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Updated: 1 hour 25 min ago

Holy habits: what school sisters bring to the classroom

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Lincoln, Nebraska, you can tell the seasons by the habits of the School Sisters of Christ the King.

It’s not really summer until you spot a “CK Sister”, as they are affectionately known, walking around in her lighter blue summer habit.

But when a CK sister is donning her dark blue habit, that means the months are turning colder. And when the dark blue habits come out, you can find almost every CK sister in a classroom, teaching in one of the 27 Catholic elementary schools in the diocese.

Religious school sisters are a fairly common sight in the Diocese of Lincoln, which has two diocesan orders of women religious - the Christ the King Sisters as well as the grey-habited Marian sisters, many of whom can also be found teaching in the local Catholic schools.

In much of the rest of the country, however, religious sisters are something of a rare novelty - though they used to be a much more common sight in the United States.

In 1965, there were nearly 180,000 women religious in the United States, many of them school teachers, according to data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate out of Georgetown University.

By 2014, there were less than 50,000 religious sisters, the numbers having steadily declined over the past half-century in the post-Vatican II upheaval that was felt in many parts of the Church around the world.

It was in the midst of this upheaval and decline that Bishop Glennon Patrick Flavin, then of Lincoln, decided to found the Christ the King Sisters as a religious order dedicated specifically to teaching children.

“He noticed that there were a good number of sisters in our schools in the 50’s and 60’s, but by the 70’s the sisters were starting to pull out of our classrooms,” Sr. Mary Cecilia, a Christ the King Sister, told CNA.

Bishop Flavin had difficulty finding already-established religious orders that were able to come to the Diocese of Lincoln, and eventually felt called to found a diocesan order dedicated specifically to teaching, Sr. Mary Cecilia said.

“He knew that our seminaries were growing and increasing in number, and he thought if the Lord was calling this many young men to serve as priests then he was probably calling young women to serve as sisters also,” she said.

Sr. Mary Cecilia, who now serves as principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Lincoln, said that Bishop Flavin founded the order with the idea that a good religious education would strengthen the faith of much of the laity in the diocese.

“He wanted to extend Christ’s reign in whatever place possible...and he realized what was so important to make that happen was Catholic education. Because if we can reach the young people in the diocese, we not only reach the young people but we also reach their parents and families,” she said.

“He realized that one of the best ways to really nurture their faith in the lives of these children is through the consecrated life, through having sisters present in the schools, the value of the witness of a religious - their life totally dedicated to God, their gift of self-sacrifice, being a spiritual mother to every single student in the school,” she added.

For herself, Sr. Mary Cecilia said she knew from a young age she wanted to teach.

“I have a brother who’s a priest - he often talks about how I used to play school so everything he knows about teaching came from me when he was little,” she joked.

In college in the early 1990s, she studied high school math education and dreamed of teaching calculus and algebra to older students. But that’s also when she met the Christ the King Sisters, who only teach at the elementary level.

“I realized oh they’re joyful, they’re young, vibrant, I like that,” Sr. Mary Cecilia said.

Even though she was drawn to religious life as a CK Sister, she was still hesitant about teaching at the younger level - “that was something that I had to take to the Lord,” she said.

Ultimately, though, the spirit of the CK Sisters, their depth of prayer, their warmth, and their dedication to education were what drew Sr. Mary Cecilia to them.

“We are extending the kingdom of God in Catholic schools, and Catholic schools are so important to me primarily because of my own education in Catholic schools,” she said.

Sr. Mary Agnes belongs to another religious order, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Wichita, Kansas, that is also primarily dedicated to the education and formation of young people.

A veteran teacher of 10 years, Sr. Mary Agnes said she believes that religious sisters bring something unique to the classroom that other teachers cannot, even though at a basic level, they perform the same functions.

“Our vocation is to be a more radical, vivid sign of the presence of Christ in the world, and then hopefully through that witness draw people to an encounter with Christ,” she told CNA.

“We do really similar things that other people do who are not sisters,” she said. “So (the value of) religious life is not about doing, it’s about witness and the being of the person. Our vocation is to be a more radical, vivid sign of the presence of Christ in the world, and then hopefully through that witness draw people to an encounter with Christ.”

Perhaps some of the most well-recognized teaching sisters in the Catholic Church in the U.S. today are the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia based in Nashville, Tennessee and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Both orders, primarily dedicated to education, have sisters teaching on Catholic campuses throughout the country.

“We belong to the Dominican Order and our charism is preaching and teaching.
Women religious have been an integral part of the history of Catholic education in the United States,” Sr. John Dominic with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist told CNA.

“As Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, we seek to continue the tradition of educating generations of young people in their faith and most of all, to bring youth into a deeper relationship with Christ,” she said.

Despite the general decline in religious life that has been happening over the past few decades, both Dominican orders have seen a boom in young vocations in recent years. The Dominican Sisters of Mary recently opened a new priory in Texas in order to accommodate all of the young women discerning religious life in their order.

When asked what is drawing so many young women to their order, Sr. John Dominic responded: “The young people are responding to God’s invitation to ‘come and follow Him’.”

Sr. John Dominic said the depth of the prayer life of the sisters and the close relationship with the Lord that their way of life allows lets them bring the fruits of their spiritual life to their students.

“Pope Saint John Paul II once described women religious as being a ‘sign of tenderness’ in the world. From my experience in working with Sisters in schools, this is precisely what many of them bring - tenderness and an intuitive heart,” she said.

Sr. Mary Agnes said she is always humbled when parents and students recognize the unique gifts and witness that religious sisters bring to the classroom.

“...that to me is the most striking, when the students come back after they graduate and they’re so excited to express: ‘Thank you what you’ve done for me.’ Many times they don’t recognize it at the time but then they do say thank you I’m glad that you taught me, I’m glad you were there for me, and it’s so humbling,” she said.

Sr. Mary Cecilia said that she would encourage young women considering religious life not to be afraid, and to encounter sisters up-close before believing some of the misconceptions about religious sisters that exist.  

“When I was younger I thought that all sisters instantly became like 70 once they put that habit on, and that’s not true!” she said. “None of our sisters are 70 yet.”

On a more serious note, she added, “I think one of the misconceptions out there is that you have to give up everything that you hold dear, that you have dreams of, in order to do this. And in reality you do but it's not the giving up that you focus on,” she said.

“It’s what takes its place - your relationship with the Lord, and being able to be filled with an intense and immense love for him, and therefore an immense love for the people you’re asked to serve.”



Caviezel to play St. Luke in upcoming St. Paul biopic

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 1, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It has been more that a decade since Jim Caviezel played Jesus in the “Passion of the Christ.” This spring, he’ll play St. Luke in another major religious film, “Paul, the Apostle of Christ,” opening in theaters on March 28.

Unlike the “Passion,” Caviezel will not be the main actor in the film: James Faulkner, star of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” will portray Paul.

“James Faulkner is to Paul as Christopher Reeve is to Superman. … This guy was born to play Paul. When he was walking around, it was in his behavior. You couldn’t find someone else who organically nails it like this,” Caviezel recently told USA Today.

The movie follows St. Paul in the last days of his life, facing Roman imprisonment for preaching Christianity while waiting execution under Emperor Nero. Luke, a physician, is able to visit his fellow Christian in jail.

Caviezel said the movie’s theme centers on forgiveness and merciful love, a message relevant today, and he recalled a powerful scene in which Paul restrains Luke from calling for justice on the Roman oppressors.

“Forgiveness starts with not just love, but ardent love,” Caviezel told USA Today. “It’s really easy to love people who think like you think; it’s very hard to treat someone with a polar opposite view with the same dignity and respect you would treat a friend. That’s this movie’s core message.”
Since Caviezel played the role of Christ, he has received offers for parts in other religious movies, but is picky about the movies that change scriptural stories.

“It’s like, ‘We want to change this, pull that out,’” said Caviezel. “I’m like, ‘This book has been around a lot longer than any of us in Hollywood.’”

“‘I have the faith to believe it’s still good for us now.’ That’s one of the greatest things about [“Paul.”] You don't realize it, but it's actually scriptural.”

While the release of “Paul” is still a month away, Caviezel is also excited about another movie, the sequel to “The Passion,” again directed by Mel Gibson.

Caviezel has not disclosed the sequel’s tentative schedule for the filming date, but has hinted at some surprises in the retelling of Christ’s resurrection.

“There are things that I cannot say that will shock the audience,” he said. “But I’ll tell you this much: The film [Mel Gibson’s] going to do is going to be the biggest film in history. It’s that good.”

Mel Gibson has talked about the movie in the past. He has said it has taken time to develop a script that sheds a new light on Christ’s resurrection without making it “weird.”

“The resurrection. Big subject. Oh, my God," Gibson told USA Today. "We’re trying to craft this in a way that’s cinematically compelling and enlightening so that it shines new light, if possible, without creating some weird thing.”

This Catholic school’s official holiday is Groundhog Day?

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 19:00

Irving, Texas, Feb 1, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students at the University of Dallas have an unusual favorite holiday. Groundhog Day.

“The holiday is more than just a large party,” said Larisa Thelan, Alumni Relations Officer. “It’s a celebration of student and alumni camaraderie, [a chance] to take a break and enjoy life.”

“The students make a point to celebrate this Catholic camaraderie, where you are enjoying your life … taking a break from your responsibilities for a day, and relishing that you are all in a Catholic community,” she told CNA.

As the story goes, some students in the 1950s approached the university’s president looking for a fun activity to entertain themselves during the bleak season of winter. The president was busy, and, half-jokingly, suggested Groundhog Day.

The students made Groundhog Day their official school holiday 55 years ago. Today, it is celebrated with a champagne breakfast, a five-kilometer run, and a bonfire barbecue, with hayrides and live music. Thelan said 2,500 people are expected to attend this year’s Groundhog Party on Saturday night.

Students wake up on Groundhog Day with a “feeling like Christmas,” Thelan said, and start the morning with mimosas. Classes are cancelled, and a festival spanning several days begins.
The ticket to access the festivities is the university’s official Groundhog Day sweater, which has become a platform for memorable quotes, often mixing theology, philosophy and revelry.

This year’s quote is in Latin:

“Qui bibit dormit; qui dormit, non peccat; qui non peccat, sanctus est; ergo: qui bibit, sanctus est.” (He who drinks sleeps; he who sleeps does not sin; he who does not sin is holy; therefore he who drinks is holy.)

Thelan said alumni travel from across the country to partake in the festivities, and some graduates host parties in other cities, among them Madrid, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

“Alumni are coming back to the campus party for Groundhog Day not just because they love a good time, but because the University of Dallas holds the best memories of how they became men and women,” she added.

The Groundhog Day reunion is cherished and sentimental, she said, but it is also an opportunity for students to receive advice from alumni.

The alumni are able to “get to know students, relive, and give [students] advice on how they are doing in life, what it means to be a UD student, and what it means to appreciate the classes,” she said.



Report: Vandals on Catholic campus target pro-life community

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 18:47

Louisville, Ky., Feb 1, 2018 / 04:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Recent vandalism on the Catholic campus of Bellarmine University reportedly targeted the school’s pro-life community, destroying a “Cemetery of Innocents” display with pro-abortion messages.

The pro-life display, organized by the university’s Catholic Students Association, was vandalized on Monday night, according to reports. Crosses from the display were stolen, and messages such as “Support Planned Parenthood” and “Abortion is legal and an unalienable right in all 50 states” were written on the signs. The vandals have yet to be identified.

Bellarmine University is a private, Catholic college located in Louisville, Kentucky with a total enrollment of around 3,800 students.

According to Students for Life of America, vandalism targeting pro-life groups on school campuses across the country is on the rise. A number of different states have reported similar attacks against pro-life displays on school campuses, including high schools, in recent years.

“The attack is another example of the hostility on college campuses to free-speech, especially those of pro-lifers,” stated Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, in a press release.

“The students who vandalized the displays should be ashamed of themselves and the university should take swift action against them.”

For excommunicated group, Bishop Conley discusses path to unity

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 18:38

Lincoln, Neb., Feb 1, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA).- Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb. is in talks with local members of the dissenting Catholic group Call to Action to lift a two-decade-old excommunication if they sincerely profess the Catholic faith.

“Bishop Conley is not trying to be soft on dissent with in the Church,” clarified Father Nicholas Kipper, a spokesperson for the Lincoln diocese.

He noted that the bishop “has serious reservations against positions held by Call to Action nationally that would be in contradiction to the teachings of the Church.” However, some members may disagree with the national group on these issues, and may be in adherence with Church teaching.

“What [some of the members] wanted to do was to be in union once again with the Catholic Church,”  Fr. Kipper told CNA. “Bishop Conley, of course, wants this as well. His goal as a bishop is to bring people to the Church, thus bringing them to union with Christ.”

Call to Action took inspiration from a 1976 conference that was an initiative of the U.S. bishops. The group was eventually taken over by leaders with more extreme views who fought against Church doctrine. The national organization has backed dissenting theologians and often rejects Church teaching on women’s ordination and sexual morality, among other topics.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Conley’s immediate predecessor, placed an interdict on members of the national Call to Action group and the local Nebraska chapter in an April 15, 1996 announcement. Excommunication took effect for those who persisted in membership one month later.

Several other groups fell under the excommunication: members of the pro-abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and Catholics for Choice; Masonic groups and their affiliates; the pro-euthanasia group the Hemlock Society, now known as Compassion & Choices; members of the Society of St. Pius X and its local affiliate, Saint Michael the Archangel Chapel.

“Membership in these organizations or groups is always perilous to the Catholic Faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic Faith,” Bishop Bruskewitz’s message said.

Call to Action members appealed the Lincoln diocese excommunications, but the diocese was upheld in 2006 with a ruling from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation for Bishops.

For several years, the Lincoln diocese has been in discussions with some local members of Call to Action about the possibility to returning to full union with the Church. To Fr. Kipper’s knowledge, Call to Action is the only group among those affected by the 1996 excommunication that has come forward.

Fr. Kippur stressed the importance of Catholic teaching.

“As the Church has taught, forever, and reminded in the Second Vatican Council that in matters of faith and morals the bishops speak on behalf of Christ, and the faithful are to accept and adhere to that teaching,” he said. “That remains the case.”

At the same time, the bishop wants to discuss the possibility of rescinding the excommunication “for members who are maybe not prepared to leave Call to Action, but do sincerely hold the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Fr. Kippur said. “That would mean professing the faith in the form of the Nicene Creed and professing all that the Church teaches and believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

He said that Bishop Conley and the diocese will have dialogue with any member of Call to Action Nebraska who would want to be in full union with the Church, not just the five members mentioned in press reports.

“This is a delicate and sensitive matter that we hope will unfold organically,” Fr. Kipper said.

J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest. He was not involved in the assigning, reporting, editing or oversight of this story.


Cristo Rey Network puts low-income students to work--and on to college

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As urban Catholic schools nationwide are closing their doors, it may come as a surprise that the Catholic Cristo Rey Network says it is on-pace to expand to a total of 50 schools within the next decade. The network says that it can provide Catholic education in low-income areas for a fraction of the cost of other high schools.

What’s the secret? Through a unique arrangement called the Corporate Work Study Program, Cristo Rey students are placed in entry-level corporate positions for five days a month. Instead of being paid for their work, students earn their tuition.

The Corporate Work Study Program began in the mid-1990s, when Chicago Jesuits were seeking to better serve the city’s Latino community. After surveying residents, they discovered that they most desired a college-prep high school in their neighborhood. When issues of funding came up, the Jesuits assigned to create this new school reached out to a “very creative, original thinker” for ideas.

“They asked [the consultant] for some ideas about how to sustain a private school for students and families who could not afford to pay for it. He came back with the suggestion that every student have a job,” Fr. John P. Foley, S.J., founder of the Cristo Rey Network, told CNA.

“That was the origin of the Cristo Rey concept.”

Students are allowed to work despite being underage due to a law that permits students enrolled in school-supervised and authorized work-study program to be lawfully employed.

More than 3,000 businesses, including Deloitte, PwC, CIBC, Jones Day, United Airlines, and Ernst & Young, employ Cristo Rey students throughout the school year. Initially, the Jesuits reached out to business-owning alumni of Jesuit schools to propose the idea of the Corporate Work Study Program.

According to Foley, the Jesuit connection provided a great assist to the program.

“It almost seemed enough for those alumni to hear that this was something the Jesuits were thinking about doing for them to say yes, they would give a job. It was almost a blind act of faith in their former teachers,” said Foley.  
The first Cristo Rey school, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, opened in Chicago in 1996, with Foley as president. There are now 32 Cristo Rey schools across throughout the country, and the Cristo Rey Network is currently on target to open an additional eight schools by 2020.

About 10,000 students attend Cristo Rey schools, and on average, their parents pay about $1,000 annually in tuition fees. Nearly eight out of 10 Cristo Rey students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and almost all students are people of color.

Unlike other networks of Catholic schools, Cristo Rey schools are administered by a variety of religious communities, including the Jesuits, Dominicans, Salesians, and Franciscans. Others are run by a particular diocese, such as Cristo Rey Boston High School.

About 40 percent of students in the Cristo Rey Network are not Catholic, and students are welcome to attend the school regardless of what faith they practice, or if they’re not religious at all.

“All of our schools teach a standards-based religious studies curriculum in which all students must complete four years of religious studies courses,” said Alyse Faour, an advancement associate with Cristo Rey, in an interview with CNA. In addition to the required religion classes, there are student ministry programs on campus to assist with spiritual formation.

According to its website, students are admitted to Cristo Rey schools regardless of their abilities, and the average student begins high school about two grade levels behind. Despite this, about nine out of 10 graduates will enroll in college, which is a higher rate than enrollment levels of some high-income students.

“Cristo Rey graduates (...) are completing bachelor’s degrees at more than twice the rate of high school graduates from low-income families nationwide,” said Faour. “We’re making strong progress towards them earning college degrees at national rates comparable to students from families in the highest income quartile.”

Cristo Rey schools currently exist in 21 states, plus the District of Columbia. Schools in Texas, California, Florida, Virginia, Nevada, and Oklahoma are currently in development and on target to open within the next three years.


An Astros rosary for Pope Francis

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 17:00

Houston, Texas, Feb 1, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic parish in Houston is encouraging sports fans to pray with handmade rosaries in the colors of their favorite professional teams. They’re encouraging the Pope to pray with one too.  

Next week, a group of Houston-area pilgrims will present Pope Francis with a handmade Astros-themed rosary when they visit the pontiff on Feb. 6.
The story of the rosaries began when Houston hosted the 2016 Super Bowl.

“We had the idea during the Super Bowl of having candles out at a shrine that we set up for Saint Sebastian, who is the patron saint of athletes. We had orange colored candles and blue colored candles representing the two opposing teams,” explained Father Paul Felix, pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Houston.

“The object of it was just to encourage people to pray, and to include God and the life of faith in all of their activities,” he told CNA.
“I have three out of the four major sporting venues and the convention center within my parish boundaries,” Father Felix added. “I’ve been trying to seize upon these opportunities to engage the culture, to engage the people passing by us with a positive expression.”

“Tens of thousands of people pass by we decided to open up the church and provided tours of the church as another way to catechize in a way that was easy for people. We opened the doors and it was wonderful...It was another way that we could get people into our church to see the beauty of the church,” Annunciation parishioner Elsie Hernandez told CNA.

With the start of the 2016 baseball season, Annunciation Church, which is located next door to the Astros’ stadium, decided to set up a table for the baseball fans passing by.

This time they were selling rosaries with the Astros team colors of blue and orange, and little white baseballs for the Our Father beads. Annunciation Church also put up a banner facing the stadium, recognizing the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, and saying ‘Pray the Rosary.”

Father Felix eventually realized that fans of the opposing teams also walked by their Church to the stadium, so the parish began offering other colored rosaries as well.

“We are praying that the other team would be good losers,” the priest joked.

As the Astros’ season took off, Annunciation’s rosary campaign began getting notice. Rumors spread in Houston that whenever the parish sold out of the rosaries, the Astros would win by a landslide. Fans began waiting in line for the rosaries before each game.

“We had players’ parents coming in to light candles for their son if he was pitching. Coaches’ wives came in to tell us stories of how they prayed during the games when things were getting really exciting,” Hernandez recounted.

“Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, came over and purchased a couple of rosaries and lit a candle. He told me that he is a Lutheran, but he has friends that are Catholic. He gives rosaries to his friends,” said Father Felix.

When Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston, the Astros rosaries took on a new significance. Parishioners from Annunciation brought their rosaries to the nearby convention center where nearly 10,000 people were taking shelter from the flooding. “For two weeks we were having Mass there everyday...We gave thousands of rosaries away,” Hernandez said. Another Houston priest, Father Norbert Maduzia Jr., had originally planned a pilgrimage to Rome for his parishioners in September 2017. The trip was postponed when Hurricane Harvey devastated his parish, St. Ignatius, which took in about six feet of flood water.

“I had written to the Holy Father about our parish’s catastrophic loss after the hurricane and told him of our pilgrimage that was postponed due to the flooding and losses,” Father Maduzia wrote in his parish bulletin, “and in the early hours of December 26th, I received a fax from his office inviting me and the other priest to concelebrate the morning Mass with him.”

Father Maduzia and Father James Burkhart of Christ the Good Shepherd in Houston will concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis on Feb. 6. They will bring the Pope several Houston themed gifts, including an orange and blue Astros rosary.

The Pope has told reporters that his favorite sports team is the Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo, whose colors are red and blue. There is no word yet whether he will place a custom order with his Houston visitors.

Commentary: A Consistent Ethic of Life Must Begin with Defending Life Itself

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- When it comes to the Church’s pro-life witness, consistency matters. Ignoring or denying human dignity in one sphere, undermines our defense of human dignity in other spheres. When we emphasize only one note, we lose the harmony of the whole symphony of truth.

As Catholics, we are called to proclaim the fullness of the truth, including in public life and in our role as citizens.

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats outvoted a bill—the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—which would have effectively banned abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. The bill’s failure was not a surprise. No one thought that the bill would receive the 60 votes required to overcome the filibuster. In the end, it failed, 51-46.

Notably, out of the 24 Catholics currently serving in the Senate, 14 of them—12 Democrats and two Republicans—voted in defense of abortion rights. They are: Senators Cantwell (WA), Collins (ME), Cortez Masto (NV), Durbin (IL), Gilibrand (NY), Heitkamp (ND), Kaine (VA), Leahy (VT), Markey (MA), McCaskill (MO), Menendez (NJ), Murkowski (AK), Murray (WA), and Reed (RI).

Given that Catholic legislators were actually decisive in a move protecting abortion, Monday’s vote was particularly damaging to the credibility of Catholic witness to the sanctity of human life.

Many of these senators, no doubt, proudly and sincerely claim that their Catholic faith has taught them to see public policy as a means for defending the vulnerable and promoting the common good. And yet when it comes to abortion, their bold conviction about the moral imperatives of their faith suddenly evaporates, and zeal for justice gives way to timid excuses about “personally opposed” and “wouldn’t want to impose.”

This inconsistency leads otherwise sensible people to espouse the least defensible and most monstrous of all positions on abortion: Professing that, as Catholics, they believe abortion is just what the Catholic Church says it is—“an unspeakable crime” (Vatican II) and “the murder of an innocent person” (Pope Francis)—and then, without missing a beat, fighting tooth and nail to ensure that nothing endangers the legal protection of this same atrocity.

One can already hear the objections: This sort of inconsistency isn’t just a problem for Catholic Democrats! There are pro-choice Catholics in the Republican Party, too! And there are any number of issues on which Republican-preferred policies aren’t with the Church. What about immigration? Or economic justice? Or the environment?

The point here isn’t about parties, it’s about priorities. There are many ways that human dignity and life are attacked. But the scale of the slaughter—almost a million abortions every year—and the gravity of the evil demand that ending or curbing abortion be a top priority.

There has been a revival recently, in part thanks to Pope Francis, of the “consistent ethic of life” (or “seamless garment,” as it’s sometimes called) popularized by the late Cardinal Bernardin. It begins from the premise that all issues affecting the dignity of the human person are essentially interrelated: Yes, life in the womb is precious and deserves legal protection, the theory goes, but the same commitment to human dignity that leads us to protect that precious life also requires us to defend human dignity elsewhere—in the sick and poor, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, even those who have been convicted of terrible crimes and are sitting on death row.

This is the consistent ethic of life in its best and truest form: a powerful (and much-needed) reminder of the integrity of Catholic moral teaching.

But as even Cardinal Bernardin lamented, this is not always how the idea of a consistent life ethic is put to use:

“I know that some people on the left, if I may use that label, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important anymore, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anybody’s feet to the fire just on abortion. That’s a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it. But the misuse does not invalidate the argument.”

Rather than a defense of the integrity of Catholic doctrine, the “consistent ethic of life” has too often been abused as a way to deflect criticism away from pro-abortion politicians and those who support them.

And this brings us back to those 14 Catholic senators who voted to protect, not life, but its destruction.

The greatest, most glaring inconsistency in Catholic witness to human dignity and the sanctity of life is the widespread Catholic facilitation of, and support for, the killing of innocent children through abortion.  Nothings shreds the seamless garment of Catholic moral witness more wantonly. Nothing undermines the preciousness of every human life more dramatically.

Working to protect the unborn must be a priority, not despite our need to be consistent in our defense of dignity and life, but precisely because of it. We all need to examine ourselves and, with the Church’s guidance, work to ensure we have our priorities are straight. It’s not just our consistency that’s at stake; millions of lives, and millions of souls, are, too.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of “Red, White, Blue, and Catholic.” His opinions do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Catholic News Agency.


‘God had his hand on us’- An interview with the real-life heroes of ‘15:17 to Paris’

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 14:04

Denver, Colo., Feb 1, 2018 / 12:04 pm (CNA).- On August 21, 2015, childhood friends Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone were just three Americans enjoying a European adventure.

They had planned to stay in Amsterdam an extra day, but changed their minds last minute and boarded the express train to Paris. They didn’t expect to come face-to-face with an armed man who would open-fire in their cabin, which was carrying 554 passengers. But they did.

They didn’t have much time. Stone tackled the gunman first, and worked together with Sadler and Skarlatos to overpower the man and effectively thwart the attack.

The gunman, who was identified as Ayoub El-Khazzani, was a Moroccan national who had been on the radar of several European counterterrorism agencies. He was carrying several weapons, including a Kalashnikov, automatic pistol and razor blades.

However, the three American men - plus one British man named Chris Norman - were able to successfully stop El-Khazzani before the attack turned fatal. Stone sustained serious injuries which required surgery. But they prevented something far worse.

At the time, Sadler was just a senior in college at Sacramento State University, while Skarlatos and Stone were in the military. The three had been friends since middle-school.

Now, the heroic trio are starring in the latest Clint Eastwood film, “15:17 to Paris.” They play themselves and recount the entire event on the big screen.

The film’s will be released in theaters nationwide on Feb. 9.

CNA recently interviewed Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone. Below is the full interview, edited for clarity.

Can you share a little about your faith and the impact it has had on your lives?

STONE:    I was raised in a Christian home, my entire life. Went to church every Sunday with my mom and brother and sister and Wednesday night church, too. I believed [in God] my entire life. God for me is someone that is always there and always will have my back, whether it’s a good or bad situation. And it’s in the Bible, He’s not going to put you through anything that you can’t handle.  And, I think that’s what I fell back on in the moment on the train. I didn’t necessarily at that second think ‘God’s got my back,’ but I knew it. There was an opportunity to do something good. I believe those are the times where we’re vessels to be used by Him, to do His work. And it was an honor to do something that good. 

SADLER:  I’ve been going to church all my life. My dad is a pastor. He became a pastor when I was older. We were a strong Baptist household. We went to church every Sunday, all the services. My family is Christian, faith-believing and I’ve grown up that way. And as far as on the train that day, God had His hand on us, because so many things could've went the other way for us.  And the fact that they went the way they did, it’s divine intervention. It’s that by definition. We knew He had His hand on us, because of the calm that we had as we were falling into our different roles that day - looking back on it in hindsight. That calm, I know where that comes from now that I’ve had a chance to evaluate that day. And I’m thankful that He had His hand on us that day. 

SKARLATOS: I grew up next to Spencer’s family. We went to the same church for the longest time. We all met in a Christian school. I’ve been to church pretty much ever since I can remember.  If you look at the statistics of everything that happened, the odds of being in a terrorist attack are astronomical, the odds of surviving it, the odds of surviving it and being the ones that stopped it. There’s so many little circumstances. The odds of our exact situation happening to us are too astronomical to believe that it was purely chance, especially when you look at the fact that we were thinking about staying in Amsterdam another day and we didn’t. The fact that we moved seats from coach to first class. So many different little things that are hard for even us to remember - all the different circumstances that put us there in that exact time and place. But to me it’s too coincidental to be chance. God had a hand in it, because we shouldn't be here today to be honest.

How did your faith influence your actions on the train? What prompted you to act so heroically in the face of eminent danger?

SADLER:    We were vessels being used. I don’t even know how I got the first aid kit, but somehow it was in my hands. Alek was doing his thing clearing the car. Spencer saw somebody was bleeding and crawled over there. When did we think of that? We didn’t think. We were just being used. 

STONE:    How well everything fell into place, you would think we rehearsed it. It was pretty much like we took over the train. I never felt more calm in my entire life. I knew exactly what we should do in that moment. It almost felt like someone pushed me towards it. I knew in my mind I had to go, and something greater stood me up. I think that’s why they’re still confused about how I got up so fast. I don’t know how I got up so fast either. I’m pretty slow!  

What was your experience like filming “15:17 to Paris,” and reliving those tense moments on the train?

STONE:   It was pretty crazy when we did the scene of Mark bleeding out. That was the only time I really felt like I had a true flashback, because everything was the same. It was the same amount of blood, same clothes. That was probably the most memorable part on the train for me. 

SKARLATOS: It definitely made it easier to get back into character. You have to remember how it was on the actual day. And, I don’t know about the other guys, but it would trigger an adrenaline rush in me and it make it easier to feel the same emotions that we actually felt the day on the train. 

SADLER:  It shows how much the details matter, like same clothes, same people, train attendants, everything. That made it all feel authentic. 

What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?

SADLER:   I want them to take exactly what it is. The fact that we’re three ordinary guys that were faced with an extraordinary, crazy situation. And the reason why we acted the way we did that day is because of our friendship - the back-story matters. And then take away that they can, as people, a regular person, do something great, too. To feel like things are possible that they previously didn’t think were possible. 

STONE:  I want them to take away that in our story, we thought we had no chance at all. I thought I was going to die. We’re all regular people. We’re very regular guys.

How has your experience on the train/filming the movie impacted your lives moving forward? Has it changed the way you live, or taught you any particular lessons?

SKARLATOS: I think making the film taught us a lot about ourselves. Then working through the process ourselves, we discovered a lot of things about ourselves, about our friendship, how we interact. And, for me I learned from the movie not to be afraid to try new things in life.

It cured a lot of my fears, even of public speaking. You know, if I can survive a terrorist attack, when the next challenge in life comes, it’s nothing in comparison.

STONE:    We definitely learned a lot about each other throughout the last two years in general. We’ve known each other our entire lives, but, we’ve spent most our lives apart, going off on our own paths and different avenues. We, in a sense, got to learn more about each other as adults and through this experience. We knew each other, but now we really know each other. And we’re bonded forever through all of our experiences.

SADLER:    For me it was the first time in my life I finally felt like I was on track. I was going to go into my senior year at college and I didn’t know after that year was over what I was going to do next.

And then once the attack happened and everything else that’s happened in the last two years, and the fact that the movie happened, the way it’s all lined up, I feel like I’m finally on the track that I’m supposed to be on. So, I don’t know what comes next, but I’m on the plan that’s been set for me. That’s a good feeling, I have confidence in knowing I’m going in the right direction.


Immigration takes center stage in State of the Union address

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 19:53

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2018 / 05:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- United States President Donald Trump made immigration reform a major topic of his first State of the Union address, touting an immigration reform package that has been met with concern from the U.S. bishops.

Among the guests who were recognized during the Jan. 30 speech were the parents of two girls who were killed by MS-13 gang members in 2016, as well as a Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent who has spent 15 years fighting criminal organizations.

“The United States is a compassionate nation,” Trump said. “We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers, and America's forgotten communities.”

Trump laid out the four-pillar immigration reform plan that he said the House and Senate would be voting on in the next few weeks. The proposed reform package includes a “10-12 year path to citizenship, with requirements for work, education and good moral character” for 1.8 million immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as Dreamers.

The Dreamers had been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals implemented by the Obama Administration. However, the Trump Administration has announced that the policy will be rescinded in March. Without a legislative solution, hundreds of thousands could face the threat of deportation.

The immigration proposal also provides for the building of a wall on the border with Mexico, and the ending of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the visa lottery, which allows up to 50,000 immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to enter the United States after being randomly selected and vetted.

In addition, the plan would clamp down on the practice of “chain migration,” also known as “family reunification,” a policy under which American citizens or green-card holders can petition for close family members to join them in the U.S.

In response to the President’s proposed reforms, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, called the cuts to family immigration and elimination of protections for Dreamers “deeply troubling.”

“Upholding and protecting the family unit, regardless of its national origins, is vital to our faith,” Bishop Vásquez said. “Additionally, in searching for a solution for Dreamers, we must not turn our backs on the vulnerable. We should not, for example, barter the well-being of unaccompanied children for the well-being of the Dreamers. We know them all to be children of God who need our compassion and mercy.”

In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter on migration in which they stressed that economically powerful nations have “a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows” when “persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families.”

In 2013, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed their stance on immigration based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing two equally important duties: welcoming the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person, while also securing national borders and enforcing the law for the sake of the common good.

The bishops have called for an earned legalization program that would “allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence;” a future worker program “to permit foreignborn workers to enter the country safely and legally;” family-based immigration reform; restoration of due process rights for illegal immigrants; long-term solutions to the “the root causes of migration, such as underdevelopment and poverty in sending countries;” and the promotion of “targeted, proportional, and humane” enforcement of immigration laws.

Bishop Vásquez called for a bipartisan, narrowly-tailored solution that respects families.

“As pastors and leaders of the Church, we see this fear and sadness in our parishes and as such, continue to call for immediate action,” he said.


O’Malley and Chaput make a Super Bowl wager

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 19:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Jan 31, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will go head-to-head in Super Bowl LII, facing off to claim the Lombardi Trophy at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.  The Archbishops of Boston and Philadelphia have already placed wagers on the game.

The archbishops jointly announced a bet on Wednesday: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said he would donate to $100 to Catholic Charities Boston if the Patriots prevail, while Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said he would donate to $100 to St. John’s Hospice in Philadelphia if the Eagles win.  

Catholic Charities Boston offers social services to thousands of individuals and families in the Massachusetts area. St. John’s Hospice is an emergency service provider to the homeless in Philadelphia, and also helps the homeless to find stable residences.

To raise the stakes, Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal O’Malley, who are both Capuchin Franciscan and friends from their seminary days, also said they would add Philadelphia cheesesteaks and Boston lobsters to the wager.

“Each year the Super Bowl is viewed by millions of people throughout the world,” read a Jan. 31 statement from Chaput and O’Malley.

“In the spirit of friendly competition, we have issued our wager because we have confidence in our teams and, more importantly, based on our admiration for the commitment of the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots to assist their local communities and respond to the needs of the less fortunate,” the statement continued.

Both Chaput and O’Malley also made predictions for the Super Bowl outcome. Chaput is counting on an Eagle’s victory, 24-20, while O’Malley believes the Patriots will claim the trophy, 34-21.

No matter the outcome, they both prayed for a safe sporting event for everyone involved.

“We pray for a safe and enjoyable Super Bowl for both teams and all spectators, and that the gifts of God’s love and peace may bring us closer together as a society.”

Bishops call for ‘humane, proportionate, and just’ immigration plan

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Echoing an earlier USCCB comment about President Donald Trump’s proposed framework on immigration reform released last week, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, has offered a mixed review of the potential changes.

While Bishop Vasquez said the bishops are pleased that a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers” is part of the plan, he is critical of proposed restrictions on family unification and the elimination of the protections for unaccompanied minors.

“Family immigration is pat of the bedrock of our country and of our Church,” said Vasquez in a statement released by the USCCB.

“Upholding and protecting the family unit, regardless of its national origins, is vital to our faith.”

Further, Vasquez said that he did not think it was right to effectively try to bargain one aspect of immigration reform, a path to citizenship for “Dreamers” brought illegally to the United States as children, with protections for unaccompanied minors.

“We know them all to be children of God who need our compassion and mercy,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez urged for Republicans and Democrats to work together to come up with a solution, and fast, as “time is of the essence” for Dreamers and unaccompanied minors. He called on elected officials to “show leadership” to pass legislation that would both protect national security interests as well as “humane, proportionate, and just” to undocumented people.

How this app could steal your face to make porn

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 13:31

Denver, Colo., Jan 31, 2018 / 11:31 am (CNA).- A new app allows users to digitally alter pornography videos, placing the faces of celebrities onto the bodies of porn stars.  

Called FakeApp, the program uses neural network technology to replace the faces of pornographic actors with celebrities, or, if enough video is available, with the faces of ordinary people.

The app does not require programming skills; it can be used by anyone with the kind of computer capable of running detailed video games.

Father Sean Kilcawley, director of marriage and family life ministries in the Diocese of Lincoln, and a nationally recognized speaker on the theology of the body, said fake pornography is as spiritually damaging to the soul as any other porn, but socially, the trend has the potential to be uniquely destructive.

“Pornography is pornography, in terms of it being evil. It’s always evil. [Fake pornography] is not anything that is actually brand new because there have been fake pornography photos for a very long time,” he told CNA.  

“One of the dangers of this technology, though, is that some kid is going to take some girl’s yearbook photo and put her on a porn stars body,” he said.

The creator of the app has expressed hope that his face-swamping platform will become more available and accessible.

“Eventually, I want to improve it to the point where prospective users can simply select a video on their computer, download a neural network correlated to a certain face from a publicly available library, and swap the video with a different face with the press of one button,” the app’s creator told Motherboard.

Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth” and host to the podcast “Love People Use Things,” cautioned against the danger of the app, which he said will invade the celebrities’ privacy and inflict harm upon their reputation.   “It will get to the point where we’re not really sure if whether Jennifer Aniston just did a porn film, or whoever the celebrity is, or if this is one of the AI things. So we are dragging people’s reputation through the mud and we are humiliating them,” Fradd told CNA.

But it won’t stop there, he continued.

“If they can do that with celebrities they can do that with your sister or with your mom if they wanted to.”

Father Kilcawley agreed, cautioning that face-swapping pornography will damage reputations and self-esteem.

“For the humiliation a girl would have if they put her face on a porn star’s body, and then sent the video around to everybody in school … Not only [damaging their reputation] but simply damaging them.”

The new technology, he said, follows a trend set by “revenge pornography” – a social media practice in which angry exes distribute nude photos or videos of former romantic partners.

“There has been a spike in suicides [because of] revenge pornography among young people, Kilcawley said.

A 2015 BBC analysis found that of 1,160 reported revenge pornography cases in England, 30 percent of the victims were under the age of 19.  

With the ability to feed an algorithm photos found online, Father Kilcawley expressed concern that face-swapping porn videos will also be used for revenge pornography, and, because of the advancements in technology, they will be even more damaging to young women than real photos or videos.

“It will be equally dangerous to someone’s soul who would be consuming it, but I think socially it may inflict a lot more damage than we are thinking about right now,” he said.

Fradd told CNA that Catholics should respond to pornography with the wisdom of the Church.  

“I think the Church has the answer to what is the human person and how we can be happy, just like the nutritionist has the answer to what should I be eating if I want a healthy body,” he said.

Pointing to John Paul II’s theology of the body, Fradd said the only proper response to the human person is love, and pornography always contradicts love.  

“Wojtyla says the human person is a good to which the only proper and adequate attitude is love, but when we consume pornography we are always engaging in something contrary to love, namely use.”

Why more Catholic schools are looking to minimize screen time

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 31, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Not long ago, introducing more technology into the classroom meant allowing third graders to play 15 minutes of Oregon Trail during recess time.

In recent years, particularly after the emergence of smartphones and other mobile devices circa 2012, for many schools it has meant an iPad for every student, laptops in every classroom.

However, new research has begun highlighting the detrimental impacts of excessive screen time, particularly on developing brains and on education, sparking concerns among educators and parents. Even tech industry giants are starting to speak openly about the dangers of internet addiction and the need to monitor children’s screen time.

For Catholic schools, the issue is especially pressing, some school leaders say, because Catholic schools are concerned with the human and spiritual formation of their students.

Michael Edghill, principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Texas, told CNA that his biggest concern is a tendency to let technology become the main driving force of education, rather than a tool of support for teachers and students.  

“For a Catholic school, that is a bad paradigm to fall into because it takes a rightly formed person to undertake the task of human formation, which is the mission of Catholic education,” he said. “No machine or technological tool can appropriately engage in the formation of the soul.”

Jean Twenge is a psychologist and the author of “iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

Twenge told CNA that her research found the “sweet spot” for screen time for teenagers should be about 2 hours per day “for mental health, happiness, and adequate sleep. Beyond that, the risks increase, topping out at the highest levels of use.”

Notably, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, most US teens report average daily screen times well over the recommended two hours.

In 2015, research group Common Sense Media reported that more half of US teenagers spend at least four hours a day on a screen, while 25 percent of teens reported even higher uses - more than eight hours daily - with the potential of detrimental effects.  

“For example, teens who use electronic devices 5 or more hours a day are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those using devices less than an hour a day,” Twenge said. “They are also 51% more likely to not sleep enough. Teens who are online 5 or more hours a day are twice as likely to be unhappy as those online less than an hour a day.”

As for educational impacts, research has also found that smartphones can impact a person’s ability to think simply by being within reach - even if they are turned off. Another study found that students taught in computer-less classrooms performed significantly better on tests than their counterparts taught in classrooms with iPads and computers

The human, relational and educational concerns are why some Catholics schools are taking steps to limit, if not completely ban, the use of smartphones and iPads in the classroom.

St. Benedict Elementary in Natick, Mass. is one Catholic school that has taken the approach of not using electronic technology in the classroom at all, except for very limited ways in the higher grades.

Jay Boren, headmaster of St. Benedict, told CNA that this is because the classical academy was founded by parents who had a desire for their school to be different.

“There are studies that show that (student) memory retention is better when they have written the information as opposed to having typed it. There are also benefits to learning cursive,” Boren said.

“In addition, an environment that is not inundated with fast-paced technology...allows students to cultivate the ability to sustain attention, develop concentration, and appreciate silence, which are the necessary dispositions to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness,  We feel that those skills, are more important at this age level than mastering a screen that they will certainly be exposed to throughout their life at other times.”

On the other hand, Fr. Nicholas Rokitka, OFM Conv., teaches at Archbishop Curley High School in Buffalo, New York, which implemented a 1-to-1 iPad to student program four years ago.

“My major concern about technology in the classroom is the inability of the students to focus on the topic at hand and listen to the teacher,” Rokitka told CNA. “It certainly has changed the way teachers and students interact.”

Rokitka said that games and entertainment are always a potential distraction with the iPads in the classroom. While he has his room set up in a way that allows him to monitor his students’ iPad use closely, such monitoring “takes up a lot of my energy.”

There have been some positive impacts, Rokitka noted - the school has saved a lot of paper using digital homework and tests, and performance trends can be more quickly and easily recognized and addressed.

However, he added that without intentionality behind its use, technology negatively change the way students relate to one another and the world.

“On a very fundamental level, technology changes how people interact with each other. If technology is accepted wholesale without and intention, it will do more harm than good. When digital communication and social media replace face-to-face interaction, the students lose their ability to communicate,” he said. “This problem is way larger than just schools, but ultimately teachers and schools can have a dramatic input on how children learn how to use technology.”

Twenge said that she recommends schools ban the use of cellphones not only in the classroom, but during lunch as well, in order to give students a chance to interact with each other without a screen.

In interviews with students for her research, Twenge discovered students who would feel depressed and left out while their fellow students ignored them at lunch, favoring their phones instead, she wrote in the New York Daily News. “A no-phones-at-school rule would also help teens develop invaluable social skills. More and more managers tell me that young job applicants don't look them in the eye and seem to be uncomfortable talking to people face-to-face. If our students are going to succeed in the workplace, they need more practice interacting with people in person,” she wrote. “They can get that right there at school - if they aren't constantly on their phones.”

Edghill said that his biggest guiding principle in the use of technology in school has been intentionality - which is exactly why the school banned cell phone use in school during the school day.

“It was an intentional decision based on the fact that there was little to no educational benefit and a whole slew of potential and real problems,” he said.

“The unplanned side effect is that the students actually talk to one another before school in the mornings now instead of just staring at their individual screens.”

A father to four children between 14 and 3, Edghill noted that he and his wife try to implement the same intentionality with technology use at home, by enforcing limits and being consistent with them, though he admitted there has been a learning curve.

“I do think that the more time that they watch screens, the less creative and the less curious they are. But it is a constant battle. It may be one of the most counter-cultural things that we can do for our kids,” he said. “And that is saying something as a Catholic.”

It’s also important to note that technology is simply a tool, and “not an evil,” he said.

“The pope is active on social media. My bishop is active on Twitter. But it is for the greater good of reaching out to people in order to create the opportunity for an authentic encounter with Christ,” he said.  

“If the technology is replacing humanity as opposed to being used as a tool to advance humanity, that is the problem...If we miss the human element of the teacher, of person-to-person dialogue and debate, of human experience, then we can't fully do our part to cooperate in the formation of the human person.”


Cardinal Erdo: Democracy's foundations are 'shaking'

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 19:07

New York City, N.Y., Jan 30, 2018 / 05:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Hungarian cardinal has said that free societies must depend on the wisdom of religion to address the moral and social problems of the modern world.  

Cardinal Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, delivered the Bampton Lecture at Columbia University on Monday, Jan. 29.

Addressing Columbia students and faculty, Erdo warned about the dangers of moral relativism, and discussed the necessity of the Church in a secular state.

The cardinal said that relativism— the inability to declare something as objectively right or objectively wrong—is a “grave crisis” of modern secular states. Without a foundation in natural law, he argued, societies become unstable, and moral evil becomes permissible.

“It is difficult for the state to decide what is good for man,” said Erdo, without some foundation in natural law and a religious worldview. Absent natural law and “by a weakening of belief in the rationality of the world,” societies lose trust in democratic institutions.

”Even the majority can end up with wrong or harmful decisions, especially if the concept of the common good becomes uncertain, because there is no consensus even on the anthropological foundations of law,” explained the cardinal.

Erdo said that until the philosophical Enlightenment, societies were effectively governed with an understanding that moral law was based on transcendent realities.

“Law, morals and religion prove to form an organic whole, which is characteristic of Western society right up to the age of Enlightenment,” Erdo said.

But in the modern era, relativism has separated legal norms from the natural law, he said. "The idea of relativity and the unknowability of the natural law, or the rules of upright human behavior based on its connexion with nature, gains ground, as also does the separation of law from so-called natural morals.”  

Due to the rise of relativism, the relationship between religion, the state, and a person’s worldview became “a problem.”

The separation of morality from law has led to the creation of immoral laws, such as the ones that existed in Nazi Germany, said Cardinal Erdo.

“The trials of Nuremberg showed where the separation of law and morals can lead. It was not easy to convict people whose actions were based on current, but immoral laws.”

The cardinal said that in the era of the Soviet Union, religion and morals were, in theory, replaced by Marxist-Leninist ideology. When the ideology fell, a “moral vacuum” was formed. Seeing this, leaders of formerly communist countries began trying to recreate a religious and moral framework for society, and are not bothered with “relativist ideologies.”

He mentioned that many former communist countries countries specifically mentioned the importance of religion in their new constitutions. For instance, Erdo’s home country of Hungary explicitly recognizes “churches, denominations and religious communities […] are entities of prominent importance, capable of creating values and communities.”

The cardinal noted that in the West, humanity is witness a “shaking of the anthropological foundations of democracy.”

"Western democracies presume that politicians and parties present and defend their political programs on a rational basis and that mature and responsible citizens make their choices and elect people using rational arguments,” he said.  

“Today, this sounds like a utopia…the picture of reality has become very complicated.”

“There has to be a lot of trust for someone to believe the basic premises of a political program, so that the elected body, based on a democratic majority, can count on the trust of that society. It seems to be a vicious circle. We have to place our trust in somebody in anticipation, in order to let such a decision pass, in which we can trust,” he added.

Erdo expressed concern about the effect that scientific advances will have on human rights without a religious moral framework regulating society. He said that technological advances are moving quicker than legal morality can keep up, and that this is a new challenge humanity will be facing.

“But the discoveries open new levels of reality, so the description of facts needed for moral evaluation and legal treatment are falling behind,” he said.

Despite this, Erdo believes that humans “cannot grow weary” of maintaining “basic moral values,” and that these need to be applied to new situations as well.

Erdo said that the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage is centered on a belief in a benevolent God, and the hope that a Creator seeks to communicate with humanity. That communication drives trust.

“And this, beyond giving a basic moral point of view, gives something extra, which is even more important. It generates trust both in the individual and in the community,” said the cardinal.

“It generates trust that even though our cognitive abilities cannot keep up with the fullness of reality, we can always somehow reach the necessary knowledge and cognitions…the weakness of our recognition is not a reason to give up our pursuit of the truth.”

The Bampton Lectures in America were created in 1948, and feature talks from theologians, scientists, and artists.

Catholics groups welcome lifting of refugee ban from 'high-risk' countries

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 16:09

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2018 / 02:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic organizations applauded the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Jan. 29 announcement that it is lifting the ban on refugees from 11 high-risk countries, with the condition of additional security screening for new arrivals.

“We were happy to see that that processing is resuming,” said Matthew Wilch, refugee policy advisor for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We look forward to welcoming refugees and, of course, we very strongly agree that it is important that the refugee program be safe and have a strong vetting procedure,” Wilch told CNA.

After passing through an enhanced vetting process implemented during a 90-day review period, individuals from countries that are deemed to pose a heightened security threat may now be offered asylum in the U.S.

“These additional security measures will make it harder for bad actors to exploit our refugee program, and they will ensure we take a more risk-based approach to protecting the homeland,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen on Jan. 29.

Following a temporary ban on all refugees worldwide, President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. Refugee Admission Program to begin accepting new refugees again in October 2017, with the exception of 11 countries deemed to be high-risk, who would be restricted for a 90-day review period.

Although officials did not release which countries were temporarily prohibited, aid agencies and media outlets have reported them to be Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – a list of high-risk countries dating back to the Obama administration.

One of the new security procedures called for by the DHS is “a periodic review and update of the refugee high-risk country list and selection criteria,” according to a Jan. 29 press release.

“In 2017, the President directed us to assess the program and make any needed changes. As a result of that review, and in close coordination with the State Department and our intelligence community, we will be rolling out new security measures for applicants from high risk countries which will seek to prevent the program from being exploited by terrorists, criminals and fraudsters,” Secretary Nielsen explained at an event at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Jan. 29 before the announcement.

Catholic Relief Services’ vice president for government relations and advocacy Bill O’Keefe said that his organization is “pleased to see the Administration is now accepting refugees from countries that were previously banned from entering the United States.”

“We hope now that the Administration will raise the refugee limit and allow more of our brothers and sisters into this country so that we can do our part to give them a safe and secure future,” he told CNA.

The Trump administration lowered the cap on refugee admissions from 110,000 down to 45,000 for the year that started in October 2017.

“As Pope Francis has said, it’s important for us to share the journey with the displaced, and this is one way we can welcome them into our homes and communities,” O’Keefe said.

For Catholics who would like to volunteer with incoming refugees, Wilch recommends a Catholic program called Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees.

“It is a really good example of how Catholics come together to welcome people who are fleeing these situations and seeking protection,” he said.


Haitians in legal ‘limbo’ deserve a solution, Archbishop Wenski says

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 14:00

Miami, Fla., Jan 30, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The future of tens of thousands of Haitian migrants is unclear, after the Trump administration decided not to extend legal protections for them.
While the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has filed a legal challenge to the decision, alleging it was racially motivated, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami has said that Congress must act—and people should be conscious of Haitians’ experience of racial discrimination in the U.S.
“The lawsuit might ‘buy time’ for the affected Haitians; but, more critical is a legislative fix,” the archbishop told CNA. Haitians with temporary protected status are in a “holding pattern,” like being in “limbo.”
“They cannot adjust status to permanent residency, they cannot travel home. So, a permanent legislative solution is where we should put our energies,” he added.
There are at least 46,000 Haitians in the U.S. currently qualified for the TPS program, since a massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed 200,000 people and left one million homeless. Hurricane Matthew’s landfall in Haiti caused tremendous damage in October 2016, with the Category 4 storm putting more than 1.4 million people in need of emergency aid.
TPS status allows people who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work.
Many Haitians in the U.S. send money back to Haiti to support their relatives.
The Trump administration decided not to renew their protected status in November 2017. Their status is set to end July 22, 2019.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Jan. 24 filed suit charging the decision showed “an intent to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity” and departed from other statutory requirements.
Asked how to avoid apparent or real discrimination in public policy, Archbishop Wenski replied: “Well, insensitive or inflammatory language does not help.”
He reflected on the history of protected status for Haitians, saying the Obama administration followed the Bush administration’s lead in resisting calls to grant protected status to displaced Haitians.
“The last 20 years have been difficult in Haiti – both politically and economically, yet both Bush and Obama routinely rejected requests for TPS alleging that to do so would result in more out migration from Haiti,” Archbishop Wenski said.

“Obama only relented in 2010 when the devastation of the earthquake basically shamed the Obama administration into granting TPS.  So, TPS might have gone away even with a different administration, but rhetoric and inflammatory language of some in the administration suggest an animus against people of color,” the archbishop said.
The NAACP lawsuit cited reported comments from President Donald Trump and other actions of the administration, National Public Radio reports. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of the NAACP’s Haitian members protected under the program. It aims to secure a court injunction against the decision.
The lawsuit charged that President Trump has “racialized goals concerning immigration.” It cited the president’s private comments reported in the Dec. 23 New York Times in which he allegedly suggested that 15,000 Haitians who came to the U.S. in 2017 “all have AIDS.” At a Jan. 11 meeting regarding DACA, he reportedly asked why the U.S. needs “more Haitians” and immigrants from African countries he described allegedly using a vulgar term of disparagement.
At the time, the remarks drew rebuke from the U.S. bishops’ conference.
The president denied making the remarks in a Jan. 12 tweet, saying “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out’,” he said, contending that Democrats had made up the claims. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians,” he said.
Department of Homeland Security leaders like Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen  “took irrational and discriminatory government action, denying Haitian immigrants their right to due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment,” the lawsuit charged. It also cited a top U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official’s request on data for crimes committed by Haitians in the protected status program.
Archbishop Wenski, who is fluent in Haitian Creole, said that it is “impossible to discount” the racial factor in considering Haitians’ experience of discrimination.
“In the 1980s Haitians were arriving in significant numbers on boats from Haiti and Cubans on rafts from Cuba: they were coming from same geographical region to the same geographical place, both Cubans and Haitians were fleeing from political oppression and economic misery (in fact the economies of both countries were basket cases because of each country’s lousy politics – one right wing, the other left wing),” he said.
“But the mostly white Cubans were welcomed as ‘political refugees’ – though no Cuban arriving by raft had to even apply for political asylum; and the Haitians were not welcomed because they were perceived as economic refugees and vast majority of their applications for political asylum were routinely denied.”
The archbishop warned of the danger of racism.
“Racism allows us to ‘depersonalize’ or ‘dehumanize’ a whole class of people and thus offend their human dignity,” he said. “Such reductive thinking leads us to view people perceived as different from us as ‘problems’ and not as persons.  When we see a class of people as problems then we can be tempted to find ‘solutions’ – even ‘final solutions’ as the tragic history of the twentieth century showed us.”
The lawsuit added that Haiti is “ill-prepared” to receive the tens of thousands of Haitians living in the U.S.
The 2010 earthquake killed over 200,000 and displaced more than one million people. Hurricane Matthew struck the country in 2016, affecting more than two million people.
An estimated 200,000 Salvadorans had temporary protected status due to major earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001, but their status will expire in September 2019. Another 57,000 Hondurans have protected status; the Department of Homeland Security will decide whether to extend or end this status in May.
Archbishop Wenski suggested Haitians and others with TPS status could be addressed in a reported deal on the treatment of beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects U.S. residents brought to the country while they were still minors.


'Tiny Thomists': How one Catholic curriculum offers big ideas to little kids

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 04:51

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2018 / 02:51 am (CNA).- A digital catechetical program for children as young as five aims to equip early learners with Thomistic principles that will help them understand and defend their faith as they grow.

“I think in a lot of curricula, it’s difficult to teach the complexities of the Catholic faith and in such a way that is entertaining and interesting for young children,” said TJ Burdick, founder and director of Tiny Thomists.  

“I think the sooner you can ingrain the truths of the Catholic faith into your children, the longer they will last and the more loyal they will be to the Catholic Church because they’ve experienced it intimately with their family.”

With four children of his own, Burdick started developing the curriculum for his eldest daughter in 2016. Having seen the success for his family and an interest from other families in the local Catholic community, he decided to open the catechetical program to the public in January 2017.

Program participants receive bi-weekly emails with lesson plans for children ages 5-10. Each lesson is based on a specific theme and includes relatable and simple passages from Saint Thomas’ Summa Theologica, as well as corresponding examples from the lives of the saints, and a “saintly situation” challenging pupils to address practical circumstances that they may encounter in their own lives.

Additionally, the program contains Gospel passages and Church doctrine in “kid format,” to aid memorization and emergent readers. Simplified reflections on the mysteries of rosary are also available, incorporating both art and explanations of the decades.  

Burdick said the program allows children to engage in the complex theology, without overwhelming them.

“I don’t think we give our kids enough credit … I know these kids can do much more than we expect of them, we just have to be courageous enough to challenge them and knowledgeable enough to be able to respond when they grow in that understanding of the Catholic faith.”

The program normally costs $15 per month, but is on sale for $10 per monthfor those who sign up this week.

The goal of Tiny Thomists, Burdick said, is to prepare children for the challenges to be faced in the teenage years, when questions arise about who a person is and what the purpose of life and creation is.

He cited a recent study from St. Mary’s Press and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The study found that the majority of people who left the Catholic faith decided to do so between the ages of 10 and 20, with a median age of 13.

“At the adolescence age/young adult age they are starting to think about the world and to think about what their place is and what their life is. The whole point of Tiny Thomists is answering those questions before they come.”


How to watch the Super Bowl with a clean conscience

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 02:07

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2018 / 12:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Super Bowl Sunday. It's as American as apple pie, but in recent years, controversy has erupted over the beloved American pastime and – considering the risk it poses – whether or not the game of football is even worth it.

Whether one is a devoted football fan, or only watches once a year, Super Bowl Sunday holds a place as a major event for people across the country. However, some say that aspects such as commercialism, graphic content, and the life-changing injuries sustained by players should make Catholics think critically about the game they’re seeing, even as they cheer on the teams before them.

“I love football and in fact it would be difficult to find someone who loves football more than I do,” said Charles Camosy, professor of ethics at Fordham University. He even credits football for his existence, given that his parents met on a train to the Notre Dame-Alabama Sugar Bowl game in 1973. 

But despite his love for the game, Camosy said there are a variety of potentially troubling aspects about the Super Bowl. From the often lewd commercials and halftime show to the sometimes cult-like intensity of the fans and violence of the game itself, viewers must take care in how they view the Big Game, he said.

“The key is to be hyper aware of what this is, what you’re doing, and where you stand,” Camosy told CNA. “Be aware that we need to resist those things. Even call it out as you’re watching.” 

While the Super Bowl is the most-watched television event in the U.S., there is growing concern that behind the screen and underneath the helmet, the brains of the players competing in the Super Bowl are sustaining potentially life-altering damage. 

Within the past decade, researchers at various institutions have noted a link between repetitive brain trauma sustained in football – including hits that produce no immediate symptoms – and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Also known as CTE, the degenerative brain disease triggers progressive brain damage, and symptoms include memory loss, impulse control, depression and progressive dementia. The mental health problems created by CTE have also been linked to suicidal thoughts and attempts by former professional football players. 

CTE has been found in 96 percent of NFL players whose brains were submitted for a 2015 analysis by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University. The disease was also found in 71 percent of all football players – including high school players – whose postmortem samples were submitted for research.

This risk for life-changing brain damage, Camosy said, is “built into football.” 

“There are certain things built into football, at least the way we play the game now, that aren’t built into soccer” and other sports, he suggested. 

“Given what we now know and given how central violence is to the game, that gives another reason perhaps to resist this.” 

Camosy has written several essays on the morality of America’s football culture. He suggests that it is “morally problematic” to support a game that is so deeply intertwined with violence and connected to long-lasting damage for those who partake in it.

He pointed to the criticism voiced by Church Fathers including Tertullian for the Roman gladiator games and the Christians who went to see them. In his treatises, Tertullian slammed the games’ idolatry, the justifications for their bloody nature, the public’s addiction to watching them, and the violence of the matches themselves.

Many of these criticisms of the gladiatorial games, Camosy continued, are relevant to the way football is played today. “We prefer not to look at the violence. We somehow make it compatible with the non-violence Jesus calls us to,” he said.

Chad Pecknold, a professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America, had a different perspective.

While the gladiatorial games of the Roman Empire and American football today have some similarities – and can provide insight into the respective cultures that created them – there are also important differences, he said.

Most obviously, imminent death was a prominent characteristic of the gladiator games, in a way that is not characteristic of football.

“The Roman gladiatorial games were a by-product of war, and in this sense they were a potent cultural expression of Rome's ‘lust for domination,’” Pecknold said.

While theologians such as St. Augustine taught that in some circumstances, the violence of war could be justified, they criticized Rome’s approach to war and found that when the “horrific violence” of war was turned solely into entertainment in the gladiatorial games, that the games “were more pernicious than war itself,” he continued.

American football, Pecknold suggested, does not carry the exact same significance the early Christians cautioned against.

Still, he said, there is reason for caution with football.  

“I am not sure if we should worry about football in the same way that the early Church fathers worried about gladiatorial spectacle, but we should pay attention to how easily the goodness of sports can be disordered.”

Both Camosy and Pecknold acknowledged positive aspects to the game of football – including the God-given athletic talent, strategy and teaching of virtue, as well as the game’s ability to bring together families and communities. 

“If it can serve the common good of the family, the neighborhood, the community, then it's really terrific and we should thank God for it,” Pecknold said.

But that affection can quickly become disordered and occupy a disproportionate place in people’s lives, he cautioned. And the commercial aspect of football, which grows out of the economy, can also be concerning because of what it reflects about the culture.

Ultimately, he said, when approaching the Super Bowl and its content, “Christians can watch football with a clean conscience, but they might want to turn off the halftime show.”

Camosy agreed that it is possible to watch the Super Bowl with a clean conscience, but suggested that Christians avoid being drawn into the negative elements, perhaps by openly “(making) fun of the commercials and what the half-time show is all about.” He also warned Catholics who watch the Super Bowl to be wary of their own focuses and care for the game, and to be careful, when cheering for teams, “that we don’t create another source of ultimate concern here – that this isn’t another god.”

And Catholics should speak up about the violence that plagues the game, Camosy said.

“What I call for is a similar kind of shift that happened almost a hundred years ago,” he said, recalling Teddy Roosevelt’s reforms to the game when college students were dying during matches.

“Leave the good – get rid of the bad.”

This article was originally published Feb. 6, 2016.

Senate vote to prevent filibuster on 20-week abortion ban fails

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- A procedural vote on a Senate bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks failed on the evening of Jan. 29, after more than three hours of debate. The cloture motion, which would have prevented a filibuster on the bill, required 60 votes to pass, and failed by a vote of 51-46.

The bill could continue to be considered in the Senate, even with the prospect of a filibuster, though this is not widely expected. The bill is likely to be a topic of debate in 2018 Senate elections.

The  U.S. is one of seven countries in the world that allow abortions after 5 months of pregnancy.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act proposes that abortion be made illegal after 20 weeks of gestation, on the basis that fetal neural development enables the unborn to experience pain at that point. The bill includes exceptions for an abortion in the case of rape or incest, as well in the circumstances in which the pregnancy threatened the life or the mother.

“After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling,” according to the text of the Pain-Capable Act.

Because of an unborn child’s sensitivity to pain at this stage, anesthesia is regularly administered during in-utero surgery after 20 weeks. An ultrasound can reveal the gender of an unborn child, who can be viewed sucking their thumb, yawning, or stretching by 20 weeks of pregnancy. The nervous system begins functioning in the fourth month of pregnancy.

The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in Oct. 2017, is opposed by most Senate Democrats. To prevent a filibuster, Republicans needed Democratic support, in addition to the votes of the 51 Republican Senators.

Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly supported the motion. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted against it.

Twenty-one states currently have a law banning abortion after 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute. A recent Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus found that 76 percent of Americans support limiting abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy.

“There is no reason why this should be a partisan issue,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor before the vote.

“The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act reflects a mainstream, growing consensus that unborn children should not be subjected to elective-abortion after 20 weeks,” he added.

In France, Italy, and Germany, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The United States, China, North Korea, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vietnam are the seven countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.