Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2017 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After President Donald Trump addressed a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, pro-life leaders wished he had spoken more to their concerns of federal abortion funding in health care.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, lauded Trump for his emphasis on “the inherent dignity of the human person” in expressing concern for “persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East” and the need to care for military veterans.
“We are concerned, however, that we have not heard about pro-life protections in the healthcare replace plan from the White House and we would have liked to have heard that addressed last night,” Mancini said.
President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday covered many topics, including border security, the “drug epidemic,” inner cities, aging infrastructure, and school choice, but he left out any specific mention of abortion or pro-life policies.
Congress is currently considering plans to repeal and replace the current health care law, but pro-life groups are concerned that problematic parts of the law – federal funding of abortions – may remain intact in the replacement plan.
These groups insist that the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood be stripped of Medicaid funding as part of any repeal-and-replace plan – something House Speaker Paul Ryan promised would happen -- but add that protections against federal funding of abortion coverage must also be extended in the replacement plan.
“The courts have ruled that abortion is health care,” the vice president of government affairs of the March for Life Tom McClusky explained to CNA.
“The American people, I believe, disagree with that, but until the courts are changed and the tax code is changed, any health care legislation, to be pro-life, needs to specifically address the pro-life issue,” he said.
One large concern of pro-life groups is that under the Affordable Care Act, federal subsidies were quite possibly funding abortion coverage in health plans offered on state exchanges.
When the Affordable Care Act was finally passed in 2010 and signed into law, the last Democrats to hold out in opposition changed their vote when President Obama promised an executive order forbidding funding of abortion coverage under the law. Pro-life leaders insisted that the promise would not have sufficient authority to stop such funding.
A 2014 Government Accountability Office report had found that the protocol set up to ensure separate billing of abortion coverage in health plans offered on the state exchanges was not being followed. This allowed for the possibility that federal subsidies for health coverage were directly funding abortion coverage.
Also, in several states, every plan offered on the exchanges included abortion coverage, an outrage to pro-lifers shopping for health plans that did not cover abortions.
McClusky explained other problematic areas of abortion funding in health care, including the use of refundable tax credits to purchase abortion coverage or plans with abortion coverage, and the need to extend abortion funding prohibitions to any increase in funding of community health centers.
Another concern he had was that “pro-life language” in a replacement bill could get stripped away by the Senate Parliamentarian.
However, something must be done to directly address these concerns, he insisted, because to do nothing would ensure the status quo.
“There’s no way that pro-life groups could oppose a bill that expands abortion in the U.S., meaning Obamacare, because the Democrats pass it – and then sit idly by, because the Republicans are passing this one it’s okay,” he insisted.
Mancini praised other pro-life actions by President Trump from his first 40 days in office, including his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which forbids the U.S. from funding international non-government organizations that perform or promote abortions.
“We look forward to the continued commitment to pro-life priorities and urge Congress to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and the Pain Capable 5-month abortion ban, and for the President to sign both into law,” she added.
Elsewhere in his Monday speech, Trump mentioned school choice, calling education “the civil rights issue of our time.”
“I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” he stated.
“These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or homeschool that is right for them.”
School choice is an issue that affects many Catholic families, as many parents may wish to send their child to Catholic school or homeschool them for religious reasons.
For instance, in January, Jason Calvi of EWTN News Nightly reported on Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., a Catholic school where “half of the 380 kids receive a voucher” to attend through a D.C. scholarship program.
Speaking for homeschoolers, William A. Estrada, director of federal relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association, said he was “very pleased” that President Trump mentioned school choice and said that “it’s a measure of how successful home schooling is and how it has evolved.”
Two million students are homeschooled in the U.S. according to Department of Education estimates, he said.
Estrada insisted that families who choose to homeschool their children must be free to do so, untethered from federal funding which can carry hidden mandates on education. For that reason, the association opposes the bill H.R. 610 in Congress which would give vouchers to homeschooling families.
Also, with the Federal Higher Education Act homeschooled students who complete high school nevertheless are classified as those without diplomas. Certain state college systems in New York and California do not accept homeschooled students, he noted. Such students should be allowed to receive diplomas for completing all their high school courses, he insisted.
“That’s actually a real-world example of where Congress could act to improve freedom for homeschool families and homeschool graduates,” he said.
Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Congress can do more to prioritize international religious freedom, and ensuring that bills come up for a vote is key to that, an advocacy organization has found in its new scorecard for Senators and Representatives.
At a time when the three-fourths of the world’s population lives in countries where freedom of religion is significantly restricted, members of U.S. Congress must be held accountable on how much importance they give to protecting and promoting this freedom abroad, The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative maintained.
“Congress can do more to prioritize international religious freedom,” the Wilberforce Initiative concluded from its scorecard for the 114th session of Congress.
The card was announced last year as a way to hold members of Congress accountable for their activity – or lack thereof – in promoting religious freedom abroad.
“Most of the major international religious freedom initiatives over the past few decades came from Congress,” stated Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who earned the top score among members of the U.S. House.
The top scorer in the Senate was Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
The Wilberforce Initiative announced that “collectively, more people are persecuted for their faith now than at any other time in the world’s history. This includes more than 100 million people killed under repressive secularist and communist regimes in the 20th century.”
“Federal legislators can help our nation lead in the protection and promotion of religious freedom by publicizing various issues and cases, by passing bills in support of religious freedom, and, in some instances, by exerting pressure in support of religious freedom. It is critical that legislators use their influence to support those who are persecuted for their faith.”
So the Wilberforce Initiative's scorecard tracks legislators' votes on bills and their sponsorships or co-sponsorships of legislation, as well as their membership in religious freedom caucuses like the International Religious Freedom Caucus, the House Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Most bills are not ultimately voted on, the Wilberforce Initiative maintained, so they make sure to keep track of members’ sponsorship of bills in an effort to bring up a vote on an important religious freedom issue. And many items, especially in the Senate, have not yet been voted on and provide “ample opportunity” for members to prove their commitment to religious freedom in 2017.
What were some of the most pressing matters of religious freedom in 2016?
Two of the biggest score items, according to the Wilberforce Initiative, were H. Con. Res. 75, a congressional resolution stating that the Islamic State was committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria, which passed the House in March; and the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which passed both houses in December.
Some of the other items included the Combatting European Anti-Semitism Act of 2016 and Senate resolutions calling for sanctions on Vietnam’s human rights abusers, and condemning “the Government of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority.”
House resolutions included a call for the U.S. to support a Nineveh Plain province for its inhabitants who were persecuted by the Islamic State and a “call for the global repeal of blasphemy laws.”
Most of the highly-recognized leaders on the issue are members of the House, as “the Senate has been less engaged in promoting religious freedom than the House,” the Wilberforce Initiative noted.
The Wilberforce Initiative also noted that low scores “do not necessarily indicate disagreement with international religious freedom, but reflect that it was not a high priority for that legislator. Conversely, high scores demonstrate that a given legislator actively supported international religious freedom legislation and has made support of international religious freedom a priority.”
It also stated that a scorecard “is an imperfect tool” and that “there are are additional factors that cannot be reflected,” such as quiet diplomacy and casework.
Of legislators who earned an “A”, 56 percent were Republicans and 44 percent were Democrats. Those with “B” and “C” ratings were also majority Republican. But among legislators who scored a “D”, 62 percent were Republicans and 38 percent were Democrats. No legislators earned an “F”.
Marco Rubio was the only Senator to receive an “A+”, while 13 Representatives received the score: Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), David Trott (R-Mich.), and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.).
Aside from Rubio, 2016's presidential contenders did not fare so well on the list. Sens Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got “C” marks, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) received “D” ratings.
Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 1, 2017 / 12:51 pm (CNA).- The answer to society’s dysfunctions can be found in one person: Jesus Christ.
That message is at the core of Archbishop José H. Gomez’ new pastoral letter – “For Greater Things You Were Born” – released March 1, Ash Wednesday. The letter is a 16,000-word meditation on human nature, which the archbishop maintains can only be understood in relation to God.
“Jesus Christ alone knows who we are and he is the one teacher of life,” he writes. “He alone shows us the way to live in order to lead a truly human life.”
The elections revealed rifts in American society. The archbishop notes in particular “the persistence of racist thinking,” class divisions, “cruel indifference to the sufferings of immigrants” and efforts to “normalize” abortion and euthanasia. The “divisions and dysfunctions” in American society expose unanswered questions about the meaning of life, the archbishop writes. By forgetting God, society has lost a common foundation on which to build.
“So many of our neighbors seem to be not really living but only existing,” the archbishop writes. But, recalling that human beings are created in the image of God, he writes “God made us for greater things!”
The title of the pastoral letter is from Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa, who founded the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. As he mentioned in his first homily in Los Angeles, she would “tell everyone: ‘For greater things you were born!’”
The letter — broken into 40 sections — covers the vast implications of a Christian anthropology: the duty as stewards of creation, love for others as brothers and sisters, the beauty of marriage and the call to saintly life in imitation of Christ. The archbishop also outlines a “plan of life,” including reading the Gospels, going to Mass and confession and carrying out acts of service.
The letter relies heavily on Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the teachings of the saints, like St. Junípero Serra, Blessed Oscar Romero and Servant of God Dorothy Day. The archbishop also quotes Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.
“We are made out of love, a thing of beauty in God’s eyes and the glory of his creation,” he writes. “We are made to share in his divine nature as his beloved children. We are made to be holy, to be saints!”
Republished with permission from Angelus News.
Denver, Colo., Mar 1, 2017 / 06:24 am (Denver Catholic).- St. Bernadette Parish, the pioneer Catholic church of Lakewood, Colorado, outgrew its first worship space just 18 years after being founded in 1947. Today, the half-century-old church remains large enough but needs updating to better serve its exceptionally diverse congregation.
In addition to ministering to the faithful of central Lakewood, the parish heads Colorado Catholic Deaf Ministry, is home to St. Kateri Native American Community, runs a school and soon will be host to Marisol Home, which will provide transitional housing to homeless women with children.
“One holy, Catholic and apostolic church is a pretty good description for our parish,” said the pastor, Father Tom Coyte.
“Catholic means universal,” added pastoral associate Julie Plouffe, “and there is so much diversity represented in this one worship space: the deaf, Native Americans, service to the poor and the homeless, and to our school.”
When Father Coyte was named pastor of St. Bernadette’s two and a half years ago, he quickly realized his handsome church was in need of repairs and renovations – from the essentials of updating the heating, cooling and electricity, to improving the sanctuary for comfort and hospitality.
He wants all of his parishioners, including the deaf, to be able to enjoy full, active participation in the church liturgies. When Father Coyte arrived to St. Bernadette’s, the deaf community, which he’s led for 45 years, came with him.
“We became aware of how difficult it is to participate visually in our liturgies here,” Father Coyte said.
Because it’s essential for the deaf to see what’s being signed, the parish plans, among other improvements, to elevate the altar platform to increase visibility for the congregation. (The change will also aid seeing the schoolchildren when they take part in liturgies.)
Deaf ministry enables the hard of hearing to serve as lectors, ushers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. It offers interpretive services for weddings, funerals and religious education classes, and organizes retreats.
“Deaf ministry is an archdiocesan outreach to all deaf persons and their families to be fully involved in parish and Church life,” Father Coyte said.
Services include religious education and interpretive outreach, and signed weekly Masses at two other parishes – one in the Colorado Springs Diocese.
“We also go to Pueblo and have been to other states,” Father Coyte said.
St. Kateri Community
The St. Kateri ministry, in which some 60 people from across the archdiocese representing about 10 Native American tribes celebrate a weekly Mass incorporating Indian traditions, has been at St. Bernadette’s since 1985.
“They’ve been embraced by the St. Bernadette community,” Father Coyte said. “They have a beautiful spirituality.”
Kateri ministry exists to evangelize and serve the archdiocese’s Native American community and provides religious education and community building.
Aid to the poor, homeless
Last fall, the Kateri community, which had turned the parish’s old convent into a chapel, moved their weekly Mass into the church proper. Catholic Charities is leasing and transforming Kateri’s former home for worship into a home for single-parent mothers with children. Marisol Home, set to open this year, will be able to shelter up to 18 families at once.
“St. Bernadette’s will be providing a lot of meal support and volunteer hours,” Plouffe said of the Marisol ministry.
Ministry to the poor and homeless has long been a cherished activity of the parish, which helps a near daily stream of indigent from Lakewood’s Colfax corridor with food, rent assistance and resource referrals.
“We reach out to many needy families in our school as well,” Father Coyte said.
This spring the parish is launching a three-year, $1.5 million capital campaign to fund necessary improvements to make St. Bernadette’s more beautiful, functional and welcoming for its diverse congregation.
Just as the church’s unique ministries stretch beyond its parish boundaries, Father Coyte said so, too, does its need for donations.
“Our outreach is much larger than St. Bernadette Parish,” he said. “We’re a relatively small parish of 700 to 800 families, yet our ministries are quite ambitious.”
Reprinted from the Denver Catholic.
Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2017 / 02:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Ash Wednesday kicks off the Lenten season, Catholics enter into 40 days of abstaining from sweets, technology, alcohol and other luxuries.
But did you know that Catholic monks once brewed beer specifically for a liquid-only Lenten fast?
Back in the 1600s, Paulaner monks moved from Southern Italy to the Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Bavaria. “Being a strict order, they were not allowed to consume solid food during Lent,” the current braumeister and beer sommelier of Paulaner Brewery Martin Zuber explained in a video on the company’s website.
They needed something other than water to sustain them, so the monks turned to a common staple of the time of their region – beer. They concocted an “unusually strong” brew, full of carbohydrates and nutrients, because “liquid bread wouldn’t break the fast,” Zuber noted.
This was an early doppelbock-style beer, which the monks eventually sold in the community and which was an original product of Paulaner brewery, founded in 1634. They gave it the name “Salvator,” named after “Sankt Vater,” which “roughly translates as ‘Holy Father beer,’” Zuber said.
Paulaner currently serves 70 countries and is one of the chief breweries featured at Munich’s Octoberfest. Although its doppelbock is enjoyed around the world today, it had a distinctly penitential origin with the monks.
Could a beer-only fast really be accomplished? One journalist had read of the monks’ story and, in 2011, attempted to re-create their fast.
J. Wilson, a Christian working as an editor for a county newspaper in Iowa, partnered with a local brewery and brewed a special doppelbock that he consumed over 46 days during Lent, eating no solid food.
He had regular check-ups with his doctor and obtained permission from his boss for the fast, drinking four beers over the course of a work day and five beers on Saturdays and Sundays. His experience, he said, was transformative – and not in an intoxicating way.
Wilson learned “that the human body is an amazing machine,” he wrote in a blog for CNN after his Lenten experience.
“Aside from cramming it [the body] full of junk food, we don’t ask much of it. We take it for granted. It is capable of much more than many of us give it credit for. It can climb mountains, run marathons and, yes, it can function without food for long periods of time,” he wrote.
Wilson noted that he was acutely hungry for the first several days of his fast, but “my body then switched gears, replaced hunger with focus, and I found myself operating in a tunnel of clarity unlike anything I’d ever experienced.” He ended up losing over 25 pounds over the course of the Lenten season, but learned to practice “self-discipline.”
And, he found, one of his greatest challenges was actually fasting from media.
As he blogged about his fast, Wilson received numerous interview requests from local and national media outlets, and he chose to forego some of these requests and step away from using media to focus on the spiritual purpose of his fast.
“The experience proved that the origin story of monks fasting on doppelbock was not only possible, but probable,” he concluded.
“It left me with the realization that the monks must have been keenly aware of their own humanity and imperfections. In order to refocus on God, they engaged this annual practice not only to endure sacrifice, but to stress and rediscover their own shortcomings in an effort to continually refine themselves.”
Catholics are not obliged to give up solid food for Lent, of course, but they must do penance during the season of Lent in the example of Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness, in commemoration of His death, and in preparation for Easter.
Catholics in the U.S., if healthy adults aged 18-59, must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and are encouraged to continue the Good Friday fast through Holy Saturday to the Easter Vigil.
“No Catholic Christian will lightly excuse himself from so hallowed an obligation on the Wednesday which solemnly opens the Lenten season and on that Friday called ‘Good’ because on that day Christ suffered in the flesh and died for our sins,” the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote in their 1966 pastoral letter on fasting.
Fasting is interpreted to mean eating one full meal and two smaller meals that, taken together, do not equal that one full meal. There may be no eating in between meals, and there is no specific mention of liquids in the guidelines.
In their pastoral letter, the bishops also maintained obligatory abstinence from meat for all Catholics on Fridays in Lent, and “strongly recommend participation in daily mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting” on other Lenten days, as well as almsgiving, study of the Scriptures, and devotions like the rosary and the Stations of the Cross.
New York City, N.Y., Mar 1, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement whose cause for canonization has been opened, is the subject of a new book by her own granddaughter, Kate Hennessy.
“My grandmother and my mother really thought carefully and closely about some pretty basic things that I think we have lost sight of,” Hennessy said. “One is: what am I meant to do, what is each of us meant to do, in terms of occupation and vocation? What skills can I offer the world? They both felt that that was so important.”
Day was also captivated by “this idea that we each have a role to play, that each are capable of doing something,” she said. “I think that’s very, very hopeful. In these times people are unsure of what to do – I mean the problem seems so big. My grandmother was saying [that] what we can do is so little, but that is what we are given to do. That’s only what we can do, so let’s move forward and do what we each think that we can do. That’s what I hope people will come away with from this story.”
Hennessy is the youngest of Day's nine grandchildren, through her daughter Tamar. She spoke to CNA about her book Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, a biography-memoir about her grandmother.
Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day was baptized Episcopalian at the age of 12. She displayed signs at a young age of possessing a deep religious sense, fasting and mortifying her body by sleeping on hardwood floors.
She was strongly influenced by Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and she worked as a journalist for a socialist publication. She had a series of disastrous romances, and procured an abortion.
She had a profound conversion, and had her daughter baptized as a Catholic. She was herself received into the Church in 1927.
She co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement with Peter Maurin in 1933, starting soup kitchens, farm communities, and a Catholic newspaper.She dedicated her life to aiding and advocating for the poor and leading a life characterized by voluntary poverty and works of mercy.
Her legacy lives on today in some 185 Catholic Worker communities in the U.S. and around the globe.
The Catholic Worker was meant “to bring the word that the Church had a call among social action,” Hennessy reflected.
Hennessy considers Day's profound influence on others to be the clearest evidence of her sanctity.
“So many people have said to me that when they met my grandmother, when they read her books, or when they worked at the Catholic Worker, that it had just changed their lives forever … What is my vocation, what should I be doing as an occupation? Or how should I be treating people, how should I be as a moral person?”
Holy persons like Day “help us, they lead us to change our perception of reality, in a way, and become more engaged in the world.”
Hennessy recalled the beauty of a Catholic Worker Farm where she had spent summer breaks in upstate New York. She said Day had a powerful eye of observation and was able to see beauty anywhere.
“One of the things that I think my grandmother was so good at, and really teaches us, is how she could see beauty anywhere. She would see beauty in a tree that was struggling to grow in the middle of the city. She could see beauty in any little bit of nature that she could see … or eating from a lovely plate that had been donated.”
That beauty can be found at the Catholic Worker houses, she said: “Just being able to invite people in, and set them down with a cup of coffee and a bowl of soup, is also a form of beauty.”
Washington D.C., Feb 28, 2017 / 02:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While physician-assisted suicide is promoted as empowering terminally-ill patients, it could result in the poor being coerced to take their lives, experts warned at an event this week.
“When you deal with the issue of poverty, this immediately rises up – care is expensive, assisted suicide is not,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said at a Monday panel on physician-assisted suicide at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
The elderly sick may also be taken advantage of, the senator added. They may be told by their families that they are a “burden” on others, or they may simply feel that way. Then “this becomes a guilt issue” as they consider requesting a lethal prescription, he said.
Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in the District of Columbia and in six states – Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Colorado via state laws, and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.
Some 24 states areconsidering legalizing it, according to the group Death with Dignity that promotes these laws around the country. These so-called “Death with Dignity laws” allow patients diagnosed with a terminal illness with six months or less to live to request a lethal prescription from a doctor.
These laws have “otherwise been rejected by the people,” noted Ryan Anderson, the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American principles and public policy at the Heritage Foundation. The “vast majority of the states have considered” the laws already and rejected them, he added.
Critics have also warned about loopholes in the laws that provide room for dangerous abuses to take place.
Patients may “doctor-shop” until they find a physician who approves their request for a lethal prescription, even though the doctor may barely know their medical history. Or one witness for the patient’s decision to request a prescription may be a financial beneficiary of their death.
However, groups like Compassion and Choices and Death with Dignity are pushing for these laws to be introduced in state legislatures. And if legalized, physician-assisted suicide could prove especially dangerous to vulnerable populations like the poor, the elderly, and the disabled whose health care costs are seen by some as burdensome.
“Already because so many coverage decisions are based on financial considerations, people with disabilities have difficulty accessing the care we need,” Lindsay Baran, a policy analyst at The National Council on Independent Living, said in a written statement read at Monday’s panel.
In Oregon, she said, “we have several stories from people who have had doctor-recommended treatments denied only to be offered the assisted suicide drug as one of their covered alternatives” by insurance providers.
Physician-assisted suicide can indeed be “promoted” as a “cost-effective treatment,” Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, M.D. M.A., professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, warned at the panel.
Modern palliative care is capable of limiting the physical pain of terminally-ill patients, he added, answering one of the chief arguments of assisted suicide proponents about patients suffering pain for months on end as they prepare to die.
Palliative care is still “underrepresented in the practice of medicine right now,” Donovan said, yet “with additional funding” it could become more commonplace.
“Will palliative care be made more accessible when physician-assisted suicide is a legal option? Those who provide funding for health care know that death is always cost-effective,” he cautioned.
In California, Catholic opponents of assisted suicide were “told repeatedly by legislators” that “this will never be a publicly-funded benefit,” said Kathleen Buckley Domingo, associate director of life ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Yet $2 million was set aside for these drugs by the state of California while 13 million people on the state’s Medicare fund are not covered for palliative care, she noted.
“Especially in our immigrant communities…especially in our poor inner city communities, there’s a huge disparity in the kind of health care that people are receiving,” she said. “They’re on MediCal, and this is now the cheapest and easiest option.”
The drugs are cheap and also easily available, she said, noting that they can be shipped directly to people’s homes.
One woman, Stephanie Packer in Orange, Calif., reported being denied chemotherapy treatment by her insurer while being offered cheap coverage for a lethal prescription, in a documentary produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.
The elderly sick are also vulnerable to such laws because they may be told by their families that they are a “burden” on others or they may simply feel that way.
In fact, in 2014 the State of Washington reported that of those who died in the state’s Death With Dignity program, almost 60 percent said they were concerned about being a “burden on family, friends/caregivers.”
“We have privileged assisted suicide over good medical care,” Donovan said, so much so that in California, by law if a hospitalized psychiatric patient has a terminal medical diagnosis, they “have to be released” if they request a lethal prescription.
“This is somebody who isn’t entitled to make decisions for themselves. That’s why they’re in a psychiatric hospital,” Donovan said.
Ultimately, assisted suicide laws are not about empowerment but rather about special interests, the panel said.
Legalizing it “doesn’t really give patients any new rights or protections,” Donovan insisted, as suicide is currently “legal in all 50 states,” but “it’s just not legal to help someone or promote it.” Rather, “it’s a physician-protection law,” he said.
The laws are supported by “very few people” who tend to be more well-educated and wealthier, but “those who are put at risk” are many, especially the elderly and those in lower-income brackets.
“I think those are usually called special interest bills,” he said.
The bills are also based on a “false reasoning” of autonomy, he added.
“If these bills wanted to honor choice, free choice,” he continued, “then how do we justify restricting this to people who are going to be dead in 6 months?” Why not those with nine or 12 month diagnoses, he asked, or the chronically ill or emotionally ill.
Even though proponents of assisted suicide argue that it saves patients from enduring months of painful suffering at the end of their lives, Donovan explained that many physicians may offer incomplete or even incorrect terminal diagnoses.
Two acts physicians do not perform well, he argued, are to “prognosticate the end of someone’s life” and “overdose our patients, lethally.”
Lincoln, Neb., Feb 27, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Controversial immigration policies issued by United States President Donald Trump’s have thus far prompted numerous critiques from concerned U.S. Catholic bishops.
The most recent order, issued Feb. 20, directed officials to more aggressively find, arrest, and deport illegal immigrants, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.
In his most recent column, “Standing in Solidarity”, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln joined other bishops in their criticism of the order, saying it would do “very little to resolve the immigration problems in our country.”
“Nor will it meaningfully impact the security of our nation, or the safety of our citizens,” he said.
He noted that the previous administration also oversaw numerous deportations, which had little effect on the security of the nation.
“Mass deportation is a panacea: the appearance of an answer without really resolving anything,” he said.
In his column, Bishop Conley explained that the Catholic Church’s teaching on immigration is based on three principles: “(T)hat families have the right to migrate for economic opportunities, for freedom, or for safety; that nations have the right to security, to fixed borders and ordered policies for immigrants; that as an obligation of justice and mercy, nations who can receive immigrants without detriment to the welfare of their citizens should do so.”
Bishop Conley argued that the United States government “does not adequately address its citizens’ right to safety,” nor does it “adequately respect the natural right of families to migration.”
“In short, our immigration system is broken, and that broken system is the cause of serious injustice,” he wrote.
“Whatever the reason for it, our broken immigration system is an injustice to immigrants and to all Americans. That injustice has tragic consequences in the lives of real families, who reflect the image of the Trinity.”
The state of Nebraska and its capital city of Lincoln, where Bishop Conley is based, are known for being particularly welcoming to refugees. Last year, Nebraska led the nation in resettling the most refugees per capita, according to federal government data. The state is a strong draw for refugees because of its stable economy and accessibility to jobs.
In 2016, Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska resettled 231 people (72 families), and placed 47 people in employment within three months of their arrival to the U.S. These refugees were primarily from the countries of Burma, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Four of these countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan – are Muslim-majority countries listed on the previous visa ban issued by President Trump.
Bishop Conley urged Catholics to remember that nearly 40 percent of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, and that the Catholic Church in America is an immigrant Church. There was once a time in the history of the nation where Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, Italy, and many other nations were similarly attacked, he said.
He urged the faithful to stand in solidarity with their fellow members of the Body of Christ when they are unfairly stereotyped as “thuggish criminals or economic liabilities,” and encouraged them to “expect better” policies from their government than mass deportations and extreme policies that hurt the vulnerable.
“I stand in solidarity with immigrant families living in fear of what might be coming for them. I stand in solidarity with American citizens, looking for real security, instead of political showmanship and rhetoric. I stand in solidarity with those politicians and law enforcement agents working to find fair and humane solutions to complex problems. I stand in solidarity with those living in poverty or danger, seeking some promise of safety, and opportunity for their children,” he wrote.
“As Catholics, we must continue to call for real, comprehensive, safe, and just immigration reform. But we cannot accept the panacea of mass detention and deportation. Americans, immigrants, and the Church should expect something better than that.”
President Trump is expected to issue a new executive order on immigration this week, after his first executive order on immigration was temporarily blocked by a federal judge Feb. 4.
Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2017 / 02:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops are responding with solidarity and concern for the Jewish community, following a surge in anti-Semitic actions in recent weeks.
“On behalf of the Bishops and people of the Catholic Church, as the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanksi of Springfield in a press release.
“I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions,” Bishop Rozanski continued.
On Feb. 20, more than 150 headstones were damaged in University City, Missouri at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. Just a week later, over 100 headstones were found similarly knocked over at the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was "deeply saddened" by the vandalism at Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery, and called for "prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed."
"As a community, we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize, and incite prejudice," the archbishop continued. "We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition. Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding."
No suspects have been named in either case, but the damage has reached hundreds of thousands of dollars.
More than 50 bomb threats targeting the Jewish community have also been reported across the country since the beginning of the year, including scares at Jewish community centers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Milwaukee.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, violent anti-Semitic actions soared in 2015, and continued into 2016 with increased online anti-Semitic harassment.
Leaders and officials have denounced the surge in anti-Semitic actions, including words from President Donald Trump last week, who said the recent attacks on the Jewish community were “horrible and are a painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia also spoke out, saying that “hate is not permissible in Philadelphia,” and that the perpetrators “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” according to the New York Times.
Echoing these sentiments, Bishop Rozanski promised that “the Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism.”
Quoting Pope Francis, he pointed to the dangers of the anti-Semitic attacks, linking them to acts of dehumanization, which is most notably seen in hatred towards neighbors.
However, the Springfield bishop also voiced hope that these attacks could be an opportunity for neighborly love to shine brightly.
“But here we also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark; that it may wake us up and let true humanity burst through with authentic resistance, resilience and persistence.”
“I encourage everyone to remember their neighbor, to find the opportunities to be lights of resistance, resilience, and persistence during these contentious times, especially with all our brothers and sisters of faith.”
Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 27, 2017 / 09:55 am (CNA).- They came from across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to stand together, worship side-by-side and honor their shared history: African American Catholics, a small yet faith-filled community, sang God’s praises as one during this year’s Black History Month Mass on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown L.A., which has hosted the annual Mass every year since 2003.
“Black Catholics have always had a very strong faith,” said Andrew Knox, a parishioner at St. Brigid Church, who spoke to Angelus News during the February meeting of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization (AACCFE), which serves the local African American Catholic community year-round, and helps organize parish and archdiocesan-wide events like the Black History Mass.
“We’re rooted in a strong spirituality and we are always moving forward,” added Knox, a member of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization council, which represents 25 parishes and meets monthly September through June. “Our faith never fails us … we believe that Jesus is always going to lead us in the right direction. We’re strong believers.”
And they are strong evangelizers, too, noted Anderson F. Shaw, director of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization. During the Feb. 18 Mass, participating parishes each presented one individual to be recognized as a Keeper of the Flame, which honors those who have “kept the flame of evangelization alive” in their parish communities.
“We want to evangelize and help bring all people into the fold” – including those on the periphery and fallen-away Catholics of all backgrounds, explained Doris Tims, an African American Catholic Center for Evangelization member who attends St. Eugene Church. “We want to reach out and evangelize the whole community, so we can get them back into the Church.”
And those evangelization efforts are ongoing throughout the year, via parish-based ministries and the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization, including regional evangelization task forces, liturgy committees, ethnic ministry groups, music ministries, prayer groups, pro-life committees, supporting deacon and priestly vocations, and much more.
According to Shaw, groups such as the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization and related observances — the Black History Month Mass, Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, National Black Catholic Congress, Black Catholic History Month and others — are particularly essential within such a small community. Based on national demographics, about 76 percent of African American Catholics across the U.S. attend parishes where they make up a very small minority of the community.
In some parishes, there may be only four or five families, noted Shaw.
In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the total number of African American Catholics is approximately 70,000. By contrast, an estimated 5 million total Catholics — including all races and ethnicities — make up the local archdiocese.
“Among the reasons we conduct special liturgies and events are [because] we seek to bring all African American Catholics together, so they can share in their common culture and to also demonstrate a more visible presence within the archdiocese,” explained Shaw. “Through these visible presentations, the Church of Los Angeles gets a better picture of the contributions and gifts the African American Catholic community brings to the Church, and it gives confidence to African American Catholics to share their gifts with the Church.
“And with visibility comes a greater voice,” he added.
Terry Dicks of St. Jerome Church also emphasized the importance of promoting both unity and confidence, and also stressed the need to “remember” and to educate younger generations about the realities of “our story.”
“I would say that Black History Month really is more needed now than ever — we have to encourage each other to remember our story,” said Dicks. “Black History Month is a time to not just … remember [our story] and to remember whose shoulders we’re standing on — people suffered and died, and so it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve come a long way, although there’s always room for improvement — but Black History Month to me is also an opportunity to, as a people, say, ‘This is who we are, this is where we have been.’
“I was raised in New Orleans, where there were ‘colored’ signs and ‘whites’ signs, so it’s important for me to tell my story to my kids and to my parish, so they understand why we’re singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” she added. “A lot of times, many teenagers don’t really know our story and they need to know it.”
But, continued Dicks, it’s not enough to just celebrate black history.
“At our parish we have many cultures, so we celebrate each other,” said Dicks. “You have to go to the Filipino celebrations, to the Nigerian, to the Mexican American — you have to go to all of the celebrations. It’s not about dividing [to celebrate different races and cultures]; it’s actually unifying, because we learn to be hospitable to each other.
“What’s the point of being Catholic if it isn’t to support each other?” she asked.
Harry L. Wiley Jr., a knight of Peter Claver and parishioner at St. Raphael Church, shared similar thoughts.
“Pope Francis is a gift to this world. [He] has allowed the Church itself to say that it is with all people who are disrespected, downtrodden, impoverished,” said Wiley. “The leadership of this Church does not want to see people divided.”
Speaking of divisions, he pointed to the recent marches and demonstrations, expressing solidarity with those marching against inhumane policies and in support of safeguarding civil liberties for people of all religions, races and ethnicities.
“As Catholics we can’t stay back; we’ve got to know that Christ gave us an opportunity to see our value as humans, and to recognize that value in others, and to realize that we are no better than anyone else,” said Wiley. “Liberties can be taken away from us, just like they can be taken away from you or anyone else. … As black Catholics, as black [Americans] — from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King — we have never supported just black issues; we have been inclusive. … Martin Luther King did not work for black rights; he worked for civil rights, for all.”
Tims agreed wholeheartedly.
“We can’t stand alone, we have to stand together, whether it’s for Black Lives Matter or for immigration, we have to come together,” she said, recounting the despair she felt upon learning about the undocumented Arizona mother of two who was recently deported despite having resided in the United States for decades.
“No one group can do it alone; we need to be unified, otherwise there’s no way we’ll be able to stop this division that’s going on,” said Tims. “We have to love one another.”
Republished with permission from Angelus News.
Denver, Colo., Feb 26, 2017 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”
“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.
“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”
They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.
Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.
Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”
Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.
In his new book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.
“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.
“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”
Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.
Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.
But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.
“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.
When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.
It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.
“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”
He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.
“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.
Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.
Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.
“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.
“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”
But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?
“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”
The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.
The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.
“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.
But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.
“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.
“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”
What about parish life?
For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.
Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.
“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.
“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”
To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.
Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.
But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.
“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”
For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.
One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”
St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.
“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.
“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”
It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.
Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.
How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.
There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.
It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.
“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”
And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.
“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.
“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”
Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.
“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.
Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements
Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.
In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.
Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.
Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.
As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.
“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.
Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.
“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.
As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.
School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.
The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.
But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.
“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.
“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”
“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”
The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.
The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.
“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.
“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”
The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.
Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.
Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”
Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.
But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.
“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.
“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”
There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.
“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”
Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”
Boulder, Colo., Feb 26, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Erika Bachiochi, the Catholic Church has been able to offer a genuine pro-woman theology which not only safeguards and protects her stance as a feminist, but also enhances her ability to be strong in all aspects of her life.
Dr. Mary Anne Case would like to differ. She believes that while Catholic feminism exists, the institutional Catholic Church – namely the Vatican and Magisterium – is overtly anti-woman.
These two legal scholars from varied backgrounds met on the common stage of feminism at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought’s 10th annual Great Debate in Boulder, Colo. on Feb. 23. The two women presented dissenting arguments for both sides of the spectrum on Catholic feminism and tackled the question: is the Church anti-woman?
Dr. Case, a law professor at the University of Chicago, answered in the affirmative, while Erika Bachiochi, a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, answered in the negative.
“In my lifetime, the Church that had made me a feminist betrayed me,” Dr. Case said in her opening statements.
“I think the Church has let us down, and I think the Church has let us down relatively recently. The early church was very much not anti-woman. The gospels are not anti-woman,” she continued, saying the Catholic Church of the past was not anti-feminist.
However, Dr. Case argued that when the Church definitively said “no” to priestly ordination for women in the 1970s, they closed the door to half of the population of the Church.
“The problem with the Catholic Church is that all authority flows from ordination. The Magisterium – as it need not be – is composed of men and cardinals,” Dr. Case said, suggesting that women should at least be allowed in the decision-making that flows from the hierarchy of the Magisterium.
The law professor spoke at the debate wearing a button from the 1970s on her shirt that said “If you aren't going to ordain women, stop baptizing them.”
This, she said, is a representation of the economy of salvation: if women cannot be priests because they do not image Christ, how can women become saved in the eyes of the Church, since salvation can only arrive through the extent that Christ images us?
Dr. Case also pointed to some of the Catholic Church's greatest thinkers, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that “women are necessarily in a state of subjection,” and that females are “misbegotten males.” She also highlighted that the Sistine Chapel’s Creation of Man, is indeed that of a man – and does not include Eve.
Within the last 50 years, Dr. Case believes that the Church shifted away from the idea that men and women are equal when it introduced the idea of complementarity, particularly seen in Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, saying that placing characteristics or roles on each gender negates their equality.
“There should be no fixed notions concerning the role of males and females,” Dr. Case suggested, and pointed to St. Augustine’s notion that the soul does not have a sex.
In response, Bachiochi said that “papal teaching has rejected the essentialist view that woman and men possess mutually exclusive fixed character traits.” Sexuality does not take away from the equality of men and women, she said, but simply makes them “distinctive.”
While Bachiochi was once a pro-choice, socialist feminist, she has since shifted her beliefs towards the teachings and beliefs of Catholicism. She agreed with Dr. Case on a number of different levels, saying that “there should be more women's voices in the Church.”
However, the most notable differences between the two scholars was on the point of clerics and sexual teachings. While Dr. Case argued that women can and should be ordained Catholic priests, Bachiochi said the notion reeked of clericalism.
“I have no less authority than a priest as a baptized Christian,” Bachiochi said.
“A priest has authority to represent Christ in a sacramental way, and I have the authority to represent Christ in every other area of my life,” she said, adding that the focus on female priests can also take away from the good work that professional and religious women are already doing within the Church.
However, Dr. Case pointed out that men in the Catholic Church “have all of the opportunities, and then some. How can the church not be anti-women…if women are not part of the decision making?”
To this, Bachiochi agreed that more female voices are needed within the Church, but did point to the Pontifical Council of the Laity, which seeks female voices, and other prominent church leaders such as Mary Glendon, who serves on various Vatican boards, and Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., who is a philosopher appointed to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.
Bachiochi went on to find fundamental differences with the modern idea of feminism, which claims that abortion and contraception rights are the capstone to the whole movement. She has found in her own experience that these same notions can also be the downfall to women.
Instead, Bachiochi suggested that Catholic feminism indeed exists, and is protected by the Church, precisely because of its teachings about sexual and reproductive rights, particularly Natural Family Planning.
“I believe that Catholic Christianity, and in particular the controversial sexual teachings of the Catholic Church, are deeply pro-woman. It was precisely these teachings on monogamy, divorce, birth control, abortion and infanticide that attracted women in the first century into the Christian fold,” Bachiochi stated.
“As a feminist, NFP does something that contraception neglects… it gets men to think about the reality,” she noted, saying that through NFP, less pressure is put on the woman to take the pill or get an IUD, and more emphasis is placed on men and their responsibility in the sexual act.
She also mentioned that the Catholic Church in particular has always been pro-woman, as seen through its recognition of female saints, political leaders, and scholars, and its production of educational systems and healthcare centered around the good of women.
Bachiochi additionally noted that “Mary, the Mother of God, is heralded by the Catholic Church as the single greatest human that has ever lived.”
“The greatest among us are not the clerics, but the saints.”
Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb 25, 2017 / 04:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Cincinnati are hoping that an upcoming meeting of bishops and leaders will give the local Church a much stronger voice to address issues of racism and violence.
“It is a blessing for this archdiocese, through the archbishop, to embrace addressing racism, the pervasive gun violence, restorative justice…race relations, and mental health, that our voice has to be heard,” said Deacon Royce Winters, director of African-American ministries for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
“That’s what we really wanted to do was to say as big and as powerful as the voice of the Catholic Church is in the United States, we have to do our part to bring about justice and the dignity of life for all peoples,” he told CNA.
The Feb. 28 meeting of Catholic leaders at Xavier University – entitled “Promoting Peace In Our Communities” – is a continuation of a years-long effort by Catholics to restore race relations and heal social tensions in the archdiocese, Deacon Royce said.
Area social tensions were inflamed after a 2015 incident where a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in a car. The officer was tried for murder and voluntary manslaughter before a judge declared a mistrial in November. A re-trial has been set for May.
That was the starting point for next Tuesday’s meeting, Deacon Royce recalled.
“We began to have conversations about what is the role of the Church to use this prophetic voice to address violence, whether it be police violence or black-on-black crime or any violence,” he said.
Several members of the archdiocese’s pastoral services department met to bring the problem of violence in the city to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. The archbishop then celebrated Masses for peace at four African-American parishes in the archdiocese, and staff sent out prayer intentions and homily suggestions to parishes on “the role of the Church in seeking justice.”
Then, after a rash of violent incidents across the nation in the summer of 2016 – police shootings of minorities and retaliatory shootings of police officers – Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for a Day of Prayer and Peace in Our Communities on Sept. 9. There were two Masses for peace that day in the archdiocese, at African-American parishes.
The U.S. bishops also commissioned a special task force to plan the day of prayer, but also to issue a report to the U.S. bishops’ conference on “promoting peace.”
Bishops addressing these issues at the national level proved to be a vital support to Catholics in the archdiocese who had been working for years on them, Deacon Royce said, noting that it “emboldened us to be even more intentional about addressing the issues in the diocese.”
Two big social problems in the Cincinnati area are “policing” and “black-on-black violence,” he said. Back in 2002, the police department and federal government entered a collaborative looking at “how they are policing in our communities.”
The collaboration led to firearm training and cultural sensitivity training for police officers, among other things, but “there’s still more to do,” Royce said.
He recalled that during the initial trial of the police officer that killed the unarmed black man in 2015, Catholics joined ecumenical leaders and social activists to pray on the steps of the court house. They prayed for the young man who was shot, and for his family, as well as for the police officer.
“We were also…that justice be done, whatever that justice is,” he added, insisting that “we weren’t praying for an outcome” in the case.
In November, Deacon Royce gave a presentation on Church statements against racism at the University of Cincinnati, citing the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” The previous November, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville discussed his letter on the “racial divide” at both Dayton University and Xavier University, preached at Mass, and participated in a panel discussion with area police chiefs and state representatives.
When Cincinnati hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in the summer 2015, Catholics joined with ecumenical leaders, activists and members of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center to ask the MLB to take public stands against racism and violence. They met with the owner of the Cincinnati Reds and representatives of the MLB.
Church leaders must be better equipped to talk about racism and gun violence, the deacon insisted.
“Our pastors, our deacons, or whoever’s preaching in our communities, are not skilled to address this issue, so that means the people in the communities are not being formed and most of us as preachers and as homilists would rather steer away from it than address it.”
After Archbishop Kurtz called for the Day of Prayer, Deacon Royce and others reached out to him and began planning the event modeled after the theme of the task force, “Promoting Peace In Our Communities.” The archdiocese, along with Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice and Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, will host the event.
“It provides us an opportunity to, again, promote the Church’s response to the letter that was sent out from the general secretary and Archbishop Kurtz,” the deacon said.
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. in the university’s Bellarmine Chapel to begin the event, with Archbishop Kurtz concelebrating.
The Mass will be followed by dinner and discussion on “embracing diversity in our communities.” This topic is needed for discussion, Deacon Royce stressed, because even though Catholic organizations do “great work” in the area, “we tend not to be engaged at the street level of dealing with people where they are.”
“We have to ask ourselves the question: Are we prepared to minister to all of God’s people and the range of race, culture, and origin in which they place themselves?”
This involves “teaching our staff” to look at “our own personal biases,” he said, “and identify their impact on our ministry.”
He added that there must be “an understanding that there is no one culture in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati into which non-white cultures are supposed to assimilate.”
The discussion will be followed by a keynote address on “Carrying Out Our Prophetic Ministry in Times of Racism and Violence” by Archbishop Kurtz.
The meeting is so important, Deacon Royce emphasized, because it gives the opportunity for Catholics to “be engaged” on these societal issues.
“When we say there’s a seamless garment of life from the womb to the tomb, then that means that we have to be engaged in those events to help people know what that dignity of life is.”
Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 24, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput will present his latest book in New York City and Washington, D.C. in the near future, discussing the changed situation for Catholicism in America.
“As Christians, we're offering a salvific message in a therapeutic culture. It's a tough sale,” the archbishop told CNA. He suggested that new understandings of religion and civic life are very different from previous generations.
“Jesus changed the world with 12 very flawed men,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We have plenty of good men and women, and more than enough resources, to do the same. But not if we’re too self-absorbed and too eager to fit into the world around us to suffer for our faith. We’re not short of vocations. We’re short of clear thinking and zeal.”
His newest book, “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World,” was released Feb. 21 by Henry Holt and Co. The archbishop makes the case that American culture has undergone a qualitative change from the past, and he considers the future for Catholics and Americans in public and private life.
While there are tens of millions of actively practicing Christians in the U.S., Archbishop Chaput suggests the overall trends in religious affiliation are not good. He stressed that the Christian past was great only insofar as Christians were faithful to Jesus Christ.
The archbishop will hold a book signing, deliver comments and take part in a panel discussion.
On Feb. 27 in New York City he will hold an event at 7 p.m. at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street, Manhattan.
The Washington, D.C. event will take place March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Catholic Information Center, 1501 K Street NW.
Admission at both events is free.
Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2017 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in the case of a Mexican teen shot dead by a border patrol agent. But when it comes to legal standing in the case, the situation is far from clear.
“This is a difficult case, as its facts are very compelling for the plaintiffs, but the law is less so,” said Mary G. Leary, professor of law at The Catholic University of America.
Leary spoke with CNA about the case Hernandez v. Mesa currently before the Supreme Court.
At the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010, three Mexican boys played a game of “chicken” by seeing who would run the closest to the border. Fifteen-year-old Sergio Hernandez crossed the border and was noticed by border patrol agent Jesus Mesa. As Hernandez ran back into a culvert between the walls on either side of the border, the agent shot him dead.
Mexico requested that Mesa be extradited for the killing, but the U.S. refused. Hernandez’s family sued for damages, claiming that the Fourth Amendment protects against such use of force on the border.
Although the Hernandez family has appealed to the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protections might not necessarily apply in the case, Leary said.
“The plaintiffs have made a constitutional claim, but it is far from clear that the Constitution applies to the family of a non-American citizen injured or in this case killed outside the border of the United States,” she stated.
The Fourth Circuit had dismissed the case, saying “the plaintiffs fail to allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that the Fifth Amendment right asserted by the plaintiffs was not clearly established at the time of the complained-of incident.”
Oral arguments in the case of Hernandez v. Mesa were heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
“This tragic case is one of the most simple extraterritorial cases this Court will ever have in front of it,” said Robert Hilliard, arguing for the teen’s family.
“First, all of the conduct of the domestic police officer happened inside the United States. Second, it was a civilian domestic police officer. Third it was a civilian plaintiff, not an enemy combatant. Fourth, it was one of the most fundamental rights, the right to life. Fifth, the other government involved supports – the government of Mexico supports the claim,” he said.
Justice Stephen Breyer admitted that the family has “a very sympathetic case,” but he and other justices were skeptical of issuing a broad ruling that could affect drone killings carried out in foreign countries by citizens operating in the U.S.
Also, justices noted, there is no specific rule on the books dealing with these instances. Lawyers are trying to make the case for the victim’s family by appealing to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against “unreasonable search and seizure.”
Hernandez’s case is not an isolated one, Hilliard insisted, claiming that there have been “at least 10 cross-border shootings” with six deaths of Mexican nationals.
Justice Kennedy asked whether the Court should consider the matter if “this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs” and “the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be.”
“But isn't this an urgent matter of separation of powers for us to respect the duty that…the executive and the legislative have with respect to foreign affairs?” he asked Hilliard.
When Randolph Ortega argued for Mesa before the Court, justices pressed him on the location of the killing and the role of Border Patrol officers.
“The actor is the Border Patrol member. And the instruction from the United States is very clear: Do not shoot to kill an unarmed, non-dangerous person who is no threat to your safety. Do not shoot to kill. That's U.S. law,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed.
“It's the United States law operating on the United States official who's acting inside the United States. This case has, as far as the conduct is concerned, United States written all over it,” she said.
Ortega insisted that “in areas of the United States where there is a clearly defined border, as we have here, the Fourth Amendment stops unless the person seized – in this case Hernandez – had some voluntary contact with the United States.”
Ginsburg asked how it would be different if an officer, standing in the U.S., shot a foreign national in the U.S. versus shooting someone on the border.
“That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it, to distinguish those two victims?” she asked.
“I think it's very distinguishable because of the very real border,” Ortega replied. “Wars have been fought to establish borders. The border is very real.”
Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2017 / 12:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration’s new border and immigration enforcement rules needlessly endanger the vulnerable, militarize the border and will cause many other problems, the U.S. bishops warned this week.
“They greatly expand the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, who wrote the bishops’ Feb. 23 response.
On Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security issued two memoranda to implement President Donald Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration enforcement on the border and in the U.S. interior.
“Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation, thus prioritizing no one,” Bishop Vasquez said.
Important protections for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, have been removed from federal policy, the bishop said.
The memoranda promote the use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. This disregards “existing relationships of trust” between local law enforcement officials and immigrant communities, he said.
“The engagement of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law can undermine public safety by making many who live in immigrant communities fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.”
In addition, the rules aim to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants, to erect new detention facilities, and to speed up deportations, the New York Times reports. Administration officials said that those brought to the U.S. as young children will not be targeted. However, parents living without documentation in the U.S. who smuggle their children into the country could face deportation or prosecution for smuggling or human trafficking.
Bishop Vasquez urged the Trump administration to reconsider its approach in the memoranda and in its executive orders.
“Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability,” he added.
He voiced the U.S. bishops’ commitment “to care for and respect the human dignity of all, regardless of their immigration status.”
“During this unsettling time, we will redouble our work to accompany and protect our immigrant brothers and sisters and recognize their contributions and inherent dignity as children of God,” he said.
Austin, Texas, Feb 23, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the controversy over investigative videos appearing to show illegal activities at Planned Parenthood, a federal judge has temporarily barred Texas from denying Medicaid funding to the abortion provider.
Attorney General Ken Paxton said the decision is “disappointing” and “flies in the face of basic human decency.”
“The raw, unedited footage from undercover videos exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts, as well as manipulate the timing and method of an abortion,” he said Feb. 21. “Even the remains of the most vicious criminals are treated with respect.”
“No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct,” Paxton added. “We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”
U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks issued a preliminary injunction stopping the state from defunding the abortion provider’s 30 health centers, which receive $4 million for services not related to abortion, the New York Times reports.
On Dec. 20, 2016, the inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission ruled that Planned Parenthood was unqualified to provide medical services “in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner.”
Judge Sparks said that the inspector general did not present “even a scintilla of evidence” that Planned Parenthood was unqualified, that it had profited from fetal tissue, or that a doctor had altered an abortion procedure for any purpose.
Planned Parenthood came under heavy criticism after undercover investigators with the Center for Medical Progress produced videos appearing to show Planned Parenthood staff and leaders engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and body parts from unborn babies.
Judge Sparks was dismissive of the videos and said the case was about “the State of Texas’ efforts to expel a group of health care providers from a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources.”
The case will go to trial, and Paxton said Texas would appeal the judge’s injunction.
Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, characterized the ruling as a “victory for Texas women.”
Planned Parenthood said its Medicaid-funded services in Texas include breast cancer and cervical cancer screening and treatment, contraception counseling, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and primary health services.
The abortion provider has denied any accusations of wrongdoing and has claimed the videos were deceptively edited.
The videos, first released in July 2015, prompted a massive response from Planned Parenthood backers.
A grant proposal attributed to George Soros’ Open Society Foundations indicated at least $7-$8 million would be spent in a campaign to counter the videos and “transform the narrative.” While the document charged that the videos were doctored, it said the videos’ release was “severe and without warning” and would require “an enormous amount of resources and staff time” for Planned Parenthood to respond.
The grant proposal particularly voiced concern about state-level investigations, especially in Texas.
Federal courts have blocked at least five other states’ attempts to bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid reimbursements: Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Anti-Catholic state laws from the 19th century are today being used by secularists to fight public funding of all religious organizations, warned a religious freedom advocacy group.
State Blaine Amendment laws are utilized today “to counter religious organizations and religious individuals,” said Eric Baxter, senior attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“The First Amendment was set in place to ensure that religious beliefs and religious exercise could have an equal part in our public life and culture,” he told CNA.
These state laws, however, “are being used to thwart that, to say that somehow religion is like the ugly stepchild of the family of civil rights, and creates this idea that religion should be sidelined in public life.”
What was the original Blaine Amendment, and how were state laws modeled after it?
In the years following the Civil War, there was widespread suspicion and even open hostility toward Catholics in the U.S., especially toward immigrant Catholic populations from Europe.
Public schools at the time were largely Protestant, with no single Christian denomination in charge, and many Catholics attended parochial schools which were seen as “sectarian” by prominent public figures, explains historian John T. McGreevy in his book “Catholicism and American Freedom.”
Public figures, he notes, including one current and one future U.S. president at the time, pushed against taxpayer funding of Catholic schools and even advocated for an increase in the taxation of Catholic Church property in the U.S.
Ohio’s Republican gubernatorial candidate and future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes opposed Catholic priests being able to visit state asylums.
In a speech to Civil War veterans in 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant insisted that no federal money “be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school.”
And, the former general-in-chief of the U.S. armies during the Civil War added, “if we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.”
As McGreevy noted, “audience members understood” what Grant meant about “superstition,” as he had “referred to a Catholic Church that he saw as increasingly aggressive.”
Grant pushed for a federal amendment by Sen. James Blaine of Maine that prohibited taxpayer funding of “sectarian” schools – the original “Blaine Amendment.” It failed in the Senate, however, although as McGreevy noted some Republican senators, during the debate, cast aspersions toward Catholics as they argued for the passage of the amendment.
Nevertheless, the federal amendment took form at the state level and many states eventually passed versions of the bill barring state funding of Catholic schools.
In the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision Mitchell v. Hobbs, a four-justice plurality insisted that the Blaine Amendment’s motive to deny public funding of “sectarian” institutions was bigoted.
“Finally, hostility to aid to pervasively sectarian schools has a shameful pedigree that we do not hesitate to disavow,” Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, wrote in their plurality opinion.
“Consideration of the amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic’,” the opinion read. Furthermore, they added, “pervasively sectarian schools” are not blocked by the Constitution from receiving federal funding “from otherwise permissible aid programs.”
“This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now,” they stated.
While they were introduced more than a century ago, these state laws are still in use today against religious organizations, Baxter said. For instance, a case before the Supreme Court involves the Missouri version of the amendment.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo. was seeking to enter a state program to receive “used tires from landfills” in order “to create playground material.” The playground is used by the public, but the state denied the church’s participation in the program because it is a religious institution.
It is “blatant discrimination,” Baxter said, given that the state used tire program is a “purely secular program” and “open to everyone, and yet the state saying you can’t participate if you’re religious.”
Other Blaine cases around the country include a church-run program in Florida that met inmates released from prison and connected them with programs to meet their needs of housing, mental health treatment, and job training. It had a positive record of preventing recidivism, Baxter said, but atheists sued over the program’s connection with the state.
Although a federal judge ruled in the favor of Prisoners of Christ, “that comes at the cost of years of litigation,” Baxter noted.
In Oklahoma, students with disabilities were not sufficiently helped at the public schools and were instead given scholarships by the government to attend private schools with programs to meet their needs.
A lawsuit was brought against the use of scholarships for religious schools, but the state supreme court ruled in favor of the religious schools despite the state’s Blaine Amendment, Baxter said.
Another state school scholarship program in Georgia was criticized for sending children to Catholic schools on public scholarships, and the state’s Blaine Amendment was used in a lawsuit against the practice.
School cases present a substantial portion of Blaine Amendment cases, Baxter noted, because there are “a number of these programs…where states are trying to figure out how best to provide a publicly-funded education to every student” and incorporate private schools, including religious schools, into the programs.
These state laws are deleterious to religious groups, Baxter insisted, because even if the groups win in court, they are hampered by years of litigation and legal feeds. Also, he added, they “contribute” to “religious strife” in society by marginalizing religious groups.
The laws, when applied against equal participation in state programs by religious groups, are unconstitutional, he argued.
“If they’re applied to discriminate against religious organizations and individuals, and keep them from participating on equal footing with other organizations and state programs, they violate the First Amendment’s free exercise and establishment clauses,” he insisted, “by basically trying to suppress religious believers or penalize religious entities on grounds that aren’t applied to everyone else.”
Their main problem is “this idea that somehow religion is not welcome in public life, when really, the First Amendment was created to ensure just the opposite,” he said, “to remind us that religion is a part of what it means to be a human being.”
Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 02:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A death row inmate in Texas deserves a new sentencing hearing because his own lawyers called on an expert who claimed he was more likely to be dangerous because he is black, the U. S. Supreme Court has said.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the Feb. 22 decision in Buck v. Davis, saying: “When a jury hears expert testimony that expressly makes a defendant's race directly pertinent on the question of life or death, the impact of that evidence cannot be measured simply by how much air time it received at trial or how many pages it occupies in the record. Some toxins can be deadly in small doses.”
The man sentenced to death, Duane Buck, was convicted for two 1995 murders, which included killing his ex-girlfriend in front of her children. He also shot his step-sister at close range.
Buck will now be able to argue before a lower court that he should have a new sentencing hearing.
The 6-2 ruling was dissented from by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
The case before the Supreme Court did not argue for Buck's innocence, but emphasized his attorneys’ handling of the sentencing hearing, which considered whether Buck met the standard for “future dangerousness,” CNN reports.
Dr. Walter Quijano, a psychologist retained by Buck’s own defense attorneys, spoke at the sentencing hearing and claimed that the fact that Buck was black “increased the probability” he would commit future acts of violence.
Texas law allowed the jury to impose capital punishment only if it found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that Buck was likely to commit acts of violence in the future.
Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the sentence before the high court. He said Quijano’s testimony played a limited role at the trial. Other evidence of his future dangerousness cited the brutality of the murders, his lack of remorse, and the testimony of an ex-girlfriend.
During oral arguments, Alito said the race-related testimony was “indefensible” and “bizarre.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked “What competent counsel would put that evidence before a jury?”
In the dissenting opinion, Thomas said the lower courts had followed proper standards in upholding the sentence, National Public Radio reports. He added that the jury that sentenced Buck had sufficient reasons to recommend a death sentence on grounds other than Quijano’s comments.
Thomas wrote that “Having settled on a desired outcome, the Court bulldozes procedural obstacles and misapplies settled law to justify it.”
Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday night, the Trump administration withdrew an Obama-era guidance that had directed schools to allow students to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender they currently identify with, not the facilities of their birth or biological sex.
The guidance had prompted criticism on the grounds of safety and privacy. In dropping it, the Trump administration said the policy had created too much confusion and the issue should be left up to the states.
The move was applauded by Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
“While we must be sensitive to the dignity, privacy, and safety concerns of people who identify as transgender, that is not a reason to ignore the dignity, privacy, and safety concerns of everyone else,” Anderson wrote in the Daily Signal.
“Unfortunately, the Obama-era policies were entirely one-sided. They favored the concerns of people who identify as transgender while entirely discounting the concerns of others.”
The decision also drew praise from Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Gary McCaleb.
“Student privacy in those facilities must be protected, and by restoring the right understanding of Title IX, our nation also restores common sense: School officials should be free to protect their student’s privacy, safety, and dignity,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration had announced that it would stop fighting to defend the policy in court.
Back in August, the Northern District of Texas federal court placed an injunction on the policy, halting it from going into effect. In response to the injunction, the Obama administration appealed its case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal was dropped Feb. 10.
The guidance in question was an interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination “on the basis of sex” within “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In its interpretation, the Obama administration said the Title IX anti-discrimination protections include those for gender identity, meaning that transgender students had to have access to facilities of the gender with which they identified, like single-sex locker rooms and bathrooms.
Leading U.S. bishops had expressed serious concerns with the guidance, saying that it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”
“Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect,” said Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, chairs of the committees on youth and Catholic education, respectively.
“All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents. The federal regulatory guidance issued on May 13 does not even attempt to achieve this balance.”
The August injunction by the Texas district court came weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court had halted from going into effect a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that a transgender student had to be able to access the public school bathroom of their choice. The Court will still hear that case of Gavin Grimm this term.