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Reflections on the March for Life

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 11:51

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 09:51 am (CNA).- Two weeks ago, America witnessed a historic event. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 44th annual March for Life and heard from the highest ranking White House official to ever grace the March for Life stage – Vice President Mike Pence, along with top-ranking WH official Kellyanne Conway.

The day was a bit of a blur for those of us who were there, but in reflecting back on that historic event two weeks ago, I am reminded of the critical theme that we chose this year for the March for Life – “The Power of One.”

This year’s theme was conceived one night early last Spring during a “Tenebrae” service at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington D.C. The service, which means “shadows” in Latin, falls within the context of Holy Week, when Christians worldwide celebrate the Lord's Supper, the passion, death and ultimately resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

At one point within the service, all of the lights in the cathedral except one – a candelabra with eight candles lit on the altar – are out. As meaningful lamentations from the Old Testament are read, one by one, each of the eight candles are snuffed out until the entire cathedral is pitch black. The darkness is stark and uncomfortable, but then everything changes. A single candle at the very top is lit, symbolizing Christ. It is notable and surprising how that one little candle creates an enormously different environment than the darkness. Literally, every square foot of that cathedral was touched by a little bit of light, and that little bit of light changed everything.   

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history” is a powerful line from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and this line truly encapsulates “The Power of One” theme.  

Working to build a culture of life can sometimes feel like we are working and living in the darkness. I experienced that darkness back in June, one day after the Supreme Court made two life issues-related decisions: The first essentially gave abortion clinics a pass, and decided to treat them differently than other outpatient facilities with regard to health standards and regulations. In the second ruling, a family pharmacy from Washington State, after battling for many years, was told that they either had to violate their consciences by filling life-destructive drug prescriptions or close up their business.

As a pro-life American who doesn’t identify with either political party, approaching the close of difficult years with the Obama Administration on life and religious freedom issues, these decisions were somewhat of a final blow as we looked towards possible continuation of such policies over coming years.

But as I reflected on those two decisions and the other trials that our nation was facing, I was reminded of that little candle and the power it had to light the entire cathedral. I had to remember that no matter who is President, who is in Congress or what Supreme Court decisions are made – as significant as they are – every single one of us has the power to make a change in this world, and there is always hope. Thus, the theme of this year’s March for Life was born.

On Jan. 22, Americans from every inch of this country gathered in our nation’s capital for the historic 44th annual March for Life, not only to commemorate that dark day when Roe v Wade legalized abortion in our nation, but also to celebrate life and the countless lives saved throughout the years since abortion was legalized.

The speakers for this year’s March for Life embodied “The Power of One” theme in a way I could have never imagined. Vice President Mike Pence joined us as the first-ever vice president to address the March for Life, alongside top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway – both of whom are inspiring role models, exemplifying how one person can truly change the world.

Abby Johnson shared her story of being a former Planned Parenthood director who became an outspoken pro-life advocate and founder of “And Then There Were None.” Benjamin Watson spoke about his life outside of the NFL as a father of five, a strong Christian, and a pro-life advocate in the public square. The youth presence at the March for Life is always incredible and this year we were thrilled to hear from Katrina Gallic, a student at the University of Mary. She spoke about the many buses her school brings every year to the March for Life and how, despite the blizzard of 2016, they continued as witnesses to life; even after getting snowed in on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

The March for Life is made up of tens of thousands of people who have the capacity to be the candle in a world that sometimes feels dark. This is the true power of one – every person has the power to be a light in this often dark world. We've been marching strong for 44 years, and this year, more than ever, there is so much opportunity for change. We will continue to march until a culture of life and respect has been restored in the United States; a culture where abortion is unthinkable and the inherent dignity of the human person is respected from conception to death.


*Jeanne Mancini is the President of the March for Life.

Don't move US embassy to Jerusalem, bishops ask Secretary of State

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 08:23

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 06:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires wise U.S. engagement to build a better future for both peoples, and this future could be endangered by an embassy relocation, the U.S. Catholic bishops told the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

Bishop Oscar Cantu, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said that resolving the conflict will require “critical, continued engagement” to overcome 50 years of conflict and its “egregious injustices and random acts of violence.”

The U.S. bishops have long backed a two-state solution, as has Pope Francis. The bishops implored the Secretary of State to keep the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Tel-Aviv, rather than move it to Jerusalem as President Donald Trump has advocated.

“Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem is tantamount to recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel,” Bishop Cantu wrote Feb. 1. He noted that the international community has determined that Jerusalem’s status must be determined in mutual agreements between Israel and Palestine.

Moving the embassy would undermine U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, the bishop said.

He added that the U.S. has always provided “leadership and support” to the peace process.

“We continue to profess hope for a diplomatic solution that respects the human dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for all,” Bishop Cantu continued.

The year 2017 would be an important year, marking “the fiftieth anniversary of a crippling occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, crippling for both peoples,” he said.

He cited Pope Francis’ call to those in authority “to leave no stone unturned in the search for equitable solutions to complex problems, so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace.”

“The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly,” the Pope said in his May 2014 visit to Israel.

Bishop Cantu said some Israeli actions undermine both peace and the Christian presence in the occupied Palestinian Territories. He pointed to the Bethlehem-area Cremisan Valley, where 58 Christian families live near a Salesian monastery, a convent and a school.

The bishop objected that the Israeli barrier wall in the valley constricts residents’ movement and their access to their lands, splits them from Christian institutions, and encourages them to emigrate.

“The Cremisan Valley is emblematic of the alarming number of Palestinians who have lost their homes and livelihoods,” he said. “Settlement expansion, confiscation of lands and the building of the Separation Wall on Palestinian lands violate international law and undermine a diplomatic solution.”


Another resignation at SNAP as controversy continues

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 19:45

Chicago, Ill., Feb 6, 2017 / 05:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Another leader of a controversial group representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse has resigned, denying that the resignation is related to a lawsuit that claimed the group was engaged in kickbacks and other unethical behavior.

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors’ Network of those Abuse by Priests resigned effective Feb. 3, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Blaine said a lawsuit filed last month against the Chicago-based organization had no bearing on her resignation and compared it to previous lawsuits she said had no merit. She said the discussions of her departure had been ongoing and it had been a great honor to serve the organization.

“Change however is inevitable,” she said.

In mid-January former employee Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who worked as a development director at SNAP, claimed to have been wrongly fired for raising objections to what she said was a kickback scheme. The former employee’s lawsuit alleged that the organization refers them to lawyers who themselves donate to the organization. It also charged that SNAP does not provide significant counseling help to abuse victims.

The suit further charged that SNAP is motivated by its leaders' “personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

Blaine flatly denied the lawsuit’s claims, saying: “The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: to help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

The lawsuit named as defendants SNAP, Blaine, past executive director David Clohessy, and outreach director Barbara Dorris.

Clohessy resigned as executive director effective Dec. 31, though the change was not widely known until after the latest lawsuit was filed. The former executive director, who had worked at the organization since 1991, also denied his resignation had anything to do with the lawsuit.

Dorris has now become managing director of SNAP.

In her resignation statement, Blaine said she founded the organization 29 years ago because a priest who had abused her remained in ministry and because she felt “immense pain” from the alleged abuse inflicted on her as an eighth grader by a priest who taught at her school.

“I knew there were other survivors out there and wondered if they felt the same debilitating hurt and if so, how they coped with it. I thought they might hold the wisdom I lacked. I looked for other survivors and asked if they would be willing to talk,” she said in a statement.

SNAP has run into other legal problems.

In August 2016 a federal judge ruled that the group made false statements “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth” against a St. Louis priest to try to convict him on abuse charges.

The organization also sought to have the International Criminal Court investigate Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity related to alleged failures to stop sex abuse. Many critics considered the effort to be frivolous and the court rejected the request in mid-2013.

This proposed law would protect doctors who object to abortion

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 18:37

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill that would protect health care providers’ freedom to opt-out of abortion mandates they find objectionable has once again been introduced in Congress.

“This bill is needed to give health care providers the right to provide medical care without violating their deeply held beliefs,” Sen. James Lankford, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, stated on Friday.

“Americans have very different views about abortion, but we should not force anyone to participate in it or provide coverage,” he added.

The Conscience Protection Act would protect health care providers from federal, state, and local abortion mandates if they conscientiously object to assisting with abortions. It would also protect religious employers from having to cover elective abortions in their health plans, and establishes a “right of action” for all entities if they believe their religious beliefs on the matter are violated.

The bill was introduced in Congress last year and passed the House 245-182, but did not receive a vote in the Senate.

Its sponsors say that doctors religiously objecting to abortion are not sufficiently protected from abortion mandates. Medical professionals must file a grievance with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services, and some complaints reportedly sit undecided for months or years.

Some states have already been forcing religious employers to offer abortion coverage and have coerced health providers into assisting or performing abortions.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who introduced the Conscience Protection Act in the House, pointed to California and New York abortion mandates as examples of this, including the case of a New York nurse who in 2009 was forced to assist with an abortion.

Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, said the hospital coerced her into helping with an abortion there. She requested an investigation by the HHS, which in 2013 found that the hospital had to change its policies to accommodate employees with conscientious objections to abortion.

California recently forced all employers, including religious groups, to cover elective abortions in their health plans. Last June, the former head of the HHS civil rights office ruled that religious groups which opposed California’s mandate were not protected and would have to comply with it.

In light of these incidents, last March leading U.S. bishops asked Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

The bill would “address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a joint statement in March of 2016.

Other religious groups pushed for Congress to pass the bill last year, including the Christ Medicus Foundation, a non-profit which advocates for Catholic teaching and ethics in health care.

“Conscience is the sacred space of human dignity where persons exercise their sincerely held, reasoned beliefs,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), another sponsor of the bill, said on Friday. “It is a true poverty that this most cherished American principle is under assault, violating the good of persons and communities.”


Harry Connick Jr on faith, family, hosting a TV show

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 18:02

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 5, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Harry Connick Jr. has spent the last 30 years entertaining America as one of Hollywood’s most versatile talents: singer, songwriter, pianist, actor, and “American Idol” host. Now he’s the star of the daytime talk show “Harry”, which airs primarily on local Fox affiliate stations nationwide.

Connick’s devout Catholic faith has also guided him throughout his career, as well as his 27-year marriage to model Jill Goodacre and as a father to three daughters. Connick spoke with Carl Kozlowski for Catholic News Agency about how he ties it all together while keeping his personal value system firmly in place.

CNA: You’ve spent 30 years in the public eye, singing, performing, acting, and hosting American Idol. How’d you decide now’s the time for a talk show?

Connick: I was working with Justin and Eric Spangle, who used to be writers and executive producers at Letterman, on a different project a few years ago. We talked about doing a daytime show, not just a talk show but one that combined all the things I love to do: entertaining, singing, comedy; just a party show in the middle of the afternoon. There was nothing quite like what we had in mind. When we pitched it the network liked it, and we put a team together quick.

CNA: You’re very outspoken about your faith. Does it have an influence on the show?

Connick: I’m sure it does influence my decisions. The decisions I make and my faith and values are entwined. All I really want – when I pray , I don’t really ask for anything. All I want to do is God’s will and make the best decisions I can. I don’t go out and preach. This show is about being aspirational and inspirational. All I want is to make the best decisions. Faith is an extra big part of my life, which we like to show on the show rather than talk about. Faith, family and community are things that we show by example. We don’t go into politics or heavy social issues. We want to give people a respite from their day and some entertainment. It’s hard to articulate how my Catholic faith affects the show, but I’m sure it’s a subconscious part of it.

CNA: I’m a professional standup comic as well, so I relate. Our faith affects where you find your taste, or draw the line.

Connick: We try to find people on the show, or do things on the show, that are the highest things I can do – leaders in their community, inspirations in what they do, shining examples of what craft and hard work can do. You do that, and it falls into place. We’re standing somewhere else. If I keep striving to put on the best quality show based on the values I have, I don’t have to think “oh we’re crossing the line” because the line is built in. We follow that and do the best quality work we can.

CNA: How does your faith help you navigate the world of showbiz? You’ve been married forever by Hollywood standards, and are never in tabloids. Does faith help you in that regard?

Connick: All I can do is worry about me and my family. I don’t really worry about anybody else, they have to do what works for them. I wake up everyday and try to be the best husband, father and entertainer I can be. I’m no different offstage or talking to you or onstage than I am going to dinner with my family. It’s all the same place and I apply the same values to all I do. It works for me. Many people in and out of showbiz live their lives in different ways. I try to be the best I can be. But people who get married don’t always stay married. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been with my wife for 27 years. But if you think of the public lives of people who’ve been unlucky, it seems showbiz is some tumultuous crazy world but some are fortunate and some unfortunate. All I can do is keep striving to be better.

CNA: What’s your favorite part of doing the show, and what’s your biggest challenge?

Connick: My favorite part is going out with the audience every day and meeting them, sharing this tightrope experience with them. The experience is so broad, from playing music to laughing and learning. These shows are very planned, but I said I don’t want to know about stuff . And if someone wants to show me how to be a lumberjack and saw pieces of wood, I want to learn on the spot. I want to experience it with the audience. I think it was hard for them to believe that I really don’t want to know. At this point, they don’t tell me anything. I show up and get surprised, and I don’t think you can fake that. We’re all in sync on that.

CNA: Doing the soundtrack for “When Harry Met Sally” blew you up. What was that like?

Connick: I remember that vividly. I had a couple albums out that sold well for who I was at the time and the type of music I played. But it was warp speed with Harry; people started recognizing my name and face and it helped sell bigger venues. I had a bigger spotlight and I had to live up to it but I thrived under that challenge. It expedited the creative process. If I was on stage in front of 300 people instead of 30, I had to work harder at my performances because I had a greater responsibility. It was very exciting, but creative too.

CNA: Your hero seems to be Sinatra, and now you have a similar career in acting, singing, and live concerts.

Connick: I’m a big fan of Sinatra, he was the best at what he did. The last thing I do is model my career after him, though, because we do different things. He was a great singer and a great actor … It never crossed my mind to emulate his career, because we have different interests. I love orchestrating music and conducting and being on Broadway. He was an incredible artist, the best at what he did, but it never occurred to me to model my career after what he did. There was no one I modeled my career after because there was no one else who did what I did. The reasons I never set out to do a talk show is they’re formulaic. People come out, tell jokes and read questions. But that’s not what I do, and we built the show around my skill set. So far, I don’t know of a daytime host who hosts and is the musical director for the band. You have to do things that do good for you and when there’s an uncharted course, you have to figure out how to get through it.

CNA: Out of all your performing skill sets, what is your favorite thing to do?

Connick: I think it’s the variety of it. I love entertaining, I love to sing, I love to make people laugh, I love learning and meeting people. I love acting, Broadway, standing in front of an orchestra and conducting a piece of orchestration .This show is so fun because it allows me to fire on all cylinders everyday.

Pope Francis has a special message for the Super Bowl

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 10:00

Houston, Texas, Feb 5, 2017 / 08:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Patriots and the Falcons gear up for Super Bowl LI, Pope Francis sent a message to both players and viewers, saying the game is an opportunity to show solidarity and build virtue.

“Great sporting events like today's Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace,” the Pope said in his message, published on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5.

“By participating in sports, we are able to go beyond our own self-interest and – in a healthy way – we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules,” he said, speaking in his native Spanish.

The pontiff voiced hope that this year’s Super Bowl may be “a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world.”

Pope Francis, a self-proclaimed soccer lover, has often spoken of sports as a privileged place to learn virtue and practice fraternity.

He himself played as a child, though he admitted in a 2015 interview with online Argentine sports news site TyC Sports that he was a “patadura” – meaning he wasn’t good at kicking the ball – and preferred to play basketball instead.

In addition to autographing jerseys and making frequent references to his favorite soccer team, the San Lorenzo team of Argentina, Francis has also demonstrated the weight he places on the value of sports by organizing two editions of a “Match for Peace.”

These matches drew big name players from teams and countries around the world, including Javier Zanetti and Diego Maradona, who donned cleats in a game at Rome’s Olympic Stadium in a show of peace and fraternity.

The Pope’s video message, however, marks the first time a Pope has sent a direct message for the Super Bowl, which draws millions of viewers both nationally and abroad.

According to CNN, last year’s Super Bowl 50 was the third-most watched game in broadcast history, with roughly 111.9 million TV viewers either cheering or booing as the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10.

Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 was even higher, with an audience of 112.2 million viewers, the second most-watched in broadcast history, online streamers not included.

CBS reportedly set a new Super Bowl streaming record last year with an average of 1.4 million viewers per minute, according to CNN.


Senate bill would move women's health funding away from Planned Parenthood

Sat, 02/04/2017 - 17:06

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2017 / 03:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would re-allocate women’s health care funding away from controversial abortion provider Planned Parenthood, toward health care providers that don’t perform abortions.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) are co-sponsors of the bill, called the Protect Funding for Women’s Health Care Act.

“We as a pro-life community honor the civil liberties, independence and strength of a woman – all women,” Sen. Ernst had said at the March for Life Jan. 27. “And that means both supporting mothers and rising up to protect the most vulnerable in our society – the innocent babies who are unable to defend themselves.”

The bill would fund women’s health services including diagnostic laboratory and radiology services, prenatal and postnatal care, immunizations, and cervical and breast cancer screenings, Sen. Lankford’s office said.

“For years, our nation has debated life and abortion – at a minimum we should agree that no taxpayer should be forced to fund the largest provider of abortion in the country with their hard-earned tax dollars,” Sen. Lankford said Jan. 30.

“Planned Parenthood receives millions in private donation money every year, and they’ve experienced an increase in donations since President Trump was elected. There is no reason for a private non-governmental organization, like Planned Parenthood, to receive $500 million a year in taxpayer money.”

The bill’s supporters say it would ensure that there is no reduction in federal funding for women’s health.

Sen. Lankford’s office said he had introduced a similar bill with Sen. Ernst and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in 2015 after investigative reports showed Planned Parenthood officials apparently engaged in the illegal procurement for sale of human body parts from abortion.

While federal law bars funding for most abortions, Planned Parenthood receives money through other federal programs. Critics argue that this money is fungible, freeing up other funds to be used on abortion.

Sen. Ernst and U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) are backing a separate bill to end a federal rule that prevents states from withholding Title X family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions. The rule helped stymie efforts to defund the United States’ largest abortion provider following reports of its illegal body parts sales.



Who took religious vows last year? Over 200 Americans.

Sat, 02/04/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There were 216 Catholic women and men religious who took perpetual vows in the U.S. in 2016, and an annual survey has aimed to take their pulse.

Of the more than 200 who made perpetual vows, 81 sisters and nuns and 96 brothers and priests responded to the survey of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The center analyzed the results in a report for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Among those who responded, the median age of newly professed men and women religious is 36, with the youngest at 26 and the oldest at 86. About half of respondents reported that they were under age 18 when they first considered a vocation to the religious life.

Among the questions answered were those about their devotional life. About 66 percent of the profession class named Eucharistic Adoration as one of their prayer practices before entering a religious institute, while a similar percentage named the Rosary or retreats. Almost 60 percent underwent spiritual direction, almost 50 percent took part in faith sharing or Bible study groups, while about one-third practiced the Lectio Divina devotional.

Almost 90 percent were Catholic since birth and 81 percent had two parents with a Catholic background.

About 66 percent of the newly professed identified as white, 16 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and 4 percen t as African/African-American/Black.

Another 67 percent were American-born, followed by those born in Asia then Latin America.

Sources of encouragement and discouragement were also examined in the survey. About half said a parish priest encouraged their vocation, while over 40 percent said their friends encouraged their vocation.

However, about half reported that some people in their lives discouraged a vocation, including parents, other relatives, or friends or classmates.

Only four percent reported that they had educational debt before entering religious life, averaging about $29,100. It took these vowed religious an average of four years’ delay to pay down there debt.

Overall, the CARA survey secured responses from 80 percent of religious institutes. Of these, 80 percent reported no perpetual professions, 12 percent reported one perpetual profession of vows, and only eight percent reported that two or more members made perpetual vows.

Supreme Court nominee authored a book on assisted suicide

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 18:03

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court wrote a book on “the future of assisted suicide” in 2006 – and he came to some strong pro-life conclusions.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, in his 2006 book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” argues that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Gorsuch was tapped by President Trump on Tuesday night to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. The almost year-long vacancy on the Court was the longest in decades.

Religious liberty advocates hailed his selection, citing his previous opinions upholding the freedom of businesses and non-profits to operate according to their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Pro-life leaders also applauded his selection, admitting that he had not specifically ruled on the Roe v. Wade decision but pointing to his defense of human life in his 2006 book on assisted suicide.

In that book, Gorsuch makes strong statements in defense of protecting all human life, from disabled persons to depressed, terminally-ill patients. Rather than relying on religious reasoning, he takes a secular approach in his arguments.

He states that his book has two purposes: to examine the views of assisted suicide advocates – from utilitarian arguments to defenses of autonomy – and to provide his own views on why current prohibitions on assisted suicide and euthanasia should stand.

In Chapter 9 of the book, he lays out a defense of prohibitions of assisted suicide. His argument is “based on secular moral theory,” he says, and “is consistent with the common law and long-standing medical ethics.”

Life is a “basic good,” he argues, “inherently worthwhile” and which can be enjoyed by many and has been seen as a good throughout “human history.”

Aristotle defined goods this way, and “argued from life’s experiences and observations of human nature” rather than from “hypothetical construct.”

We see life as a good simply from our observation of fellow human beings, Gorsuch explains, noting that “people every day and in countless ways do something to protect human life.”

Laws prohibiting murder, traffic laws, and government health departments are all based in protections of human life, he argues.

“We have all witnessed, as well, family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not because doing so instrumentally advances some other hidden objective,” he continues.

“This is not to say that all persons would always make a similar choice, but the fact that some people have made such a choice is some evidence that life itself is a basic good.”

The founding documents of the United States, the Constitution, and foreign political documents express that life is a basic good and argue from pragmatic experience and history, he says:

“The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all persons; this guarantee is replicated in Article 14 of the European Convention and in the constitutions and declarations of rights of many other countries. This profound social and political commitment to human equality is grounded on, and an expression of, the belief that all persons innately have dignity and are worthy of respect without regard to their perceived value based on some instrumental scale of usefulness or merit. We treat people as worthy of equal respect because of their status as human beings and without regard to their looks, gender, race, creed, or any other incidental trait – because, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, we hold it as ‘self-evident’ that ‘all men [and women] are created equal’ and enjoy ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ and ‘that among these are Life.’”

To say that some persons don’t have a right to life is a clear violation of “equal protection,” and undermines it at its core, he adds.

Furthermore, Gorsuch says, to create distinctions on a person’s right to life based on their “currently exercisable abilities for self-creation and self-expression” leads to “arbitrary” and “subjective” judgments of whose life should be protected – like determining the rights of “those with low IQs,” “the autistic,” and “infants with Down syndrome.”

Yet those who argue that some persons do not have the same rights as others “ask us to accept, judge, and decree that certain persons with certain (rather arbitrarily chosen) instrumental capacities are worth our total respect – inviolable under law – while other persons who lack those capacities do not merit such esteem, respect, and protection,” he writes.

“In the name of progressive policy, they would create a second class of citizens.”

Thus, Gorsuch concludes, “if, as I have argued, human life qualifies as a basic good it follows that we can and should refrain from actions intended to do it harm.” And this will “rule out cases where the doctor intends to kill his or her patient.”

And so, he determines, “current laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia largely should be retained.”    


Why some Texas legislators want to limit the death penalty

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 16:53

Austin, Texas, Feb 3, 2017 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One death sentence in Texas has prompted some legislators to rethink the state’s broad qualifications for the death penalty.

Jeff Wood, 43, was convicted for the 1996 murder of Kriss Keeran. Wood was sitting in a truck outside a convenience store in Kerrville, Texas when his friend Daniel Reneau entered the store to steal the safe. Reneau shot and killed Keeran, who was working there as a clerk.

Wood was convicted of murder under Texas' “law of parties” statute that says those who are responsible for a crime that results in death are equally responsible as the killer even if they did not directly commit the murder, the Texas Tribune reports.

The convict was scheduled to be executed in August 2016, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution just six days before the event.

At the time, the Texas Catholic Conference said the stay “prevents a gross miscarriage of justice.”

“The public outcry against this execution illustrates broad agreement on the injustice and basic unfairness of the Texas law of parties,” the conference said Aug. 19.

A trial court is reviewing Wood's case. State Rep. Terry Canales, a Democrat, is sponsoring House Bill 316 to end death sentences for those convicted of capital murder under the law of parties.

“We've got to start somewhere when it comes to reforming the death penalty, and there's no better place to start than the law of parties,” Rep. Canales said, according to the Texas Tribune.

Republican State Rep. Jeff Leach plans, a death penalty proponent, opposes using the law of parties to secure a death sentence. He was involved in Wood's case.

“He may have suspected, he may have anticipated, but he didn't know,” Rep. Leach said. “You can't be executing people like that, you just can't. We can keep them in prison for life, but to execute them is an entirely different conversation.”

For his part, Rep. Leach is backing Canales' proposal and is considering his own bill.

Another legislator, State Rep. Harold Dutton, advocates the abolition of the death penalty. However, he is also backing a more limited bill to modify the law of parties rule. His proposal, House Bill 147, would still allow death penalty sentences for those who help a killer commit murder, but not necessarily in other cases.

Changes to state law would not be retroactive and would affect Wood's case.

Five people have been executed under Texas' “law of parties” statute. Five other states with similar laws have executed one person.

In Texas' Walker County, a man named John Falk is accused of capital murder under the law of parties. In a 2007 prison escape in Huntsville, another inmate killed a guard during the escape. The trial is in the jury selection stage.

Texas is a leader in executions among U.S. states. Last year it executed seven people, behind only Georgia, the Death Penalty Information Center reports.

Who is our neighbor? Faith leaders say it's refugees

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 02:40

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2017 / 12:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As leaders of many faiths gathered for prayer in Washington, D.C. this week, they pledged solidarity with refugees looking to enter the U.S.

“While we recognize and while we are very, very aware of the need for security, we also very much recognize that that cannot be at the cost of any type of failure to recognize the needs of people who are being persecuted,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. insisted at a Tuesday interfaith gathering, speaking for himself and other Catholic bishops.

“We very, very strongly invite, as we have done,” he continued, “people who are suffering persecution around the world to come and be welcome by all of us.”

Cardinal Wuerl and 15 other religious leaders met Tuesday to announce the “Interfaith Vision for Our Community” at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The vision was a joint statement by the faith leaders that has been developing for months as a result of their common prayer and reflection, the cardinal said.

“The idea of a joint statement rose out of the conviction of all of us involved that religious faith and religious values continue to be an integral part of our culture, of our society,” Cardinal Wuerl said Tuesday.

He was joined by Rabbi Gerald Serotta, executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, leaders of Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, and Muslim, Mormon, Hundu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and other faith leaders.

The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington was founded in 1978 and has been “providing opportunities for interfaith dialogue, for building community through education, through service to those most vulnerable and needy in our midst,” Rabbi Serotta explained at the Tuesday gathering.

“We’ve advocated for the rights of each religious community to freely practice its faith without fear or intimidation,” he said.

The statement of the faith leaders promoted common values that it said can be practiced by all citizens and civic leaders.

These values included caring for one’s neighbor, “quality education for all,” “meaningful vocations for all adults and a living wage for reasonable labor serving the common good,” and “responsible environmental stewardship of the earth and its resources.”

Additionally, the leaders united in opposition to “slavery, human trafficking, economic or sexual exploitation, torture, racism, sexism, and any other practice that harms life.”

“First and always, we are neighbors,” they stated, and “we don’t get to choose who is our neighbor. The neighbor is a gift.” Everyone must be “good neighbors with and for each other.”

Although the statement has been in the works for months, it was released on Jan. 31 with the first week of February being World Interfaith Harmony Week, according to the United Nations General Assembly.

It also came days after U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders to halt the refugee admissions program for 120 days, and to stop entry for 90 of those coming from seven countries deemed to be compromised by terrorism – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya. Syrian refugees were barred indefinitely from entering the country.

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Rabbi Serotta said, “one must not oppress the non-citizen.”

“This statement does insist that our religious communities be free to speak and act on the concerns of our consciences,” he said. “Many of the communities in front of you today, for example, have already spoken out from their faith’s perspectives concerning the closing of our country’s borders to refugees fleeing persecution.”

“The statement makes clear our neighbors are people we care about deeply, no matter where they’re from.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “issued a very strong statement” in support of refugees looking to resettle, Cardinal Wuerl noted. The cardinal spoke about it on his own as well.

“We want to always be there for people who are persecuted,” he said.

“It was some of the minority communities, including Christian communities, that were designated as the object of genocide, and we want to be welcoming everybody who is fleeing persecution here to our country,” he said, referring to last year’s designation for Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims as victims of genocide by ISIS.

Cardinal Wuerl also said he hoped for dialogue between the new Trump administration and the faith leaders.

“We are waiting ourselves to see what lines of communication will be open,” he said. “We will be announcing our solidarity and our openness to be of service to the community as the transition is taking place.”

“We’re ready for that conversation,” he said.


Catholic leaders: Refugee ban actually harms national security

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 18:37

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Rather than protecting U.S. interests, recent executive orders restricting immigrants and refugees could actually pose a threat to national security, warned a group of Catholic leaders on Wednesday.

“These refugees are victims of the same violence we are trying to protect ourselves from,” said Jill Marie Geschütz Bell, senior legislative specialist for Catholic Relief Services, criticizing what she called a “disproportionate security response.”

“It’s time to be the Good Samaritan,” she urged.

Geschütz Bell and other Catholic immigration and refugee leaders spoke at a Feb. 1 press conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Don Kerwin, executive director for the Center for Migration Studies, contended that by limiting refugee protection, the United States would actually harm its security goals.  

“Refugee protection actually advances and furthers security,” he said, because when refugees are left in unstable situations, terrorist organizations such as ISIS have a “potent” recruiting opportunity.

In addition, the executive orders may damage alliances – both present and future – with other nations, Kerwin said, echoing similar statements by former CIA director Michael Hayden.

During his first week in office, President Trump signed three executive orders addressing a range of issues concerning immigration, refugees, border enforcement and vetting of immigrants to the country.

One of the orders halts refugee admissions for 120 days – indefinitely for Syrian refugees – and temporarily bans visa permissions for people seeking entry to the United States from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The effective travel ban quickly caused chaos at airports around the country as travelers already en route were told upon arrival that they would be sent back and would not be allowed into the United States for 90 days.

The same order also caps the number of refugees that will be allowed to enter the United States in 2017 at 50,000. In comparison, the 2016 cap was placed at 117,000 people, although only around 85,000 refugees actually entered the United States.

The executive action says that priority will be given to “refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution” for members of minority faiths in the refugee’s country of origin.

While the order does not mention Christianity, Trump has told media such as Christian Broadcasting News that the order would prioritize Christian refugees.

President Trump said the ban was put in place to stop “radical Islamic terrorists” and to allow time for agencies to develop stricter screening programs for those coming into the country.

Two other orders the same week focused on addressing undocumented migrants already in the country and increasing border security. They included plans to build a wall along the Mexican border, increase the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and penalize jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration laws – called “sanctuary cities” – by withholding federal grants and other funds.

Kerwin argued that while the executive orders are framed as a matter of national security, in fact, the order “exaggerates the threat from refugees in the United States beyond recognition.”

He pointed to research by the Cato Institute, which found that between 1975 and 2015, the United States admitted 3.2 million refugees, and only three people have been killed by refugee attacks – a minuscule risk that also doesn’t fully incorporate new, more restrictive protections already in place, he said.

“The overall point is that refugees themselves do not threaten security, terrorists do, and the failure of states to address this crisis also undermines security,” Kerwin stated. “We’re facing not a refugee crisis, but a crisis in refugee protection, which the executive order makes far worse.”

“More broadly,” he continued, by stepping back, the United States might be providing a troubling example for other nations. “It’s really impossible to think how the greatest refugee crisis in history since WWII could be resolved without the US playing a leading role as it has in past refugee crises.”

Speakers at the press conference emphasized that current U.S. security vetting for refugees is already very strong, and while vetting concerns are always valid, the actions taken by the executive orders are disproportionate to the threat presented.

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., worried that the new orders would make Americans less safe by making immigrants less likely to report crimes for fear of deportation, thus allowing perpetrators to evade justice.  

She also argued that the United States does not have the resources to carry through on the orders – there are simply not enough immigration officers and judges to review each of the 11 million cases in the country.

“What we’re going to see is the long-term detention of immigrants,” she warned. “People waiting for their day in court may languish in prison for years,” a move that she said will be costly to taxpayers and will violate the dignity of the persons detained.

Geschütz Bell added that the funds that will go into building a wall and hiring new border and immigration officers could instead be used to examine the root causes of migration. She pointed to Catholic Relief Service’s investment in and work with Honduran schools – work that undermines the gangs and resultant violence that has lead people to flee Honduras in the first place.

Within three years, she said, the program has already had immense success in educating people and stabilizing the area. “Enabling people to thrive where they are is not only more humane, but it is a cheaper option for the American people.”

Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, voiced hope that as time passes, implementation of the executive orders will become more “humane.” He noted that the Trump Administration has already agreed to allow in more than 8,000 people who have already left refugee areas, as well as Iraqis who have provided aid to the United States Military.

“We’re getting some indications of the humane implementation of the order,” he continued, and asked Catholics to use their influence to continue to push the administration towards more humane actions.

Geschütz Bell advocated for the humane protection of other vulnerable communities that need special consideration, such as female-headed households, children and people with medical needs.

At the root of the idea of humane treatment, added Sister Donna Markham O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, is the understanding that refugees are human persons with dignity.

She urged Catholics to remember that “they are people like ourselves who woke up one morning and learned everything they had was destroyed,” and who feel depressed, downtrodden and rejected by those who turn them away in their time of distress.

“These are human beings like you and I.”

In Louisiana diocese, new bishop promises to give his all

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 14:38

Alexandria, La., Feb 2, 2017 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop David P. Talley now heads the Diocese of Alexandria, with Pope Francis’ acceptance of the resignation of Bishop Ronald P. Herzog.

“Many thanks to all, for these three months of transitioning,” Bishop Talley said in a Feb. 2 statement. “We will care for and honor our bishop emeritus, lovingly; and I will give you all I have and am capable of.”

Bishop Talley, 66, was born in Columbus, Ga. Sept. 11, 1950. He studied at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1989. He received a doctorate in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome, and St. John Paul II named him a monsignor in 2001.

Benedict XVI named him an auxiliary bishop for the Atlanta archdiocese in January 2013, and Pope Francis named him coadjutor bishop of central Louisiana’s Alexandria diocese Sept. 21, 2016.

Bishop Talley was raised a Southern Baptist but left the denomination as a teenager over the issue of racial segregation. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 24 after meeting Catholics and reading the writings of Thomas Merton while he was studying at Auburn University.

The Spanish-speaking bishop helped begin a cross-cultural immersion program for the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s seminarians, and he also served as the chaplain for the archdiocese’s disabilities ministry.

When Bishop Talley's appointment as coadjutor in Alexandria was announced, Archbishop Wilton Gregory commented that he is “a servant minister of our Church, who is graced with extraordinary wisdom, patience, kindness and dedication … he now begins this new appointment with exceptional credentials.”

As for Bishop Herzog, the 74-year-old bishop was born in Akron, Ohio in April 1942. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson in 1968 and named Bishop of Alexandria in 2004. He has served as a consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

He retires a few months before turning 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops.

According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, the Alexandria diocese has about 36,280 Catholics in a population of 368,000. There are 71 churches and missions in the diocese.

Trump defends refugee policy as part of protecting religious freedom

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 12:50

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2017 / 10:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump on Thursday insisted that protecting religious freedom is a U.S. priority, while defending his recent halt of refugee admissions as a necessary step to protect that freedom.

“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us, and the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways, and I’ve never seen it so much and so openly since I took the position of President,” President Trump stated at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning.

“There are those who would seek to enter our country for the purpose of spreading violence or oppressing other people based upon their faith or their lifestyle. Not right,” he said. “We will not allow a beachhead of intolerance to spread in our nation.”

Last week, Trump ordered a halt to refugee admissions for 120 days – indefinitely for Syrian refugees – and a temporary ban on immigration from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa. The order was met with criticism from the U.S. bishops and humanitarian organizations.

On Thursday, the president spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel, a tradition that dates back to 1953. Each year on the first Thursday of February, religious and civic leaders gather in prayer for the country.

Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Michael Wear, former director of faith outreach for Obama 2012 campaign, said that according to a "trusted source," at least half a dozen people who were invited to the prayer breakfast were unable to attend due to the new travel restrictions.

President Trump emphasized the global threat of religious violence, citing “acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities,” and noting that “terrorism is a fundamental threat to religious freedom.”

“We have seen peace-loving Muslims, brutalized, victimized, murdered, and oppressed by ISIS killers. We have seen threats of extermination against the Jewish people,” he said. “We have seen a campaign of ISIS and genocide against Christians where they cut off heads.”

He pledged to stop such violence and “to defend and protect religious liberty in our land,” insisting that Americans must live in “a tolerant society” where they “can feel safe and secure.”

“In recent days, we have begun to take necessary action to achieve that goal,” he continued.

Last week, his executive order on “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” suspended refugee admissions into the U.S. for 120 days and immigration from seven countries for 60 days while his administration would investigate the security of the refugee resettlement program and the quality of information-gathering on foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S.

“Our nation has the most generous immigration system in the world,” he said, but some people “exploit that generosity.” He promised to ensure that future immigrants and refugees “fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty, and that they reject any form of oppression and discrimination.”

“We will be a safe country, we will be a free country, and we will be a country where all citizens can practice their beliefs without fear of hostility or fear of violence,” he said.

Earlier in the program, the Senate chaplain, Barry C. Black, emphasized the power of prayer.

“I agree with Tennyson that more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” he said. “My friends, when we make our voices heard in heaven, it makes a palpable difference.”

He added that first, “we pray from a sense of need,” saying that “my friends, God wants us to pray when we need Him,” and “we ought to pray that God’s hand will be on our President.”

“Secondly, pray with intimacy,” he insisted, pointing to Jesus addressing God the Father as “Abba,” or “daddy.”

“Pray like Hannah,” he said, pointing to the mother of the prophet Samuel who “prayed with such specificity and such intimacy” for a baby that the priest Eli “thought she was inebriated.”

Also, “pray for those who govern,” he added, “so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”

Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), heads of the Senate’s weekly prayer breakfast group, and Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), heads of the House weekly prayer breakfast group, spoke and highlighted their common prayer which transcends political party lines.

“We haven’t come here to celebrate power or money or politics. We’ve come here together to pray. And it may be the understatement of the century that Washington, D.C. needs prayer,” Sen. Coons stated.

Trump at the breakfast also pledged to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits non-profit organizations and their representatives from officially endorsing political candidates or participating in their campaigns, lest they lose their tax-exempt status.

“Jefferson asked can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” Trump asked, noting that “among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs.”

“That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”


Why this slain priest's opposition to the death penalty matters

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 08:04

Savannah, Ga., Feb 2, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A priest who was murdered in 2016 had previously certified that he would not want his murderer executed. Three Catholic bishops say his voice should be heard.

The district attorney in Augusta, Georgia is seeking the death penalty for his accused killer.

“I request that the person found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances,” Fr. Rene Robert said in 1995 in a signed and notarized “Declaration of Life” that reflected on the possibility he could be the victim of a capital crime.

The man believed to have killed him, Steven Murray, was indicted May 25, 2016 in Georgia by a Burke County Grand Jury for killing the priest April 11, 2016.

Father Robert, a retired priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, had been helping his accused killer for months as part of his prison ministry. Police believe Murray forced the priest into the trunk of his car, abducted him, and then murdered him in the woods of Georgia, shooting him multiple times. Murray was arrested driving the priest’s car in South Carolina. He led police to the priest’s body.

Three bishops emphasized Fr. Robert’s wishes at a Tuesday press conference held at the Richmond County Court House in Augusta, Georgia: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Savannah; and Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of Saint Augustine.

Bishop Hartmayer said they wanted to be the priest’s voice and make his declaration against the death penalty a part of the case.

“Father Robert shows us what the gospel teaches about being merciful,” Bishop Hartmayer said. “He understood the plight of the poor, the violent, the sociopath. He treated them with compassion. He understood the risks and dangers of ministering to convicts. He died as a martyr of mercy.”

Archbishop Gregory, a past president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the slain priest was aware of the potential for violence among those he served, “but he cared for those people nonetheless,” said

“We know that every human life comes from the hand of God and has dignity that is never lost, that can’t be compromised,” he added. “No human life loses its dignity.”

The archbishop hoped that the accused killer would face a life sentence rather than the death penalty, and will seek God’s forgiveness.

“That could take many years but we are asking that he be given time to do it,” he said.

Murray, the accused killer, has made statements suggesting he is apologetic over the crime.

“If anybody loves Father Rene, they’ll forgive me because he was a man of God, and forgiveness is forgiveness,” Murray said in an April 2016 court appearance, according to WALB News.

At a previous court appearance he had smiled and waved to other people in the room.

“I have mental problems and I lost control of myself. I apologize,” he said.

District Attorney Ashley Wright of the Augusta Judicial District intends to seek the death penalty.

Bishop Estevez cited Fr. Rober’ts declaration against the death penalty in a May 26 letter to the district attorney.

He did not receive a reply to the letter. In December, the bishop received signatures of more than 6,400 Catholics in the Diocese of St. Augustine who asked the Georgia courts to honor the priest’s wishes.

Wright has indicated that the opinions are not relevant to her decision.

“When I make a decision to seek a particular punishment it is based upon fact and law, and not based on public opinion or sentiment,” Wright told the St. Augustine Record last year.

Attending the Jan. 31 press conference were priests and deacons from the three dioceses.

“We have great respect for the legal system and we believe Murray deserves punishment for the brutal murder but the sentence of death only perpetuates the cycle of violence,” Bishop Estevez said. “It is unnecessary and denies the dignity of all persons.”

Archbishop Gregory explained why the bishops were taking their stand.

“We do it because we love our faith, we love our country, and we hope our nation will take the lead in preserving, defending and protecting every human life,” he said.

What the pro-life movement can learn from Planned Parenthood

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 05:24

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2017 / 03:24 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion chain – but rather than dismissing it, pregnancy help centers may be able to learn from its strengths as a brand, said one research analyst.

“The brand of Planned Parenthood is, unfortunately, pretty solid in the minds of these women,” said Dr. Jeff Pauls of the Vitae Foundation. Yet many women admitted that they “still weren’t totally comfortable with the experience of having to go there.”

Planned Parenthood may have a “solid” reputation in the minds of its customers, yet pro-life pregnancy centers could serve more of these women if they emulated its strengths, he told CNA.

The Vitae Foundation partnered with Dr. Charles Kenny, an industry leader in “right-brain research” on customers’ loyalty to brands like Coca-Cola and American Express, to investigate what Planned Parenthood’s clients thought of the organization and discover what pro-life pregnancy centers could learn from the abortion giant.

They conducted in-depth interviews of over 70 women, many of them from metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles and who “had no idea who did the interview,” Pauls noted.

Questions asked included when and how women had first heard about Planned Parenthood, why they decided to go there, what they thought about the organization’s brand and health care, and if they had ever heard of a “pregnancy help center.”

The questions were meant to “have them go into their mind’s eye and really relive their experience at Planned Parenthood,” Pauls said. There were two types of customers they found, “active” women who were currently customers of Planned Parenthood, and “legacy customers,” or women who used to go to Planned Parenthood and had stopped going, but had referred someone else there in the last year.

They found that Planned Parenthood has a “solid” reputation with these women, but along their brand’s strengths there were significant weaknesses, as the women interviewed acknowledged negative experiences at clinics.

The “strengths” of the Planned Parenthood brand are a “non-judgmental” appearance of staff workers who help women think they are in “control,” providing them feelings of “acceptance” and “freedom,” Pauls explained.

They also promote an atmosphere of “confidentiality” which is really “secrecy,” Pauls said, “the way that Planned Parenthood helps them engage in risky sexual activity without their parents knowing.”

However, women also complained of “long waits” at clinics as well as an “unpleasant gauntlet of fear, anxiety, nervousness, and anger that they had to deal with in the waiting room,” he continued.

“Try as they might to develop this kind of warm, comfortable waiting room experience, it’s nearly impossible, according to the women, because of what’s going on there,” he explained, noting that women recalled thinking, “I just don’t feel like I belong here with these people.”

And there were violations of HIPAA – of the privacy of one’s confidential medical information – at clinics.

“We did hear some women talking about Planned Parenthood staff talking about procedures out in the waiting room, in front of everybody,” Pauls noted. These public conversations included “what their health history was.”

While such instances were not frequent, “we did hear that from enough women that that’s not rare,” he said.

Another brand “weakness” was that women who frequented Planned Parenthood clinics when they were younger had moved on to other health care providers as they grew older, even though they still referred younger clients to clinics.

There might be several reasons for this, Pauls explained. Older women may have stopped the “risky sexual activity” of their former years, or they might have better health insurance and be “in a position to afford and get good health care at a doctor or an OBGYN,” he said.

“They say that they still believe that Planned Parenthood is as good or better than” other providers, Pauls said. Women appreciated what Planned Parenthood did for them – providing them with birth control and performing abortions – but they “still weren’t totally comfortable with the experience of having to go there.”

Planned Parenthood has recently insisted that it is an important provider of women’s health care. Yet it is not holistic health care, Pauls insisted.

“It’s a place to get, in their words, to ‘fix a mistake’” and “solve a problem.”

For instance, clinics did not offer “real counseling” for women considering abortion, “because if they did, it would be an admission that abortion harms women,” Pauls said.

Rather, clinics focused on “helping women feel alright about abortion, and giving them these defense and coping mechanisms for the inevitable pain and difficulty they go through,” he said.

For instance, clinic workers told women of their abortion “you won’t even think about it later on” and “it’s no big deal, women do this all the time.”

They would encourage them that “it’s actually a good thing that you’re doing for your family or your future family or your education or your career.”

“A lot of times they’ll even refer to abortion and their need to go to Planned Parenthood as a necessary evil,” Pauls said.

“She feels like she really has no real choice, so Planned Parenthood is the only way really to move forward without kind of experiencing this death of her current self or her future self.”

In contrast, pregnancy centers can step in and offer “holistic” health care that Planned Parenthood doesn’t, Pauls insisted.

One significant “surprise” from his research was that “none” of the women “knew what a pregnancy help center was” or had “much knowledge or interest in it.” This was despite the fact that 2,400 pregnancy help centers outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics almost four to one.

These pregnancy clinics don’t perform abortions but instead provide women financial, material and emotional support to have their baby and can even offer medical care and psychological counseling.

“Women are interested in this holistic approach to health,” of “being healthy in mind, body, spirit, soul, vocation,” Pauls said.

The care in pregnancy help centers is “not just physical, which is what Planned Parenthood does. Make them unpregnant and send them back out into a risky lifestyle, to have them come back and do it all over again.”

Many pregnancy centers are “connected with a medical model or a medical referral system where they can address the physical, psychological, emotional, social, intellectual, and vocational health needs of the woman,” he said.



Catholic bishops see trouble in Trump-backed LGBT executive order

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 18:16

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2017 / 04:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops are concerned by the Trump administration’s decision to maintain a “troubling” Obama-era executive order that could demand federal contractors violate their religious beliefs on marriage and gender ideology.

“In seeking to remedy instances of discrimination, it creates new forms of discrimination against people of faith. Keeping the executive order intact is not the answer,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Feb. 1.

“The Church steadfastly opposes all unjust discrimination, and we need to continue to advance justice and fairness in the workplace,” the bishops added. “Executive Order 13672, however, creates problems rather than solves them.”

The executive order is “deeply flawed” with “many problems,” they said, voicing hope the administration would be open to ways to advance conscience rights.

Signed by President Barack Obama, the order prohibits federal government contractors from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, and forbids gender identity discrimination in the employment of federal employees.

The executive order immediately drew criticism for its lack of religious exemptions. Religious groups voiced concern that they could be disqualified from federal contracts if their faith forbids them to affirm same-sex unions as marriages or to pay for employees’ transgender “transition” surgeries.

On Jan. 31, the Trump White House affirmed its support for Obama’s order.

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump,” it said.

It added that President Trump is “proud” to have been the first Republican presidential nominee “to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.” It said the president is “determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community.”

The Catholic bishops invoked their 2014 objections that the order would have significant consequences.

“With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent,” said their July 21, 2014 statement.

“As a result, the order will exclude federal contractors precisely on the basis of their religious beliefs,” they warned. “In the name of forbidding discrimination, this order implements discrimination.”

The bishops said the order was unprecedented in making “gender identity” a protected category. They said the concept is based on the false idea that gender is a social or psychological construct totally separate from notions of biological sex.

Compliance with the order, the bishops suggested, would require allowing biologically male employees into an employer’s restroom or locker room alongside women.

The bishops’ 2014 statement noted that most states with similar legislation have included protections for religious employers.

“The executive order is an anomaly in this regard, containing no religious liberty protection,” they said.


Supreme Court pick wins applause from religious freedom advocates

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 12:16

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2017 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life leaders and religious freedom advocates hailed President Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy on Tuesday.

Gorsuch “has an excellent record on religious freedom,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, told CNA.

“He has decided many cases that address that issue, and he’s shown that he understands how to read the law,” she added, citing as an example the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Professor Michael Moreland, a visiting law professor at the University of Notre Dame, called the judge “a superb nominee to the Supreme Court” and added that “he is a brilliant and careful jurist, and he has an especially strong record in cases involving religious freedom.”

President Trump on Tuesday night announced his selection of Judge Gorsuch, currently on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court which has existed since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia one year ago.

“Judge Gorsuch has a superb intellect, an unparalleled legal education, and a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its text. He will make an incredible Justice as soon as the Senate confirms him,” Trump stated.

Gorsuch is an Episcopalian, and if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he would alter the religious balance of the Court, which currently features five Catholic and three Jewish justices.

He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School, and earned his doctorate at Oxford University, “where he was supervised by the internationally acclaimed philosopher of law and theorist of natural law and natural rights John Finnis,” said Robert George, Princeton law professor and former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

A Marshall Scholar, Gorsuch clerked for Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, worked at the Department of Justice as the principal deputy associate attorney general, and was nominated to the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2006.

In his time on the Tenth Circuit, Gorsuch presided over major religious freedom cases like the cases of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor against parts of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate that employers provide cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients in employee health plans.

In the Hobby Lobby case, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014, the Green family-owned craft chain claimed that the mandate violated the owners’ religious beliefs because it forced them to provide coverage for drugs they considered to be abortifacients in employee health plans, and thus drugs they conscientiously objected to providing.

Gorsuch ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby on the Tenth Circuit. The Supreme Court later agreed.

The Little Sisters, meanwhile, claimed that the so-called “accommodation” offered by the Obama administration to objecting non-profits to opt-out of the mandate still forced them to violate their religious beliefs.

This was because in notifying the government of their objection, with the knowledge that contraceptives would still be provided to their employees, they would still “facilitate access” to contraception, which they believed to be cooperation with an immoral act.

The Tenth Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters, saying that with the “accommodation” offered, the sisters did not prove that a “substantial burden” was put on their faith by the government.

The dissent, which Judge Gorsuch joined, stated that “when a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”

“All the plaintiffs in this case sincerely believe that they will be violating God’s law if they execute the documents required by the government. And the penalty for refusal to execute the documents may be in the millions of dollars. How can it be any clearer that the law substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion?”

“I think [he] came to the right conclusion each time that respected religious freedom and recognized the issues that were at stake there,” Severino said of Gorsuch’s opinions in both cases.

She also cited his knowledge of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which was cited to uphold the religious freedom of a Native American prisoner in 2014 to access a house of prayer by himself at a prison. Professor Moreland called it a “powerful opinion.”

“While those convicted of crime in our society lawfully forfeit a great many civil liberties, Congress has (repeatedly) instructed that the sincere exercise of religion should not be among them – at least in the absence of a compelling reason. In this record we can find no reason like that,” Gorsuch wrote of the prisoner’s situation.

The judge also “rejected a crude separationist view of the Establishment Clause” in his 2009 opinion about a Ten Commandments display outside an Oklahoma courthouse, Professor Moreland added.

Pro-life leaders also praised the selection of Gorsuch. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, called him “an exceptional choice” for the Supreme Court.

He is “a distinguished jurist with a strong record of protecting life and religious liberty, as evidenced by his opinions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, and in his doctoral dissertation in which he wrote that ‘human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable,’” she said.

Gorsuch has not ruled on specific abortion cases, but Dannenfelser pointed to his previous work in his 2006 book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia” where he stated “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable,” and also wrote that “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

“I also suspect he would – quite rightly – view such deeply contested moral questions as properly resolved under our Constitution through the political process and not by judges,” Moreland said.

Pro-lifers also cited his dissent in the Tenth Circuit’s denial of a re-hearing in Planned Parenthood Association of Utah v. Herbert, after Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s move to defund Planned Parenthood was overruled in court.

His was an “important dissent” from the denial of a re-hearing, Ed Whelan, former clerk for Justice Scalia and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., noted in a conference call with reporters, saying it was “a very, very impressive opinion.”

When asked by BuzzFeed News if there was concern that he had not ruled specifically on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion across the country, Whelan continued to affirm his confidence in Gorsuch.

“How many lower court judges have written opinions on Roe v. Wade?” he asked.

“I look at his interpretive methodology and his character, and that gives me great comfort. It takes a very willful judge to misread into the Constitution, what the Supreme Court did in Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. And I don’t think Neil Gorsuch is that type of judge. He’s shown in case after case that he’s a serious textualist and originalist.”


How to watch the Super Bowl with a clean conscience

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 03:59

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2017 / 01:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Super Bowl Sunday. It's as American as apple pie, but in recent years, controversy has erupted over the beloved American pastime and – considering the risk it poses – whether or not the game of football is even worth it.

Whether one is a devoted football fan, or only watches once a year, Super Bowl Sunday holds a place as a major event for people across the country. However, some say that aspects such as commercialism, graphic content, and the life-changing injuries sustained by players should make Catholics think critically about the game they’re seeing, even as they cheer on the teams before them.

“I love football and in fact it would be difficult to find someone who loves football more than I do,” said Charles Camosy, professor of ethics at Fordham University. He even credits football for his existence, given that his parents met on a train to the Notre Dame-Alabama Sugar Bowl game in 1973. 

But despite his love for the game, Camosy said there are a variety of potentially troubling aspects about the Super Bowl. From the often lewd commercials and halftime show to the sometimes cult-like intensity of the fans and violence of the game itself, viewers must take care in how they view the Big Game, he said.

“The key is to be hyper aware of what this is, what you’re doing, and where you stand,” Camosy told CNA. “Be aware that we need to resist those things. Even call it out as you’re watching.” 

While the Super Bowl is the most-watched television event in the U.S., there is growing concern that behind the screen and underneath the helmet, the brains of the players competing in the Super Bowl are sustaining potentially life-altering damage. 

Within the past decade, researchers at various institutions have noted a link between repetitive brain trauma sustained in football – including hits that produce no immediate symptoms – and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Also known as CTE, the degenerative brain disease triggers progressive brain damage, and symptoms include memory loss, impulse control, depression and progressive dementia. The mental health problems created by CTE have also been linked to suicidal thoughts and attempts by former professional football players. 

CTE has been found in 96 percent of NFL players whose brains were submitted for a 2015 analysis by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University. The disease was also found in 71 percent of all football players – including high school players – whose postmortem samples were submitted for research.

This risk for life-changing brain damage, Camosy said, is “built into football.” 

“There are certain things built into football, at least the way we play the game now, that aren’t built into soccer” and other sports, he suggested. 

“Given what we now know and given how central violence is to the game, that gives another reason perhaps to resist this.” 

Camosy has written several essays on the morality of America’s football culture. He suggests that it is “morally problematic” to support a game that is so deeply intertwined with violence and connected to long-lasting damage for those who partake in it.

He pointed to the criticism voiced by Church Fathers including Tertullian for the Roman gladiator games and the Christians who went to see them. In his treatises, Tertullian slammed the games’ idolatry, the justifications for their bloody nature, the public’s addiction to watching them, and the violence of the matches themselves.

Many of these criticisms of the gladiatorial games, Camosy continued, are relevant to the way football is played today. “We prefer not to look at the violence. We somehow make it compatible with the non-violence Jesus calls us to,” he said.

Chad Pecknold, a professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America, had a different perspective.

While the gladiatorial games of the Roman Empire and American football today have some similarities – and can provide insight into the respective cultures that created them – there are also important differences, he said.

Most obviously, imminent death was a prominent characteristic of the gladiator games, in a way that is not characteristic of football.

“The Roman gladiatorial games were a by-product of war, and in this sense they were a potent cultural expression of Rome's ‘lust for domination,’” Pecknold said.

While theologians such as St. Augustine taught that in some circumstances, the violence of war could be justified, they criticized Rome’s approach to war and found that when the “horrific violence” of war was turned solely into entertainment in the gladiatorial games, that the games “were more pernicious than war itself,” he continued.

American football, Pecknold suggested, does not carry the exact same significance the early Christians cautioned against.

Still, he said, there is reason for caution with football.  

“I am not sure if we should worry about football in the same way that the early Church fathers worried about gladiatorial spectacle, but we should pay attention to how easily the goodness of sports can be disordered.”

Both Camosy and Pecknold acknowledged positive aspects to the game of football – including the God-given athletic talent, strategy and teaching of virtue, as well as the game’s ability to bring together families and communities. 

“If it can serve the common good of the family, the neighborhood, the community, then it's really terrific and we should thank God for it,” Pecknold said.

But that affection can quickly become disordered and occupy a disproportionate place in people’s lives, he cautioned. And the commercial aspect of football, which grows out of the economy, can also be concerning because of what it reflects about the culture.

Ultimately, he said, when approaching the Super Bowl and its content, “Christians can watch football with a clean conscience, but they might want to turn off the halftime show.”

Camosy agreed that it is possible to watch the Super Bowl with a clean conscience, but suggested that Christians avoid being drawn into the negative elements, perhaps by openly “(making) fun of the commercials and what the half-time show is all about.” He also warned Catholics who watch the Super Bowl to be wary of their own focuses and care for the game, and to be careful, when cheering for teams, “that we don’t create another source of ultimate concern here – that this isn’t another god.”

And Catholics should speak up about the violence that plagues the game, Camosy said.

“What I call for is a similar kind of shift that happened almost a hundred years ago,” he said, recalling Teddy Roosevelt’s reforms to the game when college students were dying during matches.

“Leave the good – get rid of the bad.”

This article was originally published Feb. 6, 2016.

Boy Scouts accepts gender identity as new standard for admission

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 19:19

Dallas, Texas, Jan 31, 2017 / 05:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Citing legal and community changes, the Boy Scouts of America have said self-declared gender identity now determines youth eligibility for its scouting programs. The move could add new difficulties for Catholic sponsors of scout troops trying to adapt to the organization’s relatively new policy on homosexuality.

“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application,” the Boy Scouts of America said Jan. 30.

The statement said its local councils will “help find units that can provide for the best interest of the child.”

The statement said Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting are “specifically designed to meet the needs of boys.” In previous years, the organizations have used individuals’ birth certificates to determine whether they are eligible for single-sex programs.

“However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state,” the statement said.

The new policy comes after a transgender child in New Jersey was asked to leave the Cub Scouts late last year. The child's pack was hosted by Immaculate Conception parish in Secaucus. The child had told CNN that “it's not fair because my friends get to do it, but I can't.”

CNA contacted the National Catholic Committee on Scouting for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

The Boy Scouts of America had announced in July 2015 that it would adopt a non-discrimination policy allowing homosexuals to be scout leaders and volunteers. The decision promised that churches with objections to homosexual behavior could set their own standards for affiliated organizations.

Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, himself a former boy scout, in summer 2015 reluctantly told his North Dakota diocese to disaffiliate from the Boy Scouts of America due to the legal risks and the moral confusion its leadership policy could cause for Catholics.

He said the policy could risk lawsuits for church-sponsored troops that attempt to hold their leaders and volunteers to Catholic moral standards.

Bishop Kagan lamented the goals of those who sought the policy change to “redefine what is acceptable and unacceptable in society.”

At the same time, the bishop suggested that the Boy Scouts of America would not be able to defend the previous policy in court given trends in the American legal system.

However, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, a leading member of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, had recommended “cautious optimism” towards that policy change, voicing hope that Catholic churches could still use Boy Scouts of America programs in a way consistent with Church teaching.

He said Catholic-chartered scouting units are “the only way we can have a direct influence” on Catholic youth involved in scouting.

At the same time, the bishop acknowledged there is no way Catholics can control the material in Boy Scout programs, merit badge material, and its Boys’ Life magazine.

Bishop Kagan recommended alternatives to the Boy Scouts, enumerating the Federation of North American Explorers, the Columbian Squires, and Trail Life USA. He also recommended alternatives to the Girl Scouts, listing American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers’ Girls Clubs, and the Federation of North American Explorers.

There are about 2.3 million members of Boy Scouts of America groups between the ages of 7 and 21. President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, is a past national president of the Boy Scouts of America and served on its executive board in 2013 when it voted to lift the ban on homosexual scouts, The New York Times reports.