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Maine advances assisted suicide law

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:00

Portland, Maine, Jun 5, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A bill legalizing assisted suicide in Maine moved to the governor’s desk on Tuesday after both houses of the state’s legislature narrowly passed the legislation.

The so-called “Dignity With Dying” bill passed the state House of Representatives by a single vote on June 3, before making it through the senate Tuesday by a 19-16 margin.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) has a 10 day window from June 4 to sign the bill into law. She has not yet taken a position on the bill, or on assisted suicide.

If the bill were to become law, patients who have less than six months to live and do not have any mental conditions such as depression, may legally request medication that would end their life. Two doctors would have to certify that a patient is terminally ill.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Patty Hymanson (D-York).

Past efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the Pine Tree State include at least seven other bills in years past and a failed statewide referendum vote in 2012.

The bill received bipartisan support in the legislature, with members of both parties voting for and against the bill.

Earlier this year, New Jersey also moved to legalize assisted suicide. In April, Catholic Governor Phil Murphy signed an assisted dying bill into law “after careful consideration, internal reflection, and prayer.”

Speaking to CNA at the time of the passage of the New Jersey bill Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen said that such measures represented a “dangerous and frightening trend” and a “brazen attack against the sanctity of human life.”

Chicchio said that the Church needed to make an unflinching and compassionate defense of life at all stages.

“While we are facing dark times, we will not stop from advocating for the sanctity of human life, in all stages, and we will continue to educate our legislators, our fellow Catholics and the general public about the dangers of legalized physician-assisted suicide,” Chicchio said.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis tweeted strong comments condemning assisted dying, reminding the world that people should strive to help those who are suffering.

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for all,” said Pope Francis. “We are called never to abandon those who are suffering, never giving up but caring and loving to restore hope."

Pro-life laws are ‘extremist hate,’ UN official says

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 18:00

New York City, N.Y., Jun 4, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Efforts to restrict abortion in the U.S. have drawn strong denunciations from a senior United Nations official, who called recent pro-life laws "torture" and "violence against women."

Kate Gilmore, an Australian who serves as U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian that new laws limiting abortion in some U.S. states run afoul of the judgment of members of the human rights commission, who have made independent declarations that the “absolute prohibition” of abortion is “against human rights”

In an interview published June 4, Gilmore said “We have not called [pro-life laws in the United States] out in the same way we have other forms of extremist hate, but this is gender-based violence against women, no question,” she said.

“It’s clear it’s torture – it’s a deprivation of a right to health.”

Gilmore was appointed to her current role in December 2015. She previously served as executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty International. Her time there coincided with its deeply controversial 2006 decision to end neutrality on abortion and to advocate abortion access as a human right. She has also held leadership roles at the United Nations Population Fund.

The U.S. has, at times, played a leading role in promoting legal abortion around the world, but at present many observers think the U.S. Supreme Court could alter or overturn precedents like the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade that mandate legal abortion across the U.S.

Laws banning abortion based on the detection of a fetal heartbeat have passed in several U.S. states, including controversial measures in Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. Challenges to the  laws could prompt a Supreme Court review of the issue at a federal level.

“This is a crisis. It’s a crisis directed at women,” Gilmore said of abortion restrictions in the U.S.  She also criticized Trump administration decisions to oppose language about reproductive health in some documents. “Reproductive health” is sometimes a euphemism for abortion.

At the same time, other U.S. states, including New York and Vermont, have proposed or passed extremely permissive legislation that would in effect allow abortion up through birth.

While Gilmore’s strongly worded rhetoric surprised some observers, other U.N. officials and bodies have previously made similar comparisons, and linked opposition to abortion with torture and human rights violations.

In May 2014, members of the anti-torture committee pressed the Holy See, a signatory to the anti-torture convention, about Catholic opposition to abortion. One committee member claimed that the committee holds that laws that prohibit abortion in all circumstances violate the convention.

For several years before the successful 2018 push to remove the Republic of Ireland’s pro-life constitutional amendment recognizing the equal right of a pregnant mother and her baby, leaders on U.N. committees overseeing human rights strongly criticized the Irish constitution.

They claimed that refusal of legal abortion to women was cruel and unusual punishment and discriminated on grounds of wealth or social class because some Irish women, and not others, could afford to travel to countries where abortion is legal.

In 2011 the United Nations Committee on the Convention Against Torture called on Ireland to change its abortion laws.

In July 2014, members of the U.N. Human Rights Committee in hearings reviewing the Republic of Ireland’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contended that Irish abortion restrictions violated human rights agreements.

Since 2015, U.N. resolutions have encouraged member states to ensure that women and girls have access to “sexual and reproductive health-care services,” which in the U.N.’s view includes the promotion of abortion.

These resolutions are not binding in international law, but do reflect internal U.N. priorities and policies. The repeated inclusion of “sexual and reproductive health” in resolutions could result, over a period of time, in the United Nations adopting abortion as a human right.

While Gilmore acknowledged that human rights commission rulings are unenforceable, she said they can help pressure governments to act, The Guardian reported.

“The human rights system doesn’t have an army, but what we know is many national courts follow that jurisprudence in their own rulings,” she said.

Moves to promote abortion at the U.N. have been challenged by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, head of the Holy See's permanent observer mission to the U.N.

Auza rejected claims of a right to abortion by some U.N. leaders in his April 3, 2019 response to assertions of such a right at a spring meeting of the U.N. Commission on Population of Development.

“Suggesting that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the (International Conference on Population and Development), defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially those yet unborn,” Auza said.

Pope Francis has repeatedly likened the practice of abortion to the "hiring of a hitman" and decried "eugenicist" abortion campaings against the disabled.

The Holy See’s diplomatic opposition to the global abortion agenda goes back decades, to the pontificate of St. John Paul II, who wrote a letter to the general secretary of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994. 

In that letter, St. John Paul II voiced his strong concerns that the conference’s draft document showed a “tendency to promote an internationally recognized right to access to abortion on demand, without any restriction, with no regard to the rights of the unborn.”

House committee debates ban on editing human genes

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 17:16

Washington D.C., Jun 4, 2019 / 03:16 pm (CNA).- The House Appropriations Committee has reinstated a condition in 2020 spending bills which prohibit embryonic gene editing. The amendment was passed in a vote full House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

Without the amendment, U.S. scientists would be able to approve and conduct clinical trials that would involve the creation or modification of human embryos.

Almost a week and a half after a congressional subcommittee passed a draft of the annual appropriations bill omitting the rider, an amendment to reinsert the ban passed with near unanimous consent Tuesday afternoon.

Since 2016, the appropriations bill has contained language that bans the Food and Drug Administration from performing research in clinical trials “in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.”

On May 24, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), approved a version of the bill that omitted the ban on gene editing.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), the ranking member of the subcommittee, spoke at the Tuesday meeting in favor of maintaining the prohibition on embryonic gene editing. Fortenberry said that human genetic experimentation is loaded with ethical questions largely unaddressed by researchers.

“If we cede this framework of science and ethics to maverick bioengineers who are detached from larger societal considerations, the risks of harm are real, and we will divert these resources away from real, viable alternatives,” said Fortenberry.

The Nebraska congressman said the issue is particularly close to home for him, as one of his own children is the beneficiary of intense medical interventions that have significantly lengthened her life.

Fortenberry explained that his daughter Kathryn was born with multiple congenital heart defects, and effectively lacked an aorta. At the time she was born, Fortenberry and his wife researched possible adult stem-cell therapies that could potentially cure her condition, before realizing “that particular innovation was premature” and would not be effective.

Instead, he said, their daughter had multiple surgeries and implants, and is now expected to have a full and healthy life, noting that had she been born 20 years earlier, said she would have not been expected to live past the age of 30.

“It was through this innovation and advancement in science that made that life extension possible for her,” said Fortenberry, adding “When we search passionately for answers, and align them with effective science, reason, and ethics, we have a holistic approach to compassionate care.”

Earlier in the hearing, Sanford Bishop had raised a doctor’s use of controversial mitochondrial replacement therapy in treating a child who with a mitochondrial illness. Fortenberry said the example showed the ethical problems of using untested science as medicine and accused the doctor of “skirting U.S. law.”

“[The doctor’s] own findings are showing that the disease is still present in that child. The child is also supposed to be tracked his entire life and the risk to the child may not be known for decades,” said Fortenberry.

Fortenberry quoted a comment made earlier this year by Dr. Fancis Collins, the Obama-appointed head of the National Institutes of Health. Collins has also expressed concern about the efficacy and ethics of human germline editing.

“Given the lack of compelling medical need, the safety concerns, and the profound societal and philosophical issues--NIH strongly agrees that an international moratorium on reproductive uses of human germline gene editing should be put into effect,” said Collins in March.

Fortenberry suggested that instead of gene editing clinical trials, that “we can innovate in order to authentically alleviate human suffering.”

In a voice vote on Tuesday, all members except Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) approved the amendment, adding the prohibition back into the 2020 appropriations bill.

Courage conference to center on friendship

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 16:51

Chicago, Ill., Jun 4, 2019 / 02:51 pm (CNA).- Courage International, an apostolate for people with same-sex attraction, is preparing for its annual conference next month, which will focus on the importance of friendship.

The conference, for people who experience same-sex attraction and for the families of those identifying as LGBT, will be held July 18-21 at Mundelein Seminary, near Chicago. The theme of the conference is “Courageous Friendship: Inspiring Hope and Renewal.”

Father Philip Bochanski, Courage’s executive director, likened the event to a family reunion, where individuals may grow in a community that helps them in the pursuit of chastity.

“Every year, our Annual Conference often feels more like a family reunion than a conference. It's a special opportunity for our members to reconnect with old friends, and to form new friendships with those who understand their experience and their journey,” said Fr. Bochanski.

“Learning how to foster chaste, generous friendships is central to our work at Courage, but is also essential for the Christian,” he added.

“In our friendships, we learn to love others because God loves them, in the same way that God loves them. When we do this, we find that we’re drawn out of ourselves in a way that gives us the ability to grow, and to start to live with the life of Christ”, Fr. Bochanski said.

A clergy day July 17 will prepare clerics and religious on how best to minister to people with same-sex attraction.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, who will attend the conference, called Courage “a great sign of hope.”

With more than 150 chapters across 18 countries, Courage International looks to support individuals with same-sex attraction who have decided to live a chaste life.

The conference attendees will be able to hear a variety of discussions, consisting of topics such as pastoral ministry and psychology. Participants will also be able to be involved with opportunities of prayer, like daily Mass, confession, and Eucharistic adoration.

The speakers at the event will include Adam Minihan and David Niles, hosts of The Catholic Man Show; Avera Maria Santo, a young adult blogger and member of courage; Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum; Mark Houck, co-founder and president of The King’s Men; and Father Michael Gaitley, Director of Evangelization of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

Founded by Fr. John Harvey, the first Courage chapter meeting was held in 1980. The five foundational goals of Courage are chastity, prayer, fellowship, support, and good examples.

Apple Watch joins growing trend of fertility tracking technology

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 16:50

San Jose, Calif., Jun 4, 2019 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- It its latest rollout of updates, Apple announced that it will be adding menstruation and fertility tracking to its newest Apple Watch system.

While it has been a feature of the health app on Apple smartphones since 2015, the ability to track period and fertility information on the Apple Watch with watchOS6 is new.

“The new Cycle Tracking app gives women the ability to log important information related to their menstrual cycles and see predicted timing for their next period and fertile window using the convenience of Apple Watch,” Apple announced in a statement.

“The daily log function enables the quick addition of information related to the menstrual cycle, including current period, flow, symptoms, results from ovulation prediction kits and other elements of fertility tracking,” Apple stated.

The feature is also available in the health app on Apple smartphones, but “being able to track your cycles on the Watch is a ‘finally’ moment,” Sean Hollister wrote in an article for The Verge, a technology trends publication.

Hollister noted that period tracking was added to the Apple smartphone health app in 2015 after significant backlash following the release of the 2014 Apple health app, which did not include menstrual tracking.

The adding of period and fertility tracking to the Apple Watch follows a growing trend of smartwatches that track menstruation, ovulation and related symptoms. In 2018, Fitbit launched a “female health tracking” feature that allowed women to log their periods and related information, and that would predict the start of a woman’s next cycle. Garmin smartwatches added a period tracker in April of this year.

The features are similar to numerous apps already available on Apple or Android that allow women to track their periods as well as ovulation information and fertility windows.

Wired, another tech magazine, rated Clue as a top period and fertility tracking app available on Android or Apple, which lets you track your period and fertile window, with options to add the data to the Apple health app.

Other popular period and fertility tracking apps include Natural Cycles, Femm, Eve, Flo, and numerous others. There are also method-based apps available for various methods of Natural Family Planning, also known as FBAMs (Fertility-Based Awareness Methods).

There are also smartwatches specifically designed for fertility tracking, including Ava or Tempdrop, which are wearable devices that track metrics such as a woman’s temperature, stress levels and pulse rates to predict ovulation and a woman’s most fertile days.


Little Sisters of the Poor to defend contraception exception against lawsuits

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 15:27

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 4, 2019 / 01:27 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor are expected back in court Thursday to ask for protection against a lawsuit seeking to end the religious order’s exemption from the HHS contraception mandate.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have each filed lawsuits saying that the sisters should not receive a religious exemption from the 2011 mandate. Twelve other states have also joined the lawsuit, reports the legal nonprofit Becket, which is representing the sisters.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear arguments in California v. Little Sisters of the Poor and decide if California and 13 other states can force Catholic nuns to provide services such as the week-after pill in their health care plan in violation of their faith,” Becket said in June 4.

The sisters have been embroiled in a lawsuit since 2011 challenging the federal contraception mandate, issued under the Affordable Care Act, which required that cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and some drugs that can cause abortions be included in employer health plans. The Little Sisters were one of several hundred plaintiffs to file suit against the mandate.

Catholic teaching holds contraception and abortion to be gravely immoral.

“California admits that it has many of its own programs to provide contraceptives to women who want them...And California has not identified a single actual person who had contraceptive coverage but will lose it because of this new rule,” Becket reported.

“Despite all this, California asked a judge to find that the Little Sisters should be forced to comply with the federal mandate (not a state mandate) or pay tens of millions of dollars of government fines.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order founded in France in 1852 that reached the United States in 1868, dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor.

In October 2017, the Trump administration announced a new rule that would allow the Little Sisters of the Poor and similar groups to claim a religious exemption against the mandate. While the original mandate remained in place, a much broader exemption would be granted to non-profits and some for-profit companies if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate’s demands.

This January, judges in California and Pennsylvania issued injunctions against the new rule, blocking its implementation and allowing California’s lawsuit against the sisters to go forward.

“In 2017, following an Executive Order, a five-year legal battle resulting in a Supreme Court victory, and a new HHS rule protecting religious non-profits, the Little Sisters finally received a religious exemption that applies to non-profits nationwide,” Becket said.

“Yet California immediately sued the federal government to take that exemption away. Joined now by 13 other states, Attorney General Becerra is forcing the Little Sisters back to court to defend their hard-earned religious protection.”

The Ninth Circuit it set to begin hearing oral arguments in the case June 6.

DiNardo accused of mishandling clerical sexual misconduct case

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 14:49

Houston, Texas, Jun 4, 2019 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has been accused of mishandling an allegation of sexual coercion made against his former vicar general.

A Texas woman says that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo permitted the priest, who she says sexually coerced her, to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry, after she was promised that he would not be permitted to serve as a pastor.

DiNardo is also the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.

Laura Pontikes, a Houston-area Catholic, told the AP that while DiNardo acknowledged that she had been a “victim” of manipulation by an archdiocesan priest, the cardinal permitted the priest to continue serving in ministry.

In 2007 Pontikes sought counsel from Msgr. Frank Rossi, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, during a difficult period in her life. She alleges that the priest began pressuring her and her family for millions in donations, and that in 2012, he initiated a sexual relationship with her, while they were meeting for spiritual direction.

She alleges that they began a sexually intimate relationship that continued for more than a year. The archdiocese has challenged Pontikes’ account of that relationship.

Pontikes also alleges that the priest absolved her sacramentally of sexual sins she confessed to committing with him, which is a serious canonical offense that can lead to excommunication.

The archdiocese told the AP that Rossi did not hear Pontikes’ confession during or after their physical relationship, though it is unclear how the archdiocese could confirm that, since priests are forbidden from identifying penitents. According to the AP, that allegation is now subject to a "Vatican" review. Allegations of absolving sexual accomplices are handled by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pontikes told the AP that she discontinued the relationship with Rossi, and reported it to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in April 2016. The archdiocese told the AP it urged her to report the matter to police, though she resisted doing so. The allegations were reported to the police in 2018, and are now subject to a criminal investigation.

Rossi resigned from his parish in May 2016, announcing that he was facing “very difficult personal issues.”

Pontikes said she was told by Sister Gina Iadanza, an archdiocesan official, that Rossi would never be permitted to serve as a pastor again. The archdiocese told the AP that Pontikes’ account is “not accurate.”

According to the AP, Pontikes and the archdiocese engaged in two years of mediation over the matter; it did not report whether a settlement was reached.

Rossi returned to active ministry after a period of treatment, and in July 2017, Rossi was granted retirement status in the archdiocese, “with permission to minister in the Diocese of Beaumont,” an archdiocesan announcement stated.

“He will be the Pastor of Our Lady of the Pines Parish in Woodville, Texas.”

The Diocese of Beaumont told the AP June 4 that it was informed Rossi was a priest “in good standing” when he was accepted for ministry in the diocese, and that no allegations of misconduct have been made against him.

The Diocese of Beaumont announced June 4 that Rossi has been placed on administrative leave.

Vos esti lux mundi, a May 7 motu proprio from Pope Francis, instructs that a cleric accused of  coercing a person into a sexual relationship “through abuse of authority,” should be subject to a canonical penal process.

While the motu proprio took effect only on June 1, it is still possible that Rossi could face canonical charges for abusing his office in order to initiate a sexual relationship, in addition to the charges now being faced for absolving an accomplice in sexual sins.

Vos estis lux mundi also calls for canonical investigations of bishops accused of impeding or neglecting investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct, though it is not clear whether those provisions will be judged to apply to the allegations made against DiNardo, since abuse of office for sexual coercion had not been understood as a canonical crime until the promulgation of Vos estis lux mundi.

DiNardo, who suffered a stroke in March, is set to lead the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops’ conference next week. The bishops are expected to discuss a plan for implementing the pope’s new abuse norms, as well as other matters related to the Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis.


UN to observe Day for Victims of Violence Based on Religion

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 14:29

New York City, N.Y., Jun 4, 2019 / 12:29 pm (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly last week adopted a resolution proclaiming Aug. 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

The May 28 resolution was introduced by Jacek Czaputowicz, Poland's foreign minister.

“Any acts of violence against people belonging to religious minorities cannot be accepted,” Czaputowicz stated. “We hope that it will help combat hate crimes and acts of violence related to religion or belief, and will further strengthen interreligious dialogue.”

The Polish foreign minister noted the increase in violence on the basis of religion around the world, referring in particular to the recent attacks on a mosque in New Zealand and churches in Sri Lanka.

Alongside Poland, the draft resolution was co-sponsored by Brazil, Canada, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the US.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the majority of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom are found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The commission's most recent report focused in its introduction on abuses against China's Uyghur Muslims.

The US representative to the UN, Austin Smith, noted ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Burma and Yazidis in Iraq, and said that “countries must work across borders to advocate for the rights of members of religious minority communities, and to protect freedom of religion or belief wherever it is threatened.”

Smith focused particularly on China's arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in “re-education camps”, where they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination,” which he called “one of the world’s most horrific denials of freedom of religion or belief.”

“Chinese authorities are restricting religious freedom by labeling peaceful religious practices as manifestations of 'religious extremism and terrorism,” he said. “We call upon all member states to speak out against the egregious human rights abuses and religious persecution by the People’s Republic of China … The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. This repression has intensified under the current policy of 'Sinicizing' religion.”

Smith added: “We call on member states to press the Chinese government to close its camps and respect the rights of Muslims in Xinjiang, as well as the rights of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.”

China's representative responded that Smith's statements were an unfounded accusation, and reiterated China's position that it is combatting extremism. He called the camps for Uyghurs learning centers, and stressed their vocational and educational nature.

Americans split on morality of abortion; birth control remains widely accepted

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Jun 4, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A narrow majority of Americans now consider abortion “morally unacceptable,” while less than 10% disapprove of birth control, a new Gallup Poll has found.

Fifty percent of the survey respondents disapproved of abortion, with 42% approving, though the poll has a margin of error of four percentage points. A year ago, Gallup found that an equal split among Americans— 48% each— identified as “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

The survey, released late last month, tracks changes in public attitude over time toward a range of social and moral issues. The latest figures are from May 2019 and are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of just over 1,000 U.S. adults.

The highest proportion of disapproval for abortion that Gallup has measured is 56%, recorded in 2009. That year just 36% of respondents considered abortion morally acceptable.

At the same time, however, approval of sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman edged up two points since last year to 71%, which is the highest approval rating Gallup has yet recorded on that issue. Approval for divorce is also at an all-time high, at 77%.

Ninety-two percent said they found the use of artificial birth control morally acceptable, which was the highest approval margin of any of the social issues proposed in the survey. Having a baby outside of marriage has also edged upwards in moral acceptability over the years since 2002.

Another notable topic was pornography— 61% of respondents consider it morally unacceptable. Pornography hit a “high point in moral acceptability” last year, but this year has settled back into previous trends, Gallup reports.

Sixty-four percent approved of embryonic stem cell research, and a similar percentage approved of gay or lesbian relations. Just over half voiced approval for physician-assisted suicide, and 60% approved of the death penalty.  

The least acceptable scenario for the respondents, with nearly 90% disapproving, was “married men and women having an affair.” Human cloning wasn’t far behind, with 85% disapproval, followed by suicide at 79%.

The study differentiated between respondents who identified as “conservative” and “liberal”; according to the poll, just 23% of conservatives versus 73% of liberals consider abortion morally acceptable, a 50% difference.

Notably, the liberal/conservative divide was virtually nonexistent when it came to birth control, with 93 and 90% approving, respectively.

Gallup released another survey last month that found that among respondents who identify as pro-life, 71% support exceptions under the law for cases where the mother’s life is in danger, and 57% for cases of rape and incest.

'Chosen' aims to evangelize during confirmation prep

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Jun 3, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A confirmation program developed for parishes aims to call young people to deeper conversions, while teaching them the truths of the Catholic faith. The program, organizers say, has impacted hundreds of thousands of Catholics since it was founded five years ago.

“Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation,” has helped over 500,000 teens to develop in their Catholic faith, Ascension Press told CNA. It has also engaged 200,000 parents and 200,000 sponsors,

Chris Stefanick is part of the team that developed “Chosen.” He told CNA that the program focuses on conversion, in addition to education about Catholic doctrine.

“It’s very rich in the content of the faith. Kids are actually going to learn their faith, A-Z, but it’s not a theology class,” he said. “It’s truly catechesis, which means that it’s evangelistic. It’s teaching for conversion and every lesson, every truth delivered, is delivered in a way that brings the participants in way closer into relationship with Jesus.”

The 1979 apostolic exhortation Catechesi tradendae, written by Pope St. John Paul II, explains that catechesis- the teaching of the faith- is a “stage in evangelization.”

Evangelization, the exhortation says, “is a rich, complex and dynamic reality, made up of elements, or one could say moments, that are essential and different from each other, and that must all be kept in view simultaneously. Catechesis is one of these moments - a very remarkable one - in the whole process of evangelization.”

The “Chosen” approach aims to approach formation for confirmation with that in mind.

Stefanick first hatched the idea of developing a confirmation program during his experience as a youth minister in East Los Angeles. There, he ran a large confirmation group for four and a half years. He said there was no easy access to resources that would help guide the confirmation team.

With Professor Ron Bolster of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Stefanick developed “Chosen,” and the program was launched in May 2014 by Ascension Press.

During the 24 weeks of the program, classes use a video series and student workbook. The program also offers parents and sponsors ways to get involved, including a guide and online resources. The lessons are followed by prayers and challenges for the week that aim to make practical application of  the material with practice.

Stefanick hosts the videos, which include Jason Evert, a Catholic author and chastity speaker; Jackie Angel, a Christian songwriter; and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, an evangelist and founder of Dynamic Deacon.

The program has been adopted by hundreds of parishes. As a Catholic speaker who travels all over the world, Stefanick said he is able to see the program’s success and the excitement of students involved with “Chosen.”

“It’s never happened before, that kids are explosively happy in confirmation class,” he said.

 “I have had parishes tell me they have gone from losing 90% of their kids after confirmation to keeping 90% of their kids after confirmation,” he added.

Evert told CNA that he has seen similar enthusiasm from teens and adults. The program has a strong communinty aspect, looking to engage adults while it forms teens. He said this is absent in many confirmation classes.

“The parents aren’t impacted by [some confirmation courses], maybe even the confirmation sponsors aren’t getting impacted either, and the teens are only seeing this as a requirement, a religious hoop that they have to jump through,” he said.

The program “is engaging both the parents and catechizing the sponsors. Because a kid picks a sponsor, it doesn’t mean that the sponsor is very well formed themselves,” Evert added.

The material is relevant and the speakers are relatable young adults, he explained. The program also uses recent saints, like Blessed Chiara Badano an Italian teenager who died in 1990, and it covers issues identifiable to teens, like dating and vocations.

Students in confirmation classes, if not formed well, are at risk of falling away from the Catholic faith, Evert said.  Countering that depends on fostering personal relationships with Christ, he said.

“If you get a kid in love with his faith, you are going to have an engaged parishioner,” he said. “It’s very hard to get a person enageed on a parish based level if they don’t have a personal relationship with God and are not on fire with that, but if you can get that fire set ablaze, then the rest tends to come naturally.”

Stefanick agreed. He said the program is meant for transformation. He said it is based on a catechetical model that begins with questions about the meaning of existence, and life after death.

“If it’s not transformative, it’s not catechesis, right?”

Catechesis “moves them more deeply through the sacramental life of the faith and it moves them more deeply into the moral life. We are taking people step by step in these truths, that are laid out, to lead people step-by-step into relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all very intentional.”

Stefanick said that in misguided attempts to be relevant, many catechetical programs water down the truth. But students need to be given the full truth and explained its relevance to their life and happiness, he said.

“The human mind was made for these truths, when we deliver them in a way that brings them back to Jesus Christ, when we deliver each lesson in a way that answers the fundamental question - what are you looking for? It ties every teaching about the moral and sacramental life of the Church back to the happiness they are made for,” he said.

“Then they start to see the faith as their path to fulfillment and their path to wholeness, that path to something more that every human wants out of life.”



Providence Bishop Tobin responds to controversy over 'Pride' tweet

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 18:12

Providence, R.I., Jun 3, 2019 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence responded Sunday to controversy that ensued from a tweet admonishing Catholics not attend or support “gay pride” festivities.

“The Catholic Church has respect and love for members of the gay community, as do I,” the bishop wrote in a statement Sunday, adding that “individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters.”

On Saturday, Tobin tweeted: “A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June,” tweeted Tobin on Saturday, the first day of the month. “They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”

Each year during June, cities around the world host LGBT “Pride” celebrations, which often include parades, parties, and concerts celebrating the gay rights movement and celebrating the LGBT lifestyle. June was chosen in momory of the Stonewall Riots in New York, which are considered a key event in the gay rights movement in the United States, and which took place from June 28-29, 1969.

Tobin’s tweet received about 25,000 “likes,” 6,500 “retweets,” and over 88,000 responses, most of them negative.

Among those who responded negatively to Tobin’s tweet were actress Mia Farrow, who accused Tobin of “pure ignorance & bigotry” and called him a “hate-filled hypocrite.” She also linked Tobin’s tweet to clerical child sexual abuse.
“Kids are far more in danger at a catholic church [sic] than at a gay pride gathering,” added Farrow.

Actor Wilson Cruz, who played the character Rickie Vasquez on the short-lived series “My So-Called Life” and the character Angel in the play “RENT,” responded with “You know what’s proven to be actually harmful to children..? The Catholic Church.”

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler (TX) defended Tobin on Twitter, republishing the original tweet and adding “Thanks for speaking up Bishop Tobin....let us be mighty loving messengers of truth and light in Jesus Christ.”

On Sunday, Strickland elaborated on his support, saying Tobin was “simply speaking for one truth of the deposit of faith.”

“God made humans male & female,” continued Strickland. “Certainly those who are confused about their identity need Christ’s love & compassion, let’s remember Christ’s love is expressed when dies on the cross for the truth.”

In a statement published to the Diocese of Providence website on Sunday, Tobin expressed regret that his tweet had “turned out to be so controversial in our community, and offensive to some, especially in the gay comunity.” He did not apologize for or retract any of the content of his original statement.

“That certainly was not my intention, but I understand why a good number of individuals have taken offense,” said Tobin, also acknowledging that he had received “widespread support” for his tweet.

While noting that he was not motivated by hatred, Tobin said that as a bishop, “my obligation before God is to lead the faithful entrusted to my care and to teach the faith, clearly and compassionately, even on very difficult and sensitive issues,” said Tobin. “That is what I have always tried to do - on a variety of issues - and I will continue doing so as contemporary issues arise.”

Tobin acknowledged that there was to be a rally in protest of his words on Sunday evening, which he said he hoped would be a “safe, positive and productive experience” for all attendees.

“As they gather I will be praying for a rebirth of mutual understanding and respect in our very diverse community,” he added.

Bishops lament Virginia Beach killings

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 17:18

Richmond, Va., Jun 3, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- After 12 people were killed Friday by a gunman in Virginia, the local bishop offered his prayers for all those affected in the tragedy.

DeWayne Craddock allegedly opened fire May 31 on employees and customers of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center Complex, whence he had quit his job that morning.

Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond said Friday that “My prayers and thoughts are with the people of Virginia Beach and the community of Hampton Roads. Tonight, I will continue to pray for those who lost their lives, those who are injured, the medical personnel and first responders who are assisting the victims, families and all affected. I would ask all the faithful to pray with me during this time.”

Eleven of those killed were Virginia Beach employees, and one was a contractor at the municipal center. Four others were injured, and Craddock died in a shootout with police.

The police are unsure of the motive for the attack. CNN reported that several former co-workers were dismayed and surprised by Craddock’s behavior.

Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen said Craddock had been “in good standing within his department and there were no issues of discipline ongoing."

Craddock’s family said they were unfamiliar with any problems he had at work and posted a note on their front door, expressing sorrow for the loss of life, according to CNN.

"We are grieving the loss of our loved one. At this time we wish to focus on the victims and the lives (lost) during yesterday's tragic event," the Craddocks wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who (lost) their lives, and those recovering in the hospital,” the note read.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, offered his condolences to the victims in a June 1 statement. He said this incident points to an underlying problem in society, “when ordinary workplaces can become scenes of violence and contempt for human life.”

“As Americans we must deeply examine why these horrific occurrences of gun violence continue to take place in our communities, in order to root out the causes of such evils. Action is needed to attempt to reduce the frequency of these abhorrent acts through legislation and training. I call on Catholics around the country to pray for the dead and injured, as well as for healing in the community,” he said.

“May Jesus, whose victory over death we celebrate during this Easter Season, bring consolation and healing at this time of great sorrow.”

Bishop Knestout issued another statement June 2 expressing hope that the community will find comfort in prayer and saying t is God who provides strength.

“ I hope in some small way this prayer and support brings comfort to you and to the Virginia Beach community. This is your home and I know words fall short in easing the pain of this time, but offer them to you in the hope that in being united with you in thought and prayer, we might also help you carry the burden of this loss,” he said.

“It is in this time of loss that we turn to our Heavenly Father in prayer. To ease our grief – it is God who provides the strength and peace to sustain us in times of loss and distress.”

Illinois Senate approves bill declaring abortion a 'fundamental right'

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 16:56

Springfield, Ill., Jun 3, 2019 / 02:56 pm (CNA).- The Illinois Senate has approved an expansive abortion bill that would declare abortion to be a “fundamental right” in the state and would remove regulations on abortion clinics and doctors.

Shortly before midnight on the final day of the legislative session, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 34-20. It had passed the House last week in a 64-50 vote.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has indicated that he will sign it.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said the vote “marks a sad moment in our history as a State.”

In a June 1 statement, the cardinal pledged that the local Church will continue serving women in need and show them that support and help are available, and that they should never feel that abortion is their only choice.

Illinois’ Reproductive Health Act – which the state’s bishops said is misleadingly named – would declare abortion to be a “fundamental right.” It would remove several parts of the state’s current abortion laws, several of which are not currently being enforced due to court injunctions.

Among the provisions that the bill would remove are regulations for abortion clinics, required waiting periods and parental notification to obtain an abortion, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, it would lift criminal penalties for performing abortions, remove conscience protections for health care personnel who object to abortion, and prevent any further state regulation of abortion.

The legislation would allow non-doctors to perform abortions, require all private health insurance plans to cover elective abortions, and eliminate reporting requirements as well as regulations requiring the investigation of maternal deaths due to abortion.

Critics of the Illinois proposal have argued that it is among the most extreme pieces of abortion-related legislation in the country.

In a May 26 statement, the six bishops of Illinois had denounced the rush to push the legislation through at the end of the session, without releasing the final text of the bill or vetting it through public hearings.

The bishops had asked the lawmakers to set aside the proposal until the next legislative session.

“The fundamental premise of the bill is flawed, and no amendment or tweak to the language will change the fact that it is designed to rob the vulnerable life in the womb of any trace of human dignity and value,” they said.

The Illinois Catholic Conference has also spoken out strongly against the bill. When the legislation passed the state House last month, the Catholic Conference called its passage “a grave tragedy and a collective moral failing,” contrasting it with other life-affirming efforts in the state, such as the elimination of the death penalty and welcome extended to immigrants and refugees.

“It sends a message to everyone in our state that life is cheap,” the conference said.

In his statement, Cardinal Cupich said the Church’s long history of serving women in need has shown how bright the future can be for women and their children when they receive the support of a welcoming community.

“Catholic Charities and its partners serve hundreds of young women and developing families every year,” he said. “They nurture the mother and therefore the baby by providing classes in health and child development. They encourage the new families toward independence by providing childcare and making referrals for education, housing and employment.”

Cupich said the archdiocese and its ministries will work to let women know that they have alternatives to abortion when they are facing difficult pregnancies.

“Women have a real choice when they are given the support they need to bring their children into the world and parent them, supported by a society that truly values them,” he said. “We will give that support to all who seek it in the hope that by offering them a choice, we will build stronger families and a better Illinois.”

Catholic Social Services launch new appeal to Supreme Court

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Jun 3, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Lawyers representing Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia are appealing to the Supreme Court after the agency was stripped of its contract to provide foster care services for the city for refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

Although the Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is providing counsel in the case, said that this year is a different story.

“Last year, we made a very unusual emergency request asking the Supreme Court to get involved before the case even been heard in the appeals court,” Windham explained to CNA June 3.

In April, the Third Circut Court of Appeals ruled that city contractors in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples.

Although the Supreme Court declined the case earlier this year, three members--Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas--dissented from the decision.

Windham said that the minority interest was “encouraging” at the time, and that following the appeals court ruling the case was ready for the higher court’s attention.

“Now is the time for the Supreme Court appeal,” said Windham.

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ approximately 30 contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS), that had been working with foster children since its founding. CSS served approximately 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and been in operation in the city for more than a century.

At the time the contract was ended, no same-sex couple had ever approached Catholic Social Services seeking a home study or placement, and there are 30 other foster care agencies located in the city which work regularly with same-sex couples.

If a same-sex couple, or an unmarried couple living together, were to have approached Catholic Social Services seeking a home study for foster care, Catholic Social Services would have worked to refer them to another foster care agency, Windham explained.

“[Catholic Social Services] simply cannot provide a written certification for a marriage relationship that is contrary to their beliefs," she said.

Immediately before ending its relationship with Catholic Social Services, Philadelphia officials put out an “urgent call” for 300 new foster families, in part due to the ongoing opioid crisis. Due to its decision to stop working with Catholic Social Services, many eligible, safe foster homes are now empty.

Windham claimed the city was inventing policies specifically to target Catholic Social Services.

“The city is still trying to use city laws and policies--they can't quite tell us which policy, they keep making them up as they go along--the city is making up new policies to try and shut down Catholic Social Services and stop them from caring for foster children as they have done for a century,” she said.

“The city of Philadelphia has engaged in some really disturbing targeting of Catholic beliefs,” said Windham.

“The head of the city agency in charge of foster children told Catholic [Social Services] that it’s not 100 years ago, and that they need to obey the teachings of Pope Francis,” she said.

Pope Francis has said that same-sex marriage “threatens the family” and “disfigures God’s plan for creation.” The pope has also told parents to love their gay children.

Additionally, Philadelphia’s city council “passed a resolution calling this ‘discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,”” said Windham.

“So I think this city has sent a really troubling message to Catholics.”

Windham noted to CNA that the Trump administration had made a series of recent decisions aimed at protecting religious liberty, and highlighted the president’s announcement last month that he would reverse a policy that denied federal funding to adoption organizations that will not work with same-sex couples.

“Unfortunately, the city of Philadelphia did not get the message,” said Windham.

Despite concerns about Missouri abortion clinic, judge keeps it open for now

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 17:01

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 1, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A judge’s temporary restraining order has prevented the closure of the last abortion clinic in Missouri for now, but the state’s governor said officials’ serious concerns about the clinic will be addressed.

Gov. Mike Parson said the restraining order means Missouri “will soon have the opportunity for a prompt legal review of our state health regulators’ serious health and safety concerns regarding Planned Parenthood’s abortion facility in St. Louis.”

“We are committed to and take seriously our duty to ensure that all health facilities in Missouri follow the law, abide by regulations, and protect the safety of patients,” he said May 31.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region had objected that the state health department was refusing to renew its annual license to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood officials have said they have complied as much as possible, accusing the state of enforcing regulations arbitrarily for political reasons, National Public Radio reports.

Lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order Friday from Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis. The order allows the clinic to continue operating past midnight when its license was set to expire.

Stelzer ruled that the clinic faces “immediate and irreparable injury” if its license lapsed. He will hold a hearing about the case on Tuesday, the New York Times reports.

Planned Parenthood contends there is no valid reason for state rules mandating two pelvic exams before the administration of drugs that induce abortions. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Planned Parenthood clinic’s renewal application was received by state authorities May 16, the day of the deadline.

Some pro-life advocates strongly criticized the judicial decision delaying any clinic closure.

“This particular facility’s track record shows an appalling pattern of botched abortions and other violations that prove they are incapable of policing themselves,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said May 31. “Planned Parenthood does not deserve special treatment and the health and safety of women should never come second to the abortion industry’s bottom line.”

“The Missouri health department has been tasked with safeguarding the health and safety of Missouri women and children. The only people who face ‘immediate and irreparable injury,’ so long as the St. Louis Planned Parenthood remains open, are unborn children and their mothers,” she added.

While the clinic is the last abortion provider in Missouri, there is a private surgical abortion clinic near St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Ill. A Planned Parenthood clinic 20 miles away in Belleville, Ill. offers medication-induced abortion, the New York Times reports.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a senior doctor at the Planned Parenthood clinic, welcomed the injunction. “This is a huge sigh of relief for the many patients who need access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri. The fight goes on,” she told the New York Times.

Parson had said the clinic needs to address the concerns as part of a state audit that must be finished before the clinic’s license is renewed.

Dannenfelser praised Parson and the state health department for making efforts “to hold abortion businesses accountable for harming women.”

The year 2019 has witnessed significant controversy at the state level over abortion regulations. Changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court have prompted speculation that the court could dramatically alter or overturn Roe v. Wade and other major precedents mandating legal abortion nationwide.

A proposed Virginia law drew intense criticism after one of its sponsors told a legislative committee the legislation would allow abortion up through birth. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam then made comments about making a post-birth decision about the fate of a severely disabled newborn. Many perceived the comments to be an endorsement of infanticide.

New York and some other states are passing expansive pro-abortion rights laws that would preserve legal abortion at the state level regardless of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. While late-term abortion has traditionally drawn wide opposition, some of the new laws appear to strengthen legal protections for late-term abortion.

While some major media outlets provided little critical coverage of expansive pro-abortion rights laws, news coverage has focused on early-term abortion bans, especially that of Alabama.

Missouri has also passed an early-term abortion ban.

Professor: Catholic teaching invites us to radically reconsider the economy

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 18:11

Philadelphia, Pa., May 31, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- Among the greatest gifts the Church has to offer the secular world is a profound understanding of happiness, which does not rely on wealth, said a Villanova University economist in a recent speech.

“We cannot think well about economic life, or the challenges to economic justice and the environment that we confront, if we do not first think hard about the shape of human happiness and the proper role of wealth,” said Mary Hirschfeld.

She said that the Church’s teaching is an invitation to radically reconsider how we view the economy and the purpose of wealth, but that teaching is often misunderstood by society.

“The Church’s vision of the relationship between wealth and happiness, and what that means for creation and the economy is not easily understood by those who were formed with the secular understanding of the world.”

The economics and theology professor received the 4th International “Economy and Society” Award in the category of “Social Doctrine Publications” at a ceremony on May 29. The award is granted by the Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice Foundation. It was presented by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising.

The award was given in recognition of Hirschfeld’s recent book, “Aquinas and the Market. Toward a humane Economy” (Harvard University Press, 2018).

In her speech at the award ceremony, Hirschfeld said that although she had a Ph.D. in economics, her entire view of social and economic development was transformed after she converted to the Catholic faith as an adult.

After years of being successful by worldly standards, she found something missing in her life. It wasn’t until she found the Catholic Church that she discovered the “banquet” that would satisfy her hungry soul.

In encountering and embracing the Catholic faith, Hirschfeld said, she found that true happiness lies in an infinite good that could not be found in an accumulation of finite goods.

“No amount of money or prestige was going to alleviate that hunger,” she said. “Instead, I found that my true hunger was for God.”

But the Church also gave her a new lens to see the finite things of the world around her – the goodness of the people in her life, the gift of community, and the importance of virtue.

When Hirschfeld returned to school to study theology, she found herself struggling to reconcile her background in economics with her newfound Catholic faith. Upon reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on private property, she found what seemed at first to be a contradiction.

On one hand, Aquinas seemed to say that “private property is fitting because it channels our propensity to work for ourselves in socially useful ways,” Hirschfeld said. This aligned perfectly with what she believed as an economist.

“But then [Aquinas] said we are also to hold private property as if it is in common, that is ready to share with others the fruits of our labors. That read to me, as an economist, as a pure contradiction. On the one hand, private property is good because it gives us an incentive to work hard. On the other hand, we are supposed to turn around and give it all away. What sort of incentive is that?”

Ultimately, she realized that the two different understandings of incentives and private property are due to radically different understandings of human happiness. Economists, she said, see happiness as acquiring wealth and goods, while Aquinas sees happiness as “something that is found in the higher goods of God, family, community, and virtue.”

“The crucial difference lies in how we understand the role of material wealth in a good human life,” she emphasized. “For Aquinas, the ‘incentive’ is that we want to provide ourselves with what is reasonably necessary. But once our needs are secured, we would naturally wish to look to help others. Anything above what is necessary to us is, for Aquinas, superfluous.”

For economists, however, Hirschfeld said, the incentive to work hard is the desire to accumulate more wealth and possessions. “However much we have, we think a bit more would be helpful and so we work hard.”

“But that same logic means we would not experience our wealth as abundance, and so we would find it hard to give to others,” she said.

This distinction is important to recognize, the economist said, because when we discuss the economy with people who have fundamentally different assumptions about wealth and human happiness, misunderstandings are likely to arise.

Hirschfeld suggested that much of the Church’s rich body of social thought has not had the impact on the world that it could have, in large part because people do not fully understand it.

Her new book aims to help bridge the gap between the Church and the secular world, laying out a Catholic understanding of wealth and happiness in order to foster a dialogue that has significant implications in thinking about the economy.

“Perhaps this is the gift of the convert,” she said, “to see what cradle Catholics may take for granted, and to build a bridge to bring the gifts of the Church to a world that desperately needs them.”

Prostitution is an 'inherently violent' practice, say critics of decriminalization

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 16:49

New York City, N.Y., May 31, 2019 / 02:49 pm (CNA).- Marijuana, mushrooms, and now prostitution: decriminalization as a legal tactic for handling previously (or currently) illicit activities is a growing trend, and lawmakers in multiple states are now considering bills that could decriminalize the buying and selling of sex, to varying degrees.

The push to decriminalize prostitution is happening primarily in Democrat-led state legislatures, including in New York, Maine, Massechusets, Washington, D.C., and in Rhode Island, which is considering a proposal that would study the impact of decriminalizing prostitution, according to the New York Times.

“This is about the oldest profession, and understanding that we haven’t been able to deter or end it, in millennia,” Senator Jessica Ramos, a Democrat from Queens, told the New York Times. “So I think it’s time to confront reality.”

New York Democrats plan to introduce a proposal that would decriminalize prostitution both for the men, women and children who are prostituted, and for those who buy their services. Other efforts focus on criminally prosecuting pimps and buyers of prostitutes, but offer social services to the prostitutes themselves, rather than criminal charges, which is sometimes called the Nordic Model or the End Demand Model.

Currently, prostitution is only legal in the United States in 10 Nevada counties. A bill pushing to make prostitution illegal throughout the whole state of Nevada died in committee in April.

Critics of total decriminalization say that it would only further facilitate and legitimize criminal activity like sex trafficking and child prostitution.

Ane Mathieson is a program specialist at Sanctuary for Families, a Manhattan-based organization that serves victims of domestic violence and is part of an anti-decriminalization coalition.

“Prostitution is inherently violent,” Mathieson told the New York Times. “Sex buying promotes sex trafficking, promotes pimping and organized crime, and sexual exploitation of children.”

Laura Ramirez, a representative with international feminist group AF3IRM, said at a protest against decriminalization in New York that she was “absolutely appalled at the fact that this is being sold as something that’s progressive.”

“This proposed legislation is the most classist, racist and absolutely obtuse legislation that we have ever seen,” Ramirez said, according to the New York Times. “Women and girls of this state deserve better.”

Decriminalization proponents point to countries in Europe, like Germany and the Netherlands, where prostitution has been decriminalized for years. However, critics of decriminalization say that this ignores the problems that these countries have had as a result of the decriminalization of prostitution.

Tina Frundt, a survivor of child sex trafficking and founder of Courtney's House, which helps victims of domestic sex trafficking and commercial sex exploitation, told CNA in 2015 that the decriminalization of prostitution would be a “terrible idea.”

“This has been tried and failed - in the Netherlands, in Germany - they've closed down over 30 brothels because we are talking about a criminal industry that we are trying to legalize,” Frundt said at the time. She said that women and underage girls from other countries were trafficked to places with legalized markets and given fake IDs, so that they could work in a legitimized market.

“Criminals think like criminals. It's a die-hard criminal business making millions,” she added.

Frundt spoke with CNA in 2015 after global human rights organization Amnesty International announced that it supported the worldwide decriminalization of prostitution.

Candace Wheeler, a therapist with Restoration Ministries who works with victims of sex trafficking, also spoke with CNA in 2015.

Wheeler said she was skeptical of decriminalization efforts, based on what she’s seen in other countries.

“What they have found (in Amsterdam) is that tolerance is not protecting women who are in prostitution there, because it's mostly women who are trafficked from other countries, and they are realizing that their tolerance is a huge problem,” Wheeler said.

“If it's decriminalized, then that just opens up the door for that kind of business. We could have established brothels and red light districts, and then crime comes with that, and drugs – and I am the person that gets to see them afterwards and try and heal them.”

'Difficult' to work in Georgia after heartbeat bill, says Disney CEO

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 12:00

Atlanta, Ga., May 31, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Following the passage of the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act in Georgia earlier this month, major film and television companies have said they may consider relocation if the law comes into force.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) singed the measure into law on May 8, despite the open protests of actors and actresses who threatened to organize a boycott the state.

Production companies WarnerMedia, Disney, and Netflix have said they could consider moving production out of the state because of the heartbeat law.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has said the law would make it “difficult” for the company to continue to do business in Georgia.

“Many people who work for us will not want to work there" should the law go into effect,” Iger told Reuters. "We will have to heed their wishes."

Warner and Netflix have both said May 29 that they would “reconsider” their presence in the state if the law comes in to force.

The LIFE Act bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually between six to eight weeks of pregnancy. The law is due to come into force on January 1, 2020, but pro-abortion groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have vowed to mount challenges in the courts.

Kemp responded at the bill’s signing by saying “our job is to do what is right, not what is easy,” calling the law “a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, that all life is worthy of protection.”

“We stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves. The LIFE Act is very simple, but also very powerful,” Kemp said.

Pressure from the entertainment industry has been led by the actress Alyssa Milano, star of the 2010 limited-release feature My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. Milano authored an open letter to Kemp, together with 50 other entertainers, threatening to pull business from the state if he signed the law.

Owing to generous state tax incentives, more film and television production is currently carried out in Georgia than California.

Milano is currently in Atlanta filming a television series titled Insatiable but has clarified she may not return for subsequent series.

So far, only the three companies--Blown Deadline, Killer Films, and Duplass Brothers Production-- have said that they will not film in Georgia until the heartbeat law is overturned. None have previously worked in the state.

The entertainment industry previously threatened to boycott Georgia should Kemp be elected governor. This boycott did not materialize.

‘Much progress still needed’ DiNardo says as bishops release child protection report

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 10:30

Washington D.C., May 31, 2019 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference has released its annual report on the protection of children. The report records an increase in the number of new allegations of clerical sexual abuse being brought forward following the launch of independent compensation programs in some states.

The annual report on Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was released May 31 by the USCCB’s Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

Writing in his preface to the report, USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said he offered his “sincere gratitude” for the courage of victims of abuse.

“Because of their bravery in coming forward, victim and survivor assistance and child protection are now core elements of the Church.”

The report covers a year-long period ending June 30, 2018 and is the sixteenth report since the implementation of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms in 2002.

According to the report, in new complaints lodged during the report’s annual window, 92% of offenders identified were already either dead, laicized, removed from ministry, or missing. The majority of allegations concerned the period between 1960-1990, with a concentration in the 1970s.

In total, 1,385 adults reported 1,455 new allegations between July 31, 2017 and June 30, 2018. The numbers represent a marked rise over the previous reporting period.

The report attributed the escalation to the state-wide adoption of Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs by the dioceses of New York. The vast majority of all new cases reported concerned historical instances of abuse.

Twenty-six new allegations involving current minors were presented during the report’s window, three of which were substantiated and resulted in a priest being removed from active ministry. Seven allegations were listed as “unsubstantiated” by the time the report’s window closed, with three more classed as “unable to be proven.”

Six cases were the subject of ongoing diocesan investigation, two more were referred to religious orders. Two cases concerned “unknown clerics,” and three claims were determined not to constitute sexual abuse.

DiNardo said that the end of the last reporting period marked a “turning point” in the Church’s battle to eradicate abuse.

“During the summer of 2018, the scandal of former Cardinal-Archbishop McCarrick came to light. After that came the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, highlighting the extent of the sexual abuse crisis within the state, as well as uncovering situations that did not always put the survivor first,” DiNardo wrote.

The surveyed dioceses reported that, by June 2018, outreach and support had been offered to nearly 500 victims and survivors of abuse and their families in addition to the more than 1,500 already receiving support from the Church.

The report highlighted the ongoing efforts of Church authorities to prevent future instances of abuse, recording 2.6 million background checks have been carried out on clerics, Church employees and volunteers. Six and a half million people have now been trained by the Church in the United States to identify the warning signs of possible abuse.

While acknowledging the progress made in addressing past cases, DiNardo noted that “much progress is still needed at this time,” and that the U.S. bishops would continue to address new measures for greater accountability and transparency.

“When it comes to the protection of young people, the question must always be ‘what more can be done?’” DiNardo said.

Chase settlement will pay fathers for ungranted paternity leave

Fri, 05/31/2019 - 02:00

New York City, N.Y., May 31, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A class action lawsuit against JP Morgan Chase was settled this week, after a lawsuit from fathers denied parental leave.

As of Thursday, Chase Bank has agreed to pay $5 million to hundreds of fathers who were denied primary caregiver leave at the company within the last seven years, NPR reported.

When his son was born two years ago, Derek Rotond, who investigated financial crimes for Chase, applied for 16 weeks of paid parental leave, the amount granted by the company to primary caregivers.
He was denied, and says he was told that "men, as biological fathers, were presumptively not the primary caregiver,” according to NPR.

Rotondo filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Chase responded quickly, saying that the company would grant Rotondo, the extra leave he wanted.

According to NPR, the bank has updated its policy to reflect a more gender neutral language, but Rotondo’s case led to a class-action lawsuit from other men who said they had denied the leave granted to primary caregivers.

"We thank Mr. Rotondo for bringing the matter to our attention," said Reid Broda, associate general counsel for Chase.

Peter Romer-Friedman, Rotondo’s attorney, said "the Supreme Court has made very clear that parental leave for caregiving has to be given on the exact same equal terms,” NPR reported.
According to a 2017 report from the Pew Research Center, more than 80 percent of adults in the United States support paid maternity leave and just under 70 percent believed in paid paternity leave.

To support a healthy family life for Church employees, the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2016 increased its parental leave to 12 weeks. The policy covers mothers and fathers who work at least 26 hours a week.

The policy brought the archdiocese to the forefront of family-friendly policies across the nation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 14% of U.S. workers had any amount of paid parental leave through their employers in 2016.

Father Peter Wojcik, co-director of parish life and formation for the archdiocese, said in 2016 that paid leave emphasizes the Church’s dedication to family life.

“I think it’s a practical way of saying yes, the families are at the center of the church, the church is built on the families and families need time to be with each other and accompany each other,” he said.