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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 57 min 27 sec ago

North Carolina 20-week abortion ban unconstitutional, judge rules

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 10:00

Raleigh, N.C., Mar 27, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A federal judge has struck down a 1973 North Carolina law that limited abortion to the first 20 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. U.S. District Judge William Osteen issued a ruling March 25 finding the law unconstitutional.

 

Although the law banning abortion after 20 weeks gestation has been on the books for decades, it has never been enforced. The decision found that the law, even if not enforced, had a “chilling effect” which harmed constitutional rights.

 

The law originally included exemptions that permited an abortion to protect the health of the mother, but a 2015 amendment to the legislation narrowly defined this as when a “major bodily function” would be at risk if the pregnancy continued.

 

That change prompted abortion advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, to file a 2016 suit against the law. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic operates facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

 

The Supreme Court has repeatedly found that a woman has a Constitutional right to an abortion prior to fetal viability, and Osteen ruled that the law, even if unenforced, was unconstitutional.

 

“To this court, the most reasonable inference from such conduct is that Defendants hope to ensure the ban remains on the statute books to deter doctors from providing any post-twenty week abortions while not actively investigating or initiating any criminal prosecutions under the ban,” wrote Osteen in his decision.

 

“But if Plaintiffs are reasonably deterred from providing these abortions by the mere presence of the ban, they have suffered a potential constitutional injury.”

 

These actions amounted to what Osteen called the “chilling effect doctrine,” which is when a law “reasonably dissuades individuals from engaging in constitutionally-protected speech for fear of criminal punishment.” The “chilling effect” alone could justify a legal complaint against the law, said Osteen.

 

With the law struck down, abortion remains legal for any reason in North Carolina until a doctor determines t that the unborn child can survive outside of the womb.

 

The ruling will go into effect in 60 days from Monday, provided it is not further challenged by the state of North Carolina.

 

Earlier this year, lawmakers in the state attempted to pass legislation to ban abortion after the first trimester of a pregnancy.

 

Elsewhere in the United States, many states have passed bans on abortion pre-viability, including 15-weeks or fetal heartbeat bans. These laws have all been subject to judicial review upon passage, and with many being declared unconstitutional.

 

Multiple judicial decisions against fetal heartbeat laws have prompted many pro-life organizations, as well as the Catholic bishops of Tennessee, to withdraw their support.

 

If the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision were to be overturned, states would be free to set their own abortion policies. Many states have codified the Roe decision into law in the event it would be overturned, but five states have “trigger laws” that would automatically ban abortion entirely if the case were overturned.

Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to work with lay advisory board

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 05:01

St. Paul, Minn., Mar 27, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is organizing a lay advisory board aimed at bringing input and suggestions from parish councils to the archbishop’s office.

Its goal is to help bring parishioners healing after a tumultuous past several years in the archdiocese.

Father Michael Tix, archdiocesan liaison for the effort and vicar for clergy and parish services, told CNA in an interview that the archdiocese set up the board in a way that mirrored the existing diocesan presbyteral council.

“It does help to be able to create a flow of information back and forth from parishes to archbishop, and archbishop back to parishes through their parish council though an existing structure that's there,” Tix said.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda asked each parish pastoral council last December to choose a representative to send to meetings held during a week in March with fellow parish figures within individual deaneries.

Subsequently, each deanery in the archdiocese will elect a representative – chosen from among the parish figures – and an alternate to sit on the lay advisory board. That representative will serve as a link between the archbishop’s advisory board and the parishes back home, Tix said.

“The deanery rep would be part of the lay advisory board that would meet with the archbishop, and then that deanery rep would also go back to bring together the parish reps to share information, get feedback from the advisory board meetings as well as from the parish reps, to serve as a conduit,” he said.

The discussions with the archbishop, Tix said, will mainly be about the “particular needs” of parishes or areas of deaneries in order to move forward and promote healing after “four years of bankruptcy, civil and criminal charges, [and] resignations.”

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court. In addition, former Archbishop John Nienstedt stepped down in 2015 after the diocese was charged with mishandling cases of child sexual abuse.

The discussions will also be a chance for the archdiocese to inform the lay representatives about what has been going on in the local Church regarding sexual abuse, and what steps the archdiocese is taking to addess it.

“The last four years have been a tough four years for our archdiocese, clearly for the victims and survivors on the one hand, and for anybody who's been a parishioner,” Tix said.

“It's been a tough time to be Catholic in the Twin Cities because of a lot of stuff that's come out that we've had to deal with and that we continue to deal with. So I think the first thing that we're going to talk about is about healing. How do we bring healing to folks? There's a range of need that's there. And so in order to move forward we have to address that healing,” Tix said.

The board’s first meeting with the archbishop will be April 3, Tix said, and he said he notes a “positive energy and enthusiasm” in the participants, which he credits to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

He said this lay advisory board may also assist in planning a diocesan synod in the future, a project that Archbishop Hebda has discussed in the past but which “hasn’t really been defined in terms of time or scope.”

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse. He has said there are no plans for additional parish appeals to help to fund the settlements, saying last June that most of the settlement money – $170 million – would come from the archdiocese’s insurance and from money already collected from parish appeals.

The settlement, announced after more than two years’ deliberation, includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy. The amount is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

Hebda has said he will continue to advocate for an independent review board for sexual abuse cases, and would commit to transmitting the entire 2014 archdiocesan investigation in former Archbishop Nienstedt’s conduct to whatever national or regional review board is created. He has also said that he strongly favors a “lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop.”

'The shenanigans' at Mother Angelica's first vows

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 04:03

Irondale, Ala., Mar 27, 2019 / 02:03 am (CNA).- If you picture a nun's first profession of vows, you probably picture a serene, peaceful affair with the sisters singing harmoniously and everything running joyfully and smoothly.

However, the day of Mother Angelica's first vows was anything but.

Outside, a blizzard spit snow and ice, snarling roads and delaying the guests and the presiding bishop, James McFadden.

Inside, different storms were brewing.

As then-Sister Angelica knelt behind the grille, trying to pray before taking her vows, the organist sister and the choir director, Sr. Mary of the Cross (with whom Sr. Angelica had sparred in the past), began arguing about musical technique, within earshot of the already-arrived guests.

As the incident is recalled in her biography:

Voices slowly escalated. Suddenly the two nuns were at each other: the organist refusing to play, Mary of the Cross threatening to throw her into the snow if she didn’t.

“And I’m sitting there trying to re-collect myself for my vows,” Mother Angelica recalled. “The people must have thought we were nuts.”

Then came the bug, scampering across the wooden floor in front of the sisters.

Mary of the Cross rose up, lifted the kneeler with both hands, and pounded it on the ground, attempting to annihilate the insect. Like a madwoman with a jackhammer, she repeatedly wielded the prie-dieu (kneeler), hurling it and herself at the crawler. The organist, thinking the display an underhanded critique of her playing, pounded the keys all the harder. Sister Angelica could not believe what she termed “the shenanigans.” Then the bishop walked in.

Wet and cold from walking several blocks where he had to leave his stalled car, Bishop McFadden requested a fresh pair of socks, which Sr. Mary of the Cross sent Sister Angelica to get.

When it came time to place the profession ring on Sr. Angelica’s fingers, the bishop couldn’t fit it past her knuckle – her hand was swollen from a shower handle in the convent that had crumbled and cut her hand several days prior.

“With everything going on there, I’m thinking, Oh Jesus doesn’t love me. You know?...I mean, it was a real spiritual experience!” Mother Angelica said. “But that’s the way God works with me. As I look back, before anything big that was coming, something happened to me.”

Despite “the shenanigans” of the day, Sr. Angelica took her vows seriously, writing in a letter to her mother that “the espoused” and “royal couple” (herself and Jesus) “wished to express their gratitude to their friend and member of their personal court...The spouse has asked the Bridegroom to fill you with his peace and consolation.”

She signed the letter: “Jesus and Angelica.”

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of EWTN, died on March 27, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.

EWTN Global Catholic Network was launched by Mother Angelica in 1981. The largest religious media network in the world, it reaches more than 275 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

In addition to television channels in multiple languages, EWTN platforms include radio services through shortwave and satellite radio, SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 AM & FM affiliates. EWTN publishes the National Catholic Register, operates a religious goods catalogue, and in 2015 formed EWTN Publishing in a joint venture with Sophia Institute Press. Catholic News Agency is also part of the EWTN family.

 

This article originally ran on March 28, 2016.

In Ohio, Catholic decline means Youngstown diocese stretched thin

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 20:01

Youngstown, Ohio, Mar 26, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Youngstown is planning to respond to serious challenges caused by declines in Catholic affiliation and participation, the looming retirement of many priests, and a general decline in the area’s population.

“Our priests have been stretched beyond what is healthy trying to maintain current parishes and Mass schedules,” Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown said in a March 22 letter to the Catholics of his diocese. “Given the fewer number of priests and fewer number of active Catholics, we can no longer continue the status quo.”

Ohio population projections foresee continued decline over the next decade. There is also “significant decline” in Catholic affiliation and participation, Murry reported. Registered parishioners have declined 36 percent since 2000 and general participation in parish life has “decreased even more.”

Regular weekend Mass attendance is down by over 60 percent, and Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, and Marriages are one-third the number they were in 2000.

Fewer priests are a “serious challenge.” As of 2000, there were 116 priests in active ministry in the diocese. This declined to 73 in 2018, and the diocese estimates the number of priests will fall to 55 in 2025. Thirteen priests are over 71 years old, and more than half of the priests are over age 61.

In light of these and other factors, Murry said, any pastoral plan “must renew and strengthen our ministry to those within our care, and also those who do not participate in the life of the Church on a regular basis.”

The situation requires “shared sacrifice.”

The dioceses’ six counties will be divided into 17 pastoral regions which each include multiple parishes. These parishes will collaborate in administration and ministry to best address the local situation, Murry said. Each region will recommend to the bishop how best to celebrate Masses and how  best to collaborate among staff, programs, events, and outreach efforts.

So far the only decisions of the planners concern the regional approach to pastoral ministry and the implementation of church law barring priests from celebrating more than three regular weekend Masses over the Saturday anticipated Mass and Sunday. This implementation will require some changes in Mass schedules.

At present there are 234 Masses celebrated each weekend in the diocese, but the church buildings are under half-capacity for 77 percent of these Masses. About 40 percent of priests are responsible for multiple ministries, parishes, or worship sites.

“While there are many challenges, there are also opportunities,” Murry said. “The Holy Spirit is present as our helper and guide, empowering the clergy and laity to work together, each using their gifts for building up the Church.”

He prayed that the planning process may be an occasion for everyone to grow more deeply in their faith, remembering “the promise that Jesus will be with us, even to the end of the age.”

According to the Catholic Hierarchy website, the total population in the territory of the Youngstown diocese peaked in 1980 at over 1.3 million, of whom Catholics numbered 286,000 – about 22 percent.
Youngstown diocesan figures for the year 2000 report about 256,000 Catholics out of 1,220,000 people, declining through 2018 to 163,000 Catholics out of 1,166,000 people, about 14 percent of the population.

Declining population trends are not unique to the Youngstown diocese but are “especially apparent” throughout the Midwest and Northeast.

“The difficult economic climate continues to cause people to move out of the area,” said Murry. “We are also experiencing more deaths than births within the region.”

Regular Mass attendance in the diocese numbered close to 107,000 in the year 2000, falling below 81,000 through 2010 and under 41,000 by 2018, a decline of more than 50 percent in 18 years. Infant baptisms and first Holy Communions numbered more than 3,000 in 2000, with more than 1,000 weddings. By 2018, there were only 1,000 infant baptisms and about 500 weddings.

School and parish religious education numbers have also fallen significantly.

Pete Schafer compiled the figures used by the diocese.

“I was surprised when you see the decline over 20 years,” Schafer told the CBS television affiliate WKBN. He was particularly concerned by the decline in baptisms.

“That’s the entrance into the Church, into our faith,” he said. “The number of parents that are bringing their children to be baptized, the number’s so far down that it is pretty alarming.”

The diocese’s material on the pastoral plan encouraged prayers for priests and vocations, as well as lay support for their local Catholic communities.

The pastoral planning process began in 2009 to respond to needs to change administration and priestly ministry in parishes. The latest plan was developed by a committee of the Priests’ Council, then reviewed by the whole Priests’ Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council.

Bishop Murry acknowledged that time is required to consult clergy and laity and to make specific recommendations. At the same time, he said the situation is urgent given that six priests will retire this summer and at least 10 more are serving beyond the retirement age of 70.

He said regular updates on the process will be available through the diocese’s newspaper the Exponent, the diocese’s website, and parish bulletins.

The diocese hopes to have further plans from pastors by Easter.

New Jersey legislature passes bill legalizing assisted suicide

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 18:12

Trenton, N.J., Mar 26, 2019 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- New Jersey is set to become the latest state to legalize assisted suicide, as both chambers of the state legislature have passed a bill allowing the practice, which Governor Phil Murphy (D) says he will sign.

“Allowing terminally ill and dying residents the dignity to make end-of-life decisions according to their own consciences is the right thing to do,” said Murphy on Monday, who has in the past spoken about his “strict Catholic” upbringing.

“I look forward to signing this legislation into law,” he said.

New Jersey Catholic leaders have been firm against the progress of the new law.

“Assisted suicide promotes neither free choice nor compassion,” a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA.

“Every gift of human life is sacred, from conception to natural death, and the life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition. Catholics should be leaders in the effort to defend and uphold the principle that each of us has a right to live with dignity through every day of our lives.”

She told CNA that the archdiocese has been lobbying against the bill since its inception.

The bill will allow adults to receive life-ending drugs if they have been told by a doctor that they have less than six months to live. The bill was authored by Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, who has been attempting to pass the legislation for nearly seven years.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act passed with bipartisan support. The New Jersey Assembly voted 41 to 33 to pass the bill, with the Senate passing the measure 21 to 16.

Critics of the legislation argue that it opens the door for abuse and does not require psychiatric evaluation of patients who may be struggling with depression that is leading to suicidal inclinations.

Although the bill has been passed and the governor has issued his intent to sign it into law, Cheryl Riley, director of the Archdiocese of Newark’s Respect Life Office, told CNA that her office will not be backing down.

“We’re still not going to stop fighting,” Riley told CNA. “Every life deserves to be protected.”

As Catholics, Riley said that they should seek to protect “all life,” and that there can be blessings associated with the end of someone’s life that should not be discounted.

“No one wants to watch a loved one be in pain,” she said, but added that many people have seen families come together and reestablish relationships when someone is nearing the end of their life.

Riley also expressed concern that the law sends a mixed message on suicide, particularly because there has been much effort to prevent young adults and teenagers from ending their lives.

“This is just legalized suicide,” she said.

The Church’s opposition to assisted suicide is longstanding. In 1980, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Declaration on Euthanasia” which fully explained that the Church is opposed to the practice.

“It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying,” the declaration said.

“Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.”

Although in favor of the act, Murphy has not indicated when he will be signing the bill into law.

Once the law is signed, New Jersey will join a handful of other states that allow medical professionals to prescribe lethal drugs. Currently, assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana through a state Supreme Court ruling.

 

US Secretary of State expands Mexico City Policy

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 17:22

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2019 / 03:22 pm (CNA).- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday an expansion of the pro-life Mexico City Policy and the slashing of funds to the Organization of American States in response to its abortion advocacy.

These new policies are designed to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortion or the promotion of abortion abroad.

“The American people should rest assured that this administration – and this State Department, and our USAID – will do all we can to safeguard U.S. taxpayer dollars and protect and respect the sanctity of life for people all around the globe,” Pompeo said March 26.

The State Department “will take all appropriate action” to implement the Mexico City Policy “to the broadest extent possible,” the secretary added.

The Mexico City Policy is a Reagan-era policy that forbids the use of American taxpayer dollars to support foreign nongovernmental organizations that “perform or actively promote” the use of abortion as a form of family planning. Pompeo expanded on this definition, and announced new restrictions for funds.

“As a result of my decision today, we are also making clear we will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” Pompeo explained.

He referred to this practice as “backdoor funding schemes and end-runs” that seek to skirt the Mexico City Policy.

Pompeo also announced that the federal law known as the “Siljander Amendment” will be “fully enforced.” The Siljander Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. funds, including foreign aid, to be used to lobby for or against abortion.

This announcement came after “recent evidence of abortion-related advocacy by an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS),” said Pompeo, who added that he directed a new provision to foreign assistance agreements with OAS which “explicitly prohibits” money being used to lobby for or against abortion.

Instead of lobbying for abortion, Pompeo said that the OAS should be concerned with the crises in its member states Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

In response to discovering that an organ of the OAS was “advancing the pro-abortion cause,” Pompeo announced that the State Deparment would be reducing the amount of money it gives each year to the OAS.

“Our reduction equals the estimated U.S. share of possible OAS expendiatures on these abortion-related activities,” he said.

The United States contributes about $9 billion each year in foreign aid to global health programs.

Since reactivating the Mexico City Policy in 2017, as is customary for Republican administrations, Pompeo said the “vast majority” of NGOs affected by the policy have agreed to stop performing or promoting abortion in order to continue to receive funds.

This, explained Pompeo, is evidence that the United States “can continue to meet our critical global health goals, including providing healthcare for women, while refusing to subsidize the killing of unborn babies.”

Guam archbishop: Marijuana proposal should be nipped in the bud

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 16:38

Hagatna, Guam, Mar 26, 2019 / 02:38 pm (CNA).- The head of the Catholic Church in Guam has expressed strong opposition to a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana, which this week has been a center of debate by the country's legislators.

In a March 25 statement, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña, Michael Byrnes, said the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019 will harm the general welfare of the island.

“Certainly it will adversely affect the common good of our families, marriages, youth, government organizations, businesses and the very identity of our island as a family-oriented community,” said Byrnes.

Bill 32 was introduced by Sen. Clynt Ridgell in January 2019. The bill is currently being debated by lawmakers following a public hearing on the issue.

Byrnes said many of Guam’s people already struggle with substance abuse, and a greater promotion of marijuana will not alleviate the situation.

“While the Catholic Church permits the use of some drugs for therapeutic purposes such as relieving pain and nausea, it is clear about the evils of drug abuse,” he said, warning that many people who use marijuana are seeking an escape from the burdens and responsibilities of life.

Calling the proposal a “false solution” that will only lead to more problems, the archbishop stressed that what Guam needs is for people to be more present and attentive in their various walks of life – as students, employees, family members, and youth.

“Rather than escape, we need engagement,” he said.

He cited passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that emphasize the virtue of temperance and instruct that the use of drugs, “except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.”

While the bill would allow for the legal use of marijuana only by those age 21 and over, Byrnes said underage users will be affected as well.

He pointed to a survey by the CDC’s High School Youth Risk Behavior, which reported that 49 percent of high school students in Guam have used marijuana, 10 percent more than students on the U.S. mainland.

Byrnes said other studies have shown that long-term abuse of marijuana, when initiated at a young age, is especially detrimental to brain development and can also become addictive.

“We need our youth and our young adults – people of all ages – to be fully engaged in the various activities of their lives and our communities,” he said.

The legalization of marijuana has seen engagement from both sides of the issue. A petition at Change.org has received more than 800 signatures in opposition to the bill. However, a separate petition on the website has received more than 3,000 signatures in favor of it.
Archbishop Byrnes said the bill’s passing will “only harm the common good of our island, not enhance it.”

“As a community already riddled with a drug problem of epidemic magnitude, we need to focus on reducing the presence of illegal drugs and substances that intoxicate our people, not aid their proliferation.”

 

Cardinal Cupich warns against 'radical' Illinois abortion bills

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 14:37

Chicago, Ill., Mar 26, 2019 / 12:37 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has spoken out against a pair of Illinois abortion bills, calling them a radical and disturbing movement away from the common good.

In a March 23 letter to the people of his archdiocese, Cupich encouraged Catholics to take a stand against the legislation.

One of the bills – introduced as House Bill 2495 and Senate Bill 1942 – “seeks to strip unborn persons of any protection - or even consideration - under the law and declares abortion to be a ‘fundamental right’ and matter of health care,” he warned.

The bill would remove many of the medical regulations surrounding abortion in the state, including a ban on partial-birth abortion. It would also require private health insurance to fully fund abortion.

“The end result is that an abortion could be obtained at any stage of pregnancy, including late term, for any reason and without any regulation. The law would no longer guarantee any modicum of humanity or compassion for any unborn person in Illinois, even if they are partially born,” the cardinal said.

He added that the bill would also undo the state’s Abortion Performance Refusal Act, which currently offers protection for medical personnel who object to advising for or participating in abortion.

“In so doing, rights of conscience, especially religious objections, will be lost,” he said.

Another piece of legislation – introduced as House Bill 2467 and Senate Bill 1594 – would repeal a current Illinois law requiring parental notification for a minor seeking an abortion, unless a judge grants a waiver.

Cupich said the parental notification law is a “common sense” measure that helps ensure that parents can “be part of the life-altering decision of their minor child in the case she seeks an abortion.” He noted that the law was unanimously upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court six years ago.

“As citizens of a state and people of faith who care about the common good, I urge you to join me and my brother bishops in an effort to defeat this radical departure from current law and practice in our state,” the cardinal said.

He encouraged Catholics in the archdiocese to contact their state legislators and ask them to oppose the legislation. The Illinois Catholic Conference offers resources to connect people with their representatives.

The Illinois bills are part of a broader state-level battle over the legality of abortion. In January, New York passed an expansive law declaring abortion to be a “fundamental human right,” broadening the legality of late-term abortions, and allowing non-physicians to perform abortions, as well as removing protections for babies born alive after a botched abortion.

A similar bill in Virginia failed in February after video circulated online of the bill’s proponents suggesting that it would allow abortion even during labor and that babies who survived an abortion attempt could be left to die of exposure.

Other states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, have passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion once the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

Several states have also passed “trigger bills” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the Supreme Court, placing the question of legal abortion back with the states.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has said that he wants Illinois to be “the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to standing up for women’s reproductive rights.” He is expected to sign both abortion bills if they come to his desk.

Last month, the bishops of Illinois issued a joint statement sharply opposing the proposed legislation.

“As Illinois faces so many pressing issues involving human life and dignity, it is incomprehensible that our elected officials have decided the pressing issue of the day is to enhance the chances that the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless will be taken,” they said.

“Abortion is not health care. It is the intentional taking of innocent and defenseless human life,” the bishops said.

“We hope to lead all people of goodwill to rise up and be heard in opposition to these terrible efforts.”
 

 

Heartbeat bill passes Georgia Senate

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 02:09

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 26, 2019 / 12:09 am (CNA).- The Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

The state Senate passed House Bill 481 on Friday. It will now return to the House, which has already approved an initial version of the bill but will now need to vote on changes made by the Senate.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp applauded the bill’s progress. He is expected to sign the legislation if it comes to his desk.

The legislation would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Those who do could lose their medical licenses. It includes an exception for cases of rape or incest, as well as if doctors determine that a pregnant woman’s life is in danger or that the baby would not survive.

Current Georgia laws bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

If signed into law, the legislation is likely to face legal challenges. The ACLU has already said it is prepared to file a lawsuit against the measure. A similar law in Kentucky was blocked by a federal judge just hours after going into effect.

Tennessee’s Catholic bishops chose to oppose their state’s heartbeat bill over concerns that it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. They voiced concern that it was an imprudent approach to fighting legal abortion, citing other states where legal challenges to such bills ended up further enshrining a legal “right to abortion” and forcing the state to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.

In a March 22 opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Rep. Ed Setzler, who sponsored the Georgia heartbeat bill, argued that it is both scientifically and legally sound.

“[S]cience tells us that a child with a beating heart has crossed the definitive scientific threshold in which they have a 95 percent chance of being carried to term and the definitive medical threshold that for centuries has established the presence of human life: the heartbeat,” he said.

The Georgia representative also argued that the heartbeat bill can survive a legal challenge. He said it is unique among other similar state legislation because it establishes “the legal personhood of the unborn child,” building on “the long established foundation of a state’s authority to recognize a person’s rights more expansively than the minimum required by federal law.”

Setzler said the bill is an effort to balance “the individual liberty of pregnant mothers with the right to life of the distinct persons living inside of them.” He noted that it would ensure new benefits for pregnant women, including “access to child support from the baby’s father and a full dependent tax deduction.”

The Georgia Catholic Conference has encouraged support for the legislation.

“The core of the bill is a prohibition against abortion after a detectable fetal heartbeat, usually six to eight weeks after conception,” the conference said. “While we understand life to begin at conception, not heartbeat, this language is as close as the authors think we can come and still withstand challenge in court.”

The conference more that the bill “contains exceptions in the case of rape, threatened death of the mother, or a medically futile diagnosis, all of which are exceptions that we would prefer were not permitted. Nonetheless, we recommend support because it would prohibit many abortions that are legal today.”

Vintage-style procession photo a snapshot of renewal in Detroit, priest says

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 18:07

Detroit, Mich., Mar 25, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- Maybe it was the classic sunglasses, the skinny jeans or the flocculent mustache. Maybe it was the vintage-style religious art, the men in embellished uniforms, or what looks like incense rising from the streets.

Whatever it was, a photo of a religious procession with a circa-1940’s aesthetic recently fascinated Catholics, who shared it on social media and other places around the internet.

Except the photo of a St. Joseph’s procession on the streets of Detroit wasn't taken in 1945. It was taken last week.  

“I guess what really makes it ‘epic’ in today’s terms is the steam from the city that...looks like holy incense,” said Canon Michael Stein, ICRSS, rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Detroit, which sponsored the procession.  

“We dubbed it ‘city incense,’” he said of steam that can be seen rising up from the street in the already-iconic photo.

Canon Stein is a member of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Roman Catholic society of apostolic life with an emphasis on the traditional Latin Mass. The Institute was invited to St. Joseph’s Church in Detroit in 2016 to revive what was then a struggling Church community.

(What is a “canon,” you ask? “In layman's terms, if you take a monk on the one hand, and a diocesan priest on the other, and smoosh them together, you get a canon,” Canon Stein said.)

“When there was every material reason to shut it down (not enough funds, not enough faithful, a crumbling building), we’re very grateful that Archbishop Vigneron had a much grander vision (for the parish),” Stein told CNA.

“He created a win-win situation by unmerging St. Joseph’s (from a cluster of three parishes), making it its own parish within the archdiocese, and then inviting the Institute of Christ the King to come live here and breathe daily parish life back into it from scratch, and that’s exactly what we’ve done for the past two years,” he said.

One very visible sign of that new life in the parish is the beautiful St. Joseph’s procession, which the Institute has organized since 2017.

The appeal of the photo, and of the procession (which this year included 500 people), goes deeper than aesthetics, Stein said.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s a profound theological and spiritual reason why that photo resonates so much with our hearts,” he said.

“We are the religion of the Incarnation. God became man, the invisible God became visible, he sanctified the material world and elevated these visible, tangible signs to communicate invisible graces and to convey eternal truths.”

“This is my parish; this is what we do,” said Daniel Egan told The Detroit Catholic about the procession.

“This is a perennial St. Joseph Day tradition. St. Joseph Parish has been here for almost 150 years, so this isn’t new to this area. Maybe it fell out of practice for the last 30, 40 years, but we are showing we are Catholic, as we are called to,” he said.

“As Catholics, we’re told to live our faith in season and out of season, in the public square and in private, and that includes the city streets. If we’re not Catholic out there, we are truly failing to be authentically Christian.”

The photo of the procession includes the Knights of St. John in full uniform (a Catholic charitable organization with a very long history), as well as parish vicar Canon Adrian Sequeira, ICRSS, leading the procession in full choir habit, which is used when the order chants the Liturgy of the Hours together. The spots of blue throughout the photo symbolize the order’s total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Stein said.

St. Joseph speaks to the hearts of today as a gentle and loving man and father and worker, Stein told CNA.

Part of the homily from the feast day, he said, explained that God sends saints for the times - either holy people of the time who are witnessing to the Gospel, or saints of old who are re-presented and raised up as intercessors for the times.

“It only takes a quick glance around the world to see a fatherless society, and to see either a slothful or workaholic society, or a lack of an appropriate understanding of manliness,” Stein said.

“It’s neither brute nor effeminate, it’s faithful, it’s steadfast, it’s courageous and gentle. And we find all those things in St. Joseph, so I think that’s another part of the power of that picture.”

The procession, which traveled for less than a mile, stopped rush-hour traffic in the city, with the collaboration of Detroit police. It travelled to the Eastern Market, an iconic makers market in Detroit that has remained in the city since the 1800s, where workers can sell their wares and fathers can support their families - two things of which St. Joseph is the patron, Stein noted.

“So all the workers got to see their patron processing through the streets, whether they knew it or not,” he said.

The procession was part of numerous events celebrating St. Joseph that took place in both St. Joseph’s parish and throughout the archdiocese. In addition to the procession, St. Joseph’s parish had three Masses, an Italian dinner, and a running litany of other activities and devotions throughout the day.

Other Detroit parishes had St. Joseph’s Masses and dinners, including San Francesco Parish, which held a Mass, Italian dinner and St. Joseph’s play, and Holy Family Parish, which held an Italian-language Mass.

Beyond being a photogenic opportunity, Stein noted, the procession and all of the festivities on the feast of St. Joseph are the fruit of a lively spiritual and liturgical life.

“It shows that we’re alive,” Stein said. “These things are the fruit of a daily sacramental life, these things are the fruit of a reverent liturgy, and the fruit of a solid catechesis. They’re the fruit of our young adults being committed...Detroit as a city is coming back, and a lot of millennials are staying after college to get their first career jobs here.”

To fill the needs of an increasing number of young people, St. Joseph’s offers teenage catechesis and young adult groups, Stein said. The parish also has daily Mass and confession, a schola choir, and active volunteer groups, among other ministries.   Within just two years, it’s become a hub for millennials in the Archdiocese, he noted.

“We are predominantly young,” Stein said, and young people are hungry for an incarnational faith.

“We are body and soul, all these spiritual truths are meant to be communicated through our senses. We get to see our faith, hear our faith, taste our faith, etc., and that just appeals to us so much,” he said.

“Truth needs to shine in beauty...we’re not angels, we’re not just pure intelligences, we need to see, touch, hear; and that’s something the traditional liturgy has always done. That’s something that a reverent Mass or procession can do, these visible signs that the Church has used throughout her history to excite devotion and promote devotion.”

 

 

Michigan AG: no funds for Catholic adoption agencies if LGBT non-compliant

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 17:01

Lansing, Mich., Mar 25, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has barred state funds from adoption agencies that won't place children with same-sex couples, after reaching a settlement with the ACLU and same-sex couples who approached a Catholic agency and another Christian agency.

The settlement is despite a state law protecting the religious freedom and funding of adoption agencies.
 
“This settlement does nothing to protect the thousands of children in foster care looking for loving homes,” the Michigan Catholic Conference objected in a March 22 Facebook post. These children are “the very people our state is charged with protecting.”

It is “highly unlikely” the settlement is “the last chapter of the story,” the conference added in a March 22 Twitter post.

The settlement means the state must enforce non-discrimination provisions in contracts. Agencies may not turn away otherwise qualified LGBT individuals and must provide orientation or training, process applications, and perform a home study, the Associated Press said.

As of February, Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services had helped oversee 1,600 of the state’s 13,000 foster care and adoption cases, state spokesman Bob Wheaton said, the AP reports. Neither agency places children with same-sex couples.

The State of Michigan contracts with 59 private adoption and foster care agencies. Twenty are affiliated with religious organizations, though state officials were not able to say how many follow similar policies, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Lori Windham, senior counsel at the religious freedom legal group Becket, said the attorney general and the ACLU are “trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies.”

“The result of that will be tragic. Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve,” Windham said March 22. “This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies. This harms children and families waiting for forever homes and limits access for couples who chose to partner with those agencies.”

Becket is representing the Catholic adoption agency affected by the case.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of two same-sex couples and a woman who was in foster care in her teens after the previous attorney general, Bill Schuette, declined to speak to the legal group.
The couples had approached St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services to adopt children referred to the agencies through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Nessel justified the settlement on Friday.

“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” said Nessel. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.”

Nessel is the first self-identified lesbian elected to statewide office in Michigan and made LGBT advocacy a major part of her campaign, the Detroit Free Press said. She represented a same-sex couple in a case that led to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages.

The ACLU characterized the settlement as a victory for the 12,000 children in Michigan foster care.

“Our children need every family that is willing and able to provide them with a loving home,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. She said agencies that choose to accept taxpayer dollars “must put the needs of the children first.”

A 2015 law, passed with the backing of the Michigan Catholic Conference, prevents state-funded adoption and foster agencies from being forced to place children in violation of their beliefs. The law protects them from civil action and from threats to their public funding, while requiring agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples to refer the couples to other providers.

When the law was passed, about 25 percent of Michigan’s adoption and foster agencies were faith-based.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, criticized the settlement and said faith-based adoption agencies will have to close because of a lack of taxpayer-funded support.

“Dana Nessel has shown us that she cares little for the Constitution and even less for the vulnerable population of children in need of forever homes,” Shirkey charged. “Nessel’s actions make it clear that she sought the office of attorney general to further her own personal political agenda.”

State Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, wasn’t in the legislature when its 2015 bill passed but said he would have backed it, the Detroit Free Press said.

For Lower, the law made sense because “the situation puts these agencies in a tough situation because they have been able to refer couples to another agency that is willing to work with same-sex couples.”

“But now, they'll have to choose to either not to help the kids or violate their religious beliefs,” he added.

In 2017, the Michigan Catholic Conference described the lawsuit as “mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant,” and “yet another egregious attack on religious faith in public life.” The 2015 law was needed to “promote diversity in child placement” and to maintain a public-private partnership to stabilize adoption and foster care, the conference said.

A 2017 court filing from St. Vincent Catholic Charities said it recruited more new families than seven of eight adoption agencies in the capital region. It would be unable to continue its programs without the contract.

In 2018 Becket said St. Vincent Catholic Charities found more new foster families than almost 90 percent of other agencies within its service district, with particular success in finding homes for hard-to-place children such as those with special needs, larger sibling groups, or older children.

A 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the proposed legal recognition of same-sex unions rejected the placement of children with same-sex couples. That document cited the need for a child to grow up with both a mother and a father and said placing a child with a same-sex couple would “place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development,” something that is “gravely immoral” and in violation of the child’s best interest.

Laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or barring state funding from adoption agencies considered discriminatory have shut down Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, among others.

While religious freedom was long an assumption of American political and legal life, recent decades have produced an increased push against religious freedom protections. The proposed federal Equality Act explicitly bars appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense in cases of alleged discrimination.

CNA investigations have found close to $10 million in grants earmarked to restricting religious freedom in cases impacting LGBT causes and “reproductive rights.” The New York-based Arcus Foundation and the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative play leading roles, and both were leaders in pushing for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The national ACLU and some state affiliates are among this funding network’s grantees.

While Christian teaching has rejected same-sex sexual behavior as sinful since the origins of Christianity, in recent decades some American Christian denominations and American jurisprudence as a whole have come to categorize such views as erroneous, discriminatory, and opposed to equality. Sometimes these changes followed significant organizing and lobbying by LGBT advocates.

Catholic hospital group sued for refusing transgender hysterectomy

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 16:00

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A group of five Catholic hospitals in California is being sued by a woman who identifies as a transgender man after one of its locations, St. Joseph Hospital, Eureka, refused to perform a hysterectomy.

 

Oliver Knight is suing St. Joseph Health of Northern California, alleging that she was refused the surgery because of her “gender orientation.”

 

The suit was filed in the Humboldt County Superior Court on Thursday, March 21. In the lawsuit, Knight says that workers at the hospital canceled the surgery because she identifies as transgender. Knight had identified herself as “male” for a period of four years before the surgery, which was initially scheduled for Aug. 30, 2017.

 

Prior to the scheduled hysterectomy, Knight had begun cross-sex hormone therapy and undergone a mastectomy.

 

After the surgery at St. Joseph was denied, Knight underwent a hysterectomy at a hospital unaffiliated with the St. Joseph Health of Northern California system, 30 minutes away.

 

Knight’s lawsuit suit claims that by denying the surgery St. Joseph Health caused “severe anxiety and emotional turmoil.”

 

Knight’s doctor prescribed the hysterectomy as treatment for gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person believes themselves to have been “misassigned” their gender at birth.

 

St. Joseph Health said in a statement reported March 25 that hysterectomies are only performed at their facilities when they have been deemed “medically necessary,” and not for purposes of sterilization. The teaching of the Catholic Church recognizes such procedure as licit when there is a grave and present danger to the life or health of the mother, and when the intention of the procedure is not to prevent the possibility of conception.

 

In January 2019, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an authoritative response which explained the circumstances under which a hysterectomy could be morally licit.

 

A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that the denial of surgery to someone seeking to change their gender would not be discriminatory, noting that in such cases there would be nothing medically wrong with otherwise healthy organs to be removed.

 

“It is not ‘discrimination’ when a hospital provides care it considers appropriate, declines to perform procedures destructive to patients’ welfare and well-being, or declines to take actions that undermine the health, safety, and privacy of other patients,” the letter said.

 

“A hospital does not engage in “discrimination” when, for example, it performs a mastectomy or hysterectomy on a woman with breast or uterine cancer, respectively, but declines to perform such a procedure on a woman with perfectly healthy breasts or uterus who is seeking to have the appearance of a man.”

 

Knight is being represented in part by the ACLU. The suit requests unspecified damages. She also claims to have been repeatedly “mis-gendered” by workers at St. Joseph Hospital, and was allegedly given a pink hospital gown to wear instead of a blue one.

 

In California, “gender identity” based discrimination is illegal, but the application of the statute in cases invovling religious organizations remains disputed.

 

In 2017, a woman sued California’s largest chain of hospitals, Dignity Health, after doctors declined to perform a scheduled hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan Medical Center. The defendant in that case also claimed that she was denied the procedure due to gender identity.

 

The case Minton v. Dignity Health was decided in favor of Dignity Health, but an appeal has been filed.

California AG files to block Title X abortion 'gag rule'

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 13:42

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 25, 2019 / 11:42 am (CNA).- California’s attorney general on Friday asked a federal judge to block a new Trump administration rule designed to strip abortion clinics of federal funds distributed through the Title X program.

In a March 22 announcement, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the Protect Life Rule “reckless and illegal” and “a dangerous political ploy to sabotage women’s reproductive healthcare.”  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finalized the “Protect Life Rule” in late February, by which abortion clinics will be ineligible to receive Title X Program funding. The rule also prohibits clinics receiving funds from referring patients to other doctors for abortions, and bars funded clinics from sharing space with abortion clinics.

The California attorney general’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the rule argues that the rule “undermines clinically established standards of care, interferes with the patient-provider relationship, and contradicts core tenets of the Title X program.”

Dr. Tanya Spirtos of the California Medical Association wrote in a declaration filed with the attorney general’s motion that the Protect Life Rule "restricts physicians from speaking freely with their patients, violates core ethical standards, and undermines the physician-patient relationship."

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.  California has the largest Title X program in the country, serving nearly a quarter of all Title X patients nationwide, according to the attorney general’s office.

Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds under the new federal rule, which is set to go into effect during April.

Last year, Planned Parenthood received over $500 million in federal funds, about 10% of which came from the Title X program. The abortion chain is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X.

Nearly two dozen states, led by Oregon and including California, are already suing the administration over the Protect Life Rule.

Becerra filed California’s lawsuit against the US Department of Health and Human Services on March 4 in the Northern District Court of California in San Francisco.

The preliminary injunction, if granted, would block the rule’s implementation while the court reviews the state’s lawsuit.

The District Court is set to hear arguments on the preliminary injunction April 18.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the new rules move Title X closer to “its originally intended purpose—the provision of family planning services, not abortions.”

Pro-life advocates have welcomed the HHS rule change. Marjorie Dannefelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the move, saying that it was targeted at abortion provision alone and would not reduce other family planning services by “a single dime.”

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars,” she said in a Feb. 22 statement.

Phoenix Eucharistic retreat seeks to foster sacramental devotion

Sun, 03/24/2019 - 17:26

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 24, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- At the end of this month, the Diocese of Phoenix will host a retreat that aims to inspire devotion to and education on the Eucharist.

According to Catholic Sun, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted expressed hope that the event will help participants “to have an even deeper sense of awe and wonder at the love of Jesus present under the humble appearance of bread and wine.”

“The more we grow in love of our Savior, the more He can work through us for the good of others,” he said.

The Lenten Eucharistic Mission is sponsored by the diocese and Friends of the Cathedral. It will take place March 28-30.

The event will include Masses celebrated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares. Speakers from the Denver-based Augustine Institute will include president Dr. Tim Gray and professors Dr. Michael Barber and Dr. Mark Giszezak.

MaryAnn Symancyk, a board member for Friends of the Cathedral and director of adult formation at St. Paul Parish, said the event is for everyone regardless of their theological background.

“They have a beautiful way of teaching the faith and catechizing on every level,” she said of the Augustine Institute, according to the Catholic Sun.

Symancyk said attendees will grow in their understanding about Scripture and its relation to the Eucharist.

“We need to know the biblical references, the history of the Eucharist from the Old Testament through to the New Testament. That’s what the Augustine Institute will bring us,” she said.

A recent study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that 91 percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly believe in Christ's True Presence in the Eucharist. However, this number drops to 40 percent among those who attend Mass only a few times a year.

One of the main goals of the retreat is to equip Catholics to share their knowledge and love of the Eucharist with others. Attendees will have access to apologetic and educational material on the Eucharist.

“People leave our faith but what draws them back is always the Eucharist,” Symancyk said. “When we know our faith on that level, especially with the focus on the blessed sacrament, the more we can evangelize and the more people stay in our faith or come back to the faith.”

 

Disability rights activists protest assisted suicide bills as dangerous, discriminatory

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 06:17

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2019 / 04:17 am (CNA).- As multiple states consider assisted suicide legislation, disability activists are speaking out, saying the bills are slippery slopes that put the lives of people with disabilities at risk.

Connecticut lawmakers are now considering HB 5898, “An Act Concerning Aid In Dying For Terminally Ill Patients,” which would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medication to people with less than six months to live. The patient would be permitted to self-administer the medication when they wish to end their life.

HB 5898 is modeled after Oregon’s assisted suicide law, which was the first in the nation. On Monday, members of the state General Assembly’s Public Health Committee heard testimony from those who are in favor of the bill, and from those who are opposed.

Cathy Ludlum, one of the leaders of the group Second Thoughts Connecticut and a woman who lives with a disability, provided written testimony that was emailed to all members of the public health committee.

In the testimony, which was forwarded to CNA by Second Thoughts Connecticut, Ludlum explained that the language of the bill puts people with disabilities at risk.

“But the harsh reality is that (persons with disabilities) will be the collateral damage in any formalized death-by-choice system,” said Ludlum. “Many of us with severe and obvious disabilities are already too frequently thought of by medical practitioners as having reached a final stage, where death might be expected in the near future.”

Ludlum said the definitions in the bill mean that she herself would be defined as someone who is terminally ill, even though she is not.

That section defines a “terminal illness” as “final stage of an incurable and irreversible medical condition that an attending physician anticipates, within reasonable medical judgment, will produce a patient's death within six months.”

“Nowhere does it say ‘with or without treatment,’” Ludlum pointed out.

“Most people assume this legislation is for people who have exhausted all their treatment options, but that is not what it says.” Ludlum explained that she eats with a feeding tube and requires respiratory support when she sleeps.

“Without these treatments, I would not last six months,” she said. “I probably would not last six days. What is to prevent someone like me from showing up at a doctor’s office and saying, ‘I have had enough. I will be stopping all my treatment’?”

A typical person in this situation would not be allowed to kill themselves, and would instead receive counseling. Ludlum is concerned that someone with a disability “would be more likely to get compassionate nods of approval.”

Ludlum is also concerned that the law would enable doctors to steer patients with disabilities into ending their own lives, or stopping treatment needlessly. She noted that due to the language of the bill, which states that the lethal medication “may” be self-administered, as opposed to that it “shall be” self-administered, there would be nothing to prevent someone else from ending the patient’s life.

Another group opposed to assisted suicide laws is the United Spinal Association, which is a nonprofit organization dedicating to “improving the quality of life of Americans with spinal cord injuries or disorders.”

United Spinal’s President and CEO James Weisman told CNA that his organization was opposed to these bills not for religious or political reasons, but because “people - family members, and in the medical profession - often don’t understand the latent capacity of quadriplegics to live full, meaningful lives with jobs and families in the community, after (they) break their neck.”

He believes that assisted suicide laws are rooted in discrimination, because people are afraid of what life would be like with a disability.

"Nobody wants to have a broken neck. Everybody says they'd rather be dead,” said Weisman.

“Every single one of our members who's a quadriplegic says they wanted to die when they found out they were going to be a quadriplegic. But the overwhelming majority go on to leave meaningful, full lives.”

Weisman told CNA that he would like to see expanded access to palliative care for those who are in pain, as well as increased education for people in the medical field about how it is possible to live a meaningful life with a disability.

“The medical profession and the uninformed public encourage those who break their necks or have other injuries to end (their lives),” said Weisman. “It’s such a slippery slope when we decide who can live and who can die.”

Elsewhere in the country, 16 other states are in the process of passing similar legislation, including Maryland and Nevada.

Members of Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved the “End-of-Life Option Act” on Friday. The bill had advanced through the state House of Delegates earlier in March.

In Nevada, the state Senate is considering SB 165, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients over the age of 18. The bill has passed through one working session of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

That bill, similar to Connecticut’s, defines “terminal condition” as “an incurable and irreversible condition that cannot be cured or modified by any known current medical therapy or treatment and which will, in the opinion of the attending physician, result in death within 6 months.”

Also like Connecticut, the bill does not specify if death will occur “with or without treatment.”

Catholics bring pro-life voices to the UN Commission for Women

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 18:49

New York City, N.Y., Mar 22, 2019 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- As participants in the UN Commission for Women’s annual gathering advocated for increased international access to abortion, side events hosted by the Vatican and other Catholic groups presented a pro-life perspective on women’s empowerment at the UN.

The ten-day international meeting in New York March 11-22 included debate as to whether this year’s final document will include “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” as a part of the commission’s “agreed conclusions,” as it did last year.

The topic of the commission’s 63rd session this year is “access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

For some at the UN meeting, access to public services means access to abortion.

“It’s a crime to prevent a woman from having access to abortion,”  said French Minister of Gender Marlene Schiappa at an event at the UN headquarters March 13.

Obianuju Ekeocha, president of Culture of Life Africa, said that her “head almost exploded” when she heard this.

She added that in her view, the UN Commission for Women’s annual gathering is “the heart of the pro-abortion movement.”

“The meetings that I have gone to … the people I have listened to speak right here at the United Nations, [for them] there is no room for compromise,” Ekeocha said in a video statement.

“They want abortion to be legal. They want it to be legal in every country in every situation,” she added.

Ekeocha said she attended a UN event in which an abortionist-midwife demonstrated how she trains other abortionists in developing countries. The UN event was entitled “All united for the right to abortion.”

During the week of the commission meeting, a screening of Ekeocha’s documentary, “Strings Attached,” was streamed at the Nigerian Mission to United Nations on March 12. The documentary uncovers “ideological colonization” of contraceptives and abortion into African countries and gives voice to African women who are suffering its effects.

Pro-life advocate Lila Rose spoke on the topic “Motherhood is a gift” at UN side event co-hosted by the Holy See Mission to the UN and C-Fam, entitled “Protecting Femininity and Human Dignity in Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Policies Today.”

The Holy See Mission to the UN sponsored five side events addressing issues that affect women, from human trafficking to protections for women and girls with Down syndrome.

In conjunction with the Catholic Women’s Forum, the Holy See helped to organize an event on “Valuing Unpaid Work and Caregiving.”

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations said at the event that there has been a presumption in the United Nations that “a person’s work outside the home is far more valuable than a person’s work inside the home.”

Auza questioned whether “a prioritization of a person’s work in the labor markets over care work at home flows from woman’s deepest desires or whether it’s an emulation of a flawed, hyper-masculine, way of looking at the world, one in which work, and what work can provide, is treated as the most important value.”

“No women who desires to give of her time in this way should be stigmatized by society or penalized in comparison to other women or to men. Work schedules should be continuously adapted so that if a woman wishes to work she can do so without relinquishing her family life or enduring chronic stress,” he said. “Rather than having her readjust everything to the rules of the marketplace, the marketplace itself should be adjusted to what society recognizes is the enormous personal and social value of her work.”

“Humanity owes its very survival to the gift of caregiving, most notably in motherhood, and this indispensable contribution should be esteemed as such, by both women and by men,” Auza said.

 

Proposed changes to mercury regulations 'troubling,' bishops say

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 18:32

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- A proposal to ease regulations on mercury pollution levels in the air fails to show proper respect for human life and health, said the heads of two committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Friday.

“The proposed change to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule is troubling since it is well-documented that pregnant mothers and their unborn children are the most sensitive to mercury pollution and its adverse health effects,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities.

Archbishop Naumann was joined by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, who heads the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development in voicing concern over the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, decade-old regulations that have led to an 85 percent decrease in mercury emissions at coal-based power plans.

The EPA believes it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants.

It says the rules are unnecessarily expensive and is suggesting a change in the way that the costs and benefits of the regulations are calculated, in response to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling in which the justices instructed the EPA to consider the costs of the regulations to determine whether they are justified.

President Donald Trump has called the Obama-era standards a “crushing attack on American industry,” saying they threaten miners, energy workers and companies.

Advocates of the regulations say they are necessary to protect the air quality from mercury contamination, which is known to cause brain damage and birth defects in children.

“The MATS rule reflects a proper respect for life of the human person and of God’s creation – a great example of the integral ecology called for in Laudato Si’,” said Bishop Dewane.

 

US Catholics' awareness of Christian persecution increasing

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 17:54

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- Nearly half of American Catholics say global persecution of Christians is “very severe,” a 16 percent increase from a year ago, according to a new survey commissioned by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Despite this increase in awareness, the American Catholics surveyed ranked human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis as more urgent problems than the global persecution of Christians, the study says.

“It is heartening to see that U.S. Catholics have a growing awareness of and concern about the persecution of Christians,” said George Marlin, chairman of ACN-USA, in a March 19 statement.

“It is telling that human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis get more attention from U.S. Catholics than the persecution of Christians,” he added, saying that the survey “strongly suggests that the U.S. Catholic Church, both at the parish and diocesan levels, should get more engaged with the global persecution of Christians around the world.”

The study examined the extent to which American Catholics are aware of the persecution of Christians around the world; the countries and regions where they consider Christians to be most severely persecuted; specific measures and policies they want the U.S. and other Western governments to pursue to help and protect persecuted Christians; the extent to which they feel that the pope, their bishops and their parishes are prioritizing the persecution of Christians; and actions they believe they can and should take themselves.

Only 19 percent of the survey’s respondents said their parish is very involved with the issue of global persecution of Christians, down from 37 percent a year ago. In addition, 22 percent said they are unsure about their parish’s involvement in this area.

Similarly, only 24 percent of U.S. Catholics believe their bishop is “very engaged” with the issue of Christian persecution, though over half say they think Pope Francis is “very engaged” with this issue.

When asked what they themselves should do to help persecuted Christians around the world, American Catholics ranked prayer highest, followed by raising awareness at the parish level; donating to agencies that work to support persecuted Christians; and contacting their members of Congress. However, the report found that almost half of U.S. Catholics have not donated in the past year to an organization that helps persecuted Christians.

Regarding potential policies by the U.S. and other Western governments to deter the persecution of Christians, respondents ranked diplomatic pressure as most important, followed by economic sanctions; granting victims of persecution emergency asylum; and supporting persecuted Christian communities financially.

U.S. Catholics are least in favor of military intervention and the arming and training of persecuted Christians, but more than 60 percent of U.S. Catholics say that the Church must play a hands-on role in providing emergency and humanitarian aid to persecuted Christians around the world.

The study’s release comes amid increased persecution of Christians in many countries worldwide. ACN released a report last November that highlights 38 nations with significant religious freedom violations, and in more than half of those countries, conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated since 2016.

Some notable countries where persecution of Christians is taking place include China, where the Communist government is brutally cracking down on the practice of religion despite a September 2018 provisional deal with the Vatican meant to ease tensions between the faithful “underground” Church and the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the report said.

In other countries including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea, “the situation [for religious minorities] was already so bad, it could scarcely get any worse,” it added.

Islamic extremism, fueled by conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, accounted for the persecution faced by minorities in 22 of the 38 countries highlighted.

Interreligious conflict has been especially acute in Nigeria of late, where clashes between Christian and Muslim herdsmen have killed at least 120 people in the past few weeks, and has claimed thousands of lives in recent years, according to local reports.

 

Indiana legislature fails to restore two genders to driver’s licenses

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 17:00

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 21, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Indiana lawmakers did not act to restore gender options on driver’s licenses as “male” or “female” after the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced it would allow for a third “non-specified gender,” but instead chose to require a changed birth certificate, not a doctor’s note, to allow the change to the driver’s license to take place.
 
State Rep. Matt Hostettler, R-Fort Branch, had filed an amendment to Senate Bill 324, whose main focus is providing a special disabled parking placard to eligible military veterans in Indiana, instead of a disabled license plate.
 
The House of Representatives’ Republicans considered support for Hostettler’s amendment, among other proposals, during a March 19 afternoon meeting, the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

After the House reconvened, Hostettler did not call his proposal for a vote and the bill advanced unchanged for final approval. Any lawmaker can propose inserting the language of the amendment into any germane legislation until the close of the legislative session, which must take place on or before April 29.
 
Under the bureau’s new policy set to begin this month, a third gender option will be indicated by an “X” on driver’s licenses and state ID cards, the NBC television affiliate WTHR reports.
 
Applicants seeking a “non-specified” option must provide a certified, amended birth certificate or a signed and dated physician’s statement attesting that they have permanently changed their gender.
 
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles said it made the changes based on resident requests and on credential standards recommended by the American Academy of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
 
On March 20 the House Roads and Transportation Committee voted to revise Senate Bill 182 so that only a certified and amended birth certificate may be used to change the gender listed on a driver’s license or a state identification.
 
The State Department of Health usually requires a court order to change the gender listed on an Indiana birth certificate. In cases where a baby’s sex is undetermined at birth, such as anatomically ambiguous genitals, the gender is listed as “U.” It is unclear whether a birth certificate can subsequently be changed to something other than “male” or “female,” the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.
 
Under current practice, applicants for a gender change may submit a state form completed by a licensed physician to confirm that an individual has undergone a treatment reputed to be a gender change. A physician may also submit a signed and dated statement on office letterhead to that effect, provided the wording is substantially similar to the language required by the state’s administrative code.
 
The vote in the Republican-controlled House committee was split along party lines.
 
State Rep. Holli Sullivan said she was not trying to eliminate the non-specific gender designation “X” but wanted the birth certificate to be the sole document to establish gender.
 
“It does not say that you cannot change your gender. They still have the process to do that,” she said, arguing that her proposal takes the motor vehicles department out of making medical decisions.
 
One opponent of the change, State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said that reading a note is not a medical decision and compared the practice to how the Bureau of Motor Vehicles approves handicapped placards.
 
“What happens to the people that are in transition and they're not one or the other yet?” asked Candelaria Reardon. “They're in the middle of a transition. How do we address their concerns? How do they get a certified birth certificate?”
 
Sullivan said she did not intend to make anything more difficult, but wanted to put together a process that can be followed to ensure there won’t be questions about the process.
 
Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy at American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the modification would force self-identified transgender people to undergo “the burdensome and costly legal process of changing their birth certificate in order to update their ID.”
 
Residents born in states that do not allow such modifications to birth certificates will be unable to get “accurate identification,” she said, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

Blair previously commented on Hostettler’s proposal to remove the unspecified gender option and restore two genders, calling this a “retrograde attempt” to “mandate a definition of gender that would have major, long-term implications for the transgender community.”
 
The amendment would “force gender non-binary people to carry identification that does not accurately identify them,” said Blair. “For people who are non-binary, identification that fails to affirm who they are can trigger the distress of gender dysphoria and contribute to widespread discrimination.” Identification that is “affirming and accurate” would help reduce discrimination, Blair argued.
 
Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, and California offer similar non-binary gender identification, in addition to Washington, D.C., and New York City. The Maryland and New York legislatures are considering proposals to change their identification regarding gender.

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 12:22

Louisville, Ky., Mar 21, 2019 / 10:22 am (CNA).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from her siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

“A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in second grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

“In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added. “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

“Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.”

“Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.

A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a calling...how can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 2, 2018.

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