Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In recent months, national debates over immigration and deportation have reached a fever pitch in the wake of President Trump's election.
But for Archbishop Jose Gomez, both Catholic principles and the history of America as a home to people from a variety of backgrounds means that the immigration debate has higher stakes than just law enforcement or national sovereignty.
“For me, and for the Catholic Church in this country, immigration is about people. It is about families,” the archbishop said in a March 23 talk at the Catholic University of America.
“We are talking about souls, not statistics.”
Born in Monterrey, Mexico, the archbishop explained that he too was an immigrant, even though he has been an American citizen for more than 20 years. He pointed out that his family has been living in what is now Texas since the early 19th Century, and his family's relationship to both America and immigration reaches back generations.
He also explained that his archdiocese – the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – is not only the largest, with around 5 million Catholics, but the most diverse.
Within the archdiocese, Mass is celebrated and parishioners ministered to in more than 40 languages, from nearly every country in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“The Church is alive here – and active,” he said. “And we are really a Church of immigrants.”
Nearly one million of these immigrants who live within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are undocumented.
Archbishop Gomez argued that this issue of large numbers of undocumented persons is something his adopted country desperately needs to address. This is incredibly important, he said, not only for immigrants and their families, but for America as a whole.
“Everybody right now knows that our immigration system is totally broken and needs to be fixed,” the archbishop said. However, while the United States has a right to secure its borders and enforce its laws, it also has to take responsibility for creating and benefiting from the situation that lead more than 11 million people to come to the country without documentation, he said.
“For many years our country did not enforce its immigration laws,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Why not? Because American businesses were demanding 'cheap' labor. So government officials looked the other way.”
The archbishop argued that “we need to recognize that we all share some of the blame for this broken immigration system.”
“Business is to blame. Government is to blame,” Archbishop Gomez said. “And you and I – we have responsibility, too. We 'benefit' and depend every day on an economy that is built on the backs of undocumented workers. It is just a fact. Immigrants grow our food, they serve us in our restaurants; they clean our rooms and our offices, they build our homes.”
He noted that while undocumented persons may be living here in violation of the law, “we aren’t putting business owners in jail or punishing government workers who didn’t do their job.”
“The only people we are punishing is the undocumented workers,” he charged. “They are the only ones.” While some punishment, such as community service or other requirements to stay in the United States may be appropriate, Archbishop Gomez commented, it is unfair to the families of nearly 11 million people to deport people with families – some of whom have been here for years.
“That is not fair. It is cruel, actually,” Archbishop Gomez said. “These are just ordinary moms and dads – just like your parents – who want to give their kids a better life.”
To balance love, laws, justice, and mercy, Catholics should consider principles that focus on the human person. The first principle, he said, is to recognize that “every immigrant is a human person, a child of God,” regardless of their legal status or background. The second Catholic principle to consider is that"immigration should keep families together.”
Archbishop Gomez pointed out that over a quarter of deportations break up families, and overwhelming majority of these deportations do not apply to violent criminals.
“I do not believe there is any public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom. We are breaking up families and punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents. And that’s not right.”
While some common place policies could quickly resolve the issues surrounding immigration, Archbishop Gomez argued that the real conflict has more to do with ongoing questions about America – questions like what it means to be an American and what America’s mission is in the world.
The archbishop noted that almost all Americans are of immigrant heritage. “But immigration to this country has never been easy.” He pointed out that immigrant groups like the Irish have faced discrimination and hardship.
Yet, the history of America owes much to its immigrant – particularly Hispanic – roots, which long predate the arrival of English settlers, the archbishop said.
“For me – American history begins with Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Gomez reflected. Before the founding fathers were born or before the Revolutionary War was fought, Spanish and Mexican missionaries and Philippine immigrants were settling in what is now the United States, celebrating the nation’s first Thanksgiving and establishing churches.”
“Something we should think about: the first non-indigenous language spoken in this country was not English. It was Spanish. We need to really think about what the means,” he said.
What it means, in his opinion, is that we “can no longer afford to tell a story of America that excludes the rich inheritance of Latinos and Asians.”
Conceptions of American identity that don’t incorporate the rich history of these groups, he said, are not only incomplete and inarticulate, they are not as well-set to adjust to the changing landscape of the United States. America is changing, and if America wants to be great, he argued, it needs to speak to the conscience and realities of the United States.
“That is what’s at stake in our immigration debate – the future of this beautiful American story,” Archbishop Gomez concluded. “Our national debate is really a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul.”
San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The undercover journalists whose work appeared to implicate Planned Parenthood officials in the illegal sale of unborn baby body parts now face 15 felony charges in California, but one insists the allegations are phony.
David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress characterized the allegations as “bogus charges from Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.”
“The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress and DV Biologics – currently being prosecuted in California – who have harvested and sold aborted baby body parts for profit for years in direct violation of state and federal law,” he said March 28.
California Attorney General Xavier Beccerra has charged that Daleiden and his co-investigator Sandra Merritt filmed 14 people without their consent in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco and El Dorado. The two are also charged with conspiracy to invade privacy.
Beccerra said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” he said Tuesday.
Data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan funding watchdog, appear to show that Beccerra has received several minor donations from Planned Parenthood, totaling some $6,000 in the last 20 years.
In the current case, court papers claim the undercover investigators’ surreptitious recording of officials involved in Planned Parenthood and other sections of the abortion industry were illegal. An affidavit filed in San Francisco Superior Court justified the conspiracy charges on the grounds the investigators used pseudonyms, fake California drivers’ licenses, and a front medical research company, Biomax Procurement Services, in order to secure a booth at the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 conference in San Francisco.
Daleiden compared the California charges to Texas charges that had been filed against him and dismissed in June 2016, including a charge he had used a fake California driver’s license to access a Texas Planned Parenthood building.
“They tried the same collusion with corrupt officials in Houston, Texas and failed: both the charges and the district attorney were thrown out,” he said.
The Center for Medical Progress videos gave great momentum to efforts to end state and federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds annually, about 40 percent of its operating budget. While this money is forbidden by law from funding abortions, critics charge that these rules may not always be followed, and that any federal funding frees up other money for abortions.
In January 2017, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel investigating fetal tissue procurement released its report declaring that there are abuses and possible criminal violations in the area. The procurement of fetal tissue for profit is illegal.
Although a dozen states opened investigations into the organizations involved, they did not find legally admissible evidence of wrongdoing.
Backers of Planned Parenthood have charged that the videos were deceptively edited, a charge Daleiden has strongly contested, releasing the full videos to support his claim.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Mary Alice Carter said that the California charges show “the only people who broke the law are those behind the fraudulent tapes.” Carter denied that Planned Parenthood has done anything wrong.
Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation charged that the videos resulted in a “flood of hate speech, threats and violence” to abortion providers.
Daleiden, however, defended his work.
“We look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased video tapes of Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all,” he said Tuesday.
On March 29, the Center for Medical Progress released its latest video, which involved Dr. DeShawn Taylor, a past medical director of Planned Parenthood who served as an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.
The video appeared to show Taylor saying her facility's treatment of babies who show “signs of life” after an abortion depended on “who’s in the room.”
The release of the investigation’s first video took place in July 2015. It and subsequent videos have drawn a massive response from Planned Parenthood and its allies. A 2015 grant listing from the Open Societies Foundation, published after a foundations’ computer system was hacked, found a planned $7-8 million campaign to respond to the videos. The Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Alliance were named as other partners in the campaign.
Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new undercover video shows an Arizona abortion clinic doctor saying her facility's treatment of babies who show “signs of life” after an abortion depended on “who’s in the room.”
Dr. DeShawn Taylor, who runs an abortion and Ob/Gyn clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. and who was formerly the medical director at Planned Parenthood Arizona, was filmed undercover saying that according to Arizona law “if the fetus comes out with any signs of life” at an abortion clinic, “we’re supposed to transport it … to the hospital.”
However, when asked on camera, if at her clinic “is there any standard procedure for verifying signs of life?”, she didn’t answer with a specific procedure, but rather said: “I mean, the key is you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right? Because the thing is the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise so it’s really tricky.”
Arizona law mandates that clinics call emergency services if a fetus survives an abortion or has signs of life such as breathing, heartbeat, “umbilical cord pulsation”, or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.”
Additionally, if an abortion is performed after 20 weeks gestation, there must be “at least one person who is trained in neonatal resuscitation … present in the room” to provide emergency care to a “viable fetus.”
The undercover video was filmed by members of the Center for Medical Progress and is the latest in their Human Capital Project, a series of investigative videos on the fetal tissue trade that first aired in 2015.
David Daleiden, the project lead for Center for Medical Progress, was charged with 15 felonies by California Attorney General Xavier Beccera on Tuesday, related to his work on the undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood and tissue procurement officials.
Beccera is a former Democratic member of Congress. He and former state attorney general Kamala Harris – now a U.S. senator – received thousands of dollars from Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups in their congressional elections, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Members of the Center for Medical Progress, posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company, approached current and former Planned Parenthood officials at a George Tiller Memorial Networking Reception in October of 2014, and secretly taped their conversations.
One of the former officials was Taylor, who worked at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and was the medical director at Planned Parenthood Arizona before moving to her own abortion and Ob/Gyn practice in Phoenix, where she was at the time of the conversation.
She said her clinic received abortion referrals from Planned Parenthood, and performed an average of 30 abortions per week.
Posing as representatives of BioMax, CMP asked Dr. Taylor how they could collaborate on the transfer of fetal tissue from abortion clinics in the Phoenix area.
When asked about abortion procedures for ensuring intact baby body parts for tissue harvesters, Taylor noted that “part of the issue is, it’s not a matter of how I feel about it coming out intact, but I got to worry about my staff and peoples’ feelings about it coming out looking like a baby.”
She was then asked about using digoxin, a feticide sometimes used to kill the baby before an abortion procedure, which could render the fetal tissue unsuitable for harvesting.
Taylor said, “that really presents an issue because in Arizona, if the fetus comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it … to the hospital.” Digoxin, she said, ensures the baby is dead after an abortion procedure.
Taylor was asked if her clinic had a procedure for determining if a baby showed signs of life after an abortion. She replied that “the key is you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right?”
She continued, explaining the law’s requirements as a reason for why she mostly uses digoxin to ensure the baby is dead in an abortion.
“Because the thing is, the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise so it’s really tricky,” she said, adding that “most of the time we do dig[oxin], and it usually works. And then we don’t have to worry about that because Arizona state law says if there’s signs of life, then we’re supposed to transport them. To the hospital.”
“Yeah, it’s a mess, it’s a mess,” she said.
Daleiden accused Taylor of breaking the law.
“This footage shows a longtime Planned Parenthood abortion doctor willing to sell baby parts for profit, use criminal abortion methods to get more intact body parts, and even cover up infanticide. This doctor was trained by Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, and encouraged by her to participate in the fetal body parts market.”
Taylor clarified in the video that she no longer worked at Planned Parenthood, but had her own clinic.
“Well I used to work for them [Planned Parenthood Arizona], and then I left them, and so they’re still recovering,” she said to laughter, when asked why she sees referrals from Planned Parenthood.
Also in the video, she expressed her concern when a dead baby is delivered intact after an abortion procedure. “Arizona is so conservative, I just don’t even want to send a full fetus to – for cremation, or any of that,” she said.
Taylor also went into graphic detail on obtaining intact body parts from abortion procedures, especially through induction.
She noted that “we’re going to start the procedure before we get to that point” of where the baby’s head comes out with enough dilation. “So it’s really like, in order to get you an intact calvarium, the patient’s really going to have to go into labor,” she added.
“So, ideally, you know the patient would have dilated in the E-phase enough that it’s all just going to come out,” she said.
She joked about going to the gym to better perform more strenuous late-term abortions.
“Research shows that dig[oxin] doesn’t make the procedure easier in someone who is well-trained, but I have to tell you anecdotally, my biceps appreciate when the dig works,” she said of procedures where digoxin kills the baby in an abortion.
“So I remember when I was a fellow and I was training and I was like ‘oh, I have to hit the gym for this … I need to hit the gym,” she said. When asked “at what age does it start getting really difficult?” she responded “at 20 weeks [gestation].”
Pro-lifers were appalled at the revelations in the video.
It “once again lays bare the inhumanity of abortion,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List.
“The abortionist may laugh as she describes the force needed to dismember a five-month-old unborn child struggling to survive, but even the staff are not immune to the terrible sight of aborted children and babies possibly born alive and left to die.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) argued for a ban on abortions performed after 20 weeks gestation – the late-term abortions described in Taylor’s “gym” comments.
“Science has shown that children as young as 20-weeks-old can feel pain, yet these same children are subjected to horrific abortions, being crushed and dismembered,” he said.
He also insisted on federal legislation protecting infant survivors of abortion.
“Some babies, though miraculously, survive a botched abortion and instead of receiving life-saving care, are left to die on a hospital table. It’s time to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. We cannot be a nation that does this to our children,” he said.
Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 29, 2017 / 11:01 am (National Catholic Register).- When a Phoenix mother lost her eyesight due to a rare medical condition, she feared she would never be able to see her four children again. But then St. Charbel came to her aid.
Dafne Gutierrez suffered from benign intracranial hypertension (BIH), a condition that causes increased pressure in the brain. In 2012, the increased pressure caused her to lose vision in her right eye. Three years later, in November 2015, the Catholic mother lost sight in her left eye, as well.
Phoenix’s local CBS affiliate, KPHO, quoted Gutierrez’s plea to God:
“For me, I was like, ‘Please God, let me see those faces again. Let me be their mother again.’ Because I feel like [my kids] were watching me, taking care of me 24/7.”
Phoenix Mother: St. Charbel Cured My Blindness https://t.co/J9FXeruQUR
— N. Catholic Register (@NCRegister) March 25, 2017
For more than a year, Gutierrez struggled to adjust to her disability, which now included occasional seizures, as well as blindness. Then, in January 2016, when Phoenix’s St. Joseph Maronite Church announced that the relics of St. Charbel Makhlouf (also spelled “Sharbel”) would be visiting the church, Gutierrez’s sister encouraged her to visit and to pray for the saint’s intercession.
Although she is not a member of the Maronite rite, Gutierrez visited the church Jan. 16, prayed before the relics, went to confession and was blessed with holy oil by the pastor, Father Wissam Akiki. Gutierrez recalled that, immediately afterward, her body felt “different.”
The following morning, she rose and returned to the church for Sunday Mass. Again, she experienced a different sensation.
And early in the morning Jan. 18, Gutierrez awoke with a searing pain in her eyes. She remembers how much they burned. And when her husband turned on the lights, she said the brightness hurt her eyes. She claimed, at 4 a.m., that she could see shadows; but her husband insisted that was impossible because she was blind. He later described what he called “an odor of burned meat” coming from her nostrils.
According to The Maronite Voice, the newsletter of the Maronite Eparchies of the U.S., “That morning she called her ophthalmologist, and she was evaluated the next day. Her exam showed that she was still legally blind, with abnormal optic nerves. Two days later, she saw a different ophthalmologist, and her vision was a perfect 20/20, with completely normal optic nerves. Subsequently, she saw her original ophthalmologist one week later, and her vision was documented to be normal, with completely normal exam.”
No Medical Explanation
Dr. Anne Borik, a board-certified internal medicine physician who later testified regarding Gutierrez’s healing, was called in by the Church to review the case. Earlier this month, Borik – a member of St. Timothy’s Roman Catholic parish nearby, but who attends St. Joseph Maronite frequently – talked by phone with the Register about her findings. She explained that the brain condition Gutierrez suffered from causes the optic nerve to constrict. Once the optic disc – the spot at which the optic nerve enters the eyeball – is damaged, it’s too late to fix. Because, when the pressure in the brain reaches high levels, as it did in Gutierrez’s case, the optic nerves become strangulated.
“Unfortunately, once the blindness occurs,” said Borik, “it’s irreversible.”
Images of Gutierrez’s optic disc revealed significant damage: “We have pictures,” said Borik, “to confirm that the optic disc was chronically atrophied. There was significant swelling, or papilledema.”
But after Gutierrez’s vision returned, Borik reported, there was no evidence of the aberrations that were evident on earlier images. “In the post-healing pictures,” Borik said, “her optic disc is back to normal. Her vision is completely restored. She has no more seizures. That is why I, as a medical doctor, have no explanation.”
A medical committee, led by Borik, undertook a thorough review of Gutierrez’s medical records, as well as repeated examinations. The committee wrote, “After a thorough physical exam, extensive literature search and review of all medical records, we have no medical explanation and therefore believe this to be a miraculous healing through the intercession of St. Charbel.”
Unexpected Healing Strengthens Faith
Borik is enthusiastic about the healing, telling the National Catholic Register, “It has changed my practice! It has changed how I relate to patients. Now,” she said, referring to her relationship with those entrusted to her care, “prayer is such an important part of what we do.”
Father Wissam Akiki, pastor of St. Joseph Maronite Church, had a devotion to St. Charbel, and he installed a large picture of the saint in the parish shortly after his arrival in 2014. Then, in 2016, he arranged to bring St. Charbel’s relics to his parish as part of a U.S. tour.
Father Akiki remembers when Gutierrez showed up to venerate the relics. Father Akiki approached her. “I heard her confession,” he told the National Catholic Register. “We prayed together, and I said to her daughter, ‘Take care of your mom, and your mom is going to see you soon.’ Then, in only three days, she called the church to report that she could see.”
Father Akiki acknowledged that Gutierrez’s healing has strengthened the faith and changed the face of St. Joseph Maronite Church. “People are coming here to pray, traveling from Germany, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, Jerusalem.”
Following the healing, Father Akiki planned to erect a shrine to St. Charbel at his parish, with a two-ton sculpture of the saint cut from a single stone and imported from Lebanon. The shrine will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Father Akiki expected that the dedication of the shrine March 26 would draw crowds, including Maronite Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted and many local dignitaries.
Bishop Zaidan attributed Gutierrez’s recovery to the intercession of St. Charbel. “May this healing of the sight of Dafne,” he wrote in The Maronite Voice, “be an inspiration for all of us to seek the spiritual sight, in order to recognize the will of God in our lives and to act accordingly.”
Cristofer Pereyra, director of the Hispanic Office of the Phoenix Diocese, told Fox News that Bishop Olmsted spoke with the doctors and reviewed the case. “The bishop wanted to make sure there was no scientific explanation for the miraculous recovery of Dafne’s sight,” Pereyra reported.
The greatest change, of course, has been for Gutierrez and her children. Since her eyesight was restored, Dafne’s life has changed dramatically: She can once again check her children's homework, watch them at play with friends, and manage her household chores without extra assistance.
Her prayer was answered.
Who Was St. Charbel?
Born Youssef Antoun Makhlouf in the high mountains of northern Lebanon in 1828, St. Charbel (also spelled Sharbel) was the youngest of five children in a poor but religious family. His baptismal name was Joseph; only when he entered a monastery at the age of 23 was he given the name Charbel, after an early martyr. He studied in seminary and was ordained a priest in 1858. For 16 years, Father Charbel lived with his brother priests; theirs was a communal life of prayer and devotion to God.
In 1875, Father Charbel was granted permission to live a hermit’s life. In his rugged cabin, for the next 23 years, he practiced mortification and sacrifice – often wearing a hair shirt, sleeping on the ground, and eating only one meal a day. The Eucharist was the focus of his life. The holy priest celebrated daily Mass at 11 a.m., spending the morning in preparation and the rest of the day in thanksgiving.
Father Charbel was 70 years old when he suffered a seizure while celebrating Mass. A priest assisting him was forced to pry the Eucharist out of his rigid hands. He never regained consciousness; and eight days later, on Christmas Eve in 1898, Father Charbel died. His body was interred in the ground without a coffin and without embalming, according to the monks’ custom, dressed in the full habit of the order.
For the next 45 nights, a most unusual event occurred: According to many local townspeople, an extraordinarily bright light appeared above his tomb, lighting the night sky. Finally, after the mysterious light persisted, officials at the monastery petitioned the ecclesiastical authorities for permission to exhume Charbel’s body. When the grave was opened four months after Charbel’s death, his body was found to be incorrupt. Twenty-eight years after his death, in 1928, and again in 1950, the grave was reopened, and his body was also found to be without decay.
Numerous medical researchers were permitted to examine the remains, and all confirmed that the saint’s body was preserved from decay. For 67 years, the body remained intact, even when left outdoors unprotected for an entire summer – although it consistently gave off a liquid that had the odor of blood. Finally, though, Charbel’s body followed the natural course. When the tomb was again opened at the time of his beatification in 1965, it was found to be decayed, except for the skeleton, which was deep red in color.
The inexplicable restoration of Dafne Gutierrez’s eyesight is not the first healing credited to St. Charbel. Dr. Anne Borik reported that there have been hundreds – perhaps thousands – of miracles attributed to the saint.
Pope Francis is said to have a deep devotion to St. Charbel. Last Christmas, Borik reported, the Holy Father asked to have a relic of St. Charbel sewn into the hem of his vestments.
This story was originally published at the National Catholic Register.
Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Supreme Court case about pension plans of religious hospitals could decide something much bigger – whether religious groups are legally part of churches.
“There’s really a big problem if you decide ‘church’ is sort of narrowly ‘worship’,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“That’s really something that a church should be deciding, whether they just worship or whether they go out and serve other people outside of the four walls of the sanctuary,” Rassbach told CNA.
The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, a consolidation of three cases involving the pension plans of religious hospitals like Advocate and St. Peter’s HealthCare System in New Jersey.
The employers are looking to move the plans, regulated like other plans of for-profit corporations, into a religious category exempt from some of those regulations.
The law in question, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, regulates pension plans of for-profit corporations, requiring the employers to hold an additional amount of funds in reserve. Setting up these reserves could be cost-prohibitive especially for community hospitals, some of whom “are not going to be able to do that,” Rassbach said.
“If Advocate and hundreds of other religious hospitals around the country were forced to follow for-profit rules, money currently used to serve the poor and inner city communities would be lost and many would be forced to shut down,” the Becket Fund argued.
Congress has recognized a religious exemption for pension plans of churches, and entities like St. Peter’s Hospital in New Jersey applied for this exemption after operating their pension plans according to the federal regulations for years. The plaintiffs bringing the suit, employees of the health care networks, claim their pension plan agreements are being unfairly altered.
The religious exemption applies to plans “established” and “maintained” by churches. In the case of St. Peter’s HealthCare, decided by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court ruled that since the Catholic Church (through a diocese or parish) did not “establish” the pension plans, they were not eligible for the ERISA religious exemption, even if a “church agency” like a religious order set up the plan.
St. Peter’s is a non-profit health care system sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen. The court conceded that it has Catholic ties, like daily Mass offered at the hospital, Catholic devotionals present there, and many board members who are appointed by the local bishop.
“But can a church agency, in addition to maintaining an exempt church plan, also establish such a plan? The District Court concluded that it cannot. We agree,” the appeals court decided.
It also conceded that for years, plans set up by “church agencies” were recognized by the courts as religiously exempt: “In the decades following the current church plan definition’s enactment in 1980, various courts have assumed that entities that are not themselves churches, but have sufficiently strong ties to churches, can establish exempt church plans.”
“However,” the court added, “a new wave of litigation, of which this case is a part, has sprung up in the past few years and has presented an argument not previously considered by courts – that the actual words of the church plan definition preclude this result.” New lawsuits are shedding light on the “plain text” of ERISA that churches and only churches can set up pension plans that meet the religious exemption, the court said.
There are around 100 similar lawsuits involving religious hospitals – many of which are Catholic, Rassbach noted. New litigation is “taking from the poor to give to the rich class-action lawyers,” he argued.
Not only did the courts recognize that these religious entities were eligible for the pension exemption, but the IRS did as well, he maintained.
This question was raised in Monday’s oral arguments, where Justice Stephen Breyer pressed James Feldman, representing the respondents suing the health care networks, on whether orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor should be recognized as part of churches.
Justice Breyer asked “if it's a legitimate organization like, let's say the Little Sisters of the Poor, really affiliated with the church,” if they would be recognized as part of a church.
The U.S. bishops’ conference and religious freedom legal groups like the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom have sided with the health care networks in the case, saying that it is a religious freedom issue.
In their amicus brief siding with the St. Peter’s HealthCare and Dignity Health, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that while Catholic health care providers may not be officially part of a church or parish structure, their plans should meet the religious exemptions under ERISA.
“Indeed, charity has always been a core component of the Catholic Church’s activities, ‘as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel’,” the USCCB said, quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.”
This charity is lived out “through myriad Catholic ministries” like health care providers, they added, which should be treated as part of the Church.
And these charities may or may not be directly affiliated with Catholic dioceses and parishes or with the Holy See, they continued, “yet, as a matter of Catholic theology, the various ministries that the Church recognizes as Catholic ministries are all part of the Church” even though “they may be (and often are) civilly, structurally, and financially independent entities.”
These employers must be given a religious exemption, the bishops’ conference added, saying that “long before” the ERISA regulations were enacted for pension plans, “Catholic charitable organizations provided their workers with generous benefits.”
“In recognition of that reality (which is not unique to the Catholic Church), and to avoid imposing potentially crushing new obligations on such organizations, Congress has long exempted the benefit plans of church-affiliated organizations from the sometimes burdensome requirements of ERISA,” they continued.
And the Court must recognize this, they concluded, or this could bring about more problems in determining which religious groups are treated as part of a church.
Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a new initiative on marriage and family life: a three-year course which will be offered to both the clergy and lay people throughout its parishes.
“There is a serious need to shift our previous approach to marriage and family life which ignores the consequences of poor catechesis and the lack of personal encounter to a more evangelical and relational approach,” the archdioceses said in a press release.
The extensive program, titled Remain in My Love, will direct its focus at a different target audience every year for three years. The outreach will begin in May 2017 and will end in December 2019.
The first year will specifically address the staff members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, and will focus on the theme of “renewing our mission in service to married couples and families.”
“These gatherings will help us rediscover our shared mission to support, heal, and strengthen the married couples and families who have been entrusted to our care in the local Church of Philadelphia,” reads the archdiocesan website.
“As the pastoral arm of his leadership and ministry in the service of all the Archdiocese, a reinvigorated…understanding of marriage and family life becomes a lens through which to encourage the same understanding in our parishes and institutions.”
Year two will begin in January 2018, and will cater to the staff of archdiocesan institutions such as parishes or schools. Their theme will focus on “renewing our mission of pastoral care of married couples and families.”
“It will be designed as an opportunity for growth and transformation as well as mutual support, encouragement and discussion fueled by study materials, dynamic presentations, and beautiful videos.”
The third and final year is aimed at all married couples and families within the archdiocese, beginning in January 2019. This program will highlight the goal of “rediscovering the mission of marriage and the family.”
“Married couples and families of the Archdiocese will be invited to encounter the splendor of what Christ has revealed about marriage and family life through large and small group gatherings.”
Each year is made up of three sessions, covering theological material such as the sacramentality of marriage, the goods of marriage, and the family as the domestic church. The classes will underscore the institution of marriage, the threats to marriage, and the mission of the family in the world.
In addition, the participants will also be involved with a 12-session small group class called CanaVox. These small group sessions will read and discuss relevant topics about marriage and the family through Church documents and current events.
“The project, for all three years, moves in two directions, inviting a committed investment on the part of all.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is hoping that this new program will reach out to couples after their marriage, as a continuation of the conversation that marriage prep started. Pope Francis has also recently spoken out about marriage, calling for better marriage prep, and pointing to the need for a “new catechumenate in preparation for marriage.”
Remain in My Love will aim to “reinvigorate our understanding, practices and celebrations of Christian marriage and family life,” to “every member of the clergy, lay faithful, and to every parish and institution” within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
More information about Remain in My Love can be found at www.archphila.org/remain
San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the centennial year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will consecrate his archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“I am confident that the archdiocese will receive many graces through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary if we are spiritually prepared and properly disposed,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “For this act of consecration to bear fruit, we must prepare ourselves spiritually and with catechesis for this significant day.”
Archbishop Cordileone said the consecration comes in response to “numerous requests from the faithful.”
The Oct. 7 consecration falls on the same day as the archdiocese’s Annual Rosary Rally, which takes place on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.
It comes in the 100th year since the 1917 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions took place from May 1917 to Oct. 13, 1917 when tens of thousands of people who had gathered near Fatima witnessed the sun dance.
The Virgin Mary apparition delivered a message to the children, asking for prayer and reparation for sins throughout the world.
The archdiocese website has a section dedicated to the upcoming consecration that includes Marian prayers and explanations of Our Lady of Fatima.
It describes the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a devotional name for the internal life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including “her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people.”
The archdiocese website lists several activities and suggested prayer intentions for each month leading up to the consecration. It is holding art contests and writing contests for students and has plans for a Marian retreat May 6.
Sacramento, Calif., Mar 28, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The California Catholic Conference has announced that it is sponsoring a bill to help attract and retain teachers in response to the state's shortage of K-12 educators.
“Additional measures are needed in order to assure that our new teachers are given the appropriate preferential option that supports their development and commitment in their noble profession,” the conference said in a March 16 statement.
This “in turn translates to better service and better education of our youth.”
The conference, tied to the state's Catholic conference of bishops, is the official voice of the Church in California's legislative arena. It is proposing a bill which would give greater tax breaks to new teachers in the process of receiving their permanent credentials.
Besides paying back student loans and serving at the lower end of the salary scale, new teachers must “enroll in costly induction and professional development programs aimed at converting their preliminary credential to a permanent or 'clear' credential.”
California has suffered from a lack of educators since the recession hit in 2007. The conference says easing a teacher’s financial difficulties would incite greater quality and quantity of new blood to the profession.
The state requires teachers to complete the “clear” credential within the first five years of being employed, but schools or districts are not required to pay for these programs. Local educational agencies have an average annual fee of $2,000, and universities or colleges may charge up to $5,000 yearly to complete the induction programs.
New teachers are forced to pay out-of-pocket, and the legislative groups says the financial strain ultimately affects their students.
The bill, AB 516, would either give teachers working towards a “clear” credential a tax credit or a deduction for professional expenses. Newly accredited teachers would have the option to either claim up to a $500 credit or deduct $2,500 from their state income taxes to balance the fees required for these programs.
Over 310,000 teachers were employed in California, but after the economic recession in 2007, it has dropped to less than 296,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a study in 2013 reveals that California's student-teacher ratio was 24 to 1 and is the highest ratio in the nation compared to the national average of 16 to 1.
The conference cited a study from the Learning Policy Institute that “the number of intern credentials, permits, and waivers it has issued” has nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016. These permits are issued to teachers who have not yet finished their permanent credential. The study also stated that the greatest growth occurred “in emergency-style permits known as Provisional Intern Permits (PIPs) and Short-Term Staff Permits (STSPs),” which are only issued when classrooms have an immediate need.
California not only needs an increase of teachers but a better system “to support, develop and retain qualified teachers,” the conference added.
“The most effective way to achieve this goal of offering a good education is to have qualified and prepared teachers in the educational work force committed to their profession.”
Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See directed last week that the oldest Catholic parish of the Anglican Use, located in San Antonio, will be transferred from the local archdiocese into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.
“Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and its school, the Atonement Academy, have been transferred to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, effective March 21,” read a statement. The ordinariate of St. Peter's chair is a special ecclesial jurisdiction for Catholics in the United States and Canada who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the Ordinariate.
“At the direction of the Holy See, all parishes of the Pastoral Provision are to be incorporated into the Ordinariate,” read the March 21 communique.
Our Lady of the Atonement parish had been founded in 1983 as part of the “pastoral provision” established by St. John Paul II to allow former Anglicans to form Catholic parishes within existing United States dioceses. Until last week, the parish was part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Subsequently to the pastoral provision, Benedict XVI established ordinariates, which effectively provided former Anglicans with their own dioceses within the Catholic Church.
“With the establishment of the North American Ordinariate in 2012 and the ordination of its first bishop in 2016, the Holy See now expects all Pastoral Provision parishes in the U.S. to be integrated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter,” the ordinariate's statement explained.
“The Ordinariate expresses its deepest gratitude to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for welcoming and caring for Our Lady of the Atonement since its inception, and for the Archdiocese’s ongoing commitment to the Church’s care for the unity of Christians. Through continued collaboration in the coming months, the Archdiocese and the Ordinariate will remain dedicated to supporting the natural evolution of this Pastoral Provision parish into the Ordinariate.”
While the ordinariate's statement only includes Our Lady of the Atonement by name, the transferral would also presumably apply to the Congregation of Saint Athanasius, a pastoral provision parish located in a Boston suburb and heretofore part of the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Vatican's directive that Our Lady of the Atonement should be transferred to the ordinariate is the outcome of several months of conflict between the parish and the San Antonio archdiocese.
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio had in January begun proceedings to remove Atonement's pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips, who had been pastor from the parish's founding.
In a Jan. 19 letter the archbishop cited “pastoral concern” about Fr. Phillips relating “to expressions in the life of the parish that indicate an identity separate from, rather than simply unique, among the parishes of the archdiocese.” Another priest was appointed administrator of the parish, and Fr. Phillips was asked “to dedicate some time to reflect on certain specific concerns.”
Late in 2016, Fr. Phillips had sought to join the ordinariate.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, the ordinariate's spokesperson, Jenny Faber, indicated Fr. Phillips will remain at the parish as pastor emeritus, and a new pastor will be appointed in due time.
The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter includes more than 40 parishes and communities. Its ordinary, Bishop Steven Lopes, was appointed in November 2015 and had previously served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The North American ordinariate is one of three such bodies; it has counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2017 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new high-ranking official at the Department of Health and Human Services could give the agency a significant shift in how it treats religious freedom and life issues.
“Roger Severino, a seasoned champion of religious liberty and the pro-life cause, is just the right person to correct the course of HHS’s efforts at enforcing anti-discrimination principles in federal law,” said Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.
Franck spoke to CNA following Severino’s appointment as director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights.
Severino, a Harvard Law graduate, comes to HHS from the Heritage Foundation, where, according to his bio, he worked on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues and directed the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity.
He wrote about concerns over the Pentagon’s radical new gender policy, his disagreements with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hellerstedt abortion case, and religious freedom concerns in the Little Sisters of the Poor case at the Supreme Court, among other issues.
Severino brings with him a strong background in the field of civil rights law. Prior to his work at Heritage starting in 2015, he served as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division for seven years.
There, Severino litigated cases including HIV discrimination, racism, and housing discrimination.
One of the cases he worked on was United States v. Birdie Wren, where a 26 year-old mother – who was HIV-positive – and her four year-old son were denied consideration for an apartment lease in Chicago because of the woman’s medical condition.
In another case he worked on, United States v. Stonebridge at Bear Creek LLP et al, an apartment complex and the management company had systematically screened out persons of perceived Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and segregated them into separate buildings from the rest of the tenants.
The Justice Department successfully sought fines and damage payments for violations of the Fair Housing Act.
Before his time at the Justice Department, Severino was chief operations officer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
He will be needed at HHS because of the agency’s recent bias against pro-life groups, Franck argued:
“During the Obama administration, HHS became an aggressive discriminator against employers, insurers, and health care providers who only wanted to be left alone to act on their moral principles in favor of innocent human life, and on their religiously informed consciences against cooperation with evil.”
For example, when the state of California forced employers – including churches – to include abortion coverage in health plans, the HHS office for civil rights would not honor a challenge to that mandate from churches and religious freedom advocates.
Then-director Jocelyn Samuels said the mandate did not violate the Weldon Amendment, which bars federal funding of states and localities that discriminate against health providers who refuse to perform or assist abortions. Samuels said the entities bringing the challenge were not themselves health providers.
The U.S. bishops’ conference called the office’s decision “shocking.”
Franck predicted that Severino could help in such cases, and that his appointment “is very good news for the advancement of that office’s true mission.”
Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2017 / 02:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a death penalty case with national implications, the Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a Texas court ruling that a man with possible intellectual disabilities was eligible for execution.
The Catholic Mobilizing Network hailed the Court’s ruling in Moore v. Texas as “the needed step towards justice for some of the most vulnerable in our society” and a “victory for life.”
“In affirming a person with intellectual disabilities should not be executed, the Court made it clear that states must uphold the needs of all of its citizens,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the network. “CMN applauds the Court for calling attention to this grave injustice and demanding that we do better to provide justice for all involved in the legal system.”
In Moore v. Texas, a man Bobby James Moore had been convicted in 1980 – and again in 2001 on a retrial – of robbing a convenience store and killing an employee. He was given a death sentence.
A state habeas court, however, said that Moore met the clinical criteria for being intellectually disabled – which would exempt someone from execution under the Eighth Amendment, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.
With Moore, the habeas court used the standard “three-prong” test to determine intellectual disability, which is part of the clinical consensus on the matter, the Supreme Court found.
This test looked for “intellectual functioning deficits,” or an IQ score of around 70 adjusted for error, “adaptive functioning deficits,” and whether these deficits began to show when the person was still a minor.
A Texas criminal appeals court, however, disregarded five of Moore’s seven IQ scores that factored into the habeas court’s ruling, keeping only scores of 74 and 78 that Moore received in 1989 and 1973, respectively, and “discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with those scores,” as the Supreme Court’s opinion noted.
The appeals court ruled that according to an earlier medical standard of intellectual disability – which was in place before Moore was convicted in his 2001 re-trial – as well as according to the state’s “Briseno factors” test, Moore was eligible for the death penalty.
The Briseno factors test is a standard used by Texas in addition to the three-pronged standard for disability. The test includes questions like whether someone is able to lie, and if their neighbors thought they were disabled as a child. Critics have insisted that the factors are non-clinical.
Critics also note that the Briseno factors are not used to determine one’s eligibility for other state programs like social services. They have been used to deem others in Texas fit for the death penalty, including, in 2012, a man who scored a 61 on an IQ test.
Moore’s case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-3 decision on Tuesday, the Court overturned the criminal appeals court’s decision, saying the Briseno factors were outside of the clinical consensus means of evaluating one’s mental capacity and adding that the appeals court strayed from Supreme Court precedent in its decision.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that although the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing an intellectually disabled person violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, states could still determine one’s eligibility for the death penalty so long as their standards were within the clinical consensus.
Some states, however, thought this decision gave them broader discretion than was warranted to determine disability, he said. States like Texas and Florida used non-clinical standards, which led to later cases like Moore and Hall v. Florida where the Court found those standards unconstitutional.
“I think what the Court intended in Atkins, that discretion was not set up so that states could nullify Atkins by creating inappropriate hurdles for proving intellectual disability,” Dunham noted.
The majority opinion in Moore, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, “said the state’s discretion is not unfettered,” Dunham said.
“All the members of the Court agreed that the intellectual disability determination needs to be informed by the diagnostic framework.”
Texas’ Briseno standard for evaluating intellectual disability is “an invention of the CCA [Criminal Court of Appeals] untied to any acknowledged source,” the Court stated, saying the standards were an “outlier” as other states had not adopted them and Texas did not even use them for cases other than the death penalty.
“Not aligned with the medical community’s information, and drawing no strength from our precedent, the Briseno factors ‘creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed’,” the opinion stated.
“Mild levels of intellectual disability, although they may fall outside Texas citizens’ consensus, nevertheless remain intellectual disabilities,” they insisted.
The dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, admitted that the Briseno factors “are an unacceptable method of enforcing the guarantee of Atkins.”
However, Roberts added that he did not think the appeals court “erred as to Moore’s intellectual functioning.”
Furthermore, the Court majority set about determining what was the “medical consensus about intellectual disability” when that judgment should be left to “clinicians,” Roberts insisted.
Ultimately, the Court sent a strong message not only to Texas but to other states who craft their testing for intellectual disability outside of the clinical consensus, Dunham said.
“This case, Moore and Hall read together, sends a clear message. That is, if you follow the clinical definitions of intellectual disability, you aren’t going to have these kinds of problems. When you start substituting lay stereotypes and myths for the clinical criteria, you’re risking having your court judgments overturned.”
“This decision sheds light on one of the many broken aspects of the death penalty. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is another step towards justice for all life,” Clifton stated.
Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 28, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Health care providers and institutions opposed to assisted suicide gained more legal protections under a new Arizona law that aims to help ensure doctors and nurses aren’t fired for their beliefs if the practice is ever legalized.
Senate Bill 1439 was “an important rights of conscience bill,” according to the bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference.
“S.B. 1439 will help protect health care providers not wanting to participate in services causing the death of their patients,” the state’s four bishops said March 24, adding they were grateful that it has become law.
The bill lists assisted suicide, euthanasia, or “mercy killing” as some activities that a doctor, nurse or health care entity may decline to participate in.
Bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Barto said the bill would help ensure that individuals would not lose their jobs if they have objections to these practices.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation on Friday.
The Arizona bishops’ conference said federal law already protects health care providers who decline to participate in assisted suicide or similar actions, but the bill adds state-level protections and clarifies that providers cannot face discrimination in employment.
The bill bars discrimination against state health care providers and facilities if they refuse to assist in services that result in a person’s death or if they refuse to provide items that result in a person’s death.
Assisted suicide is illegal in Arizona, though the conscience protection bill comes at a time when several other states have legalized the practice.
Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After 111 years of serving the community of Birmingham, Alabama, the city's only African American Catholic elementary school could close due to financial struggles.
Over its long history, Our Lady of Fatima has become an integral part of the community, serving students from all backgrounds: of its 64 children, 11 percent are Catholic, and 89 percent are non-Catholic.
“It's looked at as a community school,” the school's principal Al Logan told the Birmingham Times.
“Most of these children are neighborhood children and their parents are struggling to send them here for a Catholic education,” staff member Cynthia Pinkard noted, according to CBS WIAT.
Closing the school “would really hurt the neighborhood,” she said.
Our Lady of Fatima is the oldest Catholic elementary school in Birmingham, serving students from pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade. The school is located in the Titusville area, and is also connected with Our Lady of Fatima parish in the Diocese of Birmingham.
“We've seen a decline in enrollment,” Logan said. “It's just because of the way our housing market went a few years ago. It all plays into that same arena. I don't think it has personally anything to do with Catholic or non-Catholic (schools); it just happens.”
Logan believes that the school can raise the necessary funds to keep the school open for at least another year. The school is asking for $150,000 in donations for the 2017-2018 academic year, which needs to be raised by August. The Diocese of Birmingham has chipped in over the years, but the school will need more to keep its doors open.
“I really think we will be able to keep it open,” Logan said, saying that they have already received donations from all across the country from places like Indiana and Florida.
“With the support of everyone who's interested in seeing a good, Catholic education be afforded to the kids, we'll find a way to keep the school open,” he added.
However, Our Lady of Fatima is not the only school on the chopping block. Across the country, private and Catholic schools in particular have faced financial trouble due to lower enrollment.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there has been a two percent enrollment decrease in private schools over the past 20 years for elementary or secondary students. Over 1,000 Catholic schools have also been forced to close or team up with other schools since 2006.
Looking to the future, Logan is hopeful that the school will receive the money necessary to keep the school open and asked for continued donations.
“We would like for the community to step up and to give us whatever they can donate, and likewise, anyone who would like to (donate) from any city or location in the country.”
Donations to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School can be received by phone at 205-251-8395 or through the mail at 630 1st Street S., Birmingham, AL, 35205.
New York City, N.Y., Mar 27, 2017 / 06:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid charges that a selective public high school excluded Catholic school students from admission, the principal insists it was due to a clerical error but still faces heavy criticism.
Maspeth High School, in the New York City borough of Queens, gives admission priority to students who live nearby and attend information sessions or open houses.
The school selected about 250 prospective students out of 1,000 applicants in its lottery.
However, the principal had failed to mark for priority status 207 students of Catholic schools who had attended an information session for Maspeth. Priority status would have placed them in the random lottery.
Instead, none of those 207 students were accepted, the New York Post reports.
Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir told parents the omission was due to a “clerical error.”
“There was an error. There was a problem,” the principal said at a March 16 meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association, the Queens Chronicle reports. “So there is no vast conspiracy against any of the parochial schools. Some of our best students come from parochial schools.”
As controversy grew, New York City Department of Education officials then entered 207 of the applicants from parochial schools into a second lottery. It offered seats to 66 of these students, who would make up about 15 percent of the freshman class.
Critics of the system charge that it is vulnerable to abuse by principals who want to exclude or favor certain students.
The president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, Bob Holden, told the New York Post that the principal had in a phone call described parochial schools as “a problem” because “many of the students opt out and don’t go to my school,” which costs the school funding.
Holden called for an investigation.
Parents may ask the city to re-do the entire lottery for the high school.
Among the parents critical of the school was Jimmy Guarneri, whose son Michael was not accepted. “We’re very angry,” he told the New York Post.
His son will go to a Catholic high school, but only received a partial scholarship. “I’m working two jobs as it is,” he said.
The second lottery meant many students were rejected twice, including the son of parent Santo Vicino.
“I haven’t seen my son cry before and he’s cried twice this past week,” Vicino told the New York Post.
“I need this school for my son’s health, safety and well-being,” he added. “I’m demanding a seat. I want what’s right.”
Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It was September 1987, and Pope John Paul II had just arrived in Los Angeles after traveling around the United States. The Pope was greeted in the City of Angels by a closed-door meeting with a group of progressive bishops who had a bone to pick with several Church traditions.
One of four chosen representatives, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, spoke to the pope about female ordination:
“Women seek…(a church) that teaches and shows by example the co-discipleship of the sexes as instruments of God’s kingdom. They seek a church where the gifts of women are equally accepted and appreciated...where the feminine is no longer subordinate but seen in a holistic mutuality with the masculine as forming the full image of the Divine,” he said.
Meanwhile in Alabama, a woman of the Church named Mother Angelica had just thrown her cable network, which reached more than 2 million homes at the time, into 24-hour coverage territory. During the 1987 papal trip, the EWTN Network took on the then-unprecedented task of live, unedited, constant coverage of the Holy Father’s visit.
And when word reached the spunky nun of the Milwaukee bishop’s remarks to the Pope during the trip, she couldn’t help but chime in with her opinion.
“Women in the priesthood, that’s just a power play, that’s ridiculous,” Mother Angelica said the next day.
“As it is women have more power in the Church than anybody. They built and run the schools. God has designed that men be priests, and we can’t afford to deny God his sovereign rights,” she said, as recalled in her biography by Raymond Arroyo.
If anyone has any doubts as to whether ordination is necessary for leadership and influence in the Church, they need look no further than the media mogul nun herself to be proven wrong, said Catholic talk show host and media consultant Teresa Tomeo.
“Not only was she a prominent international media personality, because of her work on air and her great shows, but she was a foundress of a major religious network and she was a CEO of that network while being on the air, which is something that few women in the secular world accomplish,” Tomeo told CNA.
“And here she is accomplishing this in the Catholic Church, which is supposedly so sexist and backward according to the world. She’s breaking barriers that these powerful women in secular media can’t even touch.”
In 1981, at a time when women were still struggling for places of prominence in the world of broadcasting, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation launched Eternal Word Television Network, which today transmits 24-hour-a-day programming to more than 264 million homes in 144 countries. What began with approximately 20 employees has now grown to nearly 400. The religious network broadcasts terrestrial and shortwave radio around the world, operates a religious goods catalog and publishes the National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency, among other publishing ventures.
She’s breaking barriers that these powerful women in secular media can’t even touch.
Besides founding EWTN, Mother Angelica is also credited with building a monastery, a shrine, and establishing two religious orders.
Mother Angelica passed away on March 27, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.
After her passing, the praises of Mother Angelica were sung from both the secular and Church media, with many recognizing her as a strong example of female leadership.
In his tribute, John Allen of Crux wrote:
“Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, remembered her as a “devout believer and media pioneer" in a statement following her death.
"Mother Angelica reflected the Gospel commission to go forth and make disciples of all nations, and like the best evangelists, she used the communications tools of her time to make this happen. She displayed a unique capacity for mission and showed the world once again the vital contribution of women religious," he said.
Her vigorous leadership and vision in a Church with all-male clergy came from her security in knowing her identity before God, Tomeo added.
“Bottom line is that she knew who she was in Christ, she knew that she was designed in the image and likeness of God, that we’re male and female, we’re equal but we’re different,” she said.
“And she knew that God has a special role for her, and that he chose her for a specific reason, and that you can do all things through Christ as St. Paul tells us.”
Mother Angelica doesn’t stand alone in the line of formidable female figures in the Church, either, Tomeo noted. She succeeded other spiritual giants like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena, and is joined by other women in the contemporary world, who are working to make a difference in the Church.
For years to come, Mother Angelica will be remembered for her authenticity and punchy humor, and her ability to preach the Gospel with love, Tomeo added.
“She was funny, she always gave me hope that no matter how many mistakes any of us make, God is always going to allow us to come home,” she said.
“I think that we have just begun to unpack her wisdom. I think...for decades and centuries, she’s going to be seen as one of the greatest evangelists in America.”
This article was originally published April 1, 2016.
Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- Paul Darrow went to his first gay beach when he was 15.
Soon after, he hitchhiked his way to New York, where there was a thriving gay scene and where he could pursue a career in modeling. Once there, he landed a high-end job as an international model and rubbed elbows with celebrities at clubs in the city.
When he wasn’t at the studio or at the gym, Darrow spent his time looking for partners. He found himself going through dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of lovers.
“It became frantic, and it was never my intention...but I became insensitive to what it means to be with a partner, both body and soul,” he said in the documentary film, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”
But after the AIDS epidemic claimed around 90 percent of his friends, a disease he himself narrowly and miraculously escaped, Darrow decided to move to San Francisco for a fresh start. He met his partner, Jeff, there and they moved to a cabin in Sonoma County.
It was in their shared home that Darrow accidentally discovered a one-eyed, straight-talking “pirate nun” wearing an eye-patch who would change his life forever.
“It was so strange that I said 'Jeff Jeff come in here! You gotta see this!'” he said, pointing to the image on the T.V.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, it was Mother Angelica on EWTN. She had just had a stroke, which pulled the left side of her face into a slump and required her to wear a black eye patch over one eye.
“So (Jeff) comes in and I'm laughing mockingly at this nun with a patch over her eye, a distorted face…and a complete old fashioned habit,” Darrow said. “We both mocked her and laughed at her, you know, 'Gosh these crazy Christians.'”
Jeff left the room and Darrow was about to change the channel, when Mother Angelica “said something so intelligent, so real, and so honest, that it really struck me,” he said.
“You see God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next,” Mother Angelica said through slumped lips, her good eye still twinkling behind her glasses.
Mother Angelica's words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got.
“He cares for you. He watches your every move. There's no one that loves you can do that.”
Mother Angelica's words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got.
Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away on March 27, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.
“She really had…a huge influence on my life, and I learned to love her,” he said, “but at the same time, I had to hide her.”
“So when I turned off the TV, I would always change the channel so that when Jeff or whoever was watching that TV came in, they would never see that I was watching Mother Angelica. And it reminded me as I was doing this of when I used to turn the channel when I was watching porn because I didn't want Jeff or anyone else to see a porn station come up.”
Eventually, Mother Angelica's influence convinced Darrow to go back to church after decades of absence. It was a move that made Darrow very wary; he was sure he would lose friends and clients if they saw him going into a Catholic Church.
And in some ways, he was right.
“I lost clients, I lost friends,” he told CNA in a 2014 interview, at the premiere of the documentary.
“People were in shock that an educated, relatively intelligent man could believe in Jesus Christ. These were the few friends that were aware that I was back in the Church.”
But it's a move that he’s never regretted. Since his conversion, Darrow has shared his experience through talks and conferences. Mother Angelica also led Darrow to discover Courage International, the
Vatican-approved apostolate that reaches out to Catholics with same-sex attraction with the goals of growing closer to God, engaging in supportive friendships, and learning to live full lives within the call to chastity.
It was through Courage International that Darrow became involved with the film “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which he saw as a chance to share his story and to give others the same hope that he found in the Catholic Church.
“I was not discriminated against at the beginning of my journey back to the Catholic Church, I was never told that I was a bad person, that I was doing something wrong, even in confession,” he said.
“The Catholic Church really is, according to its teachings, open to everybody.”
Darrow said he felt he owed it to God to share his story through courage and through the film because of all that God had done in his life.
“I wanted to express my love to God and my appreciation for all that He has done for me,” Darrow said, “that He had never forgotten me during the decades that I had forgotten him or turned against him.”
The full documentary is available for free online at: https://everlastinghills.org/movie/
This article was originally published March 29, 2016.
San Francisco, Calif., Mar 26, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2013, Beyonce Knowles topped GQ’s list of “The 100 Hottest Women of the 21st Century.”
That same year, the “definitive men's magazine” that promises “sexy women” along with style advice, entertainment news and more ran a shorter listicle: “10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.”
The list included reasons such as increased sexual impotence in men that regularly viewed pornography, and a reported lack of control of sexual desires. It was inspired by an interview with NoFap, an online community of people dedicated to holding each other accountable in abstaining from pornography and masturbation.The site clearly states that it is decidedly non-religious.
Matt Fradd, on the other hand, is a Catholic. Fradd has spent much of his adult life urging people to quit pornography, and developing websites and resources to help pornography addicts.
But even though he’s Catholic, Fradd’s new anti-porn book, “The Porn Myth,” won’t quote the saints or the Bible or recommend a regimen of rosaries.
“I wanted to write a non-religious response to pro-pornography arguments,” Fradd said.
That’s not because he’s abandoned his beliefs, or thinks that faith has nothing to say about pornography.
“Whenever I get up to speak, people expect that I’m just going to use a bunch of moral arguments (against porn). And I have them, and I’m happy to use them, and I think ultimately that’s what we need to get to. But I think using science...is always the best way to introduce this issue to people.”
“In an increasingly secular culture, we need arguments based on scientific research, of which there’s been much,” he said. It’s why he cites numerous studies on each page of his book, and why he’s included 50 pages of additional appendixes citing additional research.
Fradd is careful to clarify in his book that it is not a book against sex or sexuality. What he does want to do is challenge the way many people have come to think about pornography, and question whether it leads to human flourishing.
“This book rests on one fundamental presupposition: if you want something to flourish, you need to use it in accordance with its nature,” Fradd wrote. “Don’t plant tomatoes in a dark closet and water them with soda and expect to have vibrant tomato plants. To do so would be to act contrary to the nature of tomatoes. Similarly, don’t rip sex out of its obvious relational context, turn it into a commodity, and then expect individuals, families and society to flourish.”
But why dedicate a whole book to the scientific effects of pornography?
Fradd said that the sheer volume of pornography consumption makes this an especially urgent book - and it’s at least two decades too late. According to one survey, about 63 percent of men and 21 percent of women ages 18-30 have reported that they view pornography several times a week - not to mention those viewing it slightly less often.
“If we have an iPhone we have a portable X-rated movie theater. And some studies suggest children as young as 8 are being exposed to it, so if I meet someone who’s 14, I know that they have looked at porn or are looking at it regularly,” Fradd said.
Fradd recalls in his book a study done by Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education. When Farley’s team set out to do a study about men who buy sex, they had a difficult time finding men who don’t do so.
“The use of pornography, phone sex, lapdances, and other services has become so widespread that Farley’s team had to loosen their definition of a non-sex buyer in order to assemble a hundred-person control group for their research,” Fradd wrote.
Throughout the book, Fradd uses scientific research to debunk numerous and prevailing “myths” or arguments about pornography, including the ideas that pornography empowers women, that it isn’t addictive, and that it’s a healthy part of sexuality and relationships.
One of the most commonly believed myths is that pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, Fradd said. But he has found that pornography harms people personally, relationally, and societally.
On the personal level, a 2014 study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found that frequent pornography use in men was associated with decreased brain matter in certain areas of the brain.
The abstract explained that the association may not be causation, but correlation, “which means that if porn isn’t shrinking your brain, it would mean that people with small brains like porn more,” Fradd said.
“It’s not a feather in your cap, either way.”
As for whether or not pornography empowers women, Fradd said that while he agrees that a woman who consents to producing pornography is in some sense “better” than a woman who is forced or coerced, but not by much, because pornography is still being used by the consumer to treat another person as a means to an end.
“No matter the level of consent, it is a manly thing to treat a woman who has forgotten her dignity with dignity nonetheless,” Fradd wrote.
Fradd also quotes Rebecca Whisnant, a feminist theory professor, who once refuted the myth of porn as female empowerment in a talk:
“Feminism is about ending the subordination of women. Expanding women’s freedom of choice on a variety of fronts is an important part of that, but it is not the whole story. In fact, any meaningful liberation movement involves not only claiming the right to make choices, but also holding oneself accountable for the effects of those choices on oneself and on others,” she said in a 2007 talk.
These women are also perpetuating a system that robs women, as a group, of empowerment, Fradd said, such as women who are sex trafficked while participating in the porn industry. By some estimates, two million women and girls are held in sexual slavery at any given time.
It’s part of the reason why Fradd is donating all of the proceeds of “The Porn Myth” to Children of the Immaculate Heart, a non-profit corporation operating in San Diego, Calif, whose mission is to serve survivors of human trafficking.
Porn also disempowers the women whose relationships are destroyed by men caught up in pornography addictions, Fradd noted.
“Ask the millions of women whose husbands habitually turn to porn. Do these women feel empowered by pornography?” Fradd asked.
Pornography use in marriage is one way that porn harms relationships. According to Fradd’s research, a survey of 350 divorce lawyers reported in 2003 that pornography was at least part of the problem in half of all divorce cases they saw.
Another commonly believed myth is that marriage will solve a porn addiction, which shows a misunderstanding of the psychology of addiction in the first place, Fradd explains.
But pornography can also damage the relationships of a single person looking for love.
A 2011 TED talk by psychologist Philip Zimbardo said that studies showed a “widespread fear of intimacy and social awkwardness among men,” and an inability to engage in face-to-face conversations with women, Fradd wrote.
“Why? Zimbardo says this is caused by disproportionate Internet use in general and excessive new access to pornography in particular. ‘Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way, for change, novelty, excitement.’”
And Zimbardo is not alone in his observations. As Fradd notes, neuroscientist William Struthers wrote in 2009 that “With repeated sexual acting out in the absence of a partner, a man will be bound and attached to the image and not a person.”
In other words, men can start preferring pixels to people. According to NoFap’s statistics in 2013, about half of their users had never had sex with a real person, meaning their only experience of sexual intimacy has been digital.
That reason alone has been why many people, men especially, have sought to kick their porn habits, Fradd said.
“I know agnostics or atheists who quit porn literally because they couldn’t have sex with people they were hooking up with. That’s why they quit porn. And these guys are fit, good-looking young men, who couldn’t get an erection around a young woman. But they realized if the woman left and they opened up their laptop they’d get an immediate erection.”
Studies have also shown that pornography addiction is driven by the increase in amounts, and varieties, of material readily available to anyone with access to the internet.
“People find themselves viewing more and more disturbing pornography, and the reason for this is because of a decrease in dopamine in the brain, which happens because of the addiction one has, and they end up seeking out more graphic, violent forms of pornogrpahy just to boost the dopamine enough to feel normal,” Fradd said.
“People don’t wake up when they’re 30 and decide to look at child porn or feces porn or something disgusting like that. These are big things that people spiral into, and the industry has to keep pushing the envelope because it’s addictive,” he added.
While the statistics of pornography can be disturbing and depressing, Fradd stressed that there was still hope. He devotes several chapters in the book to protecting children from pornography, dealing with pornograpy in marriage, and getting help for those addicted to pornography.
Fradd himself has spent years in ministry to those with pornography addictions, and helps run the site Integrity Restored, which offers numerous resources to help those struggling with addictions and those in ministry to them.
The most effective steps for someone to follow for someone addicted to porn?
“They should find a spiritual director, they should go to therapy, and they should find a 12 step group (like Sexaholics Anonymous),” Fradd said. “With those three things together, we’ve seen the most success.”
Often well-meaning Christians will relegate pornography addictions to the spiritual realm, telling people that they simply need to pray more, Fradd said. And while prayer isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t address the psychological aspect of addiction.
“When people do things like put a picture of Mary on their laptop or pray more, it doesn’t actually usually work. It’s not a solely spiritual problem, so what we don’t need is a solely spiritual answer,” he said.
Just as you should encourage a clinically depressed person to seek counseling and therapy, you should also encourage someone experiencing addiction to seek professional help, he added.
Fradd said he’s also been encouraged by the number of celebrities who have recently spoken out against pornography, such as Pamela Anderson, British comedian Russell Brand, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rashida Jones, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews, to name a few.
Slowly, he said, society is catching up to the science that shows how harmful pornography can be.
“We’ve reached a tipping point in our culture such that everyone either struggles with porn and/or knows someone who does, and we all see the negative effects,” he said.
“So the porn industry’s cronies can tell us that pornography is healthy for well-rounded adults, but they now sound like the tobacco apologists sounded like in the 80s. In light of the evidence, their assertions seem increasingly ridiculous.”
Fradd’s book is available at: https://www.thepornmyth.com/
Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2017 / 08:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Patrick James Byrne was born in the United States, but he died on a forced march in the harsh Korean snows under the watch of communist soldiers.
Now the Catholic bishops of South Korea are considering whether he should beatified among a group of Korean martyrs.
“Bishop Byrne is one of the unsung heroes of Maryknoll,” Father Raymond Finch, Superior General of the Maryknoll Society, told CNA. “We remember him as an example of a missioner who stayed at his post.”
As a newly ordained priest in 1915, Bishop Byrne joined the Maryknoll Society, just four years after its founding. He led the society's mission to Korea in the early 1920s, and he served as prefect apostolic of Pyongyang from 1927 to 1929.
In the 1930s he was transferred to Japan, and during World War II he was held under house arrest.
After the war's conclusion, he was named the first apostolic delegate to Korea, in April 1949. He was promptly ordained a bishop, at the age of 60.
His ordination came at a portentous moment early in the Cold War. Korea was splitting between the North Korean communists, backed by China and the Soviet Union, and the U.S.-backed South Korea.
With the rise of communism in northern Korea, many of the Catholics in the north, including Maryknoll clergy, had to escape to the south in order to continue to practice their Catholic faith.
But not Bishop Byrne.
“It was then, remaining at his post, that he was taken with many other religious priests and members of the Church, taken prisoner on a forced march,” Fr. Finch said. “And he died on that march.”
In July 1950, after the capture of Seoul by North Korean forces, Bishop Byrne was arrested by communists and put on trial. According to Glenn D. Kittler’s history “The Maryknoll Fathers,” he was threatened with death if he did not denounce the U.S., the United Nations, and the Vatican. He refused.
He and other priests were put on several forced marches with Korean men and women and captured American soldiers.
Bishop Byrne was known for trying to help others on the marches through the cold, wet Korean weather, Fr. Finch said.
Aiding others was risky. Some of the prisoners were shot for dropping out of line, while others were executed for aiding those who had become immobilized. Nonetheless, the bishop would help others. At one point he gave his entire blanket to a Methodist missionary who was suffering worse than he.
During a four-month-long forced march, suffering from bad weather and a lack of food and shelter, he began to succumb to pneumonia at Chunggan-up, not far from the Yalu River on the border with China.
He knew he was dying.
“After the privilege of my priesthood, I regard this privilege of having suffered for Christ with all of you as the greatest of my life,” he told his companions.
He received absolution from his secretary, Father William Booth, the bishop’s biography at the Maryknoll Mission Archives website says.
He died Nov. 25, 1950. News of his death took two years to reach the world, when U.N. prison camp inspectors found survivors of the march.
Bishop Byrne was buried by Msgr. Thomas Quinlan, an Irish-born Columban Father who placed his own cassock on the bishop. The monsignor was later named Bishop of Chunchon, South Korea.
Now, a special commission of South Korean bishops has begun a process that could make Bishop Byrne a candidate for beatification. The bishops have grouped him with Bishop Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho of Pyongyang and 80 companions, who were killed in persecutions from 1901 to the mid-20th century.
Fr. Finch said the launch of the beatification process for Bishop Byrne was “a tremendous honor” and showed he was an example for the Maryknoll Society to follow.
“He answered the call to mission, from the very beginning, and stayed with it, and gave his life to that,” he said. “That’s what we want to do, one way or another, whether it’s through a lifetime, or in a moment in which supreme sacrifices are asked for.”
“We’re inspired,” the Maryknoll superior general said. “We’re inspired by him, and we’re inspired by a number of other Maryknollers who have given their lives over the years in Asia, in Latin America and in Africa.”
Other victims of the Korean conflict include Maryknoll Sisters like Sister Agneta Chang, who was kidnapped by the communist military in late 1950 and is believed to have been martyred.
“I believe they never found her body,” Fr. Finch said.
While the context of the conflict was very difficult, it led to “tremendous Church growth” in South Korea after the war from people who were dedicated to the Church.
“Korea is one of the tremendous success stories of Asia: a Church that started out with 20-25,000 of people of the faith at the start of the last century and ended up with 10 percent of the population today,” Fr. Finch told CNA.
Arlington, Va., Mar 25, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship.
“This really is a re-founding,” Fr. James Orthmann of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. told CNA, a “real renewal and a re-founding, and in a real sense getting back to our traditional roots.”
Since 2007, the community has taken concrete steps be better stewards of the earth in the tradition of the Cistercian Order, while also reaching into the outside world to draw more Catholic men to their monastic life.
The abbey was founded in 1950 after a planned Trappist abbey in Massachusetts burned down. The Diocese of Richmond offered to accept the monks and they procured 1200 acres of pasture on the Shenandoah River in Northwest Virginia, just in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.
However the community has shrunk along with the overall number of religious priests and brothers in the U.S., which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1965. The community’s Father Immediate – the abbot of their mother house – suggested in 2007 they start planning how to sustain the abbey for the long-term.
The monks discussed their most important resources and “literally everybody talked about our location, our land,” Fr. James recalled. “As monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, we have a vow of stability. So we bind ourselves to the community and to the place that we enter.”
The Trappists have a long history of settling in valleys and caring for the land, dating back to their roots in the Cistercian Order and their mother abbey in Citeaux, France, founded in 1098. Monks at Holy Cross Abbey began farming the land in 1950 but as the community grew older, they leased out the land to local farmers and made creamed honey and fruitcake for their labor.
“We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land,” Fr. James explained. “The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”
So what specifically have the monks done to become better environmental stewards? First, they reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could be more environmentally sustainable in the Cistercian tradition.
A group of graduate students made the project their master’s thesis. The result was a massive 400-page study, “Reinhabiting Place,” with all sorts of recommendations for the monks. With these suggestions as a starting place, the monks took action.
First, they turned to the river. They asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease 600 acres of their land to stop his cattle from grazing in the river. This would protect the riverbanks from eroding and keep the cows from polluting the water, which flows into the Potomac River, past Washington, D.C., and eventually feeds the massive Chesapeake Bay.
They fenced off tributaries of the river and planted native hardwoods and bushes on the banks as shelter for migratory animals and to attract insects and pollinators to “restore the proper biodiversity to the area,” Fr. James explained. They also leased 180 acres of land to a farmer for natural vegetable farming.
Most of the abbey’s property was put into “conservation easement” with the county and the state. By doing this, the monks promise that the land will forever remain “fallow,” or agricultural and undeveloped, and they receive a tax benefit in return. The county provides this policy to check suburban sprawl and retain a rural and agricultural nature.
The community also switched their heating and fueling sources from fossil fuels to propane gas. They had a solar-fed lighting system installed in two of the guest retreat dorms, and they pay for the recycling of their disposable waste. The monks stopped making fruitcake for a year to install a new more energy-efficient oven and make building repairs.
The have even started offering “green burials” at Cool Spring Cemetery in the Trappist style.
Normal burials can cost well over $7,000 with embalming fluids and lead coffins that can be detrimental to the soil. A Trappist burial, by contrast, is “rather sparse” and “rather unadorned,” Fr. James explained. A monk is wrapped in a shroud and placed directly on a wooden bier in the ground.
The Trappist burials, while quite different from a typical modern burial, actually have an earthy character to them that’s attractive, Fr. James maintained.
After the “initial shock” at seeing such a sparse burial for the first time, “oddly enough, it’s very cathartic and you have a real sense of hope,” he said. The burials are “a lot less formal” and “people [in attendance] are more spontaneous,” he noted, and there’s “even a certain joyfulness to it.”
With their “green burials,” the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container like a wooden coffin, and buried in the first four feet of the soil. By one year, just the skeleton may be left, but it’s a harkening back to the Ash Wednesday admonition, “Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”
And this contrasts with the complicated embalming process of normal funerals where chemicals like formaldehyde can seep into the ground.
The monks have already touched lives with their example of stewardship.
Local residents George Patterson and Deidra Dain produced a film “Saving Place, Saving Grace” about the monastery’s efforts to remain sustainable, for a local PBS affiliate station. The affiliate’s general manager had looked at the story and thought everyone needed to hear it.
The monastery has been an “example” to the county’s leadership with its care for the land, Patterson said. Dain, a retreatant at the monastery 15 years ago, is not Catholic but found her time at the abbey “inspiring” and as a lover of nature praises their sustainability initiative.
All in all, the communal effort for stewardship is “helping to renew our life,” Fr. James said of the community.
Papal statements on the environment have given a boost to their efforts. “There was a lot of supportive stuff from the time of Pope Benedict about the environment,” Fr. James recalled, particularly in his 2008 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which upheld the responsibility of man to care for the environment.
This “helped bridge” any gulfs that kept certain members of the community from fully embracing the sustainability initiative, Fr. James said.
Parts of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment Laudato Si are “so sophisticated in (their) grasp of environmental teaching,” he continued, and it’s quite a support to have popes promoting environmental stewardship amidst the bureaucratic tediousness of upgrading the abbey’s land and facilities.
“At the end of the day, I can open up Laudato Si and say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done’,” he said.
The community hopes too that it can be a sustainability model for developing countries that might not be able to afford high-tech and expensive solutions to environmental problems. Their facilities are simple by nature and not sophisticated, and the monks’ consumption is already low because they take a vow of poverty.
Plus, retreatants at the monastery can observe first-hand the changes made and consider what they can do in their own lives to be more caring for the environment.
However, in its “re-founding” efforts, the community has also explored ways to attract more vocations to the abbey.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost most of our seniors first to illness, aging, and then death. So in a sense, the community has a whole new profile right now,” Fr. James said. The abbey was founded to be “separate” from the cosmopolitan world, but young men are not actively seeking out the monastic life like they did in the 1950s and 60s.
So the community created a new website and continuously update it with new posts. They started hosting “immersion weekends” where men come and live with the monks for a weekend, praying with them. They expanded their local profile in the community by hosting teenagers to earn their school community service hours. “Only two students had realized we existed here,” Fr. James recalled in a telling moment.
“We’re reaching out to men of all ages, and it’s probably even more likely, given the limits of our way of life, that nowadays it’s going to be older men who are coming to this vocation,” Fr. James admitted. “This way of life and its limits make much more sense to people who have tried their quote-unquote dream, have been disillusioned by the result, and they’re yearning for something more.”
What distinguishes Holy Cross Abbey and the Trappist way of life? Their vocation to community life, Fr. James answered, “the silence, the discipline of silence, and daily familiarity with the Scriptures.”
The monks follow an intense daily schedule of prayer, contemplation, and work that includes 3:30 a.m. prayer and a “Great Silence” beginning at 8:15 p.m. They don’t leave the abbey grounds and don’t own private property.
“It’s a lifestyle that very much will develop one’s interiority, spirituality, relationship with God,” he said. “It’s a vocation of adoration, done in community, and offered to the world around us through hospitality here in this place.”
And the modern world offers special challenges to a man discerning this vocation, he admitted.
“There’s not much in the pop culture to invite a person to even think about interiority. And in fact it can be rather threatening to people,” he said. “Initially,” when one begins to seriously cultivate an interior life, “it’s the negative stuff that comes up.”
However, “with guidance you realize that’s the negative face of very important, unrecognized resources. And our vulnerability is perhaps the greatest resource we have in life. (Even if) that’s not the message you’d get from watching Oprah.”
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 2, 2015.
Austin, Texas, Mar 25, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the targets of Texas pro-life advocates are so-called ‘wrongful birth’ lawsuits and Planned Parenthood’s alleged involvement in the sale of unborn baby parts. Both are finding some success in the State Senate.
In some cases, parents of a child born with a disability such as Down syndrome have filed lawsuits against doctors claiming that they were not informed of a disability in time to procure an abortion. Such claims aim to secure the costs of raising the child, even lifetime costs.
Senate Bill 25 would prevent parents of children born with disabilities from suing their physician.
The bill, which has the support of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, passed the state senate by a vote of 21-9 March 21. It now heads to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration.
“We are thrilled that the Senate has passed S.B. 25, because it reverses a decades-old injustice and bad public policy that devalues babies, both unborn and born, who have a disability,” Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, told CNA March 23. “In our view, S.B. 25 eliminates wrongful birth lawsuits while holding doctors accountable to practicing good medicine.”
While opponents of the bill charged it would allow doctors to withhold information from parents about an unborn child, Pojman said the bill’s text explicitly excludes such a possibility.
He added that the bill is consistent with tTexas’ policy of promoting childbirth over abortion.
Meanwhile, Texas Alliance for Life’s top priority is the passage of S.B. 8, provisions of which would, in Pojman’s words, “shut down Planned Parenthood's harvesting and sale of body parts harvested from the bodies of aborted babies.”
The bill passed the state senate March 15 by a bipartisan vote of 24-6. The House considered its own version March 22.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had called for such a bill in his January State of the State Address.
The bill follows an undercover investigation from the Center for American Progress which found Planned Parenthood staffers and leaders appearing to encourage the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby body parts for profit.
A Dec. 7, 2016 letter from the Select Investigative Panel of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce referred an unnamed Houston abortionist to the State Attorney General for alleged violations of a federal partial-birth abortion ban.
S.B. 8 would also bar partial-birth abortion, creating a criminal penalty for the physician and a cause for civil action for the father.
The bill has the support of the Texas Catholic Conference.
Another bill, S.B. 415, passed the state senate by a 21-9 vote.
The ban on “dismemberment abortions” would bar “dilation and evacuation” procedures, which use surgical instruments to grasp the unborn baby and remove his or her parts while he or she is still alive. The procedure is the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.
However, the Texas Alliance for Life opposed it.
“We look forward to the day when laws protect all unborn babies from abortion and the courts uphold those laws,” Pojman said. “Unfortunately, a ban on dismemberment abortion would never be enforced, and it would save no lives.”
He said the bill had zero chance to survive a federal court challenge and could create a precedent to make overturning Roe v. Wade more difficult.
“We believe it to be naive and harmful to pursue such legislation this session given the makeup of the Supreme Court now and for the foreseeable future. Since these bills will set the pro-life movement back rather than moving us forward, we cannot support these bills.”
A loss in federal court would also fund the abortion movement, as the state is required to pay plaintiff attorney fees if the plaintiff wins on constitutional issues.
Pojman pointed to the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case, which successfully challenged parts of a Texas law requiring more safety regulations at abortion clinics.
The abortion providers are asking for $4.5 million in legal costs.
“We do not know what they will end up receiving,” Pojman said. “We do know, however, that whatever the attorneys for the abortion providers receive will be used to attack other pro-life laws in Texas and in other states.”