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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 58 min ago

With a lifelong Catholic at the helm, Oregon eyes prison reform

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 16:20

Portland, Ore., Apr 10, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- The head of the Oregon prison system is looking to make significant changes to the way the state views punishment, and she insists that Catholics and other people of faith have an important role to play.

Colette Peters is the director of the Oregon Department of Corrections and a cradle Catholic. She is currently heading up a 10-year plan in the state that draws largely from the Norwegian prison system. The collaboration is part of the European Prison Project, which was initiated in 2017.

Peters told CNA that the project seeks to humanize the penitentiary experience. Following the Norwegian structure, she said the act of going to prison should be the penalty, rather than prison being a place where further punishment is administered. Jail time should emulate the community outside of prison, she said, with services including employment departments and libraries.

“Your liberties being taking away, being away from your family is your punishment. Everything else once you arrive in that prison system should model your community life. It should look as much [as possible] like the community that you left, in terms of programing, treatment, education, work, connectivity with your family,” she said.

This requires involvement from the outside community, including a greater presence of volunteers, Peters said.

About three-quarters of the 2,000 volunteers in prisons throughout Oregon are religious volunteers, she said. While there are paid chaplains on staff, religious leaders are relied on to lead spiritual ceremonies and provide other services.

Peters pointed to a 2012 study from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, which found that prisoners’ interaction with the outside community greatly reduced the chances of an inmate’s return to prison. This was true for prisoners who were visited by friends, family members, mentors and other community members. Visits from ex-spouses were a notable exception – they increased the risk of recidivism. According to the study, the best results involved the visitation of siblings, in-laws, fathers, and clergy.

“The primary element that they found was that visits reduced recidivism,” Peters said. “Families were at the very top of the list of course, but so were religious leaders.”

The European Prison Project is not so much a program as it is an exploration into a new outlook on the prison structure, in which the dignity and respect of the adults in custody (AIC) are prioritized, Peters said.

“This concept recognizes an AIC’s right to visiting, programming, treatment, and work, as well as their right to make complaints, to make use of community services, and to have access to an ombudsman or public advocate who will represent their interests and safety,” read an overview of the program.

The Oregon Department of Corrections has sent personnel to Norway twice as part of the initiative. The first trip involved Peters, a team of administrators, and a group of legislators to observe Norway’s prison structure. Last September, Peters took a team of 15 frontline correctional officers to the country to immerse themselves into prison jobs and other aspects of society, like churches and home life.

Norway’s citizen are very proud of its system, said Peters, noting that the country’s recidivism rate is about 20 percent, half that of Oregon. She added that in Norway, the “word inmate isn’t a scarlet letter,” but rather, time in prison is viewed as an opportunity for rehabilitation.

“Because [they] want them to be good neighbors … the community actually reaches into the prisons, engages with them in a way that’s pretty profound.”

In the U.S., Peters said, there are serious obstacles that restrict an inmate’s integration back into society. This includes “fear mongering” and a stigma surrounding a criminal record, which can make it difficult for former prisoners to find jobs, apply for housing and rebuild their lives.

A majority of inmates want to leave prison as good and functioning members of society, she stressed.

“Figuring out how to change that dynamic and change that perception, it’s only going to happen by bringing people inside,” she said.

“These volunteers will tell me that it is a spiritual experience for them – life altering and life changing – to hear the stories of individuals who most of them want to come home and be good, tax-paying citizens,” she added.

As all state prison facilities have opportunities for volunteer work, Peters encouraged Catholics to get involved with a local prison ministry. She said there are opportunities for individuals to meet with groups at a local jail or bring the Eucharist to Catholic inmates.

“I would love, just as our beautiful pope has proclaimed, that we … increase our Catholic communities’ involvement inside our prisons, not just in Oregon, but around the world.”

New York archdiocese opens new affordable housing

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 02:00

New York City, N.Y., Apr 10, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The site of a former church in New York City has been transformed into affordable housing units, and the Archdiocese of New York plans to develop 2,000 affordable units from its building stock over the next decade.

The St. Augustine Terrace, located in the Bronx, was formally opened on Monday, and was blessed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The new low-income housing development is administered by Catholic Homes New York, part of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.

At the April 8 opening ceremony, Dolan, along with Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, announced that St. Augustine Terrace will be the first of many new developments opened as part of a new affordable housing initiative.

St. Augustine Terrace contains 112 units of affordable housing, including 77 units for families. The other 35 studio units have been designated for people with chronic mental illness. Residents will receive on-site services from Catholic Charities’ Beacon of Hope House, which provides programming for people with mental illnesses.

Although the Archdiocese of New York owns the land of the building and services are administered by Catholic Charities NY, residents are not required to be of any particular faith.

Family units are reserved for people earning 60% or less of the area’s median income.
“As a City and State-funded project, the family units are marketed through the NYC Housing Connect website,” Paul Costigliano, director of communications at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA.

Eligible residents will be selected for housing via a lottery system, Costigliano explained.

There is a pressing need for additional affordable housing units in New York City, with approximately 700 people currently applying for each available affordable unit. In 2017, about 60,000 New Yorkers were living in homeless shelters, even as the state’s unemployment rate dropped during that time.

Speaking at the opening, Monsignor Sullivan said the St. Augustine Terrace is just the latest instance of the Catholic Church assisting the less fortunate.

“When the war on poverty began some 50 years ago, the Catholic Church enlisted very strongly in being the voice for the poor, yes, but being an actor on behalf of the poor. It began more or less around that time of the creation of affordable housing in so many different parts of New York City,” said Sullivan.

Ground broke on the project in 2015. The land was formerly home to St. Augustine Parish, which consolidated with another parish in 2010. St. Augustine’s original church bell is present at the site of the new apartment building.

Additional units are being developed throughout the Archdiocese, with five locations already slated for new apartment buildings in the next decade. Four are located in the Bronx, and one is in Manhattan.

 

Abortion takes center stage in state legislatures

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 18:28

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- With 2019 well underway, states across the country have seen an increase in bills related to abortion, as pro-life advocates seek more success and abortion rights backers fear Supreme Court decisions.

“There is likely more activity this spring than there has been in many years. Perhaps ever. Each year in the past several years we thought the wave had crested. But it hasn’t,” Steven H. Aden, general counsel at Americans United for Life, told CNA April 8.

“There’s a great deal of interest in laws that protect women from abortion’s harms and risks, and that protects babies in the womb,” he said.

Laws limiting abortion as early as 15 weeks into pregnancy have passed in Mississippi and Louisiana. At least six states have approved or are seriously considering legislation barring abortion based on the detection of the baby’s heartbeat, six to eight weeks into pregnancy.

“All of this shows that states have a great deal of political will to protect life and to take different avenues to do it,” Aden said. He credited a perception that the U.S. Supreme Court is “more open to abortion limits than it has been in the past.”

“For the first time in decades you do not have a majority on the Supreme Court that is committed to seeing abortion as a fundamental right. You have a pro-life majority.”

This has helped foster interest in pushing the limits, to see what cases the Supreme Court might take to decide whether and what kinds of new limits are constitutional.

“It’s a very healthy thing,” he said. “The Supreme Court will make its own decisions.”

In January, controversy arose over a Virginia state bill that a sponsor admitted would allow abortion up through birth. The outcry was further inflamed when Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist, suggested that if a woman in labor decided to abort and the baby was delivered alive, the baby would be “kept comfortable,” given medical attention “if that’s what the mother and the family desired,” and “a discussion would ensue” between the woman and her doctor on what to do next. The bill ultimately failed.

Aden suggested there is a “strong response” to the “extreme pro-abortion bills” seen in states like Vermont and New York, where “abortion is being legalized, for all intents and purposes, any time up to nine months, for any reason, and paid for by state taxpayer dollars as well.”

One such proposal is under consideration in Massachusetts, where the pro-abortion rights Republican Gov. Charlie Baker appears to have balked at a proposal to further strengthen abortion.

“I don’t support late-term abortions. I support current law here in Massachusetts,” Baker said, the State House News Service reports.

Abortion is currenty legal in Massachusetts after 24 weeks when the pregnant woman’s life is at risk. However, the ROE Act would also allow for abortions explicitly in cases of threats to a woman’s physical or mental health - a phrase that critics say has been interpreted broadly to essentially allow for abortion on demand - or “in cases of lethal fatal anomalies, or where the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.”

Planned Parenthood has claimed about 92 House members and 22 Senate members as co-sponsors of the legislation, numbered H. 3320 and S. 1209. These backers include Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler and Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Haddad.

Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, characterized it as an “extreme infanticide bill” that “removes all practical limitations on aborting unborn babies.” The bill would mean “absolutely nothing would be done to protect or even comfort a baby who survives a late-term abortion,” he objected.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston stressed that abortion involves vital questions of human dignity and cannot be described in “purely medical terms.”

“While the procedure has significant clinical dimensions, there is also a human reality that deserves more adequate recognition at any stage of development. By depersonalizing the reality, the legislation dehumanizes the decision faced by women, their families and physicians,” the cardinal said April 6.

O’Malley said even those who back the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which helped mandate legal abortion nationwide, should oppose the state law proposals.

He criticized provisions that allow legal abortion in “all nine months of pregnancy;” ban requirements that abortions be performed in hospitals, even late into pregnancy; bar requirements to care for a child who survives an attempted abortion; and prevent any requirement that a minor receive parental consent before undergoing an abortion.

Haddad, one of the co-sponsors, still backed the bill.

“Late-term abortions are for very specific reasons that should be decided with a medical professional and the family involved,” she said, according to the State House News Service. She objected said that women presently leave the state to seek abortion in cases of fatal anomaly.

“We’re talking a fetus that can’t survive outside the womb. We’re talking about a fetus that has no future,” said Haddad, denying the legislation constituted “abortion on demand.”

For Aden, of Americans Untied for Life, pro-abortion legislation of “radical extremism” only produces “a strong reaction on the other side.”

“You see many more states this legislative season looking to protect life at the earliest possible stages,” he said. “That’s why you see a lot of interest in personhood bills, a lot of interest in heartbeat bills.”

He suggested that pro-abortion rights advocates have been slow to see the importance of state legislatures and to recognize “what Americans United for Life and other pro-life groups have known for years: that politics is local, and that anything that happens in large part to move the ball down the field against abortion happens in state houses.”

In strongly pro-abortion rights legislatures, he said, abortion advocates are “not really breaking new ground.”

“They’re just looking to solidify gains that have been in those places for many years,” he said.

While New York’s bill was, in Aden’s view, one of the most radical, “ the truth is I don’t know what really more New York could do more to promote abortion.

“It pays for it with state Medicaid funds, there are virtually no restrictions on abortion facilities in New York, they make life very hard for pro-life pregnancy centers, and yet the numbers of abortions in New York have been dropping steadily year by year,” he told CNA. “No matter what they do, it seems, the right to life and the commitment of many others to the culture of life is still winning, in New York and other places.”

While the Republican Party has tended to support abortion restrictions in recent decades, with the Democratic Party strongly on the side of abortion, some Democrats have backed recent bills at the state level.

In early March, Tennessee State Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis was one of three Democrats in the House of Representatives to vote for a ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, according to The Tennessean newspaper.

“This was the first chance I’ve had in 25 years that I had to go on record and say I disagree with abortion,” said DeBerry, who has served in the House since 1995. The heartbeat bill in that state did not have the support of pro-life groups and the state Catholic conference, due to concerns it would be struck down as unconstitutional and further enshrine abortion in law.

Florida is considering a bill to require physicians to secure consent from a parent or legal guardian of a minor seeking an abortion before performing the procedure. More than half of U.S. states have such laws.

The Republican-controlled Kansas legislature has passed a bill requiring abortion doctors to tell women who take the two-part abortion drug regimen known as Mifepristone or RU-486 that the process can be reversed after taking the first pill, the Associated Press reports.

 

Abortion survivor testifies before Senate committee as bishops back bill

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops have urged support for legislation to limit abortion on the same day as abortion survivor Melissa Ohden appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ohden testified before the committee Tuesday during hearings on the Pain-Capable Child Protection Act, telling senators that “abortion doesn't spare a child from suffering, it causes suffering.”

“I have lived every day since discovering the truth about my survival at the age of 14 knowing that, sadly, children just like me are being subjected to similarly horrific, painful abortion procedures that lead to their death,” she said.

The bill would prohibit abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy, at which point there is broad consensus that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain.

Ohden survived a saline-infusion abortion when she was at 31 weeks’ gestation. She said her birthmother, who was a teenager, was pressured into having an abortion she did not want.

Five days after being injected with the saline solution, Ohden’s mother gave birth to her. She weighed only 2 pounds and 14 ounces.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s pro-life comittee, said that the bill highlights the “shameful reality that the United States is one of only seven nations worldwide that allows the barbaric practice of late-term abortion, when a child likely feels pain and might even live outside the womb with appropriate medical assistance.”

The legislation was introduced by committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has sponsored similar legislation each year since 2013.

"I don't believe abortion five months into the pregnancy makes us a better nation. America's at her best when she's standing up for the least among us,” said Graham during the hearing.

During her own opening remarks, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accused Graham of trying to play politics with women’s health, and that the bill itself is unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has made clear, repeatedly, that laws banning abortion before viability are unconstitutional,” Feinstein said, noting that similar state-level bans at 20 weeks have been struck down.

Ohden offered the senators a graphic account of how saline abortions like the one she survived are intended to kill the unborn child.

“As the toxic salt solution of the saline infusion abortion was injected into the amniotic fluid surrounding me in the womb, attempting to scald and poison me to death, I wonder how long it took for the pain to set in,” she said.  

“If you read about it online or in medical journals, you will find children like me called the ‘red skinned,’ or ‘candy-apple babies,’ because that toxic solution would turn the skin bright red, as it peeled it away and moved internally into the organs.”

Ohden said that her medical records state that “a saline infusion for an abortion was done, but was unsuccessful,” meaning that she was born alive. A nurse noticed her breathing, she explained, and brought her to the neonatal intensive care unit. Only then was any effort made to reduce the amount of pain she was in.

“I can only imagine how my pain finally began to subside as medical treatment was provided to me,” she said.

Due to the effects of the abortion and premature birth, Ohden had numerous medical issues, including jaundice, seizures, and respiratory issues. She has since recovered, and says her life is “a set of many miracles.”

Ohden, the founder of the Abortion Survivors Network, said she has connected with 281 abortion survivors. She suspects there are many more abortion survivors, as proper statistics on aboriton survival are not kept.

“Every child deserves better than to suffer the pain of an abortion,” she said.

Archbishop Naumann said in a statement circulated by the U.S. Bishops Conference Tuesday that such procedures are dangerous to the woman, and noted that the vast majority of Americans are opposed to late-term abortions.

“It is time for Congress to pass this bill,” he said.

“I also pray that consideration of this bill moves our country closer to recognizing all unborn babies as legal persons worthy of our love and respect,” said Naumann.

The other six countries that permit late-term abortion are Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Judge rules asylum seekers cannot be forced to remain in Mexico

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 14:30

San Francisco, Calif., Apr 9, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Asylum seekers crossing the southern border may no longer have to return to Mexico while their cases are heard after a federal judge blocked the Department of Homeland Security’s Migrant Protection Protocols.

Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled April 9 that Homeland Security’s new protocols, announced in December 2018, did not adequately protect the safety of asylum applicants.

Shortly after the Migrant Protection Protocols were announced, the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration advocacy organizations filed a suit on behalf of 11 people seeking asylum in the United States from Central America.

The suit alleged that preventing the asylum seekers from staying in the United States is a violation of international law regarding humanitarian protections.

The protocols would have kept those seeking asylum in the United States in Mexico while their cases were being decided. Asylum seekers were to remain in Tijuana, near the border with the United States, and would be bussed to San Diego for court appearances.

The policy was intended to prevent asylum seekers from missing court appearances in favor of remaining in the United States illegally.

"Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in December.

“Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico. 'Catch and release' will be replaced with 'catch and return,'" she said.

Nielsen resigned from the Department of Homeland Security on April 7, but remains in post until Wednesday. Her replacement has not yet been announced. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, will serve as acting secretary.

Seeborg said that the policy did not properly ensure the safety of asylum applicants while their cases were being decided. The decision does not have immediate effect and the administration has until Friday afternoon to decide if they will appeal.

In November 2018, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration issued a joint statement with the presidents of Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Legal Immigration Network stating they concern at the Trump administration’s policy about asylum-seekers.

“While our teaching acknowledges the right of each nation to regulate its borders, we find this action deeply concerning,” said the statement.

“It will restrict and slow access to protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, potentially leaving them in unsafe conditions in Mexico or in indefinite detention situations at the U.S./Mexico border. We reiterate that it is not a crime to seek asylum and this right to seek refuge is codified in our laws and in our values.”

The signatories said they hoped the administration would “seek other solutions” to improve the integrity of the immigration system, as well as protect children and families.

“The Catholic Church will continue to serve, accompany and assist all those who flee persecution, regardless of where they seek such protection and where they are from,” they said.

Calif. parish hopes parking lot signs will foster fruits of Holy Spirit

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:37

San Diego, Calif., Apr 9, 2019 / 10:37 am (CNA).- Hoping to curb incidents of after-Mass road rage, a Catholic church in San Diego has posted signs throughout the parking lot reminding parishioners of the graces they have received during Mass.

On Thursday, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church erected nine placards listing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Each sign lists a different fruit, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The parish’s pastor, Father Anthony Saroki, told CNA that the goal is to help parishioners focus on a life with Christ and the acquisition of spiritual fruits.

“Even just those words, the power of those words – reading them, thinking about them – brings us into that contact with that reality which is that life in Christ and the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are a good representation of what that life is.”

The idea arose following a number of bad reviews about the church parking lot on Yelp. Although the parish is vibrant, said Saroki, the parking can leave people feeling bitter, due to its constricted traffic outlet.

The parish has implemented traffic directors to keep cars moving along smoothly, but the parking situation still leaves parishioners feeling frustrated.

Saroki hopes the new placards will lead parishioners to reflect on sacramental grace and opportunities to live out this grace in practical and immediate ways.

For example, he said, the signs should prompt thoughts such as, “I can be patient, have self-control, exhibit gentleness and love, and have joy in my heart, even while I wait in a parking lot.”

The priest said the fruits of the Holy Spirit are powerful insights into an authentic Christian life, and standards for people to evaluate their spiritual development.

“My prayer routine, and the way I’m serving God, and the way I’m relating to others – if these are in alignment with God’s will, then I should be experiencing the fruits of the Spirit. If I’m not, then that is a cause to examine,” he said.

“It is just calling to mind these realities, and being open to them and therefore letting them have power in our lives.”

Saroki said the signs also tackle a bigger goal – promoting and maintaining reflection after Mass. Too often, he said, people receive Jesus in the Eucharist and do not meditate on the encounter.

The busy pace of life can pose distractions for those exiting the church building. But the graces received during Mass are not meant to stay in church, the priest said. Rather, they are intended to pour into every area of life.

“We do not savor God enough in our encounters with Christ and the sacraments. We rush through things, we use things and consume things, and we don’t savor,” he said.

“The idea is that the grace of the Mass will extend, it’s not meant to be just left there. It’s meant to extend through our whole life. We are meant to become who we receive. We need to be intentional about that.”

Abortion reversal hotline sees 'Unplanned' spike in calls

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 11:45

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2019 / 09:45 am (CNA).- The release and success of the pro-life film Unplanned is being credited with an uptick in women seeking information on reversing chemical abortions.

The Options Line, run by Heartbeat International’s Abortion Pill Rescue Network, has seen a recent spike in calls from women seeking to reverse their abortions since the film’s release.

Following the release of Unplanned in theaters on March 29, the hotline registered a 30% increase in calls compared to a normal weekend.

Andrea Trudden, the director of communications and marketing for Heartbeat International, told CNA that the sudden surge of interest was “definitely very interesting.”

“We do believe that [the sudden surge] was attributed to Unplanned, specifically."

Calls to the hotline have been both from women inquiering about reversing their abortions, and from people interested in learning more about abortion pill reversal and how they can spread the word, said Trudden.

Unplanned tells the story of former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director Abby Johnson’s ideological transformation into a pro-life advocate.

In the film, Johnson’s own chemical abortion is featured on screen, and on screen dialogue explaions how such abortions can be reversed. A number shown on screen at the end of the film connects viewers with various resources, including the Aboriton Pill Rescue Network.

The APRN was founded in 2012 and merged into Heartbeat International last year. The spike in interest following the release of Unplanned is part of a trend of continually rising interest.

Following Heartbeat International’s involvement, the APRN website was overhauled to include a live chat feature. Since then, they have seen the number of calls per month quadruple.

Trudden explained to CNA that calls to the APRN hotline have to be screened for hoaxes, but that the women are then connected to medical professionals who will work with the caller to reverse the effects of the abortion pill.

A chemical abortion is a two-step process that involves the injestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

The abortion can be reversed after a woman takes mifepristone, but before she takes misoprostol-- though this must be done quickly, Trudden explained.

If an ultrasound confirms the unborn baby is still viable, the mother is given a large dose of progesterone to reverse the effects of mifepristone, with additional doses of progesterone needed throughout the first trimester.

As part of the process, APRN also refers all women to a help center for support throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.

Trudden told CNA that there’s a “64-68 percent success rate” for women seeking to reverse their chemical abortions.

A study of sucessfully reversed abortions indicated good health outcomes for the children, Trudden said, with no increase in birth defects and even an overall lower preterm delivery rate than the general population.

Since 2012, when the APRN was established, more than 500 babies have been born after their abortions were reversed. Trudden told CNA that there are currently 150 women expecting babies in the near future after reversing their abortions.

Chuck Kozelman, co-writer and director of Unplanned, called the increase in the number of women seeking to reverse their abortions “wonderful.”

“We are in a moment of heightened awareness that abortion is the termination of a human being,” Kozelman told CNA.

“Many women who have chosen abortion wish they could go back and change their decision. What we’re seeing is that many of the women who still are capable of reversing that decision are doing so, and we think it’s wonderful.”

Buttigieg takes aim at faith of Trump administration, social conservatives

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has criticized Vice President Mike Pence for his views on gay marriage, saying that his civil marriage to his same-sex partner has led him closer to God.

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, contracted a civil marriage with his partner Chasten, in a June 2018 Episcopalian ceremony.

Before he became vice president, Pence was Indiana’s governor from 2013 until 2017. In that office, he supported an attempt to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and signed the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The act was criticized by gay rights activists as permitting discrimination by religious organizations.

“My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man,” said Buttigieg, speaking April 7 at a fundraiser for the Victory Fund, an organization dedicated to electing homosexual political candidates.

“And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”

Buttigieg said that he wishes “the Mike Pences of the world would understand” that he was born gay and that he cannot change this. “Your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator,” Buttigieg said.

Both Pence and Buttigieg are baptized Catholics, but neither attends Mass. Buttigieg describes himself as a devout Episcopalian. Pence attends an evangelical church and has described himself as an “evangelical Catholic.”

Earlier this year, a brief controversy arose after it was announced that Pence’s wife, Karen, had taken a job teaching art at Immanuel Christian School. Immanuel Christian School considers homosexual sex acts to be “moral misconduct,” and employees are not permitted to engage in or support these activities.

Pence has denied criticisms that he is “homophobic,” saying that his support for traditional marriage law and religious freedom initiatives, including Indiana’s 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, are not borne of homophobia.

Pence said in 2015 that Indiana law “does not allow businesses the right to deny services to anyone."

In 2015, he said on Twitter that “If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn't eat there anymore.”

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a lifelong partnership between one man and one woman. While teaching that homosexual acts are in themselves disordered and sinful, the Church also says that of those who experience same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., Petri, vice president and academic dean at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, told CNA that the Church’s view on human sexuality is rooted not only in tradition and scripture, but also in the natural law.

“Quite simply, the Catholic tradition going back not only to Judaism but to the natural law is that sex is ordered to procreation and the raising of children. Sex brings a man and a woman together in a union that is not only life-giving but also bond-creating. It’s a union that cannot be simulated by any other type of genital activity,” Petri said.

“Insisting that sex can or should work any other way is to lie to oneself in a desperate attempt to justify a disorder of sexuality and self-image.”

Petri told CNA that he rejects Buttigieg’s claim that God creates anyone to have a homosexual sexual orientation.

“To further conclude that God positively wills people to have disordered desires approaches the line of material heresy and flies in the face of what Christians have believed about God for two thousand years,” he said.

Last week, Pope Francis said that experiencing homosexual desire is not itself sinful, likening the experience to a disposition to anger, and underscoring the Church’s teaching that only acts, including acts of the will, constitute sin. The pope also noted an increasing sexualization of young people in society, and cautioned parents against making assumptions about their children’s sexual orientation.

On Meet the Press on Sunday, Buttigieg also defended earlier remarks in which he appeared to question President Donald Trump’s belief in God, suggesting that Trump’s Evangelical Christian supporters are hypocrites.

Trump, said Buttigieg, is not following scriptural imperatives for believers to care for widows and immigrants, and therefore is not behaving in a Christlike manner.

“The hypocrisy is unbelievable,” said Buttigieg. “Here you have somebody who not only acts in a way that is not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture in church, where it’s about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants, and making sure that you’re focusing your effort on the poor--but also personally, how you’re supposed to conduct yourself.”

Self-described white born-again/evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, with 81 percent in favor compared to only 16 percent voting for Hillary Clinton.

Historically, white evangelical support for Republican presidential candidates has never fallen below 74 percent. In 2016, the Protestant/other Christian vote split was nearly identical to the 2012 election.

Catholics, particularly Hispanic Catholics, supported Trump in 2016 at higher levels than they did Mitt Romney in 2012. The last time a Republican presidential candidate won majority support among Catholic voters was George W. Bush in 2004.

In response to Buttigieg’s comments on biblical imperatives, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked the mayor about his thoughts on abortion. Buttigieg, who considers himself pro-choice, said that he thinks abortion is a moral question that should be decided by a woman and her doctor, not by “a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.”

The Church teaches that abortion is the deliberate ending of an innocent human life, and is a grave sin.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that Buttigieg offered “a very selective account of Christianity.”

“Mr. Buttigieg invokes Christian authority wherever it can be made to agree with his politics, and yet finds it irrelevant wherever it disagrees,” said Pecknold.

“This approach makes Christianity into a political plaything. This is perfectly illustrated by the way Mr. Buttigieg claims that public policy should favor the poor, but not the unborn. When he calls out other politicians for their Christian hypocrisy, it’s less a matter of theological expertise than a case of the pot calling the kettle.”

“Authentic Christian political thought does not choose between those who need to be protected and defended,” Pecknold said.

College campus abortion pill mandate reintroduced in California

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 16:02

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 8, 2019 / 02:02 pm (CNA).- A California Senate committee has passed a bill requiring student health clinics on college campuses to provide abortion pills.

Senate Bill 24 would require all public universities in the state to offer medication abortions on site, beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a public supporter of abortion, vetoed a similar bill last September, saying it was was “not necessary,” as abortion services are already “widely available” off campus.

The California State Senate Health Committee passed the bill by a 7-2 vote April 3. The bill will be referred to the State Senate’s Education Committee before going before the full Senate for a vote.

The bill would also create a fund to provide a $200,000 grant to each public university student health center to pay for the cost of offering abortion pills, with money coming from nonstate sources such as private sector entities and local and federal government agencies.

The bill would only take effect if $10.2 million in private funds are made available by Jan 1, 2020.

Student health centers at California’s public universities do not provide abortions, but they do offer contraception and provide referrals to abortion facilities. Many of these centers do distribute the “morning-after pill,” which can block fertilization or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a uterus.

More than 500 women at public universities in California seek a medication abortion every month, according to KQED news.

California’s current governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said before his election that he would have supported the abortion pill mandate, but has not commented on the new version of the bill since he took office.

“Students should not have to travel off campus or miss class or work responsibilities in order to receive care that can easily be provided at a student health center,” said State Sen. Connie Leyva, the bill’s sponsor, in an April 3 statement.

Kathleen Buckley Domingo, senior director of the Office of Life, Justice & Peace for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said last September that she was grateful Brown vetoed the previous version of the bill.

“He recognized that this bill was unnecessary for California and did not empower our college women, but only offered more abortion for our state,” Domingo said.

Instead, Domingo said she hoped the state would pass bills to assist college students who are already parents. Such legislation would “ensure women’s Title IX protections for pregnancy are known and understood, and to make childcare and family housing for student mothers and fathers readily available and accessible for California women.”

Andy Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said he was not surprised by the veto and that students “were not pushing for passage” of the bill. Universities “did not want the responsibility of providing abortion pills to students,” he said.

Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United For Life, said at the time of Brown’s veto that he had “made California safer for women, and college campuses safer for their unborn children.”

“Governor Brown recognized that in a state where Medicaid already pays for elective abortions, there is no issue of access, since, as he said yesterday, ‘the average distance to abortion providers in campus communities varies from 5 to 7 miles, not an unreasonable distance,’” Foster said last September.

Foster also pointed out that “college health clinics are not equipped to handle the very serious risks of chemical abortion drugs,” which can include heavy vaginal bleeding and infection.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone, blocks progesterone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.

Medication abortions make up about one third of all abortions performed in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration reports that 22 deaths have been associated with the use of abortion pills in the US as of the end of 2017.

'Sister strike' gets her own baseball card

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 14:15

Chicago, Ill., Apr 8, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- A religious sister can expect that if she is faithful to her vows, fervent in prayer, and zealous in following Jesus, her face might someday wind up on the front of a holy card.

But few religious sisters expect ever to find themselves on a baseball card.

Sister Mary Jo Sobiek, OP, though? She’ll premiere on a Topps baseball card this summer.

The sister, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, caught attention from baseball scouts and casual fans last year, when she threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game last August.

The sister bounced the ball off her bicep before delivering a strike straight over the plate.

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Sobiek, a teacher at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, didn’t expect her pitch to go viral. But it did. Video clips got millions of views, made ESPN’s Sportscenter highlight reel, and were featured in national media.

The sister is no stranger to a baseball diamond. She played shortstop on the softball team at Cathedral Catholic High School in St. Could, Minnesota, and continued playing softball at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.

“Growing up, I was naturally gifted as an athlete — that was my God-given gift,” Sobiek told the Duluth News Tribune last year.

“To be a good athlete, you have to be strong in body, mind, and spirit,” Sobiek told Runner's World.

“There will be times that you’ll lose, and you have to know how to prepare your mind for those failures. Striving towards sainthood requires the same level of discipline, humility, and stick-to-it-ness.”

After Sobiek's pitch, Topps decided to place her on a baseball card in their Allen and Ginter series, which features baseball players along celebrities.

“We wanted to feature her on the set because she is a huge sports fan, a lifelong baseball fan,” Susan Lulgjuraj told Chicago’s WBEZ.
 
“And when we saw her throw that first pitch last year, it kind of clicked. We said, ‘How cool would it be to feature Sister [Mary] Jo on a card?’” she added.

Sobiek, 49, earned $1,000 for appearing on the card, which she intends to donate for a scholarship fund in her name at Marian Catholic High School.

Though her baseball card debut is complete, Sister Sobiek fans and memorabilia collectors will be waiting, most likely a while, for the release of that holy card.

Holy See tells UN a 'right to abortion' defies moral, legal standards

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 14:01

New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Holy See’s representative to the United Nations told the UN Commission on Population and Development that insistence upon a “right to abortion” at their annual spring meeting detracts from the commission’s efforts to address the real needs to mothers and children.

After UN representatives from European countries called for “speeding up progress” toward “universal access to sexual and reproductive services, including safe and legal abortion,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the UN, spoke out.

“To formulate and position population issues, however, in terms of individual ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ is to change the focus from that which should be the proper concern of governments and international agencies,” Auza said April 3.

“Suggesting that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the ICPD, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially those yet unborn,” the archbishop continued.

The Vatican representative also called for action to be taken when migrants are exploited, for “responsible consumption” of the world’s resources, and reaffirmation that the family is the fundamental unit of society.

Auza said that many of the questions involving the transmission of life cannot be adequately dealt with unless in relation to the good of the family.

“Governments and society ought to promote social policies that have the family as their principal object, assisting it by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and looking after the elderly, to strengthen relations between generations and avoid distancing the elderly from the family unit,” he said.

Planned Parenthood’s Director of Advocacy María Antonieta Alcalde also participated in the UN Commission on Population and Developement’s 52nd session April 1-5.

“Every year, millions of women and girls are forced to continue their pregnancies due to a lack of access to safe and legal abortion,” Alcalde told the UN Commission April 3.

Alcalde called for “comprehensive sexuality education; access to sexual and reproductive health services; access to safe and legal abortion; and civil society participation” to be included in the commission’s program of action.

The UN population commission concluded its fifty-second session reaffirming their commitment to the “programme of action” adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo 25 years ago.

Saint Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the Secretary General of the Cairo conference in 1994 stating that he was gravely concerned about the draft final document of the population and development conference. He noted that there was already a “tendency to promote an internationally recognized right to access to abortion on demand, without any restriction, with no regard to the rights of the unborn.”

“The vision of sexuality which inspires the document is individualistic,” St. John Paul II said.

The pope asked the Secretary General, “What future do we propose to adolescents if we leave them, in their immaturity, to follow their instincts without taking into consideration the interpersonal and moral implications of their sexual behaviour? Do we not have an obligation to open their eyes to the damage and suffering to which morally irresponsible sexual behaviour can lead them? Is it not our task to challenge them with a demanding ethic which fully respects their dignity and which leads them to that self-control which is needed in order to face the many demands of life?”

“Political or ideological considerations cannot be, by themselves, the basis on which essential decisions for the future of our society are founded. What is at stake here is the very future of humanity,” St. John Paul II said.

Franciscan University president resigns

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 09:50

Steubenville, Ohio, Apr 8, 2019 / 07:50 am (CNA).- Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, has resigned as president of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Fr. Sheridan informed the university’s trustees of his decision during a regular meeting of the board on Friday.

The unexpected decision comes almost exactly six years since his appointment to the role in April 2013. Although he informed the university board of trustees of his decision on April 5, he has agreed to remain in the post until a successor is found.

Fr. Sheridan said in a statement that he had made the decision “after a great deal of prayer.”

“Any university president would readily admit that all the days are long; many are great days, and some are difficult. Being a Franciscan Friar has taught me to recognize that all those long days—the great days, and even the difficult days—are blessed days and all the more so when I am among my Franciscan Family.”

“Franciscan University is a special and immensely spiritual place, and it was a blessing to serve in our mission to educate, evangelize, and send forth joyful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is and always will be a University dedicated to providing an education that is rigorous and demanding, vibrant and truly orthodox with an unwavering commitment to Catholic faith and tradition,” Sheridan said.

The university’s board of trustees released a statement April 8, in which they thanked Sheridan for his years of service to Franciscan University.

“We are thankful for Father Sheridan’s years of leadership and dedication throughout which he continued the Franciscan University tradition of exceptional education grounded in a passionately Catholic faith that enables our alumni to evangelize and transform the culture,” said Father Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

While the decision came as a surprise to the board and the wider university community, friends of Sheridan noted that the timing appeared well chosen.

“Fr. Sheridan certainly wants what’s best for Franciscan,” one friend of Sheridan told CNA, “and waiting until the board met towards the end of the academic year was timed to cause minimal disruption to the community.”

The same friend noted that Sheridan is “a gentleman and devoted to the school – he made it clear he would stay in place until his successor arrives and there is a smooth handover.”

“This was his decision and he made it on his own terms. There’s a great deal of surprise, but he certainly isn’t walking out on the school.”

The statement released by Franciscan University said the board of trustees expects to have a new leader in place by the start of the next academic year.

Sheridan’s resignation comes after the university has faced questions about its handling of historical sexual harassment cases, and its manner of addressing sexual assault claims made by students. In September 2018, Sheridan ordered the removal of a plaque commemorating a friar and former campus minister accused of assaulting young women, in addition to a review of campus policies related to sexual assault and harassment.

But Sheridan has also faced a different sort of criticism from some faculty members and internet-based groups and blogs, who have questioned his commitment to ensuring a faithfully Catholic approach to university education.

Much of the criticism stems from an incident in January, in which a professor used a text with inflammatory passages – termed blasphemous and obscene by critics – for an advanced reading course. At the time, Sheridan said that while the text was “scandalous and extremely offensive” he did not believe the professor who assigned it had any “malicious” intent, though he did replace him as the head of the English department.

In a letter apologizing to those disturbed by the text’s use, Sheridan highlighted the importance of forming students “to do battle against the blasphemy and heresy rife in our culture today.”

“Is anyone here perfect?” Sheridan later asked in a Jan. 14 homily. “No. Do people here make mistakes? Yes. But our particular Franciscan charism is rooted in ongoing conversion. That we resolve to continue to do better every day.”

Sheridan, a theologian and canon lawyer, is a published expert on Ex corde ecclesiae, the 1990 apostolic constitution of St. John Paul II on Catholic universities. Under Sheridan, Franciscan University hosted a series of symposia to mark the constitution’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

A friend of Sheridan told CNA that the aggressive and personal vitriol leveled against him by some blogs had taken a toll.

“Fr. Sean decided he needed a change in the light of all the criticism of him and the university,” he said. “He found the coverage to be pretty distasteful, and it was clearly taking a toll on him personally, and on the university community.”

One professor at Franciscan told CNA that the communion among the university’s faculty had suffered under the sustained criticism.

“Fr. Sheridan really couldn’t be a better example of humble leadership, devoted to the faith and the community here.”

“I wonder if this decision isn’t a final example of that humility,” the faculty member said, while describing it as a “devastating decision” nonetheless.

The professor praised Sheridan’s commitment to strengthening the Catholic identity and academic rigor of the university.

Friends of Sheridan also note that in 2018 Franciscan University enrolled its largest ever freshman class, and registered a balanced annual budget – both stated aims of the university administration.

“It takes mature, creative teamwork to achieve that kind of success, and that is what will be hard to replace,” one close friend of Sheridan said.

The same friend noted that Sheridan’s religious community will be holding elections in July.

“Fr. Sean is a young man who can teach, preach, and lead with holiness and humility – that’s a rare combination. I am sure that an order with world-wide reach will soon find a new role for him.”

Sheridan himself said he feels “called to continue my service to the Catholic Church in another capacity to be determined in consultation with our TOR minister provincial.”

“The sincerity and seriousness Franciscan students have for the faith will continue to inspire me, and I am especially thankful for the ministry and witness of the friars. In my years in higher education, as student, faculty member, and researcher of Ex corde Ecclesiae and the Code of Canon Law, I have not encountered members of a university community so committed to pursuing their beliefs.”

“I leave Franciscan a better teacher and catechist and appreciative of the time to grow in this area of my ministry.”

The last Irish priest in Wyoming

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 06:00

Cheyenne, Wyo., Apr 6, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- “I am the last F.B.I.: foreign-born Irish,” Father Tom Sheridan, a retired priest of the Cheyenne diocese, told CNA.

Sheridan speaks with an Irish accent mixed with the slow drawl of a longtime Wyoming resident. The rural state is the least populated in the country. Its 570,000 residents, spread across the state, would reach a density of less than six people per square mile.

The 80-year-old priest is himself from rural Ireland, five miles outside Cavan town in County Cavan. He grew up just miles from the border with Northern Ireland, during the decades in which Ireland became self-governing and independent. He attended Cavan’s St. Patrick’s College, as did some 12 of the Irish priests who served in Wyoming.

Sheridan remembered from his childhood two priests who served in Wyoming but would return home to Ireland to visit.

“They’d come home when I was young, and take out a jug of whiskey and take my dad fishing,” the priest recounted.

“Needless to say, they didn’t catch any fish,” he quipped. “They were great men.”

About 34 Irish or Irish-born priests from different parts of Ireland have served in Wyoming. Three of them were Sheridan’s cousins.

Among these many priests, Fr. John Brady was uncle to Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, according to Sheridan.

“He was called the bard. He used to recite poetry,” he said.

Sheridan set up a memorial for these priests outside St. Patrick’s Church in Laramie, where he now lives in retirement. The memorial, in the style of a Celtic Cross, was blessed by Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne in 2017.

“I could have been a priest in Ireland, but I didn’t want to be,” said Sheridan, the second oldest of eleven children who was ordained in 1964. “In those days there were plenty and plenty of priests.”

By contrast, the U.S. was “a long ways away, and there was no phone in those days, and you’d only come home once in three, four, five, many years.”

He arrived in Rawlins, Wyoming in September 1964. Among his first memories was fishing in the Platte River. Homesickness was a problem in his first year. He recounted a Christmastime visit to the grocery store.

“They were playing music: ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’,” he said. “And it hit me. And I stood there crying.”

“It was quite a change. The first three or four years was quite an adjustment,” Sheridan added. He found Wyoming different from Ireland in things like “the distance, and the weather, and the size of the ranches, and all of that.”

“The people, though, are friendly. They have that in common with Ireland,” he said. “I think Irish priests fit in pretty good. Towns are small.”

Wyoming’s culture of hunting and fishing, and its strong dependence on farming and ranching, also made it easier for Sheridan to fit in.

“It was an easier adjustment,” he said. “Some of my classmates went down to Alabama, places like that, it was more of an adjustment because you had an Anglo-Black thing. I grew up with a Protestant-Catholic thing and the Irish border.”

One bishop has compared the spread-out parishes of Wyoming to the geographic area of many Irish dioceses: in Wyoming, each parish might be 100 miles from the next.

Such great spaces played a role in Sheridan’s ministry.

“I used to drive 90,000 miles a year,” he said. “I spent 21 of those years on Interstate 80. Now it’s not as dangerous, but I had a lot of angels looking out for me.”

The priest’s mother visited him in Casper in the 1980s. She liked old Western movies, so they visited the Murphy Ranch outside of town.

“She asked ‘Mr. Murphy, did the cattlemen shoot the sheepmen’?” Sheridan recounted.

“They did,” Murphy said, in Sheridan’s retelling, citing the Johnson County War of the late 1800s. “Not very many, but there were a few shot.”

“She went back home and she shook them up because they used to say it was all a myth, all that ‘Western stuff’,” Sheridan said.

Looking back on his life, the priest was grateful.

“I’m thankful to God for the gift of my priesthood in Wyoming: the people I served and worked with and shared a life with me, and the priests and the bishops, of course.”

“I wouldn’t change it for nothing,” he said. “I was blessed. Blessed in many ways, with all the driving.”

He stressed his love for the people of Wyoming, especially the youth.

“We had a great youth program. we used to go to youth conventions every two years. We met and by the time we got wherever we were going we were all a family. Things like that.”

There were other attractions, too.

“Fishing and golfing, you could always get on a golf course. It was never too crowded,” he said.

Another Irish-born priest, Monsignor James O’Neill, passed away in Casper on March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, at the age of 89. He had graduated from St. John’s Seminary in Waterford, Ireland and was ordained a priest in June 1954. He had arrived in Wyoming two months later with three or four other priests, Sheridan told the Wyoming radio station K2 Radio.

“It would have been considered, what we can say, ‘English-speaking mission country’,” he said.

Msgr. O’Neill had served as pastor of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne. For 17 years, he celebrated a weekly televised Mass broadcast to central Wyoming, western Nebraska and northern Colorado. He won an award from the Catholic Extension Society for this work, Rev. Michael Carr said.

Sheridan estimated O’Neill’s audience at about 10,000 people, about half of whom were non-Catholic.

Father Thomas C. Fahey, another Irish-born priest who long served in Wyoming, passed away in Huntington, Indiana on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Born in Co. Galway in 1919, he had served as a priest in Wyoming from 1947, the year of his ordination in Carlow, Ireland, through his retirement in 1990. Fahey would have turned 100 years old this Dec. 6.

Sheridan reflected on the changes in his homeland.

“There’s no priests coming from Ireland anymore,” he said. “Probably when I came in the 50s and 60s, those were peak times, but they started going down in the 90s.“It’s a sad state really,” he added, noting that only one priest had been ordained for his home diocese in 15 years.

For Sheridan, the contemporary Irish are “suffering from the progressive, socialist condition” which St. John Paul II warned about.

Compared to Wyoming, there was also a lack of lay participation in Ireland.

“One of the blessings here was that lay people got involved with the Church. They had to, here, said Sheridan.

In his view, Irish society had a Church and government that were strongly united and the Church didn’t really let the laity take up their role.

“That explains part of it in Ireland for sure. And back East too, to some extent, New York, and those areas, because they had plenty of priests.”

“Not out here. There never were really enough priests. All depending on immigrants,” he said.

Sheridan’s 2015 book, “A Moment in Ministry,” includes a chapter on Wyoming’s Irish priests.

 

US bishops, CRS urge administration to grant Venezuelans protected status

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders issued a letter Thursday to United States government officials asking for a temporary legal status for thousands Venezuelan nationals who would otherwise risk returning to a hazardous crisis.   

The April 4 letter asks of the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State that Venezuela be designated for temporary protected status for 18 months.

TPS allows people who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work.

The letter was signed by Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman to the USCCB Committee on Migration, and by Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services.

“Given the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, its nationals cannot safely be returned home at this time,” the letter read.

According to the letter, an estimated 150,000 Venezuelans would qualify for TPS.

Since Nicolas Maduro became president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and an estimated 3 million have emigrated.

“Our nation has the legal ability, as well as the moral responsibility, to provide Venezuelans in the U.S. with temporary protection,” wrote Callahan and Bishop Vasquez.

“As you well know, while stability in Venezuela hasbeen tenuous since 2015, it is continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate,” they added. To evidence this claim, they noted that the State Department issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela last month, shortly after it withdrew its diplomatic personnel from the country.

In issuing the travel advisory, the State Department “explained that in addition to violent political demonstrations and shortages in basic necessities (food, water electricity, and medical care), the country suffers from high rates of violent crime, such as homicide,armed robbery, and kidnapping.”

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself suggested that the Organization of American States should be concerned with the crisis in Venezuela (along with those in Cuba and Nicaragua), rather than with lobbying for abortion.

The Catholic leaders noted that “distressing conditions discussed above show that such a designation would be appropriate and could be made either on the grounds that: (1) Venezuela is suffering from 'ongoing armed conflict within the state' and, consequently, return of nationals to the country would 'pose a serious threat to their personal safety,' or (2) that it isfacing 'extraordinary and temporary conditions' that prevent nationals 'from returning to the state in safety,'” making note of the conditions required for TPS under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Callahan and Vasquez said that “providing a TPS designation for Venezuela is also a moral, compassionate and needed response.”

TPS would ensure that Venezuelans resident in the US “are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations7and give them an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, andprovide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home,” they added.

The Trump administration has for the most part been hesitant to extend existing TPS designations.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security extended TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua to January 2020 only as the result of a federal court order. The administration had perviously determined this status was no longer merited, and it was set to lapse.

Another lawsuit is seeking to extend TPS for Honduras and Nepal.

Appeals court upholds Kentucky ultrasound abortion law

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 18:32

Lexington, Ky., Apr 5, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- A federal appeals court has upheld a Kentucky law requiring that abortion doctors show ultrasound images of the baby to the mother, describe the images on the screen, and play the sound of the fetus’ heartbeat.

The Catholic bishops of Kentucky praised the ruling in an April 4 statement.

“Given the devastating effect that abortion has on both the unborn child and often the mother who later regrets the abortion, it is vitally important that women have all of the information they need to make a decision that is as fully informed as possible,” they said.

“The statute in question was passed to ensure women have access to unbiased and medically sound information about abortion procedures and the unborn child in the womb before making an irreversible decision to have an abortion. The court held that this is a legitimate interest of the Commonwealth and that a doctor does not have a right to withhold such information.”

House Bill 2, also known as the “The Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” originally passed in 2017, but had been blocked by a lower court ruling that found the requirements it placed on doctors violated their First Amendment rights.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its ruling Thursday and struck down the District Court’s decision.

The majority found that House Bill 2 “provides truthful, non-misleading, and relevant information aimed at informing a patient about her decision to abort unborn life,” and requiring disclosure of that kind of information is “part of the state’s reasonable regulation of medical practice.”

“The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description, and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her,” Circuit Judge John Bush wrote in the majority opinion.

“This also inherently provides the patient with more knowledge about the effect of an abortion procedure: it shows her what, or whom, she is consenting to terminate,” he continued.

“That this information might persuade a woman to change her mind does not render it suspect under the First Amendment. It just means that it is pertinent to her decision-making.”

Though the doctor is required to display images of the ultrasound and simultaneously describe the image to the patient, the patient is not required to look at the image or listen to the description. The doctor must also play the sound of the fetal heartbeat for the patient but may turn off the volume at the patient’s request.

Doctors who fail to comply with the new regulations could face a $250,000 fine and be referred to Kentucky’s medical licensing board.

Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that the information required under HB 2 has “no basis in the practice of medicine” and “does not permit physician discretion,” and it would, in her view, “require physicians to harm their patients with ‘no medical purpose.’”

In their statement, the Kentucky bishops voiced gratitude for the ruling.

“[W]e also reiterate our appreciation to Kentucky policy makers for making the protection of children and women in vulnerable situations a top priority,” they said. “We look forward to continuing to work with our elected officials to ensure access to information and also to necessary protections in the workplace, health care, education, and all that Kentuckians need to thrive and achieve their God-given potential.”

The Kentucky legislature passed two pro-life bills last month which are already facing legal challenges from abortion groups. The pair of bills would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and for discriminatory reasons such as the race or sex of the child.

District Judge David Hale temporarily blocked the “heartbeat” law in March, saying it may be unconstitutional.

Emails show Planned Parenthood behind California rule to make churches pay for abortions

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 17:01

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 5, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A 2014 California rule forcing religious groups, including churches, to cover elective abortions for employees was the result of direct pressure from Planned Parenthood, internal emails have shown.
 
On April 4, three churches filed a notice of appeal against the measure, which they contend violates basic religious freedom and conscience protections. In support of the appeal, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the churches, submitted internal emails between Planned Parenthood employees and state Department of Health and Human Services.
 
“The government shouldn’t be forcing churches to pay for abortion, and it is shameful and inappropriate that the government did so in this case at the bidding of Planned Parenthood,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus in a statement.
 
The emails show lobbyists from Planned Parenthood insisting that agency rules be changed to force religious groups – specifically naming Catholic universities – to provide coverage for elective abortions.
 
Galus said, “California officials are required to follow the law and legal precedent, not the dictates of groups that have an axe to grind against religious organizations that don’t share their views on abortion. We are asking the 9th Circuit to strike down this obviously unconstitutional mandate.”
 
Under the rules in force in March 2014, Loyola Marymount University employees were obliged to take out third-party coverage for abortion and Santa Clara University intended to bring in a similar arrangement, an email from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California’s chief legal counsel said.
 
The email was addressed to staff at California HHS and asked for “another meeting” to discuss the matter.
 
A subsequent email between a Planned Parenthood legislative advocate and an HHS staff member recorded a March 13, 2014 meeting with Donna Campbell, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Legislative Affairs at HHS.  
 
The emails notes the meeting was to “explore whether there is a regulatory/administrative fix” to prevent religious groups opting out of covering elective abortions, “or if legislation is needed.” If the rules could not be tightened, the email says, Planned Parenthood had drafted legislation which it would arrange sponsorship for.
 
In a March 17, 2014, email to Campbell, the Planned Parenthood legislative advocate said that “while we would prefer to see [the exceptions for employers not to fund elective abortions] resolved without legislation,” the abortion provider was “concerned” that HHS would not make the necessary changes.
 
The email then offers a trade: Planned Parenthood would not have new legislation introduced provided the state administration offered certain guarantees, including an undertaking to rescind already-approved healthcare plans which did not meet with Planned Parenthood approval.
 
“Simply saying that [employer] healthcare plans only need to cover ‘medically necessary’ abortions has been the source of the issue and [this] does not solve the problem,” the email warns.
 
In late April, Planned Parenthood emailed Campbell to “check in on HHS and [the California Department for Managed Health Care] progress, including where you are in the timeline to find a solution in 4-6 weeks?”
 
In an email dated the next day, Campbell responded to thank them for “checking in” on her progress.
 
“We are still working with DMHC on the legal and practical issues related to the ‘updated’ interpretation, if you will.” Campbell then promised a “more thorough progress report for [Planned Parenthood] in mid-May.”
 
In August, 2014, California’s Department of Managed Health Care ruled that all healthcare plans must cover elective abortions.
 
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Life Legal Defense Foundation and the Catholic Bishops of California filed several federal legal complaints against the rule, citing the 2005 Weldon Amendment which denies federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
 
The amendment defines healthcare entities as individual physicians or health care professionals, a hospital, “a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan.”
 
In June, 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the complaints. The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

Analysis: In DC, Archbishop Gregory's promise of honesty will define him

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory told Washington Catholics Thursday that “the only way I can serve this local archdiocese is by telling you the truth.”

Gregory will be installed as Washington’s archbishop in May, likely bringing to an end the acute crisis the Archdiocese of Washington has faced in recent months, amid pervasive questions about the integrity, and especially the honesty, of its outgoing leader, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Wuerl came under fire after revelations emerged last June regarding the sexual misconduct of his own predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, and after his record as the former Bishop of Pittsburgh was scrutinized in the July report of a Pennsylvania grand jury examining clerical sexual abuse and institutional response.

The cardinal, it should be made clear, has not himself been accused of any act of sexual misconduct. But he has been criticized for seeming to insufficiently address problems or untenable situations in his dioceses, and the cardinal has faced relentless questions about what he knew and did, at various times in his dealings with McCarrick. This criticism became particularly acute after CNA reported that Wuerl had knowledge of allegations against McCarrick for more than a decade before they came to light, though he had seemed to deny them.

When Gregory was introduced to Washington Catholics April 4, he seemed acutely aware of those criticisms.  

“I will always tell you the truth as I understand it” Gregory promised his new flock.

Gregory has now set the stake by which his tenure as Washington’s archbishop will be measured. By his own account, he will be the archbishop of transparency.

And questions will certainly be waiting for him.

Catholics in the U.S., among them the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, have been looking for answers on McCarrick since June, and once Gregory takes the reins from Wuerl, they will turn to him for those answers.

Gregory is likely to face questions about McCarrick’s influence on the Archdiocese of Washington, about his financial administration, his relationship with the Vatican, with priests, seminarians, and religious orders, and his relationship with Wuerl, his predecessor.

The nature of McCarrick’s apparent “prohibition” from living in a seminary, and the veracity of other admonishments and exhortations alleged by Archbishop Carlo Vigano has not yet been disclosed. The nature of the relationship between McCarrick and the Institute of the Incarnate Word, at whose seminary he lived for years, has not yet been clarified. The influence of McCarrick’s apparent generosity in Rome has not yet been unpacked, nor has the source of his financial largesse been explained. Gregory will, doubtlessly, be asked about these things.

There will also likely be questions about Wuerl, his relationship with McCarrick and with the apostolic nuncio, and about whether there were other issues in the Archdiocese of Washington that have not been addressed with transparency, and according to proper procedure.

When McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, Gregory issued a powerful and candid statement.

“I am personally disheartened because in 2002 I stood before the body of bishops and the people of God as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and made assurances in my own name and that of the Church in the United States that this crisis of faith and leadership was over and would not be repeated,” Gregory wrote.

“I never knew or suspected the hidden side of a man whose admired public persona concealed that of a violator of foundational Christian morality and of young people who trusted him. Like any individual who discovers far too late that a friend has a history of moral misconduct, I now stand dumbfounded that I was so unaware and naïve. I know that many other bishops feel the same.”

“Our people are disappointed with bishops in general who seemingly cannot or will not act decisively to heal this festering wound. They are perplexed and sickened that the Holy See may well have dismissed multiple warning signs that should have halted Theodore McCarrick and others earlier in their careers,” he added.

“I pray that this moment, and these days, weeks, and months ahead, will be an opportunity for light to break through the darkness, and for darkness to be exposed to the light. I pray that all victims and survivors of sexual abuse will come forward and receive the help, support, and healing they need. And I pray that our Church and our leadership will be renewed and transformed by the light of Christ and have the courage to take the necessary next steps.”

In file cabinets soon to be under his control, are likely some of the answers that Gregory, and other bishops, and many other Catholics have been hoping to find. Gregory has promised to tell the truth about what he knows. He has conceded that he might not always know the answers, but said that when he does, he will share them.

Making good on his word may not always prove easy for Washington's new archbishop. But Archbishop Gregory likely knows that if he is going to restore trust among his priests, his people, and among Catholics hopeful about his leadership, the promise of honesty will be one he has to keep.

 

Catholic University students vote to block porn

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 16:20

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- Students at The Catholic University of America have asked the administration to ban the top 200 pornography websites from its internet system.

 

The call came in a petition and resolution passed by the university’s Student Government Association and signed by its student body president on Monday, April 1.

 

The “Resolution for a Pornography Free Campus Network,”  was sponsored by student Sen. Gerard McNair-Lewis, a junior at the University. It states that the Student Government Association Senate “hereby requests that the University take an outward stance on the use of pornography by prohibiting access to the top 200 pornography sites through the campus network.”

 

“This allows the University to remove itself as a means in accessing such material.”

 

The resolution was passed by a vote of 13 to 12, and signed by SGA President Jimmy Harrington. Student vice president, Weston Kirby, cast the tie-breaking vote.

In a statement issued after he signed the resolution, Harrington said that he did not think that Catholic University of America students had any inherent right to access pornography on the school’s internet.

 

“I am signing the Resolution not from purely religious or Catholic grounds, but because The Catholic University of America can and should exercise its rights to prohibit the use of pornography on the campus network,” said Harrington.

 

One of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Alexandra Kilgore, told CNA that she was surprised to learn action had not already been taken.

 

“I was honestly shocked to learn that such a ban wasn't already in place. Even my public high school blocked inappropriate content on its wi-fi, so I knew The Catholic University of America could do better,” she said.

 

“As a woman, I thought it was important to be a cosponsor to bring to light that pornography is not just a men's issue. Not only does the industry exploit and prey upon primarily women and girls, but females can struggle with addiction and consumption just as much as males.”

 

Kilgore described the resolution as a positive expression of corporate concern among the student body, not a condemnation.

 

“Our resolution is not intended to shame anyone or to make pornography addiction more isolating than it already is. Rather, it demonstrates the Student Government Association's commitment to the well-being of the student body and the University's continued demonstration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

 

Harrington rejected the idea that blocking pornography amounted to censorship or a violation of personal freedoms, saying “it is a regulation that the national University of the Catholic Church or any private institution ought to enact.”

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.

 

“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” states the Catechism.

 

Harrington pointed out in his statement that many secular organizations ban pornography from their networks, not only out of moral concerns, but also becasue such websites often contain viruses and other malware that can damage machines.

 

“If a secular company can block these sites from their networks and computers, then I am even more convinced that The Catholic University of America ought to be able to and should regulate these sites on its own network,” said Harrington.

 

Cornelius Deep, a member of the student Senate and one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, told CNA that the student body reaction to his resolution was not what he had expected.

 

“Surprisingly, the majority of people I have come across have thanked me for standing with this bill,” Deep said. Others have told him that while they were initially against the resolution, they changed their minds after attending the Senate meeting and hearing arguments against pornography.

 

Deep told CNA that he believes that most men his age recognize that pornography is bad, but continue to consume it due to its addictive nature. Still, he believes that what he and his fellow senators are doing is an important step.

 

“It is important to be the change you want to see in the world and if we want to see pornography, the intrinsic evil of degrading human beings, be eliminated than we must be the ones to start the change,” said Deep.

 

The resolution also enacted a clause requesting that the school provide additional pastoral services through its Counseling Center and Campus Ministry offering assistance to those who exposed to pornography.

 

Kilgore told CNA that many services were already available to students, and that these had a real value.

 

“Campus Ministry offers spiritual direction and/or aid in finding a spiritual director off campus, if that's the student's preference,” Kilgore said.

 

“The University Counseling Center also provides 45 free therapy appointments to students and unlimited group therapy appointments if the student would prefer to take a secular route. Just yesterday, Campus Ministry hosted Matt Fradd to speak about the myths surrounding pornography and to offer resources to students struggling [with addiction.”

 

While the resolution has been voted on and signed, it is technically non-binding and there is no guarantee its goals will ever come into fruition.

 

University administrators, though, told CNA that they are grateful with the steps taken by the students on this particular issue and will consider the ban in the future.

 

“It is difficult to ignore the firm stance against pornography made by our student body,” Karna Loyoza, spokesperson for The Catholic University of America, told CNA.

 

When the university last considered banning porn from the network, they found it would have been both expensive and ineffective. Now, due to advances in technology, it is now more affordable to implement this kind of filter, said Loyoza.

 

While students may work around a firewall and continue to access porn, “the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the University network sends the right message to the student body.”

 

“No decision has been made on the ban, but the University is grateful to the SGA for bringing to our attention their desire that we ban pornography on the University network,” said Loyoza.

‘No backdoors, no end-runs’: Pompeo vows total end to foreign aid for abortion

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Mike Pompeo has said the Trump administration is doing its “level best” to prevent foreign aid dollars reaching organizations that perform abortions, and was looking to close “loopholes” in the current system.

 

The Secretary of State made the promise during an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, broadcast April 4.

 



 

Pompeo announced last month that the Trump administration would implement the Global Protect Life Policy, also known as the Mexico City Policy, “to the broadest extent possible.” The policy bars taxpayer funds from going to nongovernmental organizations abroad that perform abortions.

 

“We will enforce a strict prohibition on backdoor funding schemes and end-runs around our policy,” Pompeo told reporters on March 26. “American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions.”

 

In an interview with Catherine Hadro, Pompeo said that President Donald Trump had made clear to him that protecting the unborn “is an important part of what this administration is working to do.”

 

Part of that work, Pompeo said, is working to ensure that taxpayer funds aren’t used to support nongovernmental organizations that perform “abortion or abortion-related services.”

 

“We want to do everything we can to make sure that that does not happen,” he said, adding that the strengthened policy will close “loopholes” that allowed nongovernmental organizations to circumvent the policy.

 

 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to @EWTNProLife tonight with more details about his recent pro-life announcement from the State Department. pic.twitter.com/wZWABh2l6G

— Catherine Hadro (@CatSzeltner) April 4, 2019  



 

Pompeo also said last month that the administration will fully enforce the Siljander Amendment, a federal law that prohibits the use of taxpayer funds—including foreign assistance—for lobbying either for or against abortion overseas.

 

Pompeo said that unsparing enforcement of this existing law would be “a substantial step.”

 

“We want to make sure that everything we do in the way that we contract, in the way we communicate, every organization to which United States taxpayers provide funds understands their obligation, their duty to ensure that there’s not the promotion of abortion anywhere in the world,” he said.

 

Pompeo disputed claims by Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, that the policy will “censor” doctors abroad.

 

“We know the First Amendment here in the United States,” Pompeo said. “We’re doing nothing to deny anyone the ability to speak about a subject that they deem important and indeed even if they disagree with this administration’s views. What we’re simply saying is that the American money, American policy is going to push back. We’re going to do our level best to ensure that the least amongst us, the unborn, aren’t—with U.S. taxpayer dollars—aborted.”

 

Asked what Trump has said about protecting life overseas, Pompeo replied, “he’s made it clear: that’s the mission.”

 

Kate Scanlon is a producer of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

After Supreme Court ruling, Texas bans all chaplains from execution rooms

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 02:17

Austin, Texas, Apr 5, 2019 / 12:17 am (CNA).- The state of Texas has banned all prison chaplains from its execution chamber, following a Supreme Court decision that halted the execution of a Buddist man who was denied the presence of his chaplain.

Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist, had been scheduled to die this Thursday. Murphy requested access to a Buddhist minister a month before his scheduled execution, and his request was denied because the minister was not a state employee. The prison system only allowed clerics employed by the state to enter the execution chamber. Currently, the state only employs Christian and Muslim clerics.

Seven Supreme Court justices agreed that Murphy’s rights had been violated and that his execution should be stayed. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join the majority opinion.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s newest member, authored a concurring opinion on why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had violated Murphy’s rights.

Kavanaugh said that that allowing only Christian and Muslim ministers to be present with death row inmates in the execution chamber was discriminatory, suggesting that a more just resolution would be that no chaplains be permitted in the execution chamber and instead they be allowed to sit in the viewing area.

To avoid discrimination, Kavanaugh said, the Texas prison system should either allow chaplains of all faiths into the execution chamber or else not allow any chaplains at all.

New execution procedures signed April 2 say that chaplains and ministers may “observe the execution only from the witness rooms.” Currently, friends and family of the murder victims and prisoners, as well as media, are allowed to watch executions through a glass window in small viewing rooms adjacent to the death chamber, the Texas Tribune reports.

State employed chaplains will still be made available in the viewing room if the prisoner desires.

The state’s decision to ban all chaplains from the execution chamber comes two months after the Supreme Court denied an Alabama Muslim man’s request to have his imam present at his execution, citing the last-minute nature of his request.

Murphy, together with six other inmates known collectively as the ‘Texas 7,’ was present at the scene of a 2000 robbery in Irving, TX during which members of the group killed an off-duty police officer.

All members of the 7, except one who took his own life, were sentenced to death for the officer’s murder, as Texas law permits capital punishment for those who were involved in the act of a capital crime.

The Texas Catholic Conference last week applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to stay Murphy’s execution, saying, “Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church.”

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