an important first step, offering parents a new option to finance time off of work or help pay for childcare.”

The Cassidy-Sinema proposal would not expand the child tax credit, but would rather reapportion it so that parents can choose to take a $5,000 benefit up front at the birth of a child; their $2,000 child tax credit would then be adjusted to $1,500 over ten years.  

This benefit would allow parents the financial support for when they arguably need it the most, the bill’s supporters say, giving them the flexibility to either cover the costs of taking unpaid leave from work or to pay for child care while returning to work.

“It’s basically to help families meet childcare expenses, to help families cope with the additional expenses” of having children, Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, explained to CNA.

The USCCB has supported the general policy of paid family leave, telling CNA last year that “we welcome and encourage” new policies to address the needs of parents taking unpaid leave from work, and that parents “ought to be supported in their calling to raise the next generation.”

Popular support is growing for policies on paid parental leave, along with paid leave for family and medical issues. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that 82% of Americans support paid maternity leave; 69 percent favor paid paternity leave; 85% favor paid leave to deal with one’s serious health condition, or “paid medical leave”; and 67% favor “paid family leave,” or leave to care for a sick family member.

In 2016, the Archdiocese of Chicago instituted a 12-week paid parental leave policy, putting itself at the forefront of employers both religious and secular, public and private.

Other paid parental leave proposals have been introduced in the 116th Congress by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“It’s encouraging that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are in agreement that Congress should enact a program for paid family leave,” Sen. Rubio s told CNA on Wednesday.

“I am hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can eventually come together to pass a paid family leave proposal that provides the flexibility and benefits working and stay-at-home moms and dads deserve,” the senator said.

Rubio’s New Parents Act, introduced along with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and a House version sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) with Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) as the lead cosponsor, would give parents the option of tapping into Social Security benefits after the birth or adoption of a child; parents could then either retire later (at six months delay per child), or take reduced Social Security benefits for five years.

Sen. Gillibrand’s Family Act, with Rep. Rosa DeLauro sponsoring the House version, would create a new national program to cover up to 12 weeks of partial paid leave for a new child, or to care for a sick family member or for medical reasons; it would pay for the benefit through increases in payroll taxes.

President Trump has also called for a nationwide paid family leave program, including in his 2019 State of the Union address to Congress, and his daughter Ivanka has advocated for paid family leave.

The 2017 tax law also established tax incentives for employers offering paid family and medical leave. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, New York, and Washington, D.C. are the only states to have passed paid family and medical leave policies.

Paid parental leave may be gaining momentum nationally, but there are significant differences between liberals and conservatives on the issue.

Conservatives tend to be skeptical of creating a new government program or raising taxes to pay for federal paid leave policies, and generally want to limit paid leave to only for the birth or adoption of a child. Liberals, meanwhile, prefer creating a new government program and expanding paid leave to include uses for family and medical care, and balk at the concept of interest-free loans from the government, Mathur explained.

One thing that Mathur noted, along with the Heritage Foundation’s research fellow Rachel Greszler, is that middle-to-high income earners tend to utilize paid leave policies through their employers or state and local programs.

According to a 2017 Pew Research survey only 22 percent of workers surveyed with incomes of less than $30,000 a year reported receiving income while on leave for parental, medical, or family reasons.

Furthermore, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provided 12 weeks of unpaid time off for qualified employees; around 40 percent of workers, mostly low-income earners, do not qualify for this benefit of unpaid leave, Mathur said.

Thus, low-income earners tend to slip through the cracks when it comes to accessing paid and unpaid leave benefits.

“It is exactly the disadvantaged workers, the workers with low incomes, workers who have part-time work, who cannot hold down steady jobs, those are the ones who are the most affected and have the least access to either paid or unpaid leave,” Mathur said. “It makes sense at least to come together to talk about something that would help the poorest workers.”

A “prebate paid family leave program” could only end up being a “subsidized loan to middle and upper-income earners who are more likely to already have access to paid family leave,” Greszler said.

She added that the Cassidy-Sinema proposal is “unique” in that it adds no new taxes or employer mandates, but sets up a policy that is essentially an “interest-free government loan”; she warned that could set up “a slippery slope” where taxpayers could do the same with other tax credits, such as buying a home or a car.

California bishops rally Catholics to stop college campus abortion pill mandate

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 19:01

Sacramento, Calif., Jul 31, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Three California bishops are calling on local Catholics to pray and fight against a bill that would require state colleges and universities to provide free access to abortion pills for students.

The bill, SB 24, is a slightly-amended version of a bill introduced in California’s state legislature last year that was ultimately vetoed.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a public supporter of abortion, vetoed the similar bill last September, saying it was was “not necessary,” as abortion services are already “widely available” off campus.

California’s current governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said before his election that he would have supported the abortion pill mandate, but has not commented on the new version of the bill since he took office.

The bill would also create a fund to provide a $200,000 grant to each public university student health center to pay for the cost of offering abortion pills, with money coming from nonstate sources such as private sector entities and local and federal government agencies.

The bill would only take effect if $10.2 million in private funds are made available by Jan 1, 2020.

Besides requiring college health centers to provide abortion pills free of charge, SB 24 would also require abortion counseling services to students, but it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling,” the California Catholic Conference said in a statement on their website.

“This bill fails to allow students the opportunity to know their life-affirming options,” the statement adds.

In an open appeal to Catholics in his local Church, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles urged Catholics to remember their values and to fight the bill through prayer and action.

“If we are going to be the people God calls us to be, if we are going to restore and renew the Church and rebuild society, then we need a new dedication to living our Catholic identity and communicating that identity in everything we do, from our schools and religious education programs to the way we live our faith in society,” he said in the appeal, published in the Angelus diocesan paper.

“In practical terms, that means bringing our family and neighbors to know the love of God, and it means working for a society of love and compassion that truly serves the human person,” he added. He noted that this applies to all people, including the immigrant or refugee, the unborn, or the person on death row.

“(A) compassionate society should have more to offer women in need than the ability to end the life of their children before they are born,” he added.

He urged Catholics to visit the California Catholic Conference’s website to learn more about the bill, and to call their legislators and tell them to vote against SB 24.

“We should defeat this bill and work to find new ways to truly help pregnant women and working mothers trying to continue their education,” he added.

In his appeal to Catholics, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento called on the people of his diocese to join in a novena for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe in order to defeat SB 24. Our Lady of Guadalupe, who on the tilma is depicted as pregnant with Christ, is an often-invoked patroness of the unborn.

“This is unprecedented intrusion on university campuses. It is unnecessary and only serves to further indoctrinate the young to the ideology of abortion,” Soto said in a letter to the people of his diocese.

“We must continue our efforts to stop this deadly piece of legislation. The womb should not become a tomb for any child anywhere in our state. Women and children deserve better.”

He thanked the people of his diocese for their letters and phone calls to their legislators, and suggested visiting their offices as well. However, prayer is of the utmost importance, he added.

“Our own political action is important but we must also draw wisdom and strength from prayer. Salvation History is filled with examples of the focused, unified prayer of many Christians overcoming evil even when, from our limited human perspective, the cause seemed insurmountable and hopeless,” he said.

The end of the Aug. 3-11 novena coincides with the the day the state legislature reconvenes after its summer recess.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has also asked Catholics of his diocese to join in the novena to defeat the “dangerous and unprecedented” bill.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first, mifepristone, blocks progesterone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.

Analysis: Voters care about abortion, why aren’t Democrats talking about it?

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jul 31, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- When ten candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination debated July 31, they fielded questions for nearly three hours on a range of issues, from immigration to healthcare reform, slavery reparations to dark psychic forces. But one subject was not raised: abortion.

The absence of any discussion of abortion during the debate was surprising - even to abortion advocates. 

After the debate, Planned Parenthood – the largest abortion provider in the country, and a major financial backer of Democratic candidates – issued a series of tweets demanding that candidates address the issue.

“In nearly 3 hours, there was not one question on abortion access or reproductive health care—despite the fact that the Trump administration is actively trying to dismantle our nation’s program for affordable birth control with a gag rule,” one tweet said.

“As the American people decide their vote, they deserve to hear about the candidates’ visions for how they will protect and expand access to abortion,” said another.

Voters would appear to agree. In one June poll, a third of respondents rated abortion as either the “most important” or a “very important” issue for the election, with Democrats, more than Republicans or independents, the most likely to rate abortion as the “most” or a “very” important issue for 2020.

But, even as Planned Parenthood fulminates against the Trump administration’s abortion policies and the candidates found common ground by denouncing the president’s personal moral failings, offensive political tactics, and reportedly flexible relationship with the truth, the numbers suggest he might - at least on abortion - be more in tune with much of the Democratic base than they are.

Democratic candidates have lined up to affirm their total support for the full latitude of Roe v Wade, which permits, effectively, abortion at any time, for any reason. Even Joe Biden, who once held that Roe v Wade went “too far,” recently abandoned his decades-long support for the Hyde Amendment, and has indicated he would support federal legislation to entrench Roe.

The trend is in line with Democratic legislators, who have blocked repeated efforts in Congress to pass Born Alive Abortion Survivor bills - aimed at nothing more ambitious than precluding tacit infanticide – and passed sweeping abortion protections in states like Vermont, Illinois, and New York.

But underneath the absolutist direction of the party’s politicians, rank and file Democrats are far less uniform in their opinions. Earlier this year a Marist poll found that more than a third of Democrats (34%) say they are pro-life, up from one in five in January 2019.

Over the same period, the proportion of Democrats identifying as pro-choice dropped from 75 percent to 61 percent, with political independents split almost equally on the subject, with 46% saying they are pro-life and 48% pro-choice.

The poll also showed a 19 point jump in pro-life identification among people under 45, with 47% calling themselves pro-life, compared to 28% at the beginning of the year.

The numbers suggest that Democratic politicians and voters are traveling in opposite directions, but why?

While national party leaders have labeled the passage of so-called “Heartbeat Bills” in states like Georgia and Louisiana (led by state Democrats in the latter case) as extreme, the evidence shows that they have broad support, and that debate about pro-life initiatives seems to move more voters in a pro-life direction: An April Rasmussen poll found that 45% of voters supported a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, but that number jumped to 56% when respondents were told that a fetal heartbeat was detectable at that time.

None of this is to suggest that either the Democratic Party or the electorate at large is now in favor of making abortion illegal always and everywhere. 

All polls routinely show that the vast majority of voters in both parties favor the availability of at least some legal abortion, with clear restrictions. Differences emerge on where and when those restrictions should apply but, as the debate over heartbeat bills has shown, that conversation is moving steadily in the pro-life direction.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has taken action to strip Title X funding from agencies that refer women for abortions or co-locate with abortion clinics, and made clear commitments to both the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy. But the president’s own position is far from unequivocally pro-life. 

In May, Trump insisted that he is “strongly pro-life, with the three exceptions - rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother.” He said that shortly after the passage of a pro-life law in Alabama which contained no exceptions for rape or incest, and was accused by some pro-life leaders of “dividing the movement.”

Planned Parenthood recently fired its president, Dr. Leana Wen, apparently because she was insufficiently strident in her prioritization of abortion as a first, second, and last consideration in the public debate about women’s healthcare.

The organization is clear that it wants to see all Democratic candidates make an unqualified pledge of support for unrestricted abortion; there is good reason to expect they will see results.

But at a time when abortion is acknowledged as a key political priority and battleground, pro-life identification is growing among younger voters, Democrats, and independents.

Planned Parenthood insists that voters “deserve to hear about the candidates’ visions for how they will protect and expand access to abortion” – but if that debate emerges, many voters could be surprised to find themselves closer to Trump’s position than to that of the eventual Democratic nominee.

Democrats debate immigration, healthcare but not abortion

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 17:00

Detroit, Mich., Jul 31, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- During the most recent round of Democratic primary debates on Tuesday, candidates for the presidency expressed support for systematic reform on immigration and healthcare, but were not questioned about abortion or religious liberty. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for the decriminalization of illegal border-crossing, though the proposal was not widely supported by the other candidates. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) reiterated his support for offering free healthcare and college education to immigrants already in the United States illegally, while also proposing increased border security to prevent the policies acting as an incentive for further illicit crossings.

“A sane immigration policy moves the comprehensive immigration reform,” said Sanders. “It moves to a humane border policy, and which, by the way, we have enough administrative judges, so that we don’t have incredible backlogs that we have right now.”

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper offered a more moderate platform on immigration reform, saying that the country needs to “secure the borders, make sure whatever law we have doesn't allow children to be snatched from their parents and put in cages.”

Referencing the recent reports of dangerous and unsanitary conditions at many border detention centers, Hickenlooper said the situation strained belief. “How hard can that be?” he asked. 

The lack of abortion questions on abortion was criticized by both pro-abortion and pro-life advocates. Planned Parenthood, tweeting from its PAC account, called it a missed opportunity for the candidates to discuss a “fundamental issue that impacts their lives.” 

“Candidates spent more than 30 minutes debating health care, but it’s meaningless if we cannot access it, said Planned Parenthood.

The American public “deserves” to hear what the candidates have to say about abortion access, tweeted Planned Parenthood.

“We call on the Democratic National Committee and CNN to ensure that effort to protect abortion access are discussed,” they said. 

Previous attempts to address the issue during debates resulted in confused statements by some candidates on the right to abortion of transwomen, biological males who identify as women. All of the candidates participating in the July 30 debate have endorsed healthcare plans that would pay for abortion with taxpayer funding. 

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, used the debate to invoke his Christian faith in support of some labor issues, including the minimum wage and unionization. 

Buttegieg criticized “so-called conservative Christian senators,” whom he accused of blocking a bill that would raise the minimum wage. 

“The minimum wage is just too low,” said Buttigieg. “Scripture says that whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.”

In April, Buttigieg previously expressed his belief that abortion “is a moral question, it is not going to be settled by science,” and that it was not appropriate for abortion policy to be set by a “government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.”

The second night of debates will be held on Wednesday evening, featuring the candidates who did not debate on Tuesday.

Abortion advocacy groups file suit against Missouri laws

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 13:01

Jefferson City, Mo., Jul 31, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a joint lawsuit July 30 in the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri Central Division in opposition to state laws regulating abortion, which are set to come into force Aug. 28.

The laws, which Gov. Mike Parson signed May 24, provide for 5-15 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, except in the case that the doctor determines the life of the mother is in danger. Women who procure abortions would not be punished.

The plaintiffs also took issue with “invasive and medically inappropriate pelvic exams,” which Missouri requires doctors to perform before every abortion.

They also objected to a provision in the new law prohibiting abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis, or the sex of the fetus, saying that this forbids “patients from exercising their constitutionally protected right to a pre-viability abortion in Missouri, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“Unless this Court grants Plaintiffs the relief they seek, the Bans will irreparably harm Plaintiffs and their patients by severely restricting access to pre-viability abortion care, preventing the vast majority of patients from obtaining the constitutionally protected medical care they seek,” the plaintiffs argued.

Missouri’s health department in June rejected a license renewal request from a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state. The health department cited a failure to cooperate with state regulations, as well as four botched abortions, one in which the mother developed sepsis and another in which the patient was hospitalized with life threatening complications.

State circuit court judge Michael Stelzer had granted a preliminary injunction, allowing the clinic to continue operating past the end of the day on May 31, when its license was set to expire. He ruled that the clinic would face “immediate and irreparable injury” if its license lapsed and said the clinic could stay open while its case was being decided in court.

Missouri’s Department of Health was given until June 21 to make a final ruling on whether it would renew the license.

A hearing to determine the abortion clinic’s status had been set for Aug. 1, but Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi early this month tentatively rescheduled the hearing for the last week of October. Dandamudi had granted a stay that to allow the clinic to continue abortions as the licensing fight plays out before the Administrative Hearing Commission, WPSD reports.

US bishops call for new gun legislation after garlic festival shooting

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 12:17

San Jose, Calif., Jul 31, 2019 / 10:17 am (CNA).- After a shooting at a food festival in California on Sunday in which the gunman killed three people and injured 15, the US bishops' representative for domestic justice called for legislation to prevent such losses.

Santino William Legan, 19, opened fire at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., 30 miles southeast of San Jose, the evening of July 28. He was shot dead by police shortly after beginning to fire a rifle. Police have been investigating reports of a second suspect.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose said July 29 that “our hearts are heavy with sadness in the wake of the horrific shooting … I am grateful for the first responders and individual citizens whose quick thinking and professional actions saved countless lives.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, survivors and their families in this time of sorrow. May God, the source of our faith and strength, grant comfort and hope to all those affected by acts of violence. May grief give way to healing and grace, as we work together to protect the innocent and prevent future massacres, so that peace may prevail in our hearts and communities.”

The Diocese of San Jose held a bilingual prayer vigil July 29 at St. Mary's parish in Gilroy.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice in Florida, chair of the US bishops' committee on domestic justice and human development, said July 30 that “our legislators must make changes to our gun policy to prevent the loss of life.”

“As Americans, we must be honest with ourselves that we have a sickness, almost a plague, with the problem of gun violence. As Christians, we must look to the cross, repentant of the ways that have led us to this point and, with God’s grace, abandon such senseless, inhuman acts. Let us resolve to make the sacrifices necessary to end the violent killing that saturates our nation.”

He added that “the Lord calls us to comfort those who mourn and to be peacemakers in a violent world. We pray, and we must, for the victims and their families. The Church should act in ways that heal and support all those affected by gun violence.”

El Paso bishop launches fundraiser for asylum seekers stuck in Mexico

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 02:25

El Paso, Texas, Jul 31, 2019 / 12:25 am (CNA).- A Catholic diocese has teamed up with a local immigration aid group to help refugees on the western Texas-Mexico border.

The Catholic Diocese of El Paso and the HOPE Border Institute introduced a new Go-Fund-Me drive on Monday.

Entitled the “Border Refugee Assistance Fund,” it will work to provide material aid to refugees and immigrants seeking asylum, especially from Central America.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration unveiled a “Remain in Mexico” policy requiring asylum seekers at the southern border to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years.

Since the policy was put in place, thousands have been stuck in Ciudad Juárez, which is located on the Mexico side of the border from El Paso. Numerous non-profit and faith-based organizations have offered aid, but faith leaders and immigration advocates have expressed concern that resources are still lacking.

“Because of policies like Remain in Mexico, our sister cities in Mexico face the unprecedented challenge of meeting the basic humanitarian needs of refugees forced to remain in that country as they make their asylum claims,” stated the Go-Fund-Me profile.

Within 24 hours, the account had already raised over $8,000, with a goal of $100,000. The money will go to help feed, clothe, and shelter asylum seekers and refugees in Ciudad Juárez.

“The need in Juarez is tremendous,” said Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, according to ABC 7 KVIA.

“Churches and community-led initiatives there are doing everything possible to feed, clothe and offer shelter to thousands of migrant families fleeing desperate conditions and looking for safety and refuge. Here we have a real opportunity to serve Christ in the migrant,” he said.

Since 2015, HOPE has supported refugees in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez with educational resources, advocacy, and material aid.

Dylan Corbett, the executive director of HOPE, said this new fund will make a practical difference.

“Faith communities and individuals across the country have asked how they can help at the border and this is a concrete way to make a difference in the lives of migrant families in need,” he said, according to the El Paso Herald Post.

In May, the HOPE Border Institute and other faith leaders issued a letter to Kevin McAleenan, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The letter highlighted the humanitarian concerns surrounding the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

“Since the implementation of this policy in the El Paso Sector, we have witnessed how Remain in Mexico has returned vulnerable individuals and families seeking asylum to Ciudad Juárez, sharply limiting their access to counsel and putting them at serious risk of further harm as they wait for their case to be processed in the United States,” reads the May 8 letter.

The letter said that the overpopulation of Ciudad Juárez has strained the resources set aside for these refugees. Among other concerns, immigrants do not have access to shelters, which are seriously overcrowded, and are at risk from the local instability and violence.

Recently, HOPE and other immigration advocates have asked the government to build a permanent processing facility to help address humanitarian concerns, including the deaths of migrants and their children at makeshift facilities. A second letter was also sent to McAleenan in June.

“We call on the federal government and the local elected leaders to act now to ensure that the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers coming to our border are ensured, that human life is protected… and that the government fulfills its responsibility to process migrants in safe and sanitary conditions,” reads the letter.


ATF investigates ‘painful’ fire that destroyed 125 year-old Texas Catholic Church 

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 19:30

Austin, Texas, Jul 30, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Federal agents have joined the investigation of a fire that ravaged and destroyed a 125 year-old landmark Catholic Church in central Texas on Monday.

Firefighters responded to the blaze at the historic Church of the Visitation in Westphalia, Texas on Monday morning.

While the tabernacle containing the Eucharist was saved by nearby residents, nearly everything else was destroyed, including a century-old organ and stained-glass windows imported from Germany, according to local news channel KWTX.

“(It’s) extremely difficult and painful to be here,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin, who visited the scene of the fire on Monday, told KWTX.

“I’m very deeply affected by this and I know the people here are also heartbroken,” he added.

On Tuesday, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) joined in the investigation of the cause of the fire, which is yet unknown.

Although ATF Certified Fire Investigators are called when arson is suspected, they can also be called to investigate large fires because they have access to sophisticated equipment not always available to local law enforcement agencies. ATF examines more than 2,000 fire scenes annually.

The parish had an active congregation of several hundred people, which had been planning a 125th anniversary celebration of the building before the fire struck.

According to reports, smoke from the fire that reduced the church to rubble could be seen from five miles away. Some sources told KWTX that the church, which was built in the shape of a Latin cross and had two large bell towers on either side of the entrance, was once the largest wooden building west of the Mississippi.

After storms destroyed two earlier church structures in the 1880s, the Church of Visitation was completed in February of 1895 and dedicated on May 23, 1895.

Its large pipe organ, which was destroyed in the fire, was built in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1914 and installed in March of 1921. It was refurbished in 1979 and was played “each Sunday as well as on special occasions,” according to the church’s website.

In 1978, the Church of the Visitation was officially recognized by the State of Texas with a Texas Historical Marker. In 1996, the church and the surrounding 5,500 acres of farmland were designated as a Rural Historic District, and the church is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

“This architectural beauty is now a loss and that’s what saddens all of us here,” Vasquez told KWTX.

The parish website notes that a total of 14 priests and 38 religious sisters came from the community, which currently has 185 families and some 500 parishioners.

Damages from the fire are estimated to total at least $3-$4 million dollars.


Senators introduce bill to stop federally funded embryonic stem cell research

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jul 30, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Senators have introduced legislation to stop federally-funded research at the National Institutes of Health using embryonic stem cells, and instead promote stem cell research not involving the destruction or damage of human embryos.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the sponsor of the legislation, said that the bill, the Patients First Act, “would encourage the use of adult stem cells for medical purposes,” an “ethical and effective alternative to embryonic stem cell research.”

“Medical breakthroughs achieved via stem cell research need not come at the expense of innocent life,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a cosponsor of the bill, stated.

The Patients First Act would reverse President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order that allowed for federally-funded research at NIH using embryonic stem cells.

Previously, under the Bush administration, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research had been introduced but was limited to stem cell lines from embryos that had already been destroyed; no taxpayer dollars would fund research on new stem cell lines of living embryos, or the creation of new embryos.

The administration also directed federal funding of research on stem cells from other sources like umbilical cord placenta, and adult and animal stem cells. Obama’s executive order significantly expanded federally-funded embryonic stem cell research.

After a challenge was mounted to the Obama administration’s expansion of embryonic stem cell research, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ultimately upheld taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research in 2011, and the Supreme Court in 2013 declined to review a challenge to the ruling, allowing it to stand.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis Personae states that “the obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo…invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit.”

“Irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results,” the document goes on to add, such research “advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity”.

Pope Francis, in his 2017 remarks to patients with Huntington’s Disease and their families and caregivers, condemned the destruction of human embryos in research, saying that “we know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos.”

Wicker’s bill would also codify the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a 1996 amendment authored by then-Congressmen Roger Wicker and Jay Dickey and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That amendment forbade the use of NIH appropriations for the creation of human embryos for research, the destruction of embryos in research, or for the research to involve an unlawful level of harm of embryos.

Under the proposed new bill, the Secretary of HHS would also be directed to pursue medical research using stem cells or pluripotent stem cells, as long as they are not derived from the destruction or damage of human embryos, or from embryos created for research.

“Ethical science that respects the dignity of life is always the best science,” bill cosponsor Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) stated. “This legislation establishes scientifically-sound policies that protect the sanctity of life while promoting promising stem cell research on better treatments and cures for many diseases.”

Cosponsors of the bill include Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Steve Daines (R-S.D.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.).

Bishop calls assisted suicide ‘affront to the dignity of life’ on eve of legalization

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 18:00

Metuchen, N.J., Jul 30, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A New Jersey bishop has issued a renewed condemnation of assisted suicide as a new law making it legal in the state comes in to force this week. Bishop James E. Checchio of Metuchen described assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” said Checchio. 

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act allows mentally competent New Jersey residents with a terminal diagnosis and six months to live to request medication to end their lives. The law, which comes into effect August 1, mandates that patients self-administer the deadly drugs.

Checchio said that even though the practice is soon to be legal in New Jersey, it remained gravely immoral, and warned that assisted suicide was a particular threat to the elderly who could “feel undue pressure to view this as an option to prevent being a burden to others.” 

The bishop also warned that younger generations would come to view the practice of the elderly, sick, and disabled killing themselves as normal.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said Checchio.

Catholics “are called to show a different approach to death and the dying; one which accompanies every person as they are dying and allows them to love and to be loved to the very end.” 

The Diocese of Metuchen sponsors Saint Peter’s University Hospital, which is compliant with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs). The ERDs prohibit Catholic health care facilities from condoning or participating with euthanasia or assisted suicide.

“Our hospital will not be cooperating with this moral evil,” said Checchio. 

Instead of assisted suicide, Cecchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider assisted suicide. 

Checchio said that although society is facing “dark times” with the passage of the new law, the Church “will not stop from advocating for the sanctity of human life, in all stages” and will continue to work to educate legislators and the general public about the dangers of medical aid in dying. 

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” said the bishop. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.” 

New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, is a practicing Catholic and said that his faith caused him to hesitate before signing the bill into law. 

“After careful consideration, internal reflection, and prayer, I have concluded that, while my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself, as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion,” said Murphy in April upon signing the law.

“I believe this choice is a personal one and, therefore, signing this legislation is the decision that best respects the freedom and humanity of all New Jersey residents,” he added.

With St. Joseph's help, a 'business guild' supports Minnesota Catholics

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 14:30

Minneapolis, Minn., Jul 30, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Small business owners, laborers, and job-seekers in Minnesota can now connect with fellow Catholics using modern technology- a website and social network - and a very ancient concept - a guild.

The St. Joseph Business Guild helps Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by creating a spiritual and social network for employees and employers.

Roger Vasko, president and founder of the guild, told CNA that the goal of the project is to aid Catholic families. He said the idea began after discussions with parishioners over their financial concerns.

“Our mission is to support to the Catholic families by connecting Catholic business owners to workers and customers,” he said. “It became clear to me that Catholic families needed help.”

“The topic always seemed to come up of families struggling financially, whether it was inability to live on one income and raise a family, saving for a down payment for a house, or paying off college debt.”

Members of the guild must belong to one of the 200 parishes in the Minnesota archdiocese. Individuals or businesses pay a small yearly fee to have access to employment resources and spiritual support.

Since it began in March, the guild has reached nearly 60 members.

Through a website, member can review job opportunities, obtain employment information, post resumes on jobseeker boards, and network with other Catholics. Members will also have access to classes and mentoring opportunities.

Businesses belonging to the guild will be able to review resumes posted online and post employment opportunities. After an organization has signed up, it will also be placed in business directory available to anyone.

Vasko said the organization has opportunities for spiritual nourishment, including an annual retreat in December and four spiritual meetings a year. Those meetings will include Mass, networking time, food, and a speaker.

He said the guild is looking to expand its spiritual activities; the organization will soon work with a chaplain and four deacons who may provide spiritual direction to the members. The guild is also adding an online prayer board and a spiritual blog, which will be regularly updated by a group of priests.

Members are required to demonstrate proof of tithing and express compliance with the guild’s Catholic identity. During the application process, candidates will have to consent to a statement of values taken from the Catechism.

“Work should respect the worker since each person is made in the image of God: Work is for man, not man for work,” said Vasko, giving a few examples of the guild’s statement.

“Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.”

The guild has several categories for its members, including business owners, sales people, entrepreneurs, and common members. A free membership is offered to nonprofits, parishes, and business professionals - people with hiring or purchasing powers. The membership fee ranges from $20-200.

Vasko said the guild is also a place for people to connect with a Catholic community and pursue careers more conducive to the Catholic faith.

“There are more and more people that are having trouble in the workplace with their faith or that they are uncomfortable in the workplace,” he said.

“We have people joining just for the community aspect. They are not necessarily looking for jobs; they want to meet other Catholics who are businessmen or just plain other Catholic men they can’t find at their parish.”

Bret Sutton, director of development at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, is secretary for the organization. He told the Catholic Spirit that the project brings together Catholic ideals and work.

“We believe strongly in the dignity of the human person, entrepreneurship and strengthening the family,” he said.

“What I’m most excited to see is businessmen and women … bringing together these two powerful worlds — faith and business — to energize and rejuvenate not only our Church but (also) our greater society,” he added.



Bishops lament return of federal executions

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 12:15

Washington D.C., Jul 30, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders have condemned the federal government’s announcement last week that it will resume of executions after an almost two decade-long hiatus.

“I am deeply concerned by the announcement of the United States Justice Department that it will once again turn, after many years, to the death penalty as a form of punishment,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, in a statement released July 30. 

Attorney General William Barr on July 25 announced that executions of federal death-row inmates would resume for the first time since 2003, with five executions scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.

“Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding,” said Barr, who is a practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Federal executions are rare, with only three occurring in the modern era and the last one being in 2003, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. The federal death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, but revised federal death penalty statues were reinstated in 1988.

In 2014, President Obama ordered a Department of Justice (DOJ) review of the federal death penalty after several botched executions by lethal injection in states including Oklahoma and Ohio. However, executions will once again take place and more will be scheduled in the future, the DOJ said Thursday.

In 2018, Pope Francis approved updated language for the Catechism of the Catholic Church calling the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

In paragraph 2267, the Catechism acknowledges that the death penalty was “long considered an appropriate response” to grave crimes by legitimate authorities after a fair trial. However, it says, there is now an “increasing awareness” of human dignity even after such crimes have been committed, as well as more secure means of detention by societies that keep open the possibility of redemption.

When the change was announced, bishops across the United States welcomed the change. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles said at the time that he was “grateful for Pope Francis’ leadership in working for an end to judicial executions worldwide,” and that the revisions “reflect an authentic development of the Church’s doctrine that started with St. John Paul II and has continued under emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis.”

“The Scriptures, along with saints and teachers in the Church’s tradition, justify the death penalty as a fitting punishment for those who commit evil or take another person’s life,” Archbishop Gomez wrote.

In his statement on Tuesday, Dewane noted that last month, at their annual Spring meeting, the U.S. bishops States voted overwhelmingly to adopt updated language “reflecting this position” in the U.S. catechism for adults.

“I urge instead that Federal officials take this teaching into consideration, as well as the evidence showing its unfair and biased application, and abandon the announced plans to implement the death penalty once more,” he said.

The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, enacted as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, expanded the list of eligible death penalty offenses.

One of the five inmates, Daniel Lewis Lee, was convicted in 1999 by a federal court jury on “numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering.” Lee was a member of a white supremacist group, robbing and killing a family of three in gruesome fashion, the DOJ said.

Lawyers for Lee said Thursday that the crime for which he was sentenced to death was actually orchestrated by a different member of a white supremacist group, who only received a life sentence; they argued that Lee did not conduct the murder, and that evidence used against him during the trial was later overturned by DNA testing.

Morris Moon, Lee’s attorney, stated that “the trial judge, the lead prosecutor, and members of the victims’ family all oppose executing him and believe a life sentence is appropriate,” but the federal government ordered prosecutors to proceed with a death sentence. Furthermore, Lee suffered “relentless” abuse and trauma as a youth, he said.

Another of the five inmates, Wesley Purkey, raped and murdered a 16 year-old girl and bludgeoned to death an 80 year-old woman, the DOJ said. Purkey's lawyer said on Thursday that he suffered serious abuse and trauma at a young age, and now “suffers from a multitude of mental and physical disabilities, including dementia” at age 67.

According to the DOJ, inmate Lezmond Mitchell murdered a 63 year-old woman and forced her nine year-old granddaughter to sit beside her corpse on a 30 to 40-mile drive before murdering her as well. Mitchell’s attorney said that he is a member of the Navajo nation, which opposes the death penalty in its own jurisdiction, and which has opposed the sentence.

Mitchell is “the only Native American on federal death row,” his counsel said. He was eligible for the death penalty because carjacking resulting in death is a federal crime.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Federal administration of the federal death penalty is geographically-concentrated in the South, with more than half of federal death sentences coming from just three states—Virginia, Texas, and Missouri. Additionally, the three federal circuit courts comprising that region—the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth—are responsible for 42 of the 61 current federal death sentences.

More than half of current federal death row inmates are African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American, the DPIC said.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network last Thursday called the DOJ decision “unconscionable,” arguing that the death penalty system in the U.S. “is tragically flawed.”

“The actions of the Federal government are meant to represent the values of the American people — values of equality, fairness, and for Catholics, above all, a belief in the sanctity of human life,” stated Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of CMN.

“The resumption of executions at the federal level flies in the face of these values, and promotes a culture of death where we so desperately need a culture of life,” she said.

Despite human rights concerns, Senate fails to stop Saudi arms sale

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 10:40

Washington D.C., Jul 30, 2019 / 08:40 am (CNA).- The Senate on Monday failed to override President Trump’s veto of their attempts to block over $8 billion in arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“All evidence suggests that the Saudis have intentionally targeted hospitals, bridges, power stations, apartment buildings, weddings, schools and even a school bus filled with children, leaving thousands of Yemeni civilians killed or maimed,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) stated July 29 on the Senate floor.

“Over the years Congress has received many assurances about how U.S. arms sales, advice and assistance would supposedly help the Saudi Air Force and command authority better identify military targets and thereby reduce risk to civilians,” he said.

“Those assurances no longer stand. We cannot brand the sale of precision-guided munitions as ‘humanitarian’ weapons if the Saudis are intentionally targeting civilians in the first place.”

The sale of munitions and equipment, as part of the broader alliance of the two countries, was criticized because of Saudi Arabia’s widely-publicized human rights abuses. Critics of the arms deal have objected to the use of U.S.-supplied weapons and weapons systems in the ongoing civil war in Yemen between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi Arabia-backed government.

The State Department in May used emergency authoritu under the Arms Control Export Act to approve the 22 arms transfers to Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia without congressional consent.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the transfers, totaling over $8 billion, were for the purposes of regional stability and support for U.S. allies in deterrence of “Iranian aggression.”

In June, the Senate passed resolutions of disapproval of the arms transfers in an attempt to block the move. Three of the resolutions, S.J.Res. 36, 37 and 38, were sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and passed by the Senate on June 20 and the House on July 17. They were vetoed by President Trump last Wednesday, who said that the resolutions would “damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners.”

Trump also stated that “it is our solemn duty to protect the safety of the more than 80,000 United States citizens who reside in Saudi Arabia and who are imperiled by Houthi attacks from Yemen.”

On Monday, the Senate voted to override the vetoes on the three resolutions, failing to do so in votes of 45 to 40, 45 to 39, and 46 to 41, respectively. Five Republicans joined the vote to override the veto on S.J.Res. 36: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

The State Department’s 2018 human rights report noted serious human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia including “unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents.”

Additionally, the State Department cited reports of “arbitrary arrest and detention,” “political prisoners,” “trafficking in persons,” “violence and official discrimination against women,” and  “criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity.”

The October killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul drew international outrage, yet while King Salman ordered an investigation, the State Department reported that the Public Prosecutor’s Office had not provided names of suspects nor an update on the investigation by the end of 2018.

Yemen’s civil war has been ongoing since 2015, and is considered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of civilians killed or injured, over three million displaced, 80 percent of the population in need of assistance and 10 million threatened by famine, according to the UNDP.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peace in Yemen, drawing attention to “the starving children of Yemen.”

Critics of the arms deal in the Senate have warned that it will contribute to the humanitarian crisis in the civil war.

“President Trump talks about our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia as if all we care about is selling weapons, stabilizing energy markets, and having a close ally in a potential conflict with Iran,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) stated on Twitter on Monday.

He added that “the President has failed to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its conduct in the war in Yemen, its human rights violations, & for the murder of American-resident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Today the Senate has an opportunity to send a clear message that this is unacceptable.”

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly denounced the international arms trade, said in June 10 comments on Syria that “sometimes I also think of the wrath of God that will be unleashed against the leaders of countries that talk about peace and sell weapons to carry out these wars.”

Earlier in 2019, Congress passed legislation to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, but President Trump vetoed the bill.

The State Department lists Saudi Arabia as a “Country of Particular Concern,” a designation reserved for the worst offenders of religious freedom. While it has waived sanctions that normally accompany such a designation, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has called for the waivers to be rescinded in light of ongoing egregious abuses that have continued in the country.

USCIRF’s recent 2019 annual report noted “positive developments” in Saudi Arabia with respect to the government’s relaxation of policies like allowing Christian services and Mass to take place. However, USCIRF maintained that “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” are ongoing such as “a ban on non-Muslim public religious observance” and the kingdom continuing “to arrest, detain, and harass individuals for dissent, blasphemy, and apostasy.”