Brownsville, Texas, Feb 16, 2017 / 02:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Catholic bishops of both countries stressed the right of people to migrate and the need for the Church to welcome them.
“In this difficult moment in our history we hear the cry of our migrant brothers and sisters whose voices reflect the voice of Christ Himself,” the bishops said in a joint statement.
“We reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life. If these are not given they have a right to migrate.”
Regarding the right to migrate, they cited Pope Pius XII, whose 1952 apostolic constitution “Exsul Familia Nazarethana” addressed issues of migration and refugees after the Second World War.
The bishops pledged to monitor the suffering of migrants on both sides of the border and voiced support for Catholic agencies and individuals that offer spiritual, legal and material assistance to migrants.
“In the Church there are no strangers, migrant families should feel at home in every church as their homeland,” the bishops said, citing St. John Paul II.
The biannual meetings of the bishops from the border dioceses of Texas and northern Mexico began in 1986 to help show the communion of the universal Church. The meetings have always kept a focus on the lives and pastoral needs of migrants.
The joint message that came from the latest meeting was titled “The cry of Christ and voice of the migrant moves us.” It was published in English and Spanish.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as immigrants and refugees sought for a place to live and work hoping for a compassionate human response,” the bishops said. “Today this history repeats itself.”
The bishops recounted visiting detention centers and respite centers for mothers and their adolescent and minor children. The condition of these places have been described as “intolerable and inhumane.”
They invoked Jesus’ words from Matthew 25, when he describes the Last Judgment welcoming those who will inherit the Kingdom of God “because I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was hungry and you gave me food.”
For the bishops, the U.S.-Mexico border region has a culture of its own.
“The border cities consider themselves to be sister cities and friends, because they share the same land, the same faith, the same traditions, the same culture in solidarity,” they said. “We bishops shall continue to follow the good example of Pope Francis; we shall seek to construct bridges rather than the walls of exclusion and exploitation.”
Pope Francis had blessed a cross at the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez during his February 2016 visit. This cross has become “a sign of unity between the countries,” the bishops said.
At the same time, the bishops described the “anguish” of those who have to live on the peripheries of society. Many migrants face extortion in the workplace, fear the constant threat of deportation and separation from family and friends.
“Over the years we have seen first-hand the suffering that is caused by a broken immigration system caused by political structures and economic conditions that result in threats, deportations, impunity and extreme violence,” they said.
The current presidential administration is making these realities evident, according to the bishops.
“We can sense the pain of the separation of families, loss of employment, persecutions, discrimination, racism, and unnecessary deportations that paralyze the development of persons in our societies and the development of our nations leaving them of hope,” they said.
The bishops described immigration as a global phenomenon driven by economic and social conditions. Poverty and insecurity makes families feel that migration is the only way to survive.
“The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he or she faces the violence, criminality and inhuman policies of governments as well as the world’s indifference.”
Migrants are often subject of punitive laws and mistreatment by authorities, both in their home country, the countries they pass through, and at their destination.
“It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the human rights of migrants and undocumented residents,” they said.
The bishops invoked the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and asked everyone to join them in prayer.
Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2017 / 10:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One member of Congress is hoping for a “serious policy review” by the Trump administration of the United States' relationship with Ethiopia, citing human rights abuses by the government there.
“To truly stop violence abroad, Ethiopia must stop violence at home,” Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House subcommittee on Africa and global human rights, stated at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday.
“Since 2005, untold thousands of students have been jailed, have been shot during demonstrations or have simply disappeared in the last 11 years,” Smith stated Feb. 15. “Ethiopia’s next generation is being taught that the rights that democracy normally bestows on a country’s citizens don’t apply in their country.”
Smith and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced a House resolution (H. Res. 128) Wednesday “highlighting the crisis in Ethiopia due to government violations of the human rights of its citizens,” Smith stated.
“With this resolution, we are showing that the United States remains committed to universal respect for human rights, and that we will not tolerate continued abuse of those human rights by Ethiopian security forces,” Coffman said.
There has been a “steady erosion” of democracy in Ethiopia since 2005, the congressmen maintained.
Government dissidents have been jailed, citizens have been tortured and killed by the government's security forces, and freedom of the press has been infringed upon. Ethnic groups have been the victims of violence perpetrated by the government.
Peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country were met with hundreds of killings and tens of thousands of arrests by security forces in 2016, Human Rights Watch said in its recent report on the country. Citizens released from jail claimed they were tortured while in custody.
“Instead of addressing the numerous calls for reform in 2016, the Ethiopian government used excessive and unnecessary lethal force to suppress largely peaceful protests,” Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated in the report released in January.
One protest in the Oromia region resulted in the police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and rounds fired into the air to break it up, claiming that the crowd was getting out of hand. An ensuing stampede killed 50. The Inter-religious Council of Ethiopia, on which Catholic leaders sit, called for prayer and peace amid the protests and asked government leaders to listen to the people.
The recent protests in the Amhara region of the country have showed a sense of “identity” on the part of embattled citizens, and their “need to survive,” Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America, a refugee who came to the U.S. in 1982, noted.
“The U.S. and the West cannot sympathize with a government that kills people,” Seenaa Jimjimo, a human rights advocate who was born and grew up in Ethiopia, insisted in her statement at Wednesday’s press conference.
Amidst protests, a state of emergency was declared by the state in October and is “being used as a method to crack down even further on basic human freedoms,” Coffman said.
Thus, the resolution is the “first step by our representatives to let the Ethiopian government know that the U.S. policy is changing, that their continued human rights violations on innocent civilians will not be tolerated,” Tirfe stated.
“We invoke the Global Magnitsky Act,” Gregory Simpkins, staff director of the House subcommittee on Africa, said on Wednesday of the law which enables sanctions against specific “entities and persons who violate the human rights of people.”
Ethiopia has acted as a key ally in fighting international terrorism, Smith noted, but if it fails to protect human rights at home then extremism could fester within its own borders.
“What Congressman Smith and I are asking is for the Congress of the United States to join together and pass this resolution condemning the Ethopian government for its human rights abuses,” Coffman stated.
“And I think it’s important for all Americans to care about human rights to encourage their member of Congress to co-sponsor this resolution so that we can pass it in the Congress.”
Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 15, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s an odd time for death in the United States.
While there is a new push for death via euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, there is also a push against the death penalty in several states.
This movement against the death penalty has made it increasingly difficult for states to access the drugs required for lethal injections. In response to that difficulty, the state of Arizona’s Department of Corrections has unveiled a unique solution that would effectively allow lawyers to kill their own death row clients.
The new policy, among other things, contains a clause that allows for defense attorneys to obtain lethal drugs to execute their own clients. These drugs would be subject to approval by the department director.
However, these drugs are extremely difficult to come by legally. Current state execution protocol stipulates the use either of two barbiturates, pentobarbital or thiopental for lethal injection. Thiopental is no longer manufactured in the U.S., and is illegal to import, while manufacturers of pentobarbital refuse to provide the drug for executions.
The difficulty in acquiring these drugs has led to the experimental use of less-effective drugs, sometimes with gruesome results.
“This is a bizarre notion that calls for actions that are both illegal and impossible,” Dale Baich from the office of The Federal Public Defender in Arizona told Arizona Central.
“A prisoner or prisoner's lawyer cannot legally obtain these drugs or legally transfer them to the Department. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, we cannot imagine a way to obtain the drug. Those that obtain controlled substances illegally, go to prison.”
The unusual policy comes at a time when many states are reconsidering the death penalty, and at a time of significant decline in executions. Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.
Leaders in the Catholic Church both in the United States and abroad have also been in front of the push to abolish the death penalty.
Pope Francis has spoken against the death penalty several times, including in his address to the United States Congress in 2015, when he called for the end of the death penalty “since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said.
He also called the death penalty “unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person” in his message to the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty in 2016.
Many bishops have also been outspoken about their opposition to the death penalty. In Sept. 2016, as California considered a ballot measure that would end the death penalty, Archbishop Jose Gomez said, “It is time for us to end the death penalty – not only in California but throughout the United States and throughout the world.”
“In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”
Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia released a joint statement last month calling for the abolition of the death penalty in their state after an execution.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”
Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10,000 pro-life advocates gathered at some 227 protest locations in 43 states and the District of Columbia on Saturday to call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
“This weekend was huge, but it was not the end,” said Mark Harrington of the pro-life group Created Equal. “We have momentum on our side. Now is the time to press forward.”
“The time has come to defund America’s abortion giant,” Harrington told CNA Feb. 14. “Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion chain, killing over 300,000 babies each year, and nearly half of their billion-dollar budget comes from our tax dollars.”
The protests, organized under hashtags like #ProtestPP, were headed by the leaders of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal and the Pro-Life Action League.
Organizers reported a crowd of about 200 supporters in Pittsburgh, 300 in Orange, Calif., 400 in Cincinnati, and 450 in St. Paul, Minn., to name a few.
“Abortion, to me, is the greatest evil of our time,” Delia Tyagi, a 36-year-old demonstrator from Arlington, Va. told Reuters. “Planned Parenthood has wronged women in a lot of ways. I feel like we have the momentum to finally defund them.”
Harrington characterized Planned Parenthood as “an independently wealthy entity.”
“Planned Parenthood’s business model is centered on abortion,” he said. “Women have other options for seeking primary care, contraception, STI testing, and cancer screening.”
Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S. While direct federal taxpayer funding for abortion is generally barred under law, it receives federal funding in Medicaid reimbursements and Title X programs for family planning and preventive health services.
The politically powerful organization took a heavy hit in 2015 with the release of investigative videos appearing to show it engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts for research. Despite a well-funded publicity campaign to counter the allegations, the issue has not gone away.
In January 2017, a report from the House Select Investigative Panel said that abuses and possible criminal violations are taking place in the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters.
David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, had organized the undercover investigation. He addressed the Orange, Calif. rally.
“I’m confident that together, if we keep the faith, take the next right step, at the end of the day we will soon see a day when there will no longer be a price tag put on human life,” he said, according to Reuters.
Demonstrations of support for Planned Parenthood also took place the same weekend, sometimes at the same locations as the pro-life protests.
Planned Parenthood supporters sometimes outnumbered the pro-life demonstrators. Its leaders told Reuters that their supporters have been energized by the election of President Donald Trump, citing the hundreds of thousands of marchers who demonstrated in Washington and across the country the day after the inauguration in support of women’s rights and legal abortion.
Abortion backers have also run significant fundraising campaigns following the Trump election. As of late December, Planned Parenthood told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian that it had received over 300,000 donations since the election, 40 times its normal donation figures.
For their part, hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates had attended the March for Life in Washington on Jan. 27, which included an unprecedented address from Vice President Mike Pence.
Advocates of defunding Planned Parenthood said legislators had better funding options.
Harrington cited a Chiaroscuro Foundation report saying that over 1,000 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. offer similar services for women without providing abortion. He suggested these should be funded instead.
“Defunding Planned Parenthood is the right thing to do,” Harrington said. “Now it’s down to Congress and President Trump to fulfill their promise to defund Planned Parenthood, and do it now.”
He said the protests shouldn’t be seen as “a one-time effort” but “a daily commitment to defeat Planned Parenthood once and for all.”
Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump must sign an executive order with broad protections for religious freedom, or global consequences could soon follow, Catholic leaders insist.
To sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections is “one of the most important things President Trump could do early in his administration,” said Dr. Jay Richards, a professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.
“This isn’t just a Christian issue,” he told CNA, but rather a “Constitutional issue.” Current threats to religious freedom could be “solidified” if no such executive order is signed soon.
President Trump recently announced that he would uphold a 2014 executive order from President Obama, barring federal contractors from engaging in practices deemed to be discriminatory against LGBT employees, with no religious exemptions attached for organizations that have religious objections to gay marriage or adoption.
Thus, religious groups might not be able to contract with the federal government if they publicly uphold traditional marriage, or if they refuse to hire someone who is openly in a same-sex relationship and does not abide by their code of conduct.
A coalition of religious leaders, including the then-president of Catholic Charities USA Fr. Larry Snyder, wrote President Obama in 2014, asking him for an exemption for religious organizations.
The order essentially elevated LGBT persons to a “protected class,” thus threatening employers who are religiously opposed to this lifestyle by withholding federal contracts or funding because of so-called “discrimination,” Richards explained.
Recently, a draft of another order which would establish broad conscience protections was leaked to the press, but that order has not been issued or signed. This draft was “just perfect,” Dr. Richards thought, because “it would undo a lot of the damage” wrought against religious freedom from the Obama administration.
That order wouldn’t just affect federal contractors, he explained, “but any entity that receives federal funding or is eligible for student loans.”
“So if something like this doesn’t happen, it would not be very long – in fact I would predict it would be probably within the year – that Christian and Catholic colleges would start being essentially coerced into accepting this kind of officially-mandated view on these transgender questions,” he said.
Obama-era regulations and rules would be enforced by government agencies. Schools and colleges could be “threatened with the revocation of student loan eligibility” if they religiously object to federal government mandates on marriage and sexuality.
Now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to gather signatures asking the president to sign a religious freedom executive order. They cite “unprecedented” threats to religious freedom to insist on the order’s importance.
“Religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion. President Trump can correct some of this within the executive branch,” a USCCB action alert stated.
Along with a religious exemption to the LGBT executive order for federal contractors, the petition asks for “relief” from the HHS contraception mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor and for other employers that are suing the government over the mandate and its “accommodation.”
An order should also include protections for religious schools to publicly affirm their beliefs on marriage and keep their accreditation, the continuance of the tax-exempt status for religious organizations that support traditional marriage, and conscience protections for doctors and hospitals refusing to perform abortions, they said.
“Any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs. It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible,” the bishops’ conference stated.
Regarding the freedom of Catholic charities to minister to undocumented immigrants without being threatened by federal authorities, Richards said “the language is not there explicitly” in the proposed order.
For grants to Catholic social services who serve refugees and immigrants, “it would shield Catholic entities doing that on religious grounds” and “would at least mean that Catholic ministries couldn’t be threatened with the revocation of their non-profit status or government grants, simply because they’re exercising their religious freedom.”
There are various threats to religious freedom today, Dr. Richards said, from mandates that public school students must have access to locker rooms and bathrooms of their self-identified gender identity to private business owners who face lawsuits and fines for declining to serve same-sex weddings out of conscience.
President Obama’s executive order “essentially federalized all these” threats to religious freedom, Richards said.
If nothing is done to protect religious freedom, any entity that receives federal funding could be cut off from it for failing to abide by certain government mandates. “I would expect these things to continue to happen,” he added.
Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2017 / 03:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s Valentine’s Day, and in countries across the world, people are focused on love and marriage. But for the Catholic Church, the celebration of – and support for – marriage is not limited to one day, but all year round.
“Marriage is not private,” explained Rev. Richard Kramer, Director of Family Life and Pastoral Resource Development for the Archdiocese of Washington. “It’s personal, but it’s not private.”
Marriage is not only between two people, but involves God as well, and so “it’s a public act,” he told CNA. As a result, “marriage always needs the support of culture, it needs the support of society, it needs the support of friends and families. It needs the support of the Church itself.”
While love and marriage exist throughout history around the world, and not just in the Church, their universality points to God’s plan for love and marriage, the priest said.
He pointed out that society is built upon families. Jesus was born into a family, he raised marriage to a sacrament, and his fist miracle was performed at the Wedding at Cana. Christ’s love for the Church is compared to the love between spouses.
Because of this importance of marriage, the Catholic Church seeks specifically to offer support for couples as they live out the sacrament, Fr. Kramer said. At the heart of these efforts is the parish priest.
One of Fr. Kramer’s first lessons for young priests is to “make them understand that their life is not separated from marriage, but that they are integral to it.” He explained that Matrimony and Holy Orders, while distinct, are similar in their orientation to self-sacrifice and love for others. Both ultimately have the same goal – getting people to heaven.
Laity too should view their parish priest as a resource and someone who can accompany them through their marriage. “Something that I would like couples to understand is that by the virtue of a priest being pastor of a parish, he has a keen and almost expert insight to family life because he’s integral in every part of the family.” Fr. Kramer said, pointing to a pastor’s involvement through catechesis, marriage formation, confession and counseling.
“I think couples do themselves a disservice if they buy the line ‘Father doesn’t know anything about marriage because he’s celibate’,” Fr. Kramer warned, pointing back to a priest’s role in a family’s life as well as his position as Father of a parish.
“What I’d hope couples would do is to invite Father more intimately into their marriages, into their homes, to help him see and know that the priest is a man of the family.”
A call to love
“Every single human being has a vocation, a call to love,” Fr. Kramer said, and for most people, this call is to the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Preparation for marriage begins at birth, in the family, where one first learns about love, he said. But in a culture where so many marriages and families are broken, it can be difficult to understand what it truly means to love someone.
“We see a time when there’s more need to make sure that couples who are preparing for the sacrament have a good formation so that they can live their marriages in the whole of their lives,” said Fr. Kramer.
Before marriage in the Catholic Church, couples are typically required to take a marriage preparation course and talk with the parish where they will be married and the priest who is preparing them.
The engagement period is a time for evangelization if the couple has been away from the Church and the sacraments, Fr. Kramer said. Even for couples who are already involved in the Church, marriage preparation and counseling is a good opportunity to deepen one’s knowledge and relationship with Christ and to become more involved in their parish’s life.
Bethany Meola, assistant director in the Secretariat on Laity Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed to the conference’s online resource “For Your Marriage,” which contains contact information for marriage preparation and support programs for dioceses around the country.
The website also contains a wealth of online resources, such as Church teachings on various topics surrounding marriage and family life, relationship and parenting advice, Natural Family Planning resources, wedding planning guides, and book reviews.
In addition to their online resources, the office is engaged in virtual outreach to Catholics around the country through their virtual retreat for National Marriage Week. This year’s retreat focuses on the theme of “Life and Love,” and is running via Facebook from Feb. 7 through Valentine’s Day. Each day, the office posts a reflection from the new apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” – or “Joy of Love” – and invites couples to pray and reflect on the passages together.
The office is also celebrating the lighter side of marriage and love through their “Joy of Love” social media contest: each day couples are invited to engage online with National Marriage Week by answering a question posed by the Secretariat. Every day, winning couples will receive a pair of matching “Mr.” and “Mrs.” coffee mugs.
Offline, while the office doesn’t directly oversee any marriage program, it does provide support and aid dioceses across the country and the marriage programs happening in their parishes. Meola told CNA that around the country, the bishops are seeing “a lot of energy” going into marriage preparation. “I think we’re at a really exciting time.”
In addition, dioceses are trying to implement the insights from Amoris Laetitia into their marriage preparation and support programs. This, in turn, is refocusing attention on parishes as the “first responders” to marriages in crisis, and the role of marriage in evangelizing the broader culture.
While love and preparation can help build the foundation for a strong marriage, every marriage inevitably faces challenges and obstacles, Fr. Kramer said. And when these difficulties arise, the Church does not abandon couples.
When struggling couples approach him for advice, the first question Fr. Kramer asks is whether they have been attending Mass and going to Confession. The sacraments, he said, form the core of our lives and relationships, and the graces of the sacraments have a key place in marriage as well.
“People always have financial difficulties, they’ll always have difficulty communicating, but if they’ve separated themselves from the Church or from the sacraments,” Fr. Kramer said, “then it’s difficult to live that out in their life.”
In addition to the sacraments, Fr. Kramer noted, parish priests can offer guidance or counseling. And some dioceses also offer marriage enrichment programs like “Three to Stay Married,” “Marriage Encounter,” and “ReFOCCUS” to help couples revitalize their relationship with God and with each other.
Many couples who previously used contraception also report that learning and using Natural Family Planning can help heal divisions and can bring about new life in a relationship, he said.
The Church can also help find aid for those struggling with separation from a spouse, addictions such as pornography, or healing for other struggles like infertility or miscarriage. Finally, the archdiocese offers a support group called “Post-Cana” for widows and widowers grieving after a marriage has ended because of death.
In some of the more difficult situations, where couples have sought aid from other resources to no avail, there is still support and hope for healing. Denise Felde, a presenter for Retrouvaille of Maryland / Washington DC, spoke to CNA about her organization, which has been helping heal marriages since the late 1970s.
Started by Guy and Jeannine Beland in French-speaking Quebec, Retrouvaille – which means “reunion” in French – seeks to address severe struggles couples may face that cannot be adequately supported by other marriage enrichment programs. The program states in its online description that it “is not a retreat, marriage counseling, or a sensitivity group. There are neither group dynamics nor group discussions on the weekend. It is not a time for hurting; it is a time for healing.”
“Retrouvaille is surgery to get rid of the bad and to deal with the problems in a calm and loving manner,” Felde said.
The program begins with an intense weekend experience led by three couples who have also been through a period of intense struggle in their relationship. A Catholic priest or other minister is also typically present as well.
Throughout the weekend, attendees go through series of presentations and have chances to talk with their spouse, and typically there are also opportunities for confession, Mass and prayer. Afterwards, the couples meet for 12 follow up sessions, typically occurring over the span of 6 weeks.
In the program, “we teach couples how to talk to each other to help each other understand where the other is coming from,” Felde explained. Organizers place a focus on listening to one another and accepting their spouse’s feelings without judgment. This approach “helps people to speak to one another without being angry, being calm and accepting.”
Every couple has challenges in their marriage, Felde said, but the problems faced by many Retrouvaille participants – such as adultery, drug abuse, mental illness, and pornography – “are more severe.”
“It’s very hard. It’s extremely hard work,” she acknowledged, but added that healing is possible. Many times, Retrouvaille leaders also help couples find referrals for expert help and counseling. “If it’s a problem we can’t help them with, we have a list of places.”
Since the program’s beginning, it has spread throughout the world to countries including South Korea, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Portugal and elsewhere. The program has a 92 percent success rate worldwide in helping couples heal their marriages.
After the main program is over, couples are invited to continue growing in their relationship through the support group CORE – or “Continuing our Retrouvaille Experience” – once a month. Couples can attend any support group anywhere in the world for the rest of their lives.
Felde explained that like many fellow presenting couples, she feels called to help other couples find healing in their marriages because of how Retrouvaille helped heal her own marriage. “For my husband and I, Retrouvaille saved our marriage 20 years ago,” she said. “We believe in giving back.”
Everyone is part of a family
While marriage is a key focus for the Church, it’s not only those who are married who have something to give to family life, Fr. Kramer said. “Every person from every walk of life is a part of a family.”
“It’s wrong to think that because a person is single they don’t fit in to the parish as part of a family,” he noted. “Every person is a son or daughter, a sister or a brother and has a role to play in the family,” and in supporting marriage and family life.
The priest encouraged all Catholics to pray for and support marriage and its vocation of love. “Pray for marriage, pray for strong marriages and pray for the healing of families who are facing struggles or challenges.”
Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2017 / 06:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Objectors to abortion need stronger conscience protections in federal law, the U.S. bishops have said in a letter to Congress supporting a bill being considered by Congress.
“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said. They said the proposed Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is essential to protect health care providers’ fundamental rights and ensure that they are not “forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop William Lori, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, backed the legislation in a Feb. 8 letter to Congress.
They said the bill would benefit the “great majority” of obstetricians and gynecologists who are unwilling to perform abortions. They said Catholic and other religious health care providers are “especially at risk” of coercive policies related to abortion.
The bishops also invoked medical ethics traditions such as the Hippocratic Oath, which rejected abortion and, in their words, helped define medicine as “an ethical vocation dedicated to the life and well-being of one’s patients.”
The conscience protection bill is sponsored by U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).
Lankford said the legislation “will ensure that health providers have the ability to defend their religious or moral beliefs without fear of discrimination.”
“This bill is needed to give health care providers the right to provide medical care without violating their deeply held beliefs,” the senator said Feb. 3. “Americans have very different views about abortion, but we should not force anyone to participate in it or provide coverage.”
The U.S. bishops said the bill will “address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws” and would establish a private right of civil action that would allow “victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”
They said mandating involvement in abortion would undermine health care providers’ civil rights and limit health care access for everyone.
Backers of the bill said organizations that are compelled by state laws to provide abortion coverage at present only have one line of recourse: filing a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights.
This process has sometimes failed.
In 2014, the State of California required that health care plans cover abortions. The requirement lacked religious exemptions for Catholic and other religious organizations with objections to abortion.
The California requirement came in response to the efforts of two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which had sought health care plans that did not include elective abortion coverage. However, some faculty members objected to the exclusion of the coverage and their allies sought state intervention.
In June 2016 the HHS ruled that California’s requirement was permitted, a ruling that critics said violated federal law like the Weldon Amendment, which bars the government from discriminating against health care entities that refuse to participate in abortion.
The ruling drew strong objections.
“Forcing organizations and individuals to violate their religious convictions is a threat to fundamental human liberties,” Edward Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said June 22, 2016.
The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 would provide another remedy for those coerced into performing abortions or providing coverage for abortions in health plans, backers of the bill said.
Springfield, Ill., Feb 13, 2017 / 04:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic advocacy group is warning the governor of Illinois that he will face massive political opposition if he signs an abortion funding bill into law.
“Let me be clear. If Governor Rauner signs the bill as written, we will urge our members along with every pro-life voter in the state to support an alternative candidate – or to abstain from voting for his re-election. And we won’t be the only group doing so,” Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, stated on Monday of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).
The Illinois H.B. 40 would allow for the state’s Medicaid recipients to have their abortions covered, as the program currently pays for abortions done in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
Illinois Right to Life has estimated that abortions in the state could increase by 12,000 per year.
The bill would also repeal the state’s “trigger” law, which was enacted shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision and which stated that if Roe were ever overturned, the state’s policy would revert to its pre-Roe law outlawing abortion.
If H.B. 40 were signed into law and Roe was overturned by the Supreme Court, the state would still have legal abortion.
The bill will still have to pass the state House and Senate and have the signature of the governor. It has the support of the state’s ACLU chapter.
According to Catholic Vote, Rauner promised “to remain neutral on social issues,” and the group maintained he should honor that promise by vetoing the bill if it passes the state legislature.
“He repeatedly said he does not have a social agenda yet is already defending himself in a lawsuit for breaking this promise,” Burch stated, referring to lawsuits against the governor over a state law requiring pregnancy centers and physicians to inform clients about abortion as an option or where they can obtain an abortion.
Burch said that an “overwhelming consensus” of pro-life groups in the state will oppose Rauner if he signs H.B. 40 – or any such abortion-funding bill – into law.
“The state owes $10 billion in unpaid bills, with tens of billions more in unfunded liabilities,” he stated. “Yet now politicians want to spend scarce state resources to pay for abortions. Rauner’s support of this reckless bill would rip apart the Republican Party and destroy any chance of his re-election.”
Portland, Ore., Feb 13, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Oregon bill on advanced medical directive rules could allow patients who suffer from dementia or mental illness to be starved or dehydrated, opponents warned.
“These are patients who are awake, can chew and swallow and want to eat, even though in some cases they may need help in delivering food to their mouths,” Gayle Atteberry of Oregon Right to Life said Jan. 31. “Current safeguards in Oregon’s law protect these patients from this type of cruelty. This bill take away these safeguards.”
The legislation, S.B. 494, would create an appointed committee empowered to make changes to the advance medical directive governing end-of-life decisions.
According to Oregon Right to Life, the bill was drafted in response to the case of Ashland, Ore. resident Nora Harris, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She lost the ability to communicate and the fine motor skills needed to feed herself. She would eat and drink only with assisted spoon feeding.
Harris’ husband had filed a suit to stop the spoon feeding but lost his case in July 2016. Harris herself was represented by a court-appointed attorney, who said that that refusing to help Harris eat would be against state law. The law and Harris’ advance directive authorized only the withdrawal of artificial means of hydration and nutrition. Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain agreed, the Medford Mail-Tribune reports.
Oregon Right to Life objected to efforts to change the advance directive system.
“If the bill passes, it could allow a court to interpret a request on an advance directive to refuse tube feeding to also mean you don’t want to receive spoon feeding,” the group said. “This is not tube feeding or an IV – this is basic, non-medical care for conscious patients.”
It charged that the process “could easily result in further erosion of patient rights.”
“End of life decisions are very difficult,” Atteberry added. “Families suffer emotionally as they make decisions such as to use or withdraw feeding tubes, possibly place do-not-resuscitate orders, or use heroic treatments. Most of these decisions, however, involve patients in comatose situations, and most of them are free of moral implications. Most of them, also, are end-of-life decisions.”
Those affected by this bill would not be at an end-of-life stage.
“The problem is, for some, especially insurance companies, they are not dying fast enough,” Atteberry said.
She said that current requirements that patients be spoon-fed help reassure families of Alzheimer’s patients that their loved ones are receiving good care.
“Some comfort can be derived from the knowledge that their loved one will be receiving attentive and kind care while in these facilities. Should this bill pass, that peace would vanish.”
Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2017 / 01:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump’s administration will stop fighting in court to implement the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom policy, leading to applause from a religious freedom legal group.
“This is good news for the privacy, safety, and dignity of young students across America,” stated Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
On Friday, the Trump administration announced that it was dropping the government’s appeal on behalf of the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom guidance. That guidance had directed schools to allow students to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender they currently identify with, not the facilities of their birth or biological sex.
In August, the Northern District of Texas federal court placed an injunction on the policy, halting it from going into effect.
In response to the injunction, the Obama administration appealed its case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal was dropped on Friday, a decision McCaleb praised as “the first steps to end” the Obama administration’s “error.”
The guidance in question was an interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination “on the basis of sex” within “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In its interpretation, the administration said the Title IX anti-discrimination protections include those for gender identity, meaning that transgender students had to have access to facilities of the gender with which they identified, like single-sex locker rooms and bathrooms.
In response to the Trump administration’s decision to drop the government’s appeal, McCaleb said the Obama administration’s policy had “radically distorted” Title IX, which “was intended to equalize educational opportunities for women.”
Leading U.S. bishops had expressed serious concerns with the guidance, saying that it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”
“Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect,” said Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, chairs of the committees on youth and Catholic education, respectively.
“All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents. The federal regulatory guidance issued on May 13 does not even attempt to achieve this balance.”
The August injunction by the Texas district court came weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court had halted from going into effect a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that a transgender student had to be able to access the public school bathroom of their choice. The Court will hear that case of Gavin Grimm this term.
“It is only common sense to ensure privacy for all students by keeping boys out of girls' locker rooms and vice versa,” McCaleb said. “It’s right to respect the real differences between boys and girls, because that protects the privacy, safety, and dignity of all students.”
New Orleans, La., Feb 12, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Henriette DeLille, born a “free woman of color” before the Civil War, had all the makings of a life of relative ease before her.
Born in 1812 to a wealthy French father and a free Creole woman of Spanish, French and African descent, Henriette was groomed throughout her childhood to become a part of what was then known as the placage system.
Under the placage system, free women of color (term used at the time for people of full or partial African descent, who were no longer or never were slaves) entered into common law marriages with wealthy white plantation owners, who often kept their legitimate families at the plantations in the country. It was a rigid system, but afforded free women of color comfortable and even luxurious lives.
Trained in French literature, music, dancing, and nursing, Henriette was prepared to become the “kept woman” of a wealthy white man throughout her childhood.
However, in her early 20s, Henriette declared that her religious convictions could not be reconciled with the placage lifestyle for which she was being prepared. Raised Catholic, which was typical for free people of color at the time, she had recently had a deep encounter with God, and believed that the placage system violated Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage.
Working as a teacher since the age of 14, Henriette’s devotion to caring for and educating the poor grew. Even though she was only one-eighth African and could have passed as a white person, she always referred to herself as Creole or as a free person of color, causing conflict in her family, who had declared themselves white on the census.
In 1836, wanting to dedicate her life to God, Henriette used the proceeds of an inheritance to found a small unrecognized order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her non-white heritage had barred her from admission to the Ursuline and Carmelite orders, which only accepted white women at the time.
This group would eventually become the Sisters of the Holy Family, officially founded at St. Augustine's Church in 1842. Like Henriette, the other two founding sisters had denounced a life in the placage system.
The Sisters taught religion and other subjects to the slaves, even though it was illegal to do so at the time, punishable by death or life imprisonment.
They also encouraged free quadroon women (women of one-fourth African descent) to marry men of their own class, and encouraged slave couples to have their unions blessed by the church.
The Sisters also established a home to care for elderly women, many of them likely former slaves. It was the first nursing home of its kind established by the Church in the U.S., and it was there that the early Sisters cared for the sick and the dying during the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897.
Homes for orphans and eventually schools were also established by the order, which continued to grow and spread its mission throughout the South.
Henriette Delille died in 1862 at the relatively young age of 50, probably of tuberculosis. At the time of her death, the order had 12 members, but it would eventually peak at 400 members in the 1950s.
The Sisters of the Holy Family are still an active order in Louisiana today, with sisters working in nursing homes and as teachers, administrators and other pastoral positions.
In 1988, the Mother Superior of the order at the time requested the opening of Henriette Delille’s cause for canonization. She was declared a Servant of God, and then was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on March 27, 2010. A miracle through her intercession is needed for her beatification, the next step in the process before canonization.
Throughout her life, Henriette was inspired by this prayer, which she wrote in one of her religious books when she first founded her order: "I believe in God, I hope In God. I love. I want to live and die for God."
Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- After President Donald Trump pushed for the creation of safe zones for refugees in the Middle East, advocates and humanitarian aid groups are divided over whether the policy will work.
“We think it’s within the United States’ national security interests to support the creation of safe zones to at least stop the exodus of people leaving Syria and move that conflict more toward a resolution which is favorable to Christians,” Phillippe Nassif, executive director of the group In Defense of Christians, told CNA of Trump’s proposal.
However, Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said that “the Syrian conflict is such a hornet’s nest of proxy wars, and to think that in the midst of that a safe zone will be safe indefinitely is just unlikely.”
President Trump was expected to call for the establishment of safe zones in the Middle East in his recent executive order that halted U.S. refugee admissions, but that policy was left out of the final draft of the order.
Nevertheless, Trump has reportedly discussed setting up safe zones in Syria and Yemen with regional leaders, the King of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
“Safe zones” would be areas set up in the war-torn countries for various innocent persons displaced by the conflict to live in security as they wait to return home.
They would require “troops on the ground and a no-fly zone” to maintain security, Nassif explained. They wouldn’t exclusively be set up in rural areas, but could be placed on fertile land or in urban areas to provide economic incentives for the population and even return displaced persons to their homes.
The Syrian conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and rebel factions has lasted for almost six years with the death toll in the hundreds of thousands. It has created the world’s largest refugee crisis, with around five million refugees having fled the country and over six million displaced persons living within the country’s borders.
One million registered refugees live in neighboring Lebanon – with about half a million unregistered refugees, Nassif told CNA – and many have also fled to Turkey, Jordan, and Europe as well.
This has created an unsustainable refugee situation, Nassif argued, one that threatens to destabilize the region around Syria and spread the conflict to those countries as well.
“We’re really concerned about Lebanon,” he said of the country, where an estimated one in four persons is a refugee.
“It is a perfect example of a country where Christians and Muslims co-exist in the region. There’s a Christian president in the country, but we’re very worried that this huge burden on the state and economic and a security burden is not alleviated any time soon, that Lebanon will have its own problems and potential collapse.”
Safe zones, he argued, would stem the flow of refugees from Syria by giving them a temporary secure place to reside. It would ease the burden on neighboring countries that shelter refugees, and would keep Syrians relatively close to their homes to one day return there.
However, Catholic Relief Services expressed that they are “circumspect” on the U.S. establishing safe zones in Syria and Yemen, while still praising the Trump administration for their “interest” in caring for the most vulnerable populations in Syria.
“Once you declare a safe zone, you’re responsible for keeping the people inside safe for as long as necessary,” Bill O’Keefe told CNA, adding that they “can be extremely expensive and difficult to sustain.”
With so many regional actors like Turkey and Iran involved in the Syrian conflict and waging “proxy wars” there, people inside safe zones could still be at high risk of bombings and attacks, he said.
Placing so many refugees in one place could make these vulnerable populations even more of a target to terror groups and entities that want to kill them, he added.
“When you concentrate the innocent and the vulnerable together, they can become more of a target and even if there’s a sincere effort at providing a security umbrella, you have a lot of vulnerable people concentrated in a very defined area, and for those who want to harm those people, in some ways it’s actually easier,” he said.
And if they are set up for an indefinite period of time, safe zones may not be a lasting solution for families who just want to live a “normal life.”
If the conflict does not end, the zones may instead be dead-ends “where families can’t earn a living, where children can’t go to school,” he said, and the situation “doesn’t prepare them to rebuild their society and to go back and play a productive role in wherever they are.”
Rather, the U.S. should put its energy into pursuing peace at the local and regional levels in Syria and the Middle East, he insisted.
“We certainly urge our government to expend the last ounce of diplomatic energy on working with the parties to the conflict” as well as the “regional and global actors that are, in one way or another, engaged in various proxy battles” in Syria, O’Keefe said.
“Adequate humanitarian assistance” must also be provided to displaced persons in Syria and neighboring countries, he insisted.
However, although safe zones may be risky they are still preferable to the current situation on the ground for many embattled religious and ethnic minorities, Nassif said.
“It’s basically a free-for-all in Syria. And it’s total chaos on the ground. All of these minorities are being targeted left and right by everybody and they’re being scapegoated,” he said, noting the “exodus” of Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Alowites from the country.
“The longer the conflict goes in Syria, the more likely Christians are going to just be continuing to leave at the rate they’ve been leaving from the country,” he said.
Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2017 / 06:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. has made significant strides in promoting religious freedom abroad in the last two years, says the outgoing U.S. religious freedom ambassador.
One “success” of his tenure at the State Department was “the work that we’re quietly doing day in and day out on behalf of prisoners of conscience,” the former Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein insisted at a panel discussion on religious freedom, held Thursday in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Religion News Foundation.
These “prisoners of conscience” might be religious leaders, political dissidents or human rights activists jailed because of their public beliefs and advocacy. The State Department helps obtain “security” or “legal support” for these people, or helps them leave their country, Saperstein said. Their lawyers and defendants have credited the United States’ advocacy with the release of their clients from prison, he noted.
Rabbi Saperstein, who led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism before his time at State, was confirmed by the Senate as the State Department’s Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom in December of 2014, filling a 14 month-long vacancy in the position.
The ambassador is charged with promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, reporting on human rights abuses, and holding foreign actors accountable for how they treat religious minorities.
The office was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which also mandated the State Department publish an annual global report on religious freedom.
In March of 2016, during Rabbi Saperstein’s tenure as ambassador, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Islamic State – also known as Daesh, ISIS, and ISIL – was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria.
The genocide declaration was hailed as a key act in the resettlement of the persecuted minorities in the region, one that could help them obtain needed humanitarian aid, priority resettlement status, and a safe return home if they chose to do so. It came almost two years after ISIS swept across Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of ethnic and religious minorities that inhabited the region.
Advocates had insisted for months that the U.S. declare genocide had taken place. According to reports, the agency originally planned to declare that only Yazidis in Northern Iraq were genocide victims, based off of a Holocaust Museum fact-finding mission in the region that focused only on atrocities committed on the Nineveh Plain during the summer of 2014.
However, after a request by Ambassador Saperstein, the Knights of Columbus and the advocacy group In Defense of Christians published an almost 300-page report from a fact-finding mission to Iraq, documenting atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other minorities, and featuring interviews with genocide survivors and legal documents.
A week later, Secretary Kerry issued the genocide declaration. In an interview with CNA, Saperstein revealed that the declaration came about at Kerry’s insistence.
“That genocide finding took place because the Secretary wanted it,” Saperstein said. “He demanded far more information than had been available when he began this process, when there clearly wasn’t enough information available to make a finding.”
Saperstein noted that the situation in Iraq and Syria differed from previous instances where the U.S. declared genocide, like in Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia.
“Here, most people fled before ISIL came in and the ones left under ISIL control were not available to people. Just now in Mosul, we’re just learning about the extent of the brutality of what was going on under ISIL’s control,” he explained. “So we didn’t have the same information available.”
Former Secretary Kerry “really deserves the credit for this finding,” he continued, noting that the U.S. “had already been acting as if there was such a finding” by intervening to send supplies to Yazidis cut off from food and water on Mt. Sinjar in August of 2014, and establishing a military coalition to counter the Islamic State.
The global state of religious freedom is still dire, he insisted, noting that three-fourths of the world’s population still lives in countries like China, India, and Pakistan where freedom of religion is significantly restricted.
In these countries “religious communities, particularly religious minorities, still face significant threats from social hostilities, from other religious groups, or repressive actions of the government in controlling what they can say or how they can worship or what they can do as part of their religious communities,” he said, giving examples of anti-blasphemy laws, onerous registration requirements for minority religions, and laws prohibiting conversion.
An increase in its budget and staff has boosted the office’s efforts, Saperstein noted. In his two years as ambassador, he said the office’s budget doubled, its “programmatic money quintupled,” and its staff doubled in size.
The Office on Religion and Global Affairs also has done key work in studying “the role of religion” in all areas of life from public policy to economics to “conflict resolution,” he said.
“You ended up with a situation at the end of this administration where there were some 50 people working day in and day out on nothing other than religious issues in the United States government,” he said. “It’s probably more dedicated staff just to that issue than all the governments of the world put together” on international religious freedom.
“That’s quite a vote of confidence as to the importance of religious issues in the United States,” he added, noting that “across the globe…many of the cardinals and bishops that I met with were very encouraged” by this.
And the State Department has crafted an “international coalition” to help genocide victims resettle in their homes, stay where they currently are like in Iraqi Kurdistan, or move elsewhere, he said. “The UN is playing a key role in achieving that with significant American support.”
The coalition is dealing with issues like “security measures” for genocide victims to live peacefully, “economic development” in the region, empowering them to have a role in rebuilding Iraq, preserving their cultures, and punishing the perpetrators of genocide.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2017 / 03:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that affirmed a legal injunction against a Trump administration executive order on refugee resettlement and travel bans targeting Muslim countries.
“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, speaking in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution,” Bishop Vazquez said Feb. 10. “At this time, we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed to our country.”
“We will continue to welcome the newcomer as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and tradition,” he added.
The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 3-0 vote on Feb. 9, upheld a lower court’s temporary restraining order against several provisions of an executive order on refugee resettlement.
The provisions under judicial scrutiny included a 120-day halt on U.S. refugee resettlement program; an indefinite ban on resettling Syrian refugees; and a 90-day prohibition on entry for individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
On Thursday, the panel said that the Trump administration did not present any evidence that any alien from the countries it named has carried out a terrorist attack in the U.S. It said the public has an interest in national security and the ability of a president to enact policies. It added that the public also has an interest “in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination.”
President Trump had said the order would stop terrorists and allow federal agencies to develop stricter screening for those entering the country.
He pledged to fight the ruling in court, saying on Twitter “the security of our nation is at stake.”
The executive action said that priority will be given to “refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution” for members of minority faiths in the refugee’s country of origin.
While the order does not mention Christianity, Trump has told media outlets such as Christian Broadcasting News that the order would prioritize Christian refugees.
New Orleans, La., Feb 9, 2017 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s a scene all too unfortunately familiar for many in the city of New Orleans - that of devastation in the wake of a natural disaster.
On Tuesday, at least seven tornadoes ripped through the state of Louisiana, wiping out homes and leaving a trail of damage in areas of New Orleans that were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
An estimated 250-400 homes were either destroyed or heavily damaged by the storm, and about two dozen people were injured, some of them seriously.
However, “the Lord has blessed us with not a single fatality at this time,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference following the tornadoes.
Tom Costanza with Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New Orleans was on the scene with aid workers soon after the tornadoes. He told CNA that they are beginning the “long process” of cleaning up and rebuilding.
Catholic Charities and local parishes have been providing immediate assistance at distribution centers such as the one at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish for the people in the area, he said, handing out food and providing initial counseling and case management services.
Catholic Charities is also partnering with the city, the Red Cross, and other aid organizations to meet basic and immediate needs, he said. A shelter for the displaced that Catholic Charities helped establish had 93 people in it last night. Thousands are still without power and probably will be for a few more days.
“What we’re finding is a lot of people were renters with no insurance who lost everything,” Costanza said, “so we’re kind of helping them get situated.”
Andrew Gutierrez, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is also organizing a group of 15-20 men from Notre Dame seminary to go out and help with “whatever physical need these people need met.”
Because Louisiana doesn’t often get tornadoes, Gutierrez told CNA the seminarians are not entirely sure what to expect, but they want to help in whatever ways they can.
“We’re just going, this is what we do,” he said. When there was flooding in Lafayette and Baton Rouge last year, the whole seminary – more than 100 men – went out for a few days to offer relief.
“These are the types of seminarians that the church is forming right now,” Gutierrez said. “These are the kind of men that are entering the priesthood, men that are willing to meet people with a variety of needs, knowing that we ultimately go as Christ. So when we’re picking up a broken door, we’re doing it as Christ, with his joy, with his compassion and sensitivity to these people who are suffering.”
There’s also been a lot of interdenominational collaboration in providing relief, as there has been in other times of disaster, Costanza said.
“We all work collaboratively as a faith community when things like this happen.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a letter to clergy to be read before all the Masses this weekend, asking for people’s help and prayers.
“We always need to see the face of Jesus in the lives of those in need,” he wrote. “Please join me in praying for those who have lost their homes and possessions.”
The archbishop added that he was pleased by the “quick response” of Catholic Charities and other groups who were on the scene immediately. Archbishop Aymond is also scheduled to celebrate Mass at Resurrection parish this weekend.
And while it’s been devastating, by and large the people are handling it relatively well, Costanza said.
“There was a lady I was talking to in the shelter, and I said, 'What happened?' And she said, 'Well, I heard the tornado coming and God told me to go in the bathroom, so I went in the bathroom and the tornado ripped my roof off.' And she said, 'I listened to God, and I’m glad',” he recalled.
“And she started quoting Scripture to me, and I said, 'I can’t believe you’re Catholic, you know Scripture so well!' She was spouting off all the Scripture that’s been comforting her,” he added, laughing.
“So our people are resilient. We’ve been through this before, we’ll get through it.”
To find out more about providing assistance for tornado relief efforts, visit: http://www.ccano.org/uncategorized/tornado-recovery-efforts/
Portland, Ore., Feb 9, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A week after Hispanic Catholics experienced racial harassment and taunts from a group of men during a Spanish Mass, the local community in Portland, Oregon sprang into action to show their support for the churchgoers.
Despite the chill and the rain, an estimated 200-300 people created a human barrier on Sunday, Feb. 5, protecting parishioners of St. Peter Catholic Church from possible harassment.
It was a different scene than what had greeted parishioners the week before, when a group of about eight men dressed as hunters shouted racial and sexual slurs at parishioners during Spanish Mass, and taunted the congregation for being made up of many immigrants, according to the Catholic Sentinel. The group of men was nowhere to be seen the following week.
The harassment came at an already tense time for the parish because of new federal immigration policy proposals. Pastor Fr. Raul Marquez, a native of Colombia who has been pastor at St. Peter’s for 5 years, said he had never seen anything like it.
“All that Sunday I felt upset and didn't understand,” he told the Sentinel.
But the next Sunday came as a pleasant surprise. News of the previous attacks had spread on social media through two videos of the incident, and local community members banded together, with one post reading: "ATTN WHITE PEOPLE – USE YOUR WHITE BODY TO INTERRUPT RACISM!" It urged people to place themselves "between violent bigots and people of color" to form a "strong human chain to stand as a buffer between Latino worshippers and those who hate them."
And it worked. Catholics, Christians and non-believers showed up in force to provide support, complete with welcoming signs in both English and Spanish and a table of coffee and sweets.
Local priest Father Ron Millican from nearby Our Lady of Sorrows parish and Rev. Elizabeth Larson from St Mark Lutheran Church came to show their support for Fr. Marquez, as well as Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
Archbishop Alexander Sample expressed his support to St. Peter’s through a letter to the parish, saying that he was saddened by the harassment and offering his prayers for healing.
“Please be assured that I, as your Archbishop and shepherd, stand firmly with you in the face of such ignorant and hateful words. You are our brothers and sisters, and as members of the same family of faith, we must hold fast to our unity in Christ,” he said.
He added that the incident was not isolated and that the same group had been harassing other churches in the area. The men were reportedly part of a Portland-based group called "Bible Believers"—hard-right street preachers who appear at protests against President Donald Trump.
“Be assured of my love and prayers for all of you. May Our Lady embrace you all in her mantle of love and protection,” Archbishop Sample concluded.
Brenda Ramirez, a 21 year-old parishioner, told the Portland Tribune that she was shocked to hear about the attack at her church, but was happy with the large showing of support from the local community.
"It's just beautiful. This is what America is — not racism or hate. This is what it should be."
Where have civility and respect for one another gone?Can we please stop demonizing those with whom we (even vehemently) disagree?
— Archbishop Sample (@ArchbishpSample) February 4, 2017
Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2017 / 02:59 am (CNA).- Walt Heyer remembers the moment when he started desiring to be a girl.
When he was just 4 years old, Heyer’s grandmother would crossdress him while she was babysitting. She loved seeing Heyer in dresses, and even made him his own purple chiffon dress.
But it was their secret, grandma said - don’t tell mom and dad.
At age 7, Heyer brought the purple chiffon dress home with him, and hid it in his bottom dresser drawer.
Heyer’s mom soon found the dress, and confronted him about it. That’s when he told his parents that grandma had been dressing him like a girl for years.
“You could have set off an atomic bomb in the house for the conflict between my dad and my mom, and my mom and her mom, my dad and his mother in law,” he said.
Heyer’s parents didn’t have the vocabulary or the resources to know how to handle the situation. His dad reacted out of fear, and implemented very stern disciplinary measures. An uncle of Heyer’s found out about the story, and started teasing him about it. Eventually, he sexually abused Heyer.
“You see people who have such disordered thinking (gender dysphoria) are hurting,” Heyer said. “The problem is that we don’t know what to do with them.”
The desire to be a woman - to be someone other than the abused and hurt little boy - stayed with Heyer into adulthood, even though he had married a woman and had two children. At age 42, he surgically transitioned to a woman and asked his friends to start calling him Laura.
“But it began as a fantasy and it continued as a fantasy, because surgery doesn’t change you to a female. It’s no more authentic than a counterfeit $20 is authentic. You can’t change a biological man into a biological woman.”
After less than 10 years, and a conversion experience, Heyer regretted his transition and desired to live as a man again. He now runs a website called sexchangeregret.com, where hundreds of people contact him every year, sharing their own experiences and regrets of sex change surgeries. Most of them follow the pattern of feeling affirmed by their sex change for a time, only to have underlying psychological problems come roaring back after about 10 years, Heyer said.
Heyer told his story in a talk last month at a Courage conference in Phoenix, where dozens of clergy and those in ministry from throughout the country gathered to learn how to best serve those with same-sex attraction in the Church.
Just recently, the ministry has been including talks and resources not just on same-sex attraction, but also on the issue of transgenderism, as transgender advocates continue to garner attention in the public sphere.
How can the Church help transgendered people?
There are few Catholic ministries that exist today that minister particularly to those struggling with transgenderism and gender dysphoria. Other than a handful of local ministries, Courage - the Church’s outreach to people with same-sex attraction - is one of the few ministries addressing the issue of transgenderism on a national and international level.
“Until recently, pastoral care to individuals who struggle with their sexual identities as male or female has largely occurred at a local and personal level,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs.
“As attention to and awareness of this experience has grown, we are seeing more efforts regionally and nationally to respond in a way faithful to the Catholic understanding of the human person and God’s care for everyone.”
Part of the problem is that the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance in popular culture is so new that mental health experts are still trying to catch up to the trend, said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a Catholic psychologist with the group CatholicPsych.
“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to really thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” he said.
But mental health professionals who are willing to follow any current trend are only “furthering the divide” between Catholic and secular practitioners, he added.
At the moment, the biggest concern regarding the popularising and normalizing of transgenderism is the effect it’s having on children, Dr. Bottaro said.
“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.
“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology - male and female he made them - to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.
And it’s not just the Catholic Church that is concerned with the effects of transgenderism on children.
In a paper entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” The American College of Pediatricians lays out specific reasons that they are concerned about the popularising and normalising of transgenderism among kids.
“A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria,” the group said in its paper.
To encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” they added.
“So while there are biological abnormalities (children born with ambiguous genitalia or an extra chromosome), they’re certainly not circumstances to build philosophical systems on, so we see those as abnormalities and anomalies,” Dr. Bottaro explained.
Learning how to best serve transgendered persons
When asked, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs referred back to Courage as an example of a ministry that was providing pastoral care and guidance on transgenderism at a national and international level.
Dioceses that have their own chapters of Courage to accompany those with same-sex attraction are also “in a good position to help people who have questions regarding their sexual identity as well,” the spokesperson said.
Father Philip Bochanski is the executive director of Courage International. He said the organization will continue to discern how best to serve transgendered persons and their families.
“There seem to be some similarities between the experience of confusion regarding one's sexual identity and the experience of same-sex attraction, but there are also many differences,” Fr. Bochanski said.
In the meantime, the ministry’s outreach for parents, called EnCourage, is already actively engaged with parents and families who have a transgendered loved one, Fr. Bochanski said.
The goal of EnCourage is to help parents and family members of those with same-sex attraction, or transgendered persons, to maintain strong family ties while also holding to their understanding and teaching of the faith.
“Our EnCourage members pursue these goals by striving to grow in their own prayer lives, to learn more about what the Church teaches and how to present it in a loving way, and to find ways to show love and support without either condemning their sons or daughters, nor condoning immoral decisions.”
“Like the experience of same-sex attraction, questions regarding sexual identity have a profound impact not just on the individual but on his or her whole family,” he said.
“I'm glad that our EnCourage members and their chaplains have the opportunity to share their experience of speaking the truth in love in their own families with other parents and spouses who are striving to understand and support their loved ones who identify as transgender.”
Heyer said first and foremost, the Church must gently but firmly challenge people, rather than affirm them in their gender dysphoria.
“If we affirm them in changing genders we’re actually being disobedient to Christ, because that’s not who they are. He made them man and woman,” Heyer said.
He also said that pastors and those in ministry in the Church need to be better informed about the long-term physical and emotional consequences of sex change surgery.
“Because we’re not talking about the consequences. We’re only talking about them transitioning, which all looks really good for 8-10 years,” he said, at which point many people desire to go back to their original gender.
“So if we can get a bigger set of glasses and look long term...then we can look and see the destruction that happens and begin to address the destruction.”
Pastors and psychologists, working together
Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert, a permanent deacon and plastic surgeon, also addressed the clergy and ministry leaders at the recent Courage conference. In his talk, he addressed the medical background of transgender surgeries, as well as the terminology used when discussing the issue.
It’s important for those in ministry to be well versed in the issue, both from a catechetical standpoint and from a medical and secular standpoint, Dr. Lappert told CNA.
“One of the dangers in the subject is that ignorance causes people to respond in unhelpful ways - sometimes in anger, sometimes confusion, revulsion, all kinds of emotional things that do not serve anyone, and certainly do not serve the Church,” he said.
“Be so fluent in the issue (and the terminology) that nothing surprises you, so that you can serve the person justly with the truth and with love,” he advised.
It is also important for priests and Church leaders to have good working relationships with psychologists and psychiatrists who share a Christian anthropological view of the human person, and would not encourage people in their gender dysphoria, Dr. Lappert said.
Dr. Bottaro said he has seen an increase in good working relationships between pastors and psychologists who believe in a true Christian anthropology.
“I think priests are becoming more and more aware of the need for it, the more volatile the situation becomes, the more obvious and pressing the need is for mental health expertise from a Catholic perspective,” he said.
He said that he thinks Courage is a good place to start as far as ministry goes, because they have the “experience and expertise to sort of bridge the gap.”
“It could become a whole separate ministry, but it’s definitely related to what Courage is already doing, so it could become a branch of it, or they could decide that there’s many more people suffering from the effect of transgenderism,” he said.
But the issue of transgenderism extends beyond just those struggling with gender dysphoria, he added. It’s a cultural issue even more so than a psychological one, and it needs to be addressed on the levels of education and improved family life and catechesis just as much as it needs to be addressed on an individual basis.
Throughout the process of discerning and pastoral care for both people with same-sex attraction and with gender dysphoria, the most important thing is to remember the foundation of everyone’s identity, Fr. Bochanski added: “That of being created in the image and likeness of God the Father, and of being called to share in God's grace as his sons and daughters.”
Denver, Colo., Feb 9, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Women's healthcare is reaching a new dawn in the state of Colorado, courtesy of a new Catholic Charities initiative whose goal is to eliminate abortion from the definition of women's healthcare.
The new initiative, called Marisol Health, hopes to empower women by offering a holistic option for healthcare, which also includes aid with housing and every spectrum of human services.
Just ask Marisol's Vice President, Jan McIntosh. She has been involved with the evolution of Marisol Health from its establishment in 2016, with dreams to empower women in a big way.
“It was really during 2016 that we developed the whole Marisol concept with expanded medical care – a continuum of care to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of vulnerable women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, as well as women living in poverty with children,” McIntosh told CNA.
“Trying to eliminate the need for abortion is really at the heart of this, by building a network of well-integrated services to provide the solutions to the concerns that might lead women and men down the path to make that decision to terminate a pregnancy,” she said.
Marisol’s system essentially works as a directory of aid that will connect women to a network of pre-existing medical facilities, maternity centers, and long-term housing programs, which have all been interwoven to offer women and families all-encompassing care.
Depending on their situation, a woman could walk into one of Marisol’s centers and come out with a new doctor, a new place to live, and a new community of support, including emotional counseling, parenting help, and child education services.
These services are in connection with established community organizations. According to McIntosh, Marisol is only possible through the joint efforts between Catholic Charities and key partners within the community.
“We think it’s very important to work with the community and with other organizations that are serving the women and children that we are servicing,” McIntosh said.
Marisol Health has already kicked up a lot of excitement for women around the state, and has become a successful option for healthcare at one of Colorado’s biggest college campuses: CU Boulder.
Jenny Langness, a Marisol Program Director involved at the CU Boulder campus, told CNA that “students have been excited to learn about our continuum of care.”
“Our hope is to make CU Boulder a campus that is welcoming and accessible to pregnant and parenting students, and through Marisol Health Services, will offer women true alternatives to abortion,” Langness said, adding that Marisol’s presence on campus has truly been able to “empower women.”
Marisol was originally brought to the university’s campus through Real Choices – an existing student organization which has now merged with Marisol – to educate young women and men about alternatives to abortion through seminars and events that speak about a holistic approach to sexual health and overall wellness.
Jen Boryla, a Marisol Volunteer Coordinator, told CNA that “we want a health center that promotes the wellbeing of the entire person – mind, body and spirit.”
“We hope that by educating and teaching the younger generation about a better way to be healthy and to think about their family planning, we can influence our culture broadly, as well as impact individual’s lives,” Boryla said.
So far, Marisol has seen a successful response at all of their locations. Since 2013, when the idea of Marisol was starting to take shape, they have seen 240 babies born to mothers that their services have helped. Within the past 7 months, Marisol has also provided all-inclusive prenatal care to more than 77 women.
“We are definitely having a positive response, and we are growing every month in the number of women who are hearing about our services and that are coming to us,” she continued.
In addition, Marisol Health centers are also offering mammograms – a vital piece of women’s healthcare that other clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, does not offer. They also offer free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and STD/STI testing.
“We have partnered with St. Joe’s mobile mammography program, and they will be servicing us at both of our Marisol sites and also at the Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood,” she noted.
Marisol’s success has already made it a potential model for healthcare in other states and dioceses throughout the country. Jan said that Marisol is “actively planning” with other programs across the country that are interested in developing more comprehensive healthcare for women.
Future goals for Marisol include one major, overarching theme: ending the need for abortion in Colorado.
“In order to do that, we need the resources for the intensive care that this takes, and we do believe that there are thousands of men, women and families who need these services,” Jan stated.
“Our real hope is to fill our current health centers to capacity and then with the support of donors and grants and other funding to expand to other communities in Colorado, both along the Front Range and possibly into the mountain communities.”
Augusta, Maine, Feb 8, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- A former priest previously convicted of sex abuse of an altar boy was indicted on 29 counts of sexual misconduct involving two other boys during his time as a priest based in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Ronald H. Paquin on Feb. 7 was charged in York County, Maine for allegedly abusing two boys in Kennebunkport, Maine between 1985 and 1989. Thirteen of the charges involve a child who was under the age of 14, the Boston Globe reports.
“When I found out he was released, I thought it was an outrage,” Keith Townsend, 42, told the Boston Globe. “This guy has so many victims.”
Townsend, who said he is one of the victims involved in the indictment, said the abuse began when he was 8 or 9. It allegedly took place both in Massachusetts and at a camp in Kennebunkport. He said he has struggled as an adult with substance abuse and attempted suicide.
He hopes additional victims will come forward.
The former priest, who was laicized in 2004, is not in custody but will be summoned to York County Superior Court.
Paquin was released from prison in 2015 after serving a 10-year sentence related to the abuse of an altar boy, beginning when the victim was 12. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to three counts of child rape. The acts took place from 1989 to 1992 on a victim from Haverhill, Mass. The priest was an associate pastor at a Catholic church there.
While in jail, he told medical evaluators he had abused at least 14 boys.
Upon his release, the former priest said that he planned to go to a Boston homeless shelter, then seek sex offender treatment in Maine. He is now 74 years old.
Paquin came to public prominence when the Boston Globe reported in 2002 that the Archdiocese of Boston moved him from a parish in 1981, allegedly after learning about sex abuse allegations against him.
Paquin has said he himself was the victim of sex abuse when he was a child. He said he was abused by other youths and then by a priest.
CNA sought comment from the Archdiocese of Boston but did not receive a response by deadline.
Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 12:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Planned Parenthood clinics had monthly quotas for abortions or abortion referrals, according to two former clinic workers in a new Live Action investigative video.
“I trained my staff the way that I was trained, which was to really encourage women to choose abortion; to have it at Planned Parenthood, because it counts towards our goal,” Sue Thayer, a former Planned Parenthood manager at Storm Lake, Iowa, revealed in an interview with the pro-life group Live Action.
“We would try to get the appointment scheduled for abortion before they left our clinic.”
Thayer was dismissed from her job with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in 2008, and is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the affiliate. The Storm Lake clinic at which she worked closed in 2012.
Her lawsuit claims Planned Parenthood of the Heartland defrauded Medicaid by billing for birth control before it had been prescribed and overcharging, and that they illegally billed Medicaid for abortion-related services. A federal judge ruled in June 2016 that the lawsuit could proceed to trial.
The video is the third report in the Live Action’s new investigative series on Planned Parenthood, “Abortion Corporation.” The group has in the past published reports on Planned Parenthood for America and conducted undercover investigations of its clinics.
The group claimed previously that, according to their own inquiries of Planned Parenthood clinics, 92 of 97 Planned Parenthood clinics across the country admitted they did not offer prenatal care for women.
In the third video, a former center manager and a former nurse described how their clinics set monthly quotas for the number of abortions to be performed – or if they did not offer abortions, the number of abortion referrals to be done.
They would offer employees incentives such as pizza parties or extra paid time off for meeting these quotas. Center managers would be recognized by upper management if their centers consistently met their quotas.
“So there were incentives built in, and it sounds kind of crazy but pizza is a motivator,” Thayer said.
Thayer described how they would pressure poor mothers into having abortions.
Clinic workers would discuss prices for services like pregnancy tests with expectant mothers. If mothers couldn’t make the minimum payment for services, clinic workers would ask her how she expected to pay for child care once she had the baby.
“If they’d say, ‘I’m not able to pay today,’ then we would say something like, ‘Well, if you can’t pay $10 today, how are you going to take care of a baby? Have you priced diapers? Do you know how much it costs to buy a car seat?” Thayer recalled telling pregnant mothers.
“‘There’s no place in Storm Lake, or whatever town they were in, you know, where you can get help as a pregnant mom. So really, don’t you think your smartest choice is termination? We can take care of that, set it up for you,’” she continued, referring to her advice for the mothers.
Marianne Anderson, a former nurse at Planned Parenthood, admitted, “I felt like I was more of a salesman sometimes, to sell abortions.”
“And we were told on a regular basis that you have a quota to meet, to keep this clinic open,” she said.
Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, insisted that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, should be defunded and that Tuesday’s report was further proof that it must.
“Planned Parenthood doesn’t have quotas for adoptions. It doesn’t have quotas for prenatal care. But quotas for abortions? Absolutely,” she stated.
“It’s time to redirect our tax money toward local health clinics that actually provide real care to women, instead of to Planned Parenthood, a corporation focused on upping its abortion numbers.”
President Trump has promised his support of stripping Planned Parenthood of federal funds, and House Speaker Paul Ryan announced early in January an effort to defund the organization in a budget bill repealing the Affordable Care Act. A bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate to redirect federal funding away from Planned Parenthood to women’s health care providers which do not perform abortions.