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This new technology could produce babies from skin cells

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:02

Washington D.C., May 18, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Within the next 10-20 years, a new and controversial fertility technology called in vitro gametogenesis could make it possible to manipulate skin cells into creating a human baby.

However, this groundbreaking research has caused push-back from some critics, like Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, who says IVG would turn procreation into a transaction.

“IVG extends the faulty logic of IVF by introducing additional steps to the process of manipulating the origins of the human person, in order to satisfy the desires of customers and consumers,” Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA in an email interview.

“The technology also offers the possibility of introducing further fractures into parenthood, distancing children from their parents by multiplying the number of those involved in generating the child, so that 3-parent embryos, or even more parents, may become involved,” he continued.

IVG has been successfully tested by Japanese researchers on mice, which produced healthy babies derived from skin cells.

The process begins by taking the skin cells from the mouse’s tail and re-programing them to become induced pluripotent stem cells. These manipulated cells are able to grow different kinds of cells, and are then used to grow eggs and sperm, which are then fertilized in the lab. The resulting embryos are then implanted in a womb.

Although similar to in vitro fertilization, IVG eliminates the step of needing pre-existing egg and sperm, and instead creates these gametes.

But many experts in the reproductive field are skeptical of its potential outcomes and ethical compromises.

“It gives me an unsettled feeling because we don’t know what this could lead to,” Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, Davis, told the New York Times.

Knoepfler noted that some of the potential repercussions of IVG could turn into “cloning” or “designer babies.” Other dangers could include the “Brad Pitt scenario,” in which celebrity’s skin cells retrieved from random places, like hotel rooms, could be used to create a baby.

Potentially anyone’s skin cells could be used to create a baby, even without their knowledge or consent.

In an issue of Science Translational Medicine earlier this year, a trio of academics – a Harvard Law professor, the dean of Harvard Medical School, and a medical science professor at Brown – wrote that IVG “may raise the specter of ‘embryo farming’ on a scale currently unimagined, which might exacerbate concerns about the devaluation of human life.”

They added that “refining the science of IVG to the point of clinical use will involve the generation and likely destruction of large numbers of embryos from stem cell–derived gametes” and the process “may exacerbate concerns regarding human enhancement.”

Fr. Pacholczyk also pointed to further concerns, saying IVG disrupts the uniqueness of every individual’s sex cells.

“I.V.G raises additional concerns because of the way it manipulates human sex cells. Our sex cells, or gametes, are special cells. They uniquely identify us,” Fr. Pacholczyk stated.

“It is most unfortunate that overwhelming parental desires are being permitted to trump and distort the right order of transmitting human life,” he continued.

Fr. Pacholczyk said that processes like IVG “enable a consumerist mentality that holds that children are ‘projects’ to be realized through commercial transactions and laboratory techniques of gamete manipulation.”  

The Catholic Church teaches that IVF and similar reproductive technologies are morally illicit for several reasons, including their separation of procreation from the conjugal act and the creation of embryos which are discarded.

Pope Francis recently spoke out against the destruction of human embryos, saying that no good result from research can justify the destruction of embryos.

“Some branches of research use human embryos, inevitably causing their destruction. But we know that no ends, even noble in themselves – such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society – can justify the destruction of human embryos,” the Holy Father said May 18.

Although IVG has proven successful in mice, there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out before it is tested on humans, and will entail years more of tedious bioengineering.

However, Fr. Pacholczyk hopes that potential parents will come to realize that children should not products that can be ordered or purchased by consumers, and should rather be seen as a gift.

“Turning commercial laboratories to create children on our behalf is an unethical step in the direction of treating our offspring as objects to be planned and created in the pursuit of parental gratification, rather than gifts received from the Lord.”

Venerable Stanley Rother's remains re-interred ahead of beatification

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 08:01

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 18, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The remains of Venerable Stanley Rother were exhumed last week and moved to a chapel in Oklahoma City in preparation for the beatification Mass of the first US-born martyr.

“The witness of Father Rother’s life and death has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me as a seminarian, priest and now as a bishop. I consider it a great gift to be entrusted with overseeing the continuation of his cause for beatification and canonization begun by Archbishop Beltran,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said after the May 10 service.

“His beatification is an unexpected blessing for Oklahoma and for the United States as we celebrate this ordinary man from humble beginnings who answered the call to serve an extraordinary life. His witness will continue to inspire us for generations.”

The body of Fr. Rother, who served as a priest in Guatemala, was taken from Holy Trinity Cemetery in his home town of Okarche, Okla., to the chapel at Resurrection Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

Before his body was exhumed, his family led a prayerful procession to the gravesite. Fr. Rother's remains were later removed form the vault, and examined by medical professionals and verified, as required by the process of beatification.

The martyred priest's body was then placed in a new casket with golden vestments, along with a document signed by those in attendance. A ribbon was wrapped around the casket, sealed with the archdiocese's seal in wax.

The Salve Regina was sung as the casket was re-interred, and a prayer service followed.

“It was a holy day. Father Rother’s presence was felt by many, and we are blessed as the Catholic Church in Oklahoma to present Father Rother’s life to the world,” Archbishop Coakley commented.

A temporary sign now marks Fr. Rother's original gravesite in Okarche, located about 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, where the original vault and casket have been re-buried, and a permanent memorial marker is planned.

Fr. Rother's Mass of Beatification will take place Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. It will be said by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and concelebrated by Archbishop Coakley.

Fr. Rother was born March 27, 1935 in Okarche and entered seminary soon after graduating from Holy Trinity High School.

Despite a strong calling, Rother would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes and even out of one seminary before graduating from Mount St. Mary's in Maryland. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

He served for five years in Oklahoma before joining the Oklahoma diocese's mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous persons where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

The work ethic Fr. Rother learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers' co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings, and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Rother remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point; Fr. Rother was constantly seeing friends and parishioners abducted or killed.

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Rother did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother's rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused.

Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

Though his body was buried in Okarche, Fr. Rother's heart was enshrined in the church of Santiago Atitlan where he served.

Fr. Rother's cause for beatification was opened in 2007, and his martyrdom was recognized by the Vatican in December 2016, which cleared the way for his beatification.

'We cannot rest' while Christians are being persecuted, advocates say

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 21:41

Washington D.C., May 17, 2017 / 07:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians around the world have been models of forgiveness amidst persecution, but Western Christians must support them, religious leaders insisted at a world summit last week.

“We cannot rest, we cannot be content, we certainly can’t be complacent knowing our sisters and brothers are being oppressed, imprisoned, and killed,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. stated in his May 12 keynote address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.

“When fellow Christians suffer, we suffer too. Injustice, this extraordinary injustice, should arouse in us the need to speak,” he continued.

Last week’s D.C. summit, hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, featured more than 600 Christian leaders from 130 countries, including those who have suffered persecution in countries like Syria, North Korea, Iraq, Egypt, and Cuba.

The gathering was meant to shed light on narratives of Christian persecution amidst totalitarianism, secularism, tribalism, or religious extremism, and enable leaders to collaborate on pushing for religious freedom and tolerance.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the summit on Thursday, as well as Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church. Cardinal Wuerl delivered the keynote address on Friday.

Catholic and Orthodox leaders at the summit emphasized that Christians play a vital role as religious minorities in African and Asian countries, acting as peacemakers and bridge-builders in societies fraught with sectarian strife.  

Fr. Douglas al-Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest who was kidnapped and tortured for several days in 2006 by terrorists in Iraq, spoke to CNA about the continued Christian witness of forgiveness there, despite the mass displacement of communities at the hands of the Islamic State and the betrayal by their neighbors.

Christians are unique in the sense that they are the only group that is practicing widespread forgiveness, Fr. Bazi said. “Because even (with) what’s happened to us, we are still believing in the future, we are still believing in life, we are still looking forward to live together again.”

Fr. Bazi is now serving in New Zealand, thousands of miles from his former parish in Erbil, Iraq where he ministered to Christian refugees of ISIS. He runs Project 52, which helps disabled children in Iraq with the goal of having them adopted by families in New Zealand.

“My body is in New Zealand, but my heart is still in Iraq,” he said.

When ISIS overran large parts of Northern Iraq in 2014, Christians were given an ultimatum to convert to Islam, leave, or die, and many fled eastward to Erbil.

Now, after ISIS forces have been driven back from the Nineveh Plan and most of Mosul, many refugees have returned to see their homes damaged or destroyed, and their furniture stolen.

One family spent a night in their home but were kept awake by their neighbor yelling that they were infidels, Fr. Bazi said. “No ISIS anymore, but still the mentality of terrorists…the radical way,” he said.

“So my people, again and again, they are between two fires, to live in camps, or to go back again to hell, I mean Mosul.”

As Christians move back into their homes there, “the trust between people, actually, is completely lost,” he admitted. Yet Christians will forgive, and in time the relationships may be mended.

It is imperative that the Christians who can stay in Iraq do so, he maintained, as they will serve as a necessary “bridge” between minorities. “(If) we don’t have Christians, we don’t have examples of forgiveness in Iraq,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Christians are caught in the middle of a proxy war that has raged since 2011 with no immediate end in sight. They co-existed with Muslim neighbors for centuries, but that balance stands to be upset as refugees are forced to flee their homes for elsewhere within Syria or to other countries.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church told CNA of how the Church there helps those in need, the majority of whom are Muslims.

“We do that, not only because it’s our mission, it’s our faith that teaches us to help everyone,” he insisted, “but also because we want to invest in our future with these people, these our neighbors, our countrymen, women, and our future is together.”

Fr. Alexi Chehadeh, director-general of ecumenical relations and development for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, rejected the idea of dividing Syria into Alawite, Sunni Muslim, and Christian sections.

“We are against this,” he said. “We want a unified Syria under one flag,” adding that he wished “that Muslims and Christians are living together in peace and harmony.”

However, not all Christians around the world are setting an example of neighborliness, tolerance, and forgiveness. “Some of the conflict involving Christian groups and some of the persecution is coming from Christians,” Dr. Timothy Shah told CNA.

Shah is the director for international research of the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

He pointed to examples of Christians persecuting other Christians in Russia, Mexico, Latin America, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine.

In Mexico, for instance, Protestant families have been driven from their villages for their beliefs. “You’re talking about people whose lives are drastically affected,” Shah said. “This simply should not be happening in an era where the Holy Father talks about the ecumenism of blood.”

In Russia, the Supreme Court just outlawed Jehovah’s Witnesses from publicly practicing their faith. In Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has backed “laws restricting conversion,” he said.

Through his rhetoric, the cardinal “is not, let’s be candid, practicing, I think, the kind of spirit of brotherhood with non-Catholic Christians that I think the Holy Father has himself clearly embodied, both when he was archbishop in Argentina and also as Pope,” Shah continued.

Yet there is also a palpable “sense of hope that Christians really can respond effectively” to persecution, he said, citing the recently-released report “Under Caesar’s Sword” which documents how Christians around the world have decided to respond to persecution, many times through non-violence, dialogue, and forgiveness.

Despite the witness to charity of fellow Christians in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the Western Church must do much more to help them through prayer, charitable giving, and advocacy, speakers at the summit insisted.

Cardinal Wuerl compared the duties of Christians in the West to help their persecuted brethren to Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry his cross.

“Just as Simon of Cyrene stepped forward to help Jesus carry his cross, and for that reason has forever been indelibly imprinted in the iconography of the Christian world, so my brothers and sisters do we have to find ways of stepping forward,” he stated in his Friday keynote address at the summit.

“Life has not greatly improved” for Christians living in the shadow of ISIS, he maintained, as many of the displaced are still homeless and dependent on aid groups for their basic needs.

“Together, alone, individually, collectively, whenever the opportunity presents itself, and even when it is inconvenient, we must lift up our hearts in prayer, our hands in help, and raise our voices in witness,” he said.

In Iraq, for Christians to have a future they must be considered equal citizens under the law, Fr. Bazi explained, and Western Christians can help by pushing for the overturning of Article 2 of the Iraqi constitution, which declares that “Islam is the official religion of the State” and that “no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”

The article states that the constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion, but Fr. Bazi said that since it prohibits any laws contradicting Islam, Sharia law largely applies in practice, and there is no religious freedom.

He hoped the Trump administration could press Iraq to change that article, and that Pope Francis and President Trump will discuss the future of Christians in the Middle East in their upcoming meeting on May 24 at the Vatican.

In Syria, the international community must help provide more aid to those displaced by the conflict as they cannot yet return to their homes and “the churches are overwhelmed with the services they are offering,” Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II told CNA.

But there also must be a lasting end to the conflict through an end to the arms trade and the international community coming together on a peace agreement, he said. Otherwise people will not be able to return to their homes.

“In Syria, particularly, the Russians and the Americans are flexing their muscles there, the Iranians and the Saudis are fighting there,” he said, and Israel and other countries have an interest in the outcome of the conflict. “Unless all these groups come together,” he said, “and agree on a plan, I don’t think peace will be restored.”

Furthermore, groups like ISIS sell oil from Syria and Iraq to Turkish companies and other third parties, including Europeans, and this must stop, he insisted.

As a world leader, the U.S. has a key role in fighting religious persecution around the world, former congressman Frank Wolf told CNA, but in the “past several years” international religious freedom has been “kind of ignored” by members of both parties in Congress.

The Trump administration must make some key hires to ensure that religious freedom has a prominent place in American diplomacy and foreign policy, he said, including the appointment of an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

The previous ambassador, Rabbi David Saperstein, who served during President Obama’s second term, was a “model” for this position, he said, and the next ambassador must have direct access to the Secretary of State and the President, when necessary.

A new law, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which expands upon the previous 1998 law, mandates religious freedom training for foreign service officers. This will be key for embassies to be seen as “islands of freedom” as they were traditionally viewed during the Cold War, especially in Soviet bloc countries, Wolf explained.

If the training is put into practice, and members of Congress have access to a Prisoners of Conscience List, they can have information on persons detained by foreign governments for their religious beliefs and can request to visit these prisoners when they travel abroad.

Asked about the lack of advocacy for persecuted Christians worldwide, Wolf was blunt: “I think the church in the West has failed.”

 

Archdiocese speaks ahead of Netflix series on murdered nun

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 18:32

Baltimore, Md., May 17, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- No one knows who killed Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.

A young nun who was on a year’s leave of absence, Sister Cathy, as friends called her, was murdered sometime while running an errand on the evening of November 7, 1969. She was 26 years-old.  

Her body was found in a dump two months later, though authorities have never been able to identify her killer.

This summer, a Netflix documentary series called “The Keepers” is reopening the case, talking to witnesses and examining the evidence before the case goes cold forever.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Sr. Cathy are precarious.

A member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame since the age of 18, Sr. Cathy and her friend Sister Helen Russell Phillips both took a leave of absence in 1969 and moved out of the convent into an apartment together.

A thoughtful and well-liked teacher, Sr. Cathy had taught English at Archbishop Seton Keough Catholic High School for several years before transferring to Western Public High School in 1969.

The chaplain of Keough at the time, Fr. A. Joseph Maskell, was later accused by former students of numerous counts of rape and sexual abuse during his time at the school, which first came to light through accusations made in the early 1990s. Fr. Maskell was subsequently removed from ministry, and fled the United States in 1994. He was never charged with a crime before his death in 2001.

Fr. Maskell has been a longtime suspect in Sr. Cathy’s death. Former students of Sr. Cathy believed she knew about the abuses of the priest, as many of the young women felt comfortable confiding in her. Many believe that Fr. Maskell, who was also the chaplain of the Baltimore police at the time, murdered Sr. Cathy to keep her quiet and used his connections to cover up his crimes.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has always denied claims of a widespread conspiracy to cover up Sr. Cathy’s death and to hide the crimes of Fr. Maskell, and it maintains that the archdiocese had no prior knowledge of the sexual abuse of Fr. Maskell or his connection to Sr. Cathy until the ‘90s, when several victims came forward. There is no hard evidence to suggest that the archdiocese was involved in a cover-up of the case.

“Suggestions of a cover-up by the Archdiocese are speculative and false,” the archdiocese said in a recent statement outlining talking points before the release of the Netflix series.

“The Baltimore Sun has retracted its ‘errors’ for reporting that certain police supervisors suggested Archdiocesan interference in 1969-70 since the people cited had actually retired before (sometimes years before) the relevant time-frame,” the archdiocese said.

“The Sun also noted the numerous police officials who stated they knew of no such interference. There is no suggestion that the Archdiocese interfered in any way when the subsequent investigations were occurring in the 1990s. The Archdiocese reported the initial sexual abuse allegation to the authorities in 1993, removed Maskell from ministry and held a public meeting in 1994, and has been transparent with an Independent Review Board since that time.”

Baltimore City police began working the case, focusing on suspects in the Catholic Church. The Baltimore County police took over the case when Sr. Cathy’s body was found two months after her disappearance.

According to reports, she was found with trauma to the head, possibly from a hammer. The discovery of her body barely made the news - the local papers were on strike at the time.  

Because the alleged abuse of Fr. Maskell had not been reported to the archdiocese or the authorities in 1970, when Sr. Cathy’s body was found, Fr. Maskell was not originally investigated as a suspect in the case.

Earlier this month, local media reported that the Baltimore County police exhumed Fr. Maskell’s body to conduct DNA testing, ahead of the Netflix series that closely links him to Sr. Cathy’s murder.

There were few others investigated as possible suspects when the case opened in 1969.

On the night of Nov. 7, 1969, when Sr. Cathy disappeared, she had driven to Catonsville to cash a check, and then went to a bakery in the Edmondson Village Shopping Center. When she didn’t return after what was supposed to be a brief errand, concerned roommate Sr. Helen Phillips contacted Fr. Gerard Koob, a close friend and alleged romantic interest of Sr. Cathy.

Fr. Koob and a friend drove to the women’s apartment, and after talking to Phillips and hearing nothing from Sr. Cathy, they contacted the authorities to report her as a missing person.

Koob, now a Methodist minister, was thoroughly questioned by authorities at the time. His story that he had been at the movies with a friend that evening before learning of Sr. Cathy’s disappearance has held, and he has passed two lie detector tests regarding his whereabouts that night.

Lacking leads and new evidence, the case went cold around 1975, but was picked up again in 1992, after a woman named Jean Wehner came forward and reported that she had been abused at the hands of Fr. Maskell.

The archdiocese removed Fr. Maskell from ministry and sent him away for counseling and evaluation. Having no hard evidence against him, he returned to ministry in 1994.

At that time, Wehner revealed to police that Fr. Maskell had taken her to see Sr. Cathy’s body to “show her what happened to people who crossed him,” according to the Washington Post, and several other abuse victims came forward to accuse the priest.

The Baltimore County police then questioned Fr. Maskell about the case, but he denied both the allegations of murder and of sexual abuse. He was permanently removed from ministry by the archdiocese in 1994, and he fled to Ireland in 1996 without the knowledge of the archdiocese.

The archdiocese has offered to each victim an apology and an opportunity to meet with the archbishop, and has offered to pay for counseling assistance for anyone who may have been abused by Fr. Maskell. Some victims have sought direct financial assistance through a voluntary, pastoral mediation program established by the archdiocese. To date, the archdiocese has provided over $97,000 in counseling assistance and over $472,000 in direct financial assistance to those who may have been abused by the priest.

“It became a healing process for a number of them,” Sheldon Jacobs, an attorney for the victims, said of the settlements reached in 2016.

“Quite a few of them thought it was a cathartic experience,” he told The Washington Post.

The archdiocese said that it was willing to provide comment and to answer questions for the producers of the new Netflix series about the case.

“Unfortunately, the producers asked very few questions of the Archdiocese before releasing the series and did not respond to the Archdiocese’s request to receive an advanced copy of the series. Advanced copies were provided to media outlets,” the archdiocese notes on its website.

Ahead of the series, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has published answers to several frequently asked questions regarding the case of Sr. Cathy, and has reiterated the importance of its “zero tolerance policy” and sexual abuse screening and prevention training for its volunteers and employees.

The seven-part Netflix series “The Keepers,” directed by Ryan White, is set to debut on May 19.

Cardinal Mueller to graduates: 'Dare to be great'

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:01

Front Royal, Va., May 17, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With God’s grace, you can accomplish great things, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller challenged young Catholics at Christendom College last weekend at their 2017 commencement ceremony.

“The summary of all natural and Christian anthropology is to say, ‘Dare to be great in the grace of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen’,” Cardinal Mueller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, told undergraduate students of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Cardinal Mueller, the college’s 2017 commencement speaker, was the celebrant and homilist at the baccalaureate Mass on May 12 and received an honorary doctorate from the college before his commencement address. He is also the president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” appointed to that post and as prefect of the CDF by Pope Benedict XVI.

“Gerhard Cardinal Mueller has been a strong, consistent voice in defense of the Church’s perennial teaching in the midst of so much confusion in our modern world,” the college’s president Dr. Timothy O'Donnell stated before the prelate’s appearance.

The cardinal focused his May 13 address on “Christian anthropology,” and exhorted the graduates “to be salt and light in the midst of the contemporary world.”

The Christian, he insisted, can only bring about the Kingdom of God on earth by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy through God’s grace, not solely through his own merits.

“No, the Kingdom of God is grace, and grace brings the Holy Spirit in the world, a new spirit, the spirit of charity that sanctifies and assists, the spirit of understanding, of love, that changes our hearts and introduces in all human relations a movement of freedom,” he explained.

This movement of the Holy Spirit, he continued, includes the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and “other gifts and charisms.”

Through these virtues and gifts, men can be “collaborators with God in the bringing about of His Kingdom,” he said, where “the Church, with the arrival of the Messiah, carries out her mission in the Holy Spirit to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

He warned against seeing Christianity as a “bourgeois” practice of “interiority, only love of neighbor, and individual philanthropy” where salvation is reduced “to the world alone in the sense of social and purely humanitarian NGOs.”

However, he also taught against seeing God’s kingdom “only as above and outside of the world.”

Rather, he continued, “reverence toward God and the responsibility for the world are inseparably connected in Christ, Who did not come into this world to free us from the world, but to lead men and the world to their authentic destiny in the salvific plan of God.”

This does not mean the rejection of non-Christians who perform “good works,” he insisted, as “it would appear wrong to divide in an exaggerated manner Christianity from the rest of humanity.”

“Whomever does the good, even if they do not yet recognize God explicitly, is the mediator of the goodness of God,” he said. “For us grace and nature are belonging together, and are not in a contradiction. Grace and nature, faith and reason, must be distinct (but) not separate.”

Cardinal Mueller also exhorted those in attendance to be on guard against totalitarian ideologies that set themselves up against the vision of God and the Church.

Many ideologies of the 20th century were totalitarian in that they sought to establish their own vision of creation, a “humanism without or humanism against God,” he said.

Forms of totalitarianism exist today, he explained, like “the concept of designing one’s baby,” and the promotion of “euthanasia for those who are too tired to live, or who have become un-useful up to the sociological laboratories that want to make humanity happy with their political and economic theories, but in reality only enslave to their fantasy for omnipotence.”

Christians must fight injustices in the world in the name of human dignity, he insisted.

“Nobody may divert their gaze while the number of souls who go hungry grow, are deprived of their rights and recused to slavery, while the trauma of the refugees arriving on the European shores and the American border increase, and while being in a unified world, the risks and the challenges of globalizations are ever present,” he said.

“At the foundation of this dignity,” he added, “are the rights to lodging, food, and clothing, as well as the right to earn a living for himself and for the well-being of his family.”

The cardinal also warned against what Pope Francis has called the “ideological colonization” of the developing world, where developed countries try to force programs like abortion, birth control, sterilizations, and the approval of same-sex marriage onto developing countries.

Cardinal Mueller called this “an aggressive importation of a deformed image of the human person of the so-called ‘society of well-being’.”

These “developing cultures” cannot be ignored or trampled underfoot, he said, as “variety enriches,” which is also “the message of Pentecost when all peoples in diverse languages announce together the great works of God in the language of love.”

Christians, he insisted, must not only confess God with words, but work to do His will “by holding faithful to the Gospel and benefitting from its resources.”

“Not everyone who cries or confesses ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the Father’s will by taking a strong grip on the work at hand,” he continued. “Now the Father wills that in all men we recognize Christ our brother and love Him effectively in word and in deed.”

“By thus giving witness to the truth, we will share with others the mystery of the Heavenly Father’s love,” he concluded.

“As a consequence, men throughout the world will be aroused to a lively hope, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that some day at the last they will be caught up in peace and utter happiness in that fatherland radiant with the glory of the Lord.”

 

What the littlest children can teach us about suffering

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., May 17, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “There will be saints among the children.”

So said Pope Pius X, when he lowered the age that children could receive their First Holy Communion. Previously, children had to be 10 or 12, now they are typically in second grade, or about seven or eight years old, though exceptions are made for some who are even younger.

Last weekend, Pope Francis canonized Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the child visionaries of the Fatima Marian apparitions. Bucking tradition, these shepherd children are the first children who were not martyrs to be canonized by the Church. Both died before age 12.

Austin Ruse, Catholic author and president of C-Fam, a family research institute, believes that Pope Francis may have just “opened the floodgates” to scores of saints from the littlest among us.

Several years ago, Ruse was struck by the stories of three children he knew - either personally or peripherally - that all seemed to have a common theme: “little children who died young, suffered greatly, and brought many people to Christ and his Church through their suffering.”

“They were just profound stories and they needed to be told,” he said in an interview with CNA.

In his recent book, “Littlest Suffering Souls,” Ruse tells of the short but significant lives of six children, three of them contemporary children whose families he has met.
 
Suffering, with ‘countless graces’

One of those children was Brendan Kelly, whose family went to Ruse’s parish, and whose funeral Ruse attended. While he had never met Brendan, Ruse had been praying for him.

Brendan was born to a devout Catholic family in Virginia. His parents, Frank and Maura, met while working in the George H.W. Bush White House in 1990.

Brendan was born with Down syndrome, and a seemingly innate love for Jesus. By the age of two, he loved to kiss crucifixes and statues of saints.

It was also at that age that a test confirmed Brendan had leukemia. He began a series of intense and painful treatments that would become an off-and-on part of the rest of his life.

“But along with the suffering would come countless graces,” Ruse noted.

One of the biggest graces was the “mystical” friendship that Brendan would develop with the pope at the time, Pope John Paul II.

Former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a family friend, personally delivered a photo of Brendan to Pope John Paul II while on a state visit to the Vatican. Once Brendan found out the pope was praying for him personally, he started praying for the pope personally too - every night.

Some time later, Brendan was offered a wish from the Make a Wish Foundation, the group that grants wishes to very sick children - typically a visit to Disneyland, or something along those lines.

But Brendan wanted something different.

“Me meet pope!” the toddler exclaimed. The Make-a-Wish officials were not convinced that this request was coming from the little boy, and so they shooed his parents out of the room. After an hour of questioning, Brendan didn’t waiver.

And so he did meet the pope - at the age of four, Brendan was granted an audience with Pope John Paul II. Not satisfied with the standard brief meeting and shaking of hands, Brendan stood by Pope John Paul II as he greeted everyone in the audience that day. As the pope was leaving, Brendan shouted “Bye, Pope!” and was able to shake hands one last time with the spiritual giant and his personal hero.

Other incredible moments of grace and signs of God’s presence occurred throughout Brendan’s short life. On one occasion, one of Frank’s friends, Peter O’Malley, was in the midst of a terrorist attack at Taj Mahal Palace in 2008.

In his moment of crisis, O’Malley knew who to call for prayers. Brendan prayed, and O’Malley escaped unharmed that night, when 164 people were shot.

His parish priest, Father Drummond, said he was first struck by Brendan’s faith and “absolute joy” as he was preparing him for communion and confession. When Father told him he would get to wear the black and white vestments of an altar boy, “He got a faraway look in his eyes and said quietly, ‘I love those’.”
 
Throughout his short life, Brendan would suffer bouts of leukemia, and grueling treatments. Before each one, his parents would ask him for whom he would offer his suffering - and he always had an intention.

One of his most frequent intentions was Bella Santorum, Rick Santorum’s daughter, who was born with a rare genetic disorder, Trisomy 18. She was only supposed to live a few months, but Brendan offered his suffering for her throughout his entire life. “Bella, I love you,” he would repeat during moments of pain. She is still alive today, some nine years longer than she was expected to live.

“(Brendan) very early on grabbed onto the idea of offering up his suffering, and he always would do it cheerfully, even though it was unbelievably painful, or it made him incredibly sick, he just knew that throwing up for the tenth time, this time is going to be for somebody, and it was useful,” Frank told CNA.

At the same time, he was a normal boy. He didn’t want to be sick, he loved to play with his siblings and be the life of the party. And he could school anyone in trivia from his favorite T.V. show “The Office.” He could name the season and the episode of any quote from Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute that his family could lob at him.

And so, when sick from leukemia and quarantined for a bone marrow transplant as a teenager, Brendan and his family played office trivia through a small, grainy T.V. - the only way they could communicate during the sterile procedure. Soon a crowd of doctors and nurses joined in the fun.

But it was his profound faith and joyful personality that impacted almost everyone he met, and that drew people to him.

“He wasn’t just this always smiley, (disabled) little child,” Frank said. “He would have very profound conversations with people, and say things that would profoundly impact people.”

When he passed away in 2013, at the age of 16, the line at his wake had to be cut short after three hours of people filing past to pay their final respects to Brendan.

“We had to go outside and thank everybody because it was too long, and there was almost an equal number of people at the funeral Mass the next day,” Frank said.

Since that day, they’ve had hundreds of requests for prayer cards of Brendan.

Frank said it has been a “surreal” experience to have a child whose impact is so great that there are people asking for his prayers.

He said he hopes that people who read Brendan’s story and are experiencing suffering themselves understand that they are never alone.

“Brendan never felt alone, and he knew that people were praying for him, starting with Pope John Paul II to the builders who were working on our house, to people he never knew,” Frank said. Even people in other countries who had never met Brendan had offered their prayers.  

A witness amid the ‘culture of death’

Another suffering soul, Margaret Leo, also had a dad who worked in the Washington, D.C. political scene. Leonard Leo is the executive vice president of the Federalist Society - a law organization to which several federal and Supreme Court justices belong. He also worked for President George W. Bush’s administration at one time.

Though Margaret suffered throughout her life from spina bifida and related complications, she bore everything with a cheerful smile and a simple but profound faith. Her photo now sits on the desk of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ruse names the people impacted by these suffering souls in his book intentionally.

These were not peasant children, like Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Ruse noted, and that’s important.

“They were born into influence and affluence, into a modern day (moral) desert, and they have a message for the modern day desert - all lives are worth living, there are no useless lives, even short, painful lives have a great deal of meaning,” Ruse said.

“We live in an age that people call the culture of death, aimed largely at the defenseless: children, the elderly, the disabled, the intellectually disabled, and these children are witnesses to the fact that all lives are worth living, even ones that are judged not to be worth living.”



It’s something that Margaret’s mom, Sally, hopes that people understand as they read her daughter’s story.

“Especially because such a high percentage of children with spina bifida and other disabilities are aborted these days, and we barely even ever see them,” she told CNA.

“If that wasn’t the case, we would see these kids walking around, we would see kids with braces or crutches or Down syndrome all the time, but 80-90 percent of them are killed, they’re not even given the chance.”

But in Sally’s experience, “It was a gift.”

Margaret taught them about faith and love in the simplest of ways. She gently pestered her dad until he became a daily Mass attendee. She would ask people when they were going to baptize their new baby, or if they had been confirmed.

“Her faith would invariably come up in any discussion that was more the perfunctory, and it would have an impact on people,” her father, Leonard, told CNA.

But she wasn’t a mystic, her parents insist. She just had a strong attraction to holy and beautiful things, and an intense but simple joy that was attractive to those around her. She loved coloring, and being involved in her siblings’ antics, and holding babies.  

“In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily go away thinking, ‘Oh wow, I just met a saint.’ But she would say to you, ‘Hi, how are you? How was your day? How was your birthday? When’s your confirmation?’ She wanted to know about you, which was really what touched people most about her, because you don’t necessarily find that among strangers,” Sally said.

“Charity and kindness and friendship, but at its most pure and most intense level,” Leonard added.

Margaret’s spina bifida meant that she had to have titanium rods placed in her back to straighten her spine. But instead, Margaret’s back bent the titanium rods - so much so that they ended up protruding from her neck. Despite it all, Margaret did not complain.

“It’s ok,” she would cheerfully say, even when it was clear that it was not.

Today, Leonard keeps the rods on his desk - “to remind me what a real bad day looks like.”  

After Margaret passed away and her story spread, the Leos were surprised at the impact their simple but faithful little girl was having on the people around them. When Ruse published an article about Margaret, they received hundreds of requests for a prayer card of her.  

What continues to draw people to Margaret is how she suffered with joy and trust in God, Leonard said.

“I think at some level that when we’re faced with adversity and suffering, we wish that we could be filled with joy, and we could be able to confront it in a way that brings us closer to God and closer to other people, and make the very best of it,” he said.

“And so when you saw her, it was impossible not to be reminded of the fact that we should be filled with joy, we should be thankful to God. As her tombstone says, we should be praying and thanking God without ceasing.”

Tears of inspiration

The third contemporary little suffering soul whose story Ruse tells is that of Audrey from France.

Although her parents were lukewarm Catholics when she was born, Audrey was “spiritually precocious” from a young age.

She practiced mortification by carrying home her school pencils in her shoe. She begged to receive Holy Communion at the age of five. Upon examining her, her priest found her ready to do so, because she understood that Holy Communion is Jesus, “And I want to receive Jesus.” She insisted that her family say grace before meals and a prayer for vocations every night.

She was also sure from a young age that she had a Carmelite vocation, “Caramel” as the little girl pronounced it.

This surprising faith scared Lillian, Audrey’s mom, who wasn’t sure where Audrey was getting her ideas.

“Follow her,” a priest told Lillian.

But she was also scared that her daughter’s spiritual maturity meant great trials were ahead - and they were. At a very young age, Audrey was diagnosed with leukemia.



When Lillian broke the news to Audrey, “She got this very wise, very gentle sort of look” and told her mother that they were “going to do what Jesus says. We’re going to be like the birds in the sky, and we’re just going to take one day at a time.”

“I can’t say that without weeping,” Ruse said.

And indeed, “Littlest Suffering Souls” is a book that will make you weep. But not in a sad way.

“We’re not crying out of sadness, we’re crying out of inspiration,” Ruse said.

“They’re neither tears of joy nor sadness, they’re some other kind of tear, that I don’t have the name for, but it’s just being moved by these inspiring stories.”

Audrey battled leukemia for several years, and, like Brendan, made it on the personal prayer list of Pope John Paul II after her dad was able to hand him a photo of her.

Audrey too offered her sufferings for specific intentions, and, like Brendan, people began flooding her with prayer requests. She had a special heart for vocations, and prayed especially for her Uncle Mick - who is now a priest today.

A bone marrow transplant for Audrey eventually proved ineffective. Knowing she was near death, her family took her to Lourdes, and then to Rome, where she was able to meet Pope John Paul II.   

They spoke together for several minutes, captured by a photo of Audrey’s swollen head next to the bent-down head of the now-Saint.

While no one knows what was said between the two of them, for the rest of the day, John Paul II could be heard around the Vatican muttering her name: “Audrey, Audrey, Audrey.”

She also asked to be confirmed, and insisted that the party be an “elegant” event - one of her favorite words, but one that she meant in beautiful simplicity, rather than extravagance.

In her final weeks, which she was able to spend at home, Audrey spent hours in the family’s chapel, where the bishop had allowed them to keep the blessed sacrament. She told her grandma that she spent her days praying and waiting.

She passed away at 3 p.m., the hour of mercy, on August 22, 1991, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. Her father Jerome had prayed she would pass away on a Marian feast day.

Audrey’s cause for canonization has been opened, and her story has spread throughout France and indeed throughout the world. Seminarians pray for her intercession for their vocations. A Carmelite convent in Spain has her First Communion dress on display, with permission of the family.

Lessons learned

The suffering of children is a difficult subject, but one that captures the attention of all, Ruse said.

“It seems to us to be profoundly unfair that children suffer, and that’s a common human reaction,” he reflected.

“Moreover, the reaction of these particular children to their suffering and maladies is confounding to those of us who cannot even handle the simple contradictions of the day very well,” he said.

“The simplest things can vex us, and yet these are kids who had bone marrow transplants and while they had them, Audrey was singing songs to Mary, and Brendan was offering his suffering for others - they’re just astounding.”

At the end of his book, Ruse offers what he believes are several lessons that can be learned from the stories of little suffering souls - forbearance, simplicity, a love for God, particularly in the Eucharist.

Moreover, he said, we learn that each life has dignity.

“Our modern man might see a child suffering from leukemia who has died young and see nothing but a misbegotten tragedy, a life with no meaning,” he wrote.

“In the simplest terms, modern man is wrong. The Littlest Suffering Souls stand as witnesses to the proposition that all human life has meaning and dignity, even and especially those lives we may not fully understand.”

Who is Callista Gingrich? The woman set to be new Vatican ambassador

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 13:31

Washington D.C., May 16, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump has chosen Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, according to reports.

Callista Gingrich is the president of both Gingrich Productions in Arlington, Va. and the charitable non-profit Gingrich Foundation, and is a former Congressional aide.

She is also a long-time member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and explained, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic.com, how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.

He noted that he had attended Masses at the National Shrine where Callista sang in the choir, and she “created an environment where I could gradually think and evolve on the issue of faith.”

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2011, he also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to the U.S. as a “moment of confirmation” for him. At vespers with the Pope, where Callista sang in the Shrine choir, Newt recalled thinking that “here is where I belong.”

The couple worked on a documentary together that was released in 2010, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” that focused on Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland when the former Soviet bloc country was under a communist government.

The documentary explained how the Pope invigorated the faith of the Polish people in Jesus Christ during his pilgrimage there, and how the visit precipitated the fall of Communism.

In an Easter message posted on the website of Gingrich Productions, the couple noted that “we should remember the many threats facing Christians today,” including “a growing secularism, which seeks to place human desires ahead of God and His will,” and “radical Islamism” that “seeks to destroy Christianity across the globe.”

“But in the face of this evil, we remember the words of Saint John Paul II, who throughout his papacy urged us to, ‘Be not afraid’,” the statement continued.

As ambassador, Gingrich would follow Ken Hackett, the former head of Catholic Relief Services who served during President Obama’s second term as president.

In a January interview with CNA, Hackett opined that there would be areas of difference and of collaboration between the U.S. and the Holy See under the Trump administration.

One of the possible areas of tension might be on immigration and refugees, as Trump criticized Pope Francis on the campaign trail in 2016 after the Pope said a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border and urged everyone to pray for conversion of hearts over the suffering of forced migration.

Trump, who repeatedly promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it, said last February that the Pope was a “pawn” of the Mexican government and “is a very political person, I think he doesn't understand the problems our country has.”

He also issued an executive order shutting down refugee admissions for four months at a time when Pope Francis has taken in refugees and U.S. bishops have called for the country to continue accepting refugees fleeing violence.

Meanwhile, there are other possible areas of collaboration between the U.S. and the Holy See, Hackett said in January, including on human trafficking, peace in the Middle East, a solution to the worsening crisis in Venezuela, and efforts to alleviate global poverty.

President Trump and Pope Francis will meet at the Vatican on May 24.

 

Free speech protects printer from promoting gay pride fest, Ky. court rules

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 02:02

Lexington, Ky., May 16, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Backers of a print shop owner who declined to print gay pride T-shirts because of his religious beliefs praised a Kentucky court’s decision that his free speech rights protect him from a discrimination complaint.

“Americans should always have the freedom to believe, the freedom to express those beliefs, and the freedom to not express ideas that would violate their conscience,” said Jim Campbell, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. “Today’s decision is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages.”

The case concerned Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, a small print shop in Lexington, Ky.

“I want God to find joy in what we do and how we work, how we treat our employees, and the messages we print,” said Adamson. “So if someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to help promote something,’ I can’t promote something that I know goes against what pleases Him.”

Adamson has declined to create T-shirts that promote strip clubs, violence, and sexually explicit videos. He has served other clients regardless of sexual orientation.

In 2012 the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization asked him to print shirts for the local gay pride festival. He said he could not support the event and referred the organization to other printers.

The group filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban Country Human Rights Commission. The commission ruled that Blaine had violated a local anti-discrimination ordinance and ordered him to attend diversity training.

Blaine’s legal challenge to the commission won a favorable decision in Fayette Circuit Court, a ruling which was upheld by the Kentucky Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision May 12.

“The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property,” said appellate court’s Chief Judge Joy Kramer, UPI reports.

The judge said the shop offers the service of promoting messages but its decision not to promote certain conduct was “pure speech.”

Judge Jeff Taylor, writing in a dissent, said the ruling would make the anti-discrimination ordinance meaningless.

Other backers of Blaine included the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief in the case.

“It doesn’t matter what the speech is – pro-gay, anti-gay, pro-immigration, anti-immigration – the government can’t force you to print it,” Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund, said May 12.

“Free speech is most important on the most divisive issues,” he said. “That is the last place the government should ever be allowed to demand conformity.”

Some anti-discrimination laws have placed heavy fines on some businesses involved in weddings, including florists and cake bakers, if they declined to aid in same-sex ceremonies.

Such laws have also shut down Catholic adoption agencies.

Trump administration expands pro-life Mexico City Policy

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 18:23

Washington D.C., May 15, 2017 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin implementing an expanded Mexico City Policy, which pro-life leaders hailed as a key step to curtailing abortion funding.

The expansion means that more forms of foreign funding will be directed to go to organizations that do not perform or support abortions overseas.

“With the implementation of Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, we have officially ceased exporting abortion to foreign nations,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the announcement on Monday.

Back in January, President Donald Trump reinstated the “Mexico City Policy” which prohibits U.S. funding of non-government organizations that perform or promote abortions, through family planning funds.

The repeal or reinstatement of that policy is typically one of the first actions a new president takes once in office, and is usually a sign of their support for abortion or for the pro-life cause during their presidential term.

The policy was begun by Ronald Reagan in 1984, repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstated by George W. Bush in 2001, repealed by Barack Obama in 2009, and again reinstated by President Trump in January, on the same week that Vice President Mike Pence addressed the March for Life in person.

However, Trump also instructed the Secretary of State to expand the Mexico City Policy. Now, Secretary Rex Tillerson has released the plan to put this expansion into action. Entitled “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” the plan extends the ban on funding of abortion supporters to other forms of foreign aid like global health assistance.

In a press release, the State Department explained that this ban on funding of abortion supporters would apply to “international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, malaria, global health security, and family planning and reproductive health.”

All in all, $8.8 billion in foreign aid would be covered under the expanded policy, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List said.

However, some funding would not be affected by the stipulations, the State Department said.

Funding not affected by the policy change would include “global health assistance to national or local governments, public international organizations, and other similar multilateral entities,” along with “humanitarian assistance, including State Department migration and refugee-assistance activities, USAID disaster and humanitarian-relief activities, and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) disaster and humanitarian relief.”

The overall amount of foreign aid would not be cut under the policy, the State Department insisted, and “funding previously obligated will not be affected as a result of this policy.”

“The United States remains deeply committed to supporting health programs around the world,” the agency stated.

Pro-life leaders applauded the Trump administration for expanding the Mexico City Policy.

“This humane policy seeks to respect and protect the precious lives of unborn girls and boys from the violence of abortion,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said.

The policy change “simply ensures our hard-earned tax dollars are used by other health care entities that act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion,” Dannenfelser said. “Abortion is not health care.”

 

North Korean defector: Despite horrific persecution, Christianity is growing

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 18:03

Washington D.C., May 14, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Although the North Korean government is doing everything it can to suppress Christianity, the faith continues to spread, said a defector and missionary who called for prayers and action to increase religious freedom in the country.

“It is my prayer that all the international Christian communities will pray for those North Korean Christians to really help and engage them to spread the Gospel, not only through the works of the underground Church network, but also through the government and request for this religious freedom that they are earnestly praying for,” Kim Chung-seong, a North Korean defector, told reporters through a translator on Friday.

Kim is a Christian missionary, and spoke at the first annual World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. The summit was held on May 11-12 and featured Christian religious leaders from Protestant denominations, Orthodox churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. Persecuted Christians themselves were also present to give their testimonies.

Overall, Christians from around 130 countries and territories were represented at the summit, as well as representatives of Christian advocacy groups like Open Doors USA and Voice of the Martyrs. The summit was hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Vice President Mike Pence delivered the keynote address on Thursday, and pledged that “protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.” He promised his prayers and support for persecuted Christians everywhere, as well as support for members of other faiths persecuted for their beliefs. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. gave a keynote address on Friday.

Kim, who also spoke at the summit, is now part of a daily Christian radio program in South Korea, broadcasting Christian material into parts of North Korea. Kim came to South Korea in 2004, according to Reuters.

Along with his radio program, part of the Far East Broadcasting Company, he also helps send Gospel messages, Christian music, and world news smuggled into North Korea through USB drives and SD memory cards, he said.

“However, the most important work is to fill the North Korean peoples’ minds with Jesus Christ, because the truth will set you free,” he said on Friday. “It’s my earnest prayer that the truth will set each of my North Korean brothers and sisters free.”

The Communist dictatorship of North Korea is regarded as among the worst human rights violators in the world. “Freedom of religion or belief does not exist and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in its 2017 annual report.

“The North Korean government relentlessly persecutes and punishes religious believers through arrest, torture, imprisonment, and sometimes execution,” USCIRF stated. “Once imprisoned, religious believers typically are sent to political prison camps where they are treated with extraordinary cruelty.”

The group Open Doors UK in a recent report said North Korea is the “worst place on earth for Christians” because the totalitarian state does not tolerate dissenters, forcing everyone to worship the country’s leader, currently Kim Jong-un.

There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst a population of 25.4 million there, and an estimated 50-75,000 Christians are in the country’s labor camps, Open Doors claimed.

After Christian missionaries entered the country and began to spread the Gospel, “they were all blacklisted and red-flagged” by the government, Kim Chung-seong said, and “more than half of them are in hard labor prison camps throughout the country.”

Yet despite poor conditions and the threat of imprisonment, the number of Christian believers in North Korea is growing, Kim said, and their faith is strengthened through persecution.

“The one thing that the North Korean regime fears the most, and is afraid of, is the spreading of the Gospel,” he said. “Because the Bible and the Gospel speaks the truth. Once the light shines in the dark room, there is light in the room.”

When Christians gather for prayer or worship, “it’s on a family level” to avoid detection by authorities, Kim said. Christians leave their houses and “we retreat either to the riverside, the mountainside, somewhere remote.”

“We cannot go into any building,” he added.

The government uses a “façade” network – the Korea Christian Association – to discover who Christians are in the country, and many “are taught to believe that this Korean Christian Association is real,” he said. The association also delivers “falsified information” to the international community to pretend like there is religious freedom and religious pluralism in North Korea.

“They [the government] will do anything to prevent the spread of the Gospel in North Korea. [But] as you can see, we cannot block the sunlight with our hand,” Kim said.

He asked for prayers for the Christians in North Korea, especially for “this freedom that we can find in Jesus Christ.”

“And please pray for the two nations to be unified,” he implored.

New pledge aims to amplify Catholic opposition to death penalty

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., May 14, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A Catholic pledge against the death penalty cites Pope Francis’ stand as a motive to increase Catholic action against capital punishment.

“Catholics and all like-minded individuals need to sign it; it is a pledge that will go about urging people to educate, advocate, and pray for an end to capital punishment,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida said.

The bishop, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told a press call May 11 that he had signed the anti-death penalty pledge from the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Bishop Dewane said the pledge will encourage parish priests to talk more about the death penalty.

“It is a matter of life, so they need to be talking about it,” he said.

Pope Francis’ comments on the death penalty feature prominently in the pledge.

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to fight…for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms,” the Pope said in Oct. 23, 2014 remarks to the International Association of Penal Law.

The pledge commits the signer to educate himself or herself and the community about the death penalty’s injustices, “including the ways it risks innocent life, fails victims’ families, and contradicts the Catholic Church’s pro-life teaching.”

The signer pledges to advocate for the dignity of all life and to be “actively working to end the death penalty in my state and in my country.” The signer also pledges to pray “for mercy and healing for all who are involved in the criminal justice system.”

Among the other backers of the pledge is Marietta Jaeger-Lane, whose daughter was murdered in 1973. She rejected claims that the death penalty brings closure to victims’ families.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about God’s idea of justice. When I see Jesus’ life in Scripture, I see someone who came to heal us, to restore the life that has been lost to us,” she said. “I have signed this pledge, and I believe that the Catholic community can be the one to end the death penalty.”

Karen Clifton, the Catholic Mobilizing Network’s executive director, said the network launched the pledge “to amplify the Church’s work to end the death penalty.” She said there is growing opposition to the death penalty, especially following the April executions in Arkansas, where the governor tried to execute eight men in 11 days, and ended up executing four of them.

Clifton said the effort amplifies Pope Francis’ call while continuing the work of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network is a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

The pledge is located at http://catholicsmobilizing.org/pledge.

Latest migrant tragedy prompts call to address root problem

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 20:36

Washington D.C., May 11, 2017 / 06:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After hundreds more migrants perished last weekend in the deadly Mediterranean passage to Europe, one Catholic expert insisted that the root causes of migration need to be addressed.

“The real tragedy is that these deaths are preventable,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services.

“We need to ensure safe passage for all refugees and migrants, but also address the reasons people are migrating in the first place,” he stressed.

The United Nations’ refugee arm reported on Tuesday that 245 were feared dead or missing from two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend, adding to an already steep death toll for migrants headed for Europe from North Africa.

One of the boats carrying migrants, a rubber dinghy, sank on Friday with 132 on board, and “some 50 people were rescued” while 82 others “are feared dead or missing,” the U.N. Human Rights Council said.

Meanwhile, another ship sank off the coast of Libya on Sunday. Seven people were reportedly rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard, while 163 others were feared dead or missing.

Overall, more than 1,300 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in 2017, the UNHRC said, while “over 43,000 refugees and asylum seekers have used the Central Mediterranean route to reach Italy,” including over 6,000 just last weekend.

Conditions on the boats have become even more dangerous than before, as migrants face overcrowding on small crafts along with other perils.

“I am profoundly shocked by the violence used by some smugglers,” Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, stated on Sunday. He added that crowding on the ships – and the conditions of the ships themselves – are serious concerns.

“The increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, with an average of 100 to 150 people, are also alarming and the main cause of shipwrecks, and risks are increased by the worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones,” Grandi stated.

For migrants headed to Europe from sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean Sea crossing is not the only perilous aspect of journey north. Some don’t even make it to the coast but are trapped and sold as slaves in Libya and Niger, according to the International Organization for Migration and reported by Al Jazeera.

Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva, stated back in April that migrants have “become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

The migration routes to Europe are deadly, but there’s a serious reason why people are still choosing to make this trip, O’Keefe explained.

“Poverty, conflict, unresponsive governments, and climate change are driving millions of people from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to seek safety and opportunity in Europe,” he said.

“The US must do more to negotiate solutions to conflict, fund programs to fight hunger and poverty, and help the poor adapt to climate change.”

 

 

Vice President Pence to persecuted Christians: 'We stand with you'

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:27

Washington D.C., May 11, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday pledged his prayers and support for persecuted Christians around the globe, as well as members of other religions who are persecuted for their beliefs.

“Your faith inspires me, it humbles me, and it inspires all who are looking on today.” Pence said, speaking to persecuted Christians including Fr. Douglas Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iraq who survived a 2006 kidnapping and torture before ministering to Christian refugees fleeing ISIS in 2014.

“On behalf of the President of the United States, I say from my heart,” Pence continued, “we’re with you, we stand with you.”

The vice president on May 11 addressed the first annual World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Washington, D.C.

The summit brings together Christian leaders and groups from all over the world, including clerics of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches, current and former members of Congress, and representatives of Open Doors USA, Samaritan’s Purse, and the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.

It was meant to bring attention to the plight of persecuted Christians and advocate for their rights in countries where they are targeted or harassed for their beliefs. In attendance were persecuted Christians from 130 countries.

Pence honored Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, from the stage on Thursday. He also honored Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk of the Russian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

“Each one of you bears witness to the power of truth to transform lives,” Pence told them.

The summit was held at a time when millions of Christians face violence, harassment, and imprisonment in over 100 countries. Pence noted recent Palm Sunday bombings of Coptic churches in Egypt and the destruction of churches in Iraq as examples.

“I believe that ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against people of the Christian faith, and it is time the world called it by name,” he said.

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk of the Russian Orthodox Church, chair of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, also addressed the summit on Thursday.

The 21st century has brought a “new vast wave of persecution of Christians,” he said, “particularly severe in those countries where the dominant religion is Islam.”

“Yet the persecutors are not those moderate Muslims,” he added, “but extremists and terrorists hiding behind Islamic slogans and Islamic rhetoric.”

He called on “Islamic leaders throughout the world to condemn terrorism as something that contradicts the teachings of the Koran,” asking “may this clear and precise condemnation resound from the lips” of leaders of countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

Metropolitan Hilarion also pointed to the Middle East and North Africa as areas where Christians are especially targeted, and lie “in the pathway of the political and/or economic interests of those forces who are not afraid to use terrorists in pursuit of their goals, pretending that they are fighting for freedom and democracy.”

Inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue is key to the international community uniting to aid persecuted Christians, he insisted.

A need for action

Pence pledged his prayers and the support of the Trump administration for persecuted Christians. And this support extends to persons of all faiths who are targeted because of their beliefs, he continued.

“Rest assured, in the Middle East, North Africa, anywhere terror strikes, America stands with those who are targeted and tormented for their belief, whether they are Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Sunni, or any other creed, the president’s commitment to protecting people of faith,” he said.

“Adherents of other religions across the world have not been spared [persecution],” he added, “and we will speak and pray for them as well. For as history attests, persecution of one faith is ultimately persecution of all faiths.”

However, his pledge comes as religious freedom advocates have decried the absence of prominent administrative positions that promote religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy and advocate for persecuted religious minorities.

The Lantos Foundation recently sent a letter to President Trump asking him to “move swiftly” and nominate an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, as well as a Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting anti-Semitism. These two positions have remained vacant since Trump took office.

“The perilous state of religious freedom around the globe confirms the wisdom of America’s leaders in creating a legal framework for addressing these abuses and ensuring that our foreign policy remains focused on protecting and advancing these fundamental rights,” the foundation insisted, saying the ambassador and Special Envoy positions “are absolutely critical components of the legal framework.”

President Obama did not nominate an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom until over a year after he took office. When his first ambassador, Suzan Johnson Cook, stepped down in 2013, no other ambassador was nominated until July of 2014, with Rabbi David Saperstein who served for the rest of Obama’s term.

Russia has also drawn serious concerns for its religious freedom abuses.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom just noted, in its 2017 annual report, that “in mainland Russia in 2016, new laws effectively criminalized all private religious speech not sanctioned by the state, the Jehovah’s Witnesses stand on the verge of a nationwide ban, and innocent Muslims were tried on fabricated charges of terrorism and extremism.”

Russia’s restrictive laws were reportedly an impetus for the World Summit moving from Moscow to Washington, D.C., Deseret News reported.

Rev. Franklin Graham noted on Thursday that the summit was originally set to be in Moscow, where Christians suffered greatly under Communism. However, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reportedly moved the location from Moscow to Washington, D.C. last year.

 

 

 

Texas House passes conscience protections for foster care system

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 14:43

Austin, Texas, May 11, 2017 / 12:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic groups have welcomed the Texas House of Representatives’ passage Wednesday of a bill that would provide conscience protections for groups and individuals involved in the foster care system.

“When this becomes law, Catholic Charities will be able to bring our expertise and resources to the aid of some of our most desperate and needy children,” said Sara Ramirez, CEO for Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

“We are willing to return to the field and work side-by-side with all people of good will so that no child is further traumatized by an inadequate foster care system,” she said in a statement from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

The 93-49 vote on May 10, largely along party lines, sends the bill to the Senate, where a similar version has been stalled in committee, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The bill would allow organizations and individuals in Texas’ foster care system who have sincerely held religious beliefs to remove themselves from actions that would directly violate their faith.

Its multiple applications would allow groups to avoid helping a minor obtain an abortion or providing foster services, including child placement, to same-sex couples.

Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, supported the bill.

“We look forward to a swift approval by the Senate and the Governor’s signature, as this is a critical element of the foster care system reform,” she said.

Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities Houston, said the conscience protections will “enable pastors to encourage loving families to be part of a caring network for these children” and will allow faith-based providers to be involved with Texas family protection service “without worrying that potential lawsuits will take limited resources away from the people we should be helping.”

Bill sponsor State Rep. James Frank, a Republican from Wichita Falls, said the bill aimed “to give quick, clear certainty to providers so they can take care of children instead of fighting lawsuits.”

“We need everyone to the table to help with the foster care situation,” he said.

Bill opponents have characterized it as a license to discriminate that would favor Christian beliefs over others. They objected that it would allow foster parents the right to deny contraceptives and abortion or medical care like vaccines to their children if these are against their religious beliefs.

Rep. Mary Gonzalez objected to the bill, saying tax dollars “should never be used to discriminate against any Texan.”

In other states and the District of Columbia, long-serving Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down by laws against sexual orientation discrimination or new requirements in state funding that would have required them to place children with same-sex couples.

Trump nominee wrote on Catholic judges and the death penalty

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 02:00

South Bend, Ind., May 11, 2017 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the newly announced federal judges selected by President Donald Trump is a Catholic law professor who once co-wrote a law review article on Catholic judges sitting over death penalty cases.

“Catholic judges must answer some complex moral and legal questions in deciding whether to sit in death penalty cases,” Professor Amy Coney Barrett of Notre Dame Law School wrote in an article published in the Marquette Law Review in 1998.

Barrett was nominated on Monday by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, one of nine nominations to federal courts made by the president. Other picks included Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Justice Joan Larsen of Michigan’s Supreme Court.

Barrett clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and teaches law at the University of Notre Dame. She has twice been honored as “Distinguished Professor of the Year.”

In 2015, ahead of the Ordinary Synod on the Family, she signed a “letter to synod fathers from Catholic women” that upheld Church teaching on marriage, family, and the human person, and decried “ideological colonization.”

“We see the teachings of the Church as truth – a source of authentic freedom, equality, and happiness for women,” the letter stated. “We stand in solidarity with our sisters in the developing world against what Pope Francis has described as ‘forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family’ and which exalt the pursuit of ‘success, riches, and power at all costs’.”

In a 2006 address to law school students, she exhorted them to make it their “life project to know, love, and serve the God who made you.”

In a 1998, Barrett, along with colleague John Garvey – who would later become dean of Boston College’s law school and president of The Catholic University of America – wrote about the moral conundrum Catholic judges face when presiding over capital cases.

These judges, they wrote, “are obliged by oath, professional commitment, and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty. They are also obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters.”

Both Barrett and Garvey cited Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” in the article, which explored the culpability of Catholic judges in capital cases, where they either chose a death sentence for a defendant or affirmed the jury’s decision in favor of a death sentence.

The article cited from “Evangelium Vitae,” from statements by the U.S. bishops’ conference, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, and from other Catholic thinkers and theologians.

First, the authors explored the morality of the death penalty itself. There is no “absolute” prohibition on the death penalty as there is against abortion and euthanasia in Church teaching, they said.

At the time, the new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had been released, citing the teaching on the death penalty from “Evangelium Vitae,” which said that the death penalty may only be used by society when no other means exists of enforcing justice and protecting the citizenry.

With regards to criminal justice, “the primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is ‘to redress the disorder caused by the offence’, Pope John Paul II wrote, adding that there must be “an adequate punishment for the crime.”

However, he continued, the punishment “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

“The appeal to general deterrence is a claim that we should do evil for the good that may come of it, and that is an impermissible suggestion,” Barrett (then Amy Coney) and Garvey wrote in 1998 of appeals to the death penalty for “deterrence” of future crime.

Regarding the use of capital punishment to ensure security, prisons in the U.S. have the ability to securely detain criminals from harming society again, they wrote, and arguments in favor of the death penalty here “will work only in parts of the world far less developed than the United States.”

Then the authors explored the question of the culpability of Catholic judges who preside over capital cases in the U.S., judges who might have to affirm or issue death sentences despite the statements of the pope and bishops against use of the death penalty except in rare cases which might not even apply in the U.S.

For instance, a judge who issues a death sentence based upon the recommendation of the jury “is a straightforward case of formal cooperation, one in which the judge sets the wheels of injustice in motion,” they wrote.

“Once the judge enters the order, the government is authorized – indeed unless there is a pardon, bound – to put the defendant to death,” they explained. “And the judge intends that this should happen.”

A judge would also engage in formal cooperation in cases without a jury, where he selects the sentence.

“The moral problem with suspending judgment in a capital sentencing hearing is like this. It would be wrong for a judge to place himself at the service of evil by getting in a position to go where events may take him,” they wrote.

For a judge to preside over a “guilty” hearing, however, before a sentence is considered, that would be “morally justified,” they said.

On an appeals court, a judge considering a conviction in order to determine “the fairness of a trial” is “on balance,” a “material cooperation that is morally acceptable.” However, his act of affirming or remanding the lower court’s decision that includes the sentence of death “has some room to affect the defendant’s fate,” they added. “To affirm the sentence is not to approve it, but to say that the trial court did its job.”

However, that might not be how it appears in public, as many would see an appeals court’s affirmation of a death sentence as its approval, possibly causing “scandal.”

“Considerations like this make it exceedingly difficult to pass moral judgment on the appellate review of sentencing,” the authors wrote.

However, they continued, if Catholic judges have moral qualms against issuing death sentences, are they obliged to recuse themselves from such cases?

In a capital case where a jury recommends death, “there is no way the judge can do his job and obey his conscience,” they wrote. “The judge’s conscience tells him to impose a life sentence; federal law directs him to impose death.” Thus, federal law “directs him to disqualify himself,” and this should happen “before the [sentencing] hearing, not after it.”

Catholic judges should also recuse themselves in cases without a jury where they can give death sentences, for “if a judge cannot honestly consider death as a possibility, he is ‘prejudiced,’” according to federal law, “and should recuse himself.”

However, when considering cases of guilt and not capital sentences, Catholic judges can sit on such cases if their “objective is to deal justly with the defendant.” They would be finding if someone is guilty of murder, not whether they should receive a death sentence. In appeals court cases, however, “if one cannot in conscience affirm a death sentence the proper response is to recuse oneself,” they wrote.

In conclusion, they wrote, “judges cannot – nor should they try to – align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard.”

 

Minn. bishop rejects claim he pressured alleged abuse victim

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:12

Crookston, Minn., May 10, 2017 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minn. has rejected a lawsuit’s assertion that he coerced a deacon candidate into renouncing his claim that a priest sexually abused him as a teen.

Ronald Vasek has filed a lawsuit against the bishop and the Diocese of Crookston seeking both unspecified damages exceeding $50,000 and the release of records of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, Reuters reports. Vasek has claimed that the bishop threatened the man’s efforts to become a deacon and his son’s career in the priesthood.

“Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek not to pursue his allegations,” the diocese said, adding that the bishop and other leaders are “deeply saddened and troubled” by the allegations.

Vasek charged that in 1971, at the age of 16, he was molested during a trip to Cincinnati by Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, a priest of the diocese who went on to become vicar general. The trip was for a meeting of canon lawyers, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

He reportedly informed a priest about the abuse in 2009 or 2010, while he was considering becoming a deacon. The lawsuit said the information was passed on to Bishop Hoeppner.

According to the diocese, the allegation of abuse was reported to law enforcement in 2011. Msgr. Grundhaus has been retired since July 2010 and is presently suspended from active ministry.

“The Diocese of Crookston plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter,” said the diocese, adding that further comment would be inappropriate until the investigation is completed.

In 2010, Vasek’s son was ordained a priest for the diocese. Vasek entered the diaconate program the next year.

The lawsuit charges that in 2015, Bishop Hoeppner pressured Vasek to sign a letter that recanted his previous statements alleging sexual abuse. The lawsuit claims this was motivated in part because the accused priest was unable to minister in other dioceses due to the abuse allegation in the diocese’s records.

The suit charges that the bishop told Vasek he would have trouble ordaining him a deacon unless he recanted. The bishop allegedly suggested Vasek’s son’s career in the priesthood would also face difficulty.

Vasek said he signed the letter and the bishop said he would keep it in his vault if it were ever needed. He claims that the bishop was blackmailing him.

The lawsuit further claims that a 2015 court order required the allegation against Msgr. Grundhaus to be made public, but it was not.

Vasek’s attorney is Jeff Anderson, who has been involved in many lawsuits against the Catholic Church involving sex abuse allegations.

Father Bob Schreiner, who oversees the diocese’s deacon program, stood by Vasek’s side at a May 9 news conference and said he believed him. The priest has known Vasek for over 28 years.

The diocese said it is committed to the protection of children and a safe environment in its schools, communities and parishes. Its statement encouraged anyone with information about abuse or exploitation of children or young people to report it immediately to law enforcement or to the diocese’s victims’ assistance coordinator.

Bishop Hoeppner has asked for prayers for those involved.

 

 

 

Looking to Fatima, Pennsylvania bishops to dedicate dioceses to Mary

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:08

Philadelphia, Pa., May 10, 2017 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania will dedicate each Catholic diocese and eparchy in the state to the Virgin Mary later this year.

“What prompted the proposal was the intent for the dioceses and eparchies in the Commonwealth to observe the 100th Anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said May 9.

The decision was made at the bishops’ provincial meeting May 1.

The official dedication will include a special noontime Mass with all the bishops at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg. The Mass will take place Sept. 27, during the next provincial meeting of the bishops.

There will be observances in each diocese and eparchy the weekend of Oct. 14-15.

In bill veto, Oklahoma takes a stand against loan sharks

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 19:10

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 9, 2017 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The governor of Oklahoma vetoed a bill that would have drastically increased the interest rates of payday loans, joining the fight of the bishops around the country who have pushed back on similar legislation.

“House Bill 1913 adds yet another level of high interest borrowing without terminating or restricting access to existing payday loan products,” Governor Mary Fallin said in her veto statement last week.

The bill was vetoed May 5, with Fallin voicing her concern that the loans created by the bill would be “more expensive than the current loan options.”

Bishops throughout the U.S. have decried the use of payday loans, and have backed legislation which would restrict the effect these loans on have on the borrowers – communities who are often targeted for their lack of education and immediate need. Catholic Charities has even opened organizations which may assist those in need or struggling with high interest loans.

Payday loans are a small amount of money with a high interest level. Often times these loans are taken out for situations such emergency doctor appointments or car troubles. The name of payday loans derives from the understanding that the loan would be paid back within the next paycheck, but the high interest rates usually suffocate the costumer who is struggling to make ends meet.

Payday loans have led people into a circular trap in which they can only pay the high monthly interest or roll over fees continue to add up and become unmanageable.

HB 1913 would mean that loan companies could increase the monthly interest rate to 17 percent, which is three to four times greater than Oklahoma's current laws. The annual percentage rate would be about 204.

According to OKpolicy.org, in 2014 nearly 950,000 dollars was taken out in payday loans and 1.2 million in “B” loans, averaging 77 loans per 100 Oklahoman adults.

Bishops and Catholic leaders throughout the U.S. have fought similar legislation like HB 1913 and backed bills that restrict loan sharks.

Regulations have been passed in order to limit the amount of times lenders are allowed to charge borrower’s fees or how many times loan companies can access a person’s bank account before overdraft fees stack up. Legislation has also been passed that enforced lenders to evaluate whether the borrower has sufficient means to pay back the loans.

These loans will affect people in the middle-class, but they are well known to be marketed towards people who may not understand the full consequences.

In a 2015 interview with The Dallas Morning News, the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Arlington said “it seems that every week another member of my parish tells me a horror story about one of these loans. They debilitate our families. People take out loans without fully understanding the terms.”

The Texas Catholic Conference analyzed the situation across the state, talking to both lenders and borrowers. Jennifer Allmon, associate director of the Texas Catholic Conference, said that the stores were located in areas where a loan may be more attractive or that the lenders misled borrowers with misinformation.

She said the contracts will often only be in English, but advertising and conversation in the shop would be conducted in Spanish “so oftentimes the borrower has no idea what they're signing,” and the interest rate would be significantly hirer than what the borrower had expected.

The Kansas Loan Pool Project, in a partnership with Sunflower Bank, has assisted over 120 people who have struggled under predatory debt, and $80,000 has been refinanced since its establishment in 2013. The program provides the borrower with a more traditional loan in order to cover the payday loan. Then they will help the person develop the financial skills to budget to pay back the lower interest loan.

Catholic Charities in Kansas has also begun a program in order to provide small, low interest loans, with a maximum of a $1000, so that people who do have an immediate need are able to receive the proper funding.

Why these college missionaries will dedicate themselves to Mary

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 02:08

Denver, Colo., May 9, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the centenary year of Our Lady of Fatima, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has decided to consecrate its mission to the Virgin Mary in perpetuity.

“It was the natural thing to do,” Curtis Martin, the organization’s founder and chief executive officer, told CNA. “We at FOCUS have always had a deep devotion to Our Lady.”

“Since its founding, FOCUS has attracted staff, missionaries and students who have a devotion to the Blessed Mother, which has been cultivated during their time with FOCUS. Marian devotion is simply part-and-parcel of being Catholic, so it is part-and-parcel of FOCUS.”

FOCUS, headquartered in Colorado, has grown to nearly 600 missionaries on 125 campuses since 1998.

“God has allowed our efforts to be fruitful, and we are seeking the grace for deeper sanctification of the individual missionary or staff member and the special blessing of their missionary work by petitioning Our Lady for assistance,” Martin said.

The perpetual consecration will take place at a June 13 Mass at the Oratory of Ave Maria University in Florida, where FOCUS will be holding its new staff training.

June 13 marks the centenary of the second Marian apparition at Fatima. In that vision, Fatima seer Sister Lucia said, the Virgin Mary told her, “Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”

The consecration will be live-streamed on the organization’s Facebook page.  

FOCUS plans to renew the consecration each year on June 13 and on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Martin said he wanted to make sure the organization does not see the consecration as a once-a-year event. Rather, FOCUS is encouraging its staff and missionaries to live the consecration throughout the year.

In 2016 the organization consecrated its efforts to Our Lady of Guadalupe for a year while discerning more deeply what the Virgin Mary and Christ desired.

“Ultimately, we discerned that Our Lady’s call at Fatima was still for our time and for us,” Martin said.

The prayers will consecrate FOCUS “to Jesus through Mary, petitioning especially the graces offered at Fatima and Guadalupe.”

Martin said the wording recognizes that the consecration ultimately is to Christ though his Mother.

“It also emphasizes our need for the totality of her help, while recognizing that FOCUS as an apostolate is especially in need of particular graces,” he added.

Martin sees Our Lady of Fatima as representing a focus on a missionary’s interior life, while Our Lady of Guadalupe represents a focus on the exterior life.

“Both are directed toward the same end: the salvation of souls through the fulfillment of the Great Commission to know Jesus Christ and make disciples of all nations,” he said.

He cited Our Lady of Fatima’s request to pray, especially the rosary and devotions to the Sacred Heart, as well as her encouragement to make sacrifices for souls. He said devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is an opportunity to pray for spiritual fruitfulness, given her precedent of inspiring the conversion of 10 million people.  

Martin said he has a particular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, saying she “played an instrumental role in breathing new life into my dead faith.”

He said FOCUS reaches out to students “at a pivotal time in their lives” when they face the pressures of contemporary campus life.

“We share the gospel of Christ’s love, the truth of the Catholic faith and our very selves to help reach the world for Christ through our families, vocations and parishes,” he said.

Worldwide Masses offered on Archbishop Sheen's birthday

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 12:10

Peoria, Ill., May 8, 2017 / 10:10 am (National Catholic Register).- Today is a good day to join more than 1,000 priests and an even greater number of the faithful in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in remembrance of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and with the intention of moving forward his beatification cause.

May 8 marks the archbishop’s 122nd birthday.

The beloved TV evangelist, who was friends with St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI, helped bring hundreds — and maybe even thousands of souls — into the Church, with notable converts such as Henry Ford II, politician Clare Booth Luce, actress Virginia Mayo and several of his day’s best-known communists. The actor Ramon Estevez took the archbishop’s surname for his stage name: Martin Sheen.

Archbishop Sheen ordained EWTN’s own Father Andrew Apostoli and is often credited with the fact that many priests make a daily Holy Hour: He constantly exhorted his priestly brethren to adore the Blessed Sacrament.

The idea of birthday Masses in honor of Archbishop Sheen came from his good friend Lo Anne Mayer.

Mayer met Bishop Sheen in 1970 at her parish church. “We just had this instant connection,” she recalled to the Register, and they developed a deep friendship. He even baptized her youngest child.

Mayer previously served on the board for the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, which promotes his canonization cause and long ago sponsored a similar effort.

A hearing this September will seek to resolve a dispute over the Venerable’s mortal remains — which has stalled the canonization caused — between the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

“The only thing that can make a change,” believes Mayer, “is prayer and a lot of it.”

It was while reflecting about the situation on New Year’s Day this year that Mayer remembered the 1,000 Masses that had been offered for the cause previously. She hoped this could be a new way to “storm heaven” in order to help move things along. She made some phone calls, and thus the process began.

The effort employed no website. Instead, it relied on simple word of mouth and people promoting it through social media. Today, what started as an idea has garnered a worldwide response.

In addition to parishes throughout North America, Masses will take place today in roughly 40 countries, including New Zealand, Pakistan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Cameroon, Australia, Turkey, India, Japan, Indonesia, Croatia, Nepal, Denmark, Ethiopia and Italy, as well as at Marian shrines such as Lourdes and Fatima. Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry will celebrate Mass. And every parish in Peoria will celebrate its Mass today for the intention of Sheen’s cause. Masses will also take place at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York and at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where Archbishop Sheen taught theology and philosophy. Indeed, many of the people who helped spread the word and who will celebrate the Masses are people whom Sheen taught. Others who have helped include those who were either converted by him or whose parents were converted by him.

Larry and Bernadette Schumann will attend Mass in Archbishop Sheen’s honor at St. Bede Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Bernadette once served as Venerable Sheen’s secretary, and the archbishop presided over the couple’s wedding.

According to Catholic News Service, Larry Schumann, now 80, said, “It is our prayer that with these Masses on May 8, 2017, throughout the world, the Holy Spirit will move his cause forward and that his beatification and canonization will soon be realized.”

The Schumanns’ pastor, Msgr. Tim Keeney, told the Register he is happy to participate because “Archbishop Sheen is one of those whom I have read and listened to and who has sustained my priesthood. Priests also need to have the Word preached to them, and Archbishop Sheen, Bishop Robert Barron and the various Holy Fathers who have served during my 21 years of priesthood have been the principle sources that I have sought out for that ministry.”

For her part, Mayer marvels at how this effort has spread through people doing something as old-fashioned and simple as reaching out to one another, calling this priest and contacting that friend.

Reflecting on this phenomenon, she said, “We have heard that Bishop Sheen is being promoted as the [patron] saint of communication, which I think is most appropriate. Looking back, I feel I have the honor of knowing a saint.”

 

This article was originally published in the National Catholic Register.

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