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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: 1 hour 28 min ago

Tennis competition neglected student athletes who observe Sabbath, lawsuit says

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 19:50

Seattle, Wash., Aug 7, 2019 / 05:50 pm (CNA).- High school tennis players who observe the Sabbath on Saturday have challenged a Washington state athletics association in court, saying its rules wrongly disqualify them from participating in the tennis postseason.

Joelle Chung and her brother Joseph Chung, represented by the religious freedom legal group Becket, are challenging the rules of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, saying it should allow religious accommodations like it grants similar accommodations for other players.

Joelle was undefeated in her 2019 senior season playing for William F. West High School in Chehalis, Washington. She expected to win the qualifying tournaments to advance to the state tournament, which was scheduled for a Saturday. Both siblings are Seventh-Day Adventists who observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday through rest and worship, Becket said.

The tournament disqualified Joelle from all participation in the postseason, though her religious conflict with the tournament fell only on the last day.

The athletics association is authorized by state law to schedule interscholastic sports and other activities. Its failure to accommodate the Chung siblings’ religious observance and its discrimination against religious exercise is “unconstitutional” and “illegal,” charged the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Joe Davis, legal counsel at Becket, said Aug. 7 that the athletics association’s failure to provide religious accommodations “hurts religious minorities and students of many faiths who honor the longstanding practice of keeping the Sabbath.”

“No student athlete should be kept from competition because of their faith,” he said Aug. 7.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association told CNA it does not comment on pending litigation.

Association rules require all participants to certify they will be able to participate in each level of the tournament to qualify for the championships. The rules make exceptions for injury, illness, or unforeseen events.

The Chungs had proposed moving the state championships or allowing Joelle to participate in the qualifying tournaments and use an alternate for the championships – the practice of athletes who are injured or ill. However, the association rejected these proposals.

Joelle is challenging the rules in hopes that her brother Joseph can participate in the state championships.

“As a senior, it was hard giving everything I had to support my team all season, only to be forced to sit out the entire postseason simply because of my faith,” she said. “I’ll never get the chance to play for a state championship again, but hopefully this case will protect other Seventh-day Adventists like my brother from having to choose between sports and their faith.”

Joelle’s coach Jack State discussed the lack of accommodations for her religious objections to Saturday play in comments to the Lewis County-based newspaper The Daily Chronicle earlier this year.

“It’s disappointing, she’s worked hard for four years to put herself in a position to try to do the best she can and she’s not being allowed to do that,” he said.

At Knights convention, Kendrick Castillo remembered, honored as ‘a hero’

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 17:42

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 7, 2019 / 03:42 pm (CNA).- Kendrick Castillo, an 18 year-old who died in May while helping disarm a school shooter in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was honored by the Knights of Columbus on Tuesday night with the Caritas Medal.

“And as we go through life, just remember, be like Kendrick. Be selfless,” John Castillo, father of Kendrick Castillo, said upon accepting the Caritas Medal on behalf of his son at the annual Knights of Columbus State Dinner on Tuesday.

“I wish could say I taught Kendrick those things. There’s a few things I did teach him,” Castillo said about his son’s reputation for service. “But in all actuality, he was the angel who saved my life, who taught me how to live. I will never forget him.”

Kendrick Castillo was an 18 year-old student at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, killed on May 7 while rushing a gunman who was attempting mass murder at the school. Kendrick was just a week away from graduation, his father said. He was the only person killed in the attack at the school; eight others were injured.

As a student armed with a rifle entered Kendrick’s classroom, intending to execute students and teachers, Kendrick leaped from his seat and pinned the gunman against the wall. Two other students rushed the gunman to disarm him, but not before Kendrick was fatally shot in the chest.

“As we miss Kendrick here on earth, I know that he’s with his true Father in heaven,” Castillo said in a moving testimony before cardinals, bishops, priests, and Knights from around the world. “He was my best friend for 18 years, and the love of his mother’s life.”

For his heroism, Castillo received the Caritas Medal at the 137th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota from August 6-8. The Knights of Columbus is a worldwide charitable organization with more than 16,000 councils in over a dozen countries, and more than 1.9 million members worldwide.

The Caritas Medal is the second-highest award of the organization; a medal with an image of the Good Shepherd, it award was established in 2013 “to recognize those who most profoundly embrace our order’s principles of charity in their service and their sacrifice for others,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson stated on Tuesday.

“Kendrick Castillo lived and died by this principle,” he said. “There are those who say that we don’t have heroes anymore. Tonight’s recipient of our Caritas Award proves that we do have heroes.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus unanimously moved to grant Kendrick full membership in the organization posthumously, to a standing ovation.

Anderson honored Castillo in his address to the convention, attended by Knights councils from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, South Korea, France, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Panama, the British island of St. Lucia and the Bahamas.

Kendrick wanted to be a Knight, his father John—a member of Southwest Denver Council 4844—said. The two combined for 2,600 hours of volunteer service with the organization, Anderson said.

John Castillo recounted how Kendrick served funeral Masses and assisted as an usher at an early age, mentored friends and supported them through struggles with school or family life, and assisted the elderly at Mass.

“It doesn’t surprise us that Kendrick would do what he did. He was a selfless individual who cared about other people. He was raised that way,” Castillo said, crediting local members of the Knights of Columbus for Kendrick’s formation. “Our community raised a young man and did good.”

Society is in need of “a stronger sense of family,” Castillo said, exhorting parents to “always remember to support their children. Be all in. Do everything that you can for your kids. Love them and support them in their endeavors, teach them about their faith.”

And, he added, a sense of “innocence” needs to be recovered and protected. “We don’t have to lose our innocence—we choose to,” he said. “We know what’s right.”

Following Castillo’s testimony, Anderson honored Kendrick’s parents. “You suggest to us to be more like Kendrick. And really, I think all of us should like to be more like you and Maria,” he said to John.

Tuesday night’s keynote speaker at the States Dinner, Cardinal Christopher Collins of Toronto, also praised the “sacrificial love of Kendrick.”

“It is through people that God speaks to us, through their virtue,” he said. “Sometimes brought to a heroic moment, sometimes day-by-day.”

“And that inspires us, guides us, shows us the way. And that’s why the Church takes time and effort and attention to hold up the example of saintly people, people who show us the path, the call to God, help us on our journey,” he said.

 

Federal judge extends injunction against Arkansas abortion laws

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 11:59

Little Rock, Ark., Aug 7, 2019 / 09:59 am (CNA).- A federal judge has extended a temporary injunction against three new abortion clinic regulations in Arkansas.

Saying that women would “suffer irreparable harm” if the laws were to be enforced, District Court Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas on August 6 blocked the regulations while legal challenges play out in court.

The laws in question would ban abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergency. They would require doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology, and they would prohibit abortions based solely on a Down syndrome diagnosis for the baby.

The new regulations had been set to go into effect July 24.

On July 23, Baker had issued a 14-day injunction, concluding that the laws “cause ongoing and imminent irreparable harm” to patients. That injunction was set to expire on the night of August 6.

The new injunction means that the laws will not take effect while the legal challenges against it are heard in court.

As a result, the state’s last surgical abortion clinic will be able to remain open. The clinic, Little Rock Family Planning Services, said that it could have to close if the laws were to be enforced. Only one physician at the facility is OBGYN board certified or eligible, and he only rarely works there.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says the board certification requirement is in the interest of women’s health and safety, while critics of the law argue that it is extreme and will limit women’s access to abortion.

Arkansas currently has a 20-week abortion ban, enacted in 2013, which has yet to be challenged in court.

In February, state Governor Asa Hutchison signed a “trigger law” which would ban most abortions in the event the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that recognized abortion as a constitutional right in the United States. Alabama is one of several states with a trigger law on abortion.

Strong online boundaries make for the happiest relationships, study finds

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 04:55

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2019 / 02:55 am (CNA).- Cutting ties with old flames, before the internet, used to be easy.

After a break-up, people could easily lose touch with their ex, who could move or change phone numbers. Tracking them down, sans Google or social media, was at least somewhat difficult.

Today, that has changed. An ex may be far from one’s mind, until a photo of their wedding, or baby, or recent vacation pops up in a social media feed.

That could spell trouble for current relationships, according to a new report on relationship happiness and online behaviors.

In a survey that included 2,000 married, cohabiting and single people spanning multiple generations in the United States, as well as data from the General Social Survey, researchers found that couples who flirted with online boundaries and relationships were less happy than those who kept strong online boundaries.

The analysis of the survey, entitled “iFidelity: The State of Our Unions 2019,” was a research project from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

“Those currently married or cohabiting who blur those boundaries are significantly less happy, less committed, and more likely to break up while, conversely, those taking a more careful stance online are happier, more committed, and less likely to separate,” the study states.

“For example, those who did not follow a former girlfriend/boyfriend online had a 62% likelihood of reporting that they were ‘very happy’ in their cohabiting or marital relationship. Only 46% of those who did follow an old flame online reported being very happy.”

The survey asked about nine online behaviors, and whether or not participants considered them to be “unfaithful” or “cheating.”

According to the survey, most Americans (70% or more) rated six behaviors as cheating or unfaithful, including “having a secret emotional relationship or sexting with someone other than a partner/spouse without the partner’s/spouse’s knowledge and consent.”

Three behaviors were the exception - most Americans did not find flirting with someone in real life, following a former love interest online, and consuming pornography to be cheating or unfaithful behaviors.

The results also varied by age. Millennials were the most likely group to have permissive attitudes about online behaviors, and were also the most likely group to admit engaging in online behaviors ranked as “unfaithful” or “cheating.”

W. Brad Wilcox, editor of the survey and director of the National Marriage Project, told CNA that he thought there were at least three possible reasons for this discrepancy.

“Millennials have been shaped by the rise of the internet more than other generations so that has conditioned them to be more open to these kinds of boundary-crossing behaviors on the internet,” he said.

“Another possibility is that they’re just younger and that’s the story here, and as they age and mature they will be more prudent about how they approach the internet. The third possibility here is that they’re more likely to be cohabiting couples than married, and we’ve also seen the data that cohabiting couples are more likely to cross these emotional and sexual boundaries online compared to married couples,” he added.

One of the most surprising and concerning finds of the study for Wilcox was that there was a noticeable decline - an 8 point percentage over a 20 year span -  of people who said it was “always wrong” to have sex with someone who is not one’s spouse.

“This is a worrisome development because we know that support for sexual fidelity in principle and also living the virtue of fidelity in practice are both linked to higher quality and more stable marriages,” he said.

Jeffrey P. Dew, an associate editor of the study and an associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, told CNA that one of the findings of the survey that surprised him was that the rate of unfaithfulness in marriage has remained stable over the past few decades, despite increasingly permissive attitudes about marriage and sexuality.

“In terms of the percent of ever-married people who admit to having an affair, that’s been stable at about 15% for two or three decades now,” Dew said.

“That surprises me. Certainly as a society we’re much more permissive and tolerant of people’s lifestyle choices, and yet we still find, when it comes to their own behavior, the vast majority would just as soon make sure that their own relationship is exclusive.”

Part of the problem of unfaithful online behaviors is that they can be based on a false perception that greater happiness lies elsewhere, Dew said.

“I think even just following an old boyfriend or girlfriend can be problematic because you compare what you think you see online to your own real life, lived experience with your current partner,” he said.

“Of course we know that Instagram and Facebook and all those other social media sites -  everyone portrays life as this golden, glowing, happy thing, so of course following an old flame online might cause your own current relationship to sour somewhat,” he said.

Wilcox said the way people perceive their online lives as being somehow different or separate from their real lives could also be a factor in permissive attitudes toward online infidelity.

“Most of us are probably more considerate and thoughtful about how we treat others in person than when we are interacting with them online, in terms of a disagreement for example,” he said. “I think that same spirit of kind of greater orientation towards risk or being less careful also applies to this domain of our online lives.”

Jackie Francious-Angel and her husband, Bobby, are Catholic speakers on the topic of relationships and marriage, and are the authors of “Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage.”

Jackie told CNA that she agrees that online infidelities might be easier to slip into, because people are less careful with what they say online than with what they would say in real life.

“With messaging and texting...you say things there you would never say face to face, because it’s so easy,” she said.

“Words carry weight and meaning,” Bobby added. “We could think, ‘well I didn’t do anything, nothing actually happened.’ We equate cheating with physical activity. But...our words and what we’re doing digitally has just as much an impact on our relationships as physical activity does.”

Jackie said that a good rule of thumb for couples to consider is whether or not they would be ok with their spouse reading their text messages or social media messages.

“I would say any time there’s a secret outside of your marriage with somebody else, that’s a bad sign,” she said. “We should be able to open books with our spouses. They should be able to open up our Facebooks, Twitter, Instagram, and we would be absolutely ok with anything our spouse sees. It’s a bad sign if we’re hiding something.”

Bobby told CNA that the internet and social media have placed young adults in a “weird era” where they have to reconsider what appropriate boundaries are in light of their online lives.

“So much of this stuff lives on online, where it used to be over and done, and I didn’t have to (see an ex),” he said. “But now it’s like look, here’s a picture.”

Jackie and Bobby said that when it comes to following old flames online, they believe spouses should discuss with each other what their boundaries are. If a former relationship was casual and mutually fizzled out, that might be ok, they said, but if it was emotionally intense, that might be a different consideration.

“We have friends who even on text messages, they’ll add me and Bobby both on a thread just to be above reproach,” Jackie said. “There’s not a lot of need to text people of the opposite sex” in a marriage, she added.

Bobby also noted that despite the attitudes reported in the survey, he still considers pornography to be cheating.

“(Pornography) hijacks our God-given ability to love and to long for beauty and just twists that so it’s a selfish, destructive force,” Bobby said.

“The reality is if I vow myself to look at and be faithful to one and only one woman, emotionally and physically, my whole sexuality, my intimacy - and then go out and seek out pictures and videos of other people - it’s absolutely cheating,” he said.

“It’s cheating yourself as well as your relationship. It’s a ripple effect. It doesn’t make (people) happier, it takes a toll on their family...because you’re just in this angry, dejected state. I think if you look at it from the world’s perspective of cheating, did you go out and have an affair? Well no. But I would say you’re cheating your relationship.”

Ultimately, Jackie and Bobby said good relationships need transparency, good boundaries and the self-knowledge necessary to avoid situations that could lead to infidelity, online or in real life.

“Nobody sits down and is like, ‘This year I’m going to cheat on my spouse,’” Bobby said.

“It’s this expression over and over again of ‘it just happened’...[but] there were nine boundaries crossed into this place of ‘it just happened.’ And we’re often not aware of these thresholds until it’s too late.”

Knights of Columbus announce groundbreaking of St Kateri shrine

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 18:58

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 6, 2019 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus will lead new initiatives to support Native Americans and First Nations people in the U.S. and Canada, and to assist refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border, the organization’s leader announced Tuesday.  

 
“In the United States, as well as in Canada, there are communities that too often are ignored. That is why we are focused on launching a new initiative focused on Native Americans in the United States and First Nations people in Canada,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced in his address to the 137th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, held in Minneapolis Aug. 6
 
The Knights of Columbus is a worldwide charitable organization with more than 1.9 million members.
 
Fr. Michael McGiveney founded the organization in 1882 for men to have opportunities for solidarity and service to the Church and to their communities, and for widows of members to have material support.
 
The “four pillars” of the Knights are charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism, and a theme of the 2019 Supreme Convention that Anderson stressed is “Knights of unity.”
 
As part of the initiative to support Native American communities, Anderson said that the Knights, along with the Diocese of Gallup and the Southwest Indian Foundation, will break ground Aug. 11 on a St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine.
 
“It is our hope that in the years to come, this St. Kateri Shrine will become a national, spiritual home for Native Americans and, equally importantly, for all Catholics in North America,” Anderson said.
 
The Knights will “in the months ahead, find new ways to work with the Black and Indian Mission Office,” Anderson said, and will encourage local councils to reach out to Catholics living on Native American tribal lands and reservations.
 
Pope Francis also “expressed his great enthusiastic support for our efforts” at a meeting in November, Anderson said, where the Supreme Knight presented the Holy Father with a chalice made by Navajo craftsmen.
 
Anderson also announced that the national organization is “prepared to commit at least $250,000 immediately in humanitarian aid for refugees” at the U.S.-Mexico border, following the work of local councils to give food, clothing and water to refugees in the area. Anderson said that “we are prepared to expand” the initiative to refugee camps in every border state.
 
“Let me be clear: this is not a political statement,” Anderson said. “This is a statement of principle. This is about helping people who need our help right now. And it is a natural and necessary extension of our support for refugees across the world.”
 
Later in the address, Anderson brought up Kendrick Castillo, an 18 year-old Catholic who charged a gunman at STEM School Highlands Ranch school in the shooting there in May.
 
“His courage distracted the gunman, giving his classmates time to escape,” Anderson said. Castillo was a Catholic and the son of a Knight; his father, who was present at the convention along with family members, said that Kendrick wanted to be a Knight.
 
Anderson bestowed Castillo posthumously with the Knights’ highest award—the Caritas Award—and encouraged Knights to stand and vote to grant Castillo full membership in the Knights of Columbus, which they did with a standing ovation.

Noting the theme of “Knights of unity,” a letter to the convention from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on behalf of Pope Francis, said that “on the eve of His death, Our Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples,” and “the Church’s communion in charity is the wellspring of her mission.”
 
Pope Francis “thanks the Knights” for promoting prayer “for the sanctification of priests,” the letter said, especially through the Knights’ sponsoring of a U.S. tour of St. Jean Vianney’s incorrupt heart; the relic pilgrimage passed through stops in the 48 continental U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico from November 2018 through June 2019.
 
The pope also called on the Knights to uphold the “unity and solidarity between the generations” called for in the recent Synod on Youth, as young people are looking for examples of “faith,” “service,” and “commitment to the common good” in a culture of materialism.
 
President Donald Trump also provided greetings to the convention, saying that “I stand by with you in advocating for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn.” The president added that “we are all children of God.”
 
Elsewhere in his address, Anderson noted efforts by the Knights all over the world to serve others including devoting $2.7 million in disaster relief last year; the Knights helped the Florida panhandle rebuild after Hurricane Michael, which included $100,000 in donations to help a pastor whose rectory had been destroyed.
 
Also, the Knights helped victims of the conflict in Ukraine, and Anderson called on the Knights “to pray for a just and lasting peace that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
 
“To bring an end to anti-Catholicism in America was one of the reasons why so many men joined the Knights of Columbus,” Anderson said. Yet despite Catholics joining the “mainstream” of American society with the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960, new threats have arisen, he said.
 
“Sadly I must report to you today that there are those who would turn back the clock and that they are on the rise,” he said, citing hostile questions to Catholic judicial nominees over their religious beliefs. He referenced Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) comment to Catholic and mother of seven Amy Comey Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” during a confirmation hearing.
 
Another nominee, Brian Buescher, was a member of the Knights and was asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) if he would leave the Knights to avoid a pretense of bias over the organization’s pro-life principles.
 
The Constitution “forbids a religious test for public office,” Anderson said, saying the incidents manifest “once again, ‘Catholics need not apply’.”
 
However, Catholics should not withdraw from public life, and “we will never let that happen,” Anderson said. “We will not sit idle while the great achievements of the past are stolen from us and from our children’s children.”

Pro-life leaders with an impact win Catholic honors

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 13:24

Louisville, Ky., Aug 6, 2019 / 11:24 am (CNA).- Three Catholic pro-life leaders have won recognition for their diverse work, including outreach to pregnant and parenting women and public policy efforts.

The People of Life Award, presented by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, honors those whose work has shown “significant and longtime contributions to the culture of life” in the spirit of Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Aug. 6.

One honoree, Cheryl Holley, has worked for three decades in ecumenical and multicultural efforts to unite pro-life communities. With the Archdiocese of Washington, she has coordinated two conferences on women’s sexuality and life issues.

She said her passion is “to work with teenage pregnant mothers and to share with them their God-given dignity.” She added that “education and the knowledge of God’s unending love are the keys to eliminating abortions and sexually transmitted diseases.”

Holley and two others were recognized at the awards dinner at the annual Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference, held this year in Louisville, Ky. Over 100 Catholic diocesan pro-life leaders and guests attended.

Another recipient of the People of Life Award was Chuck Donovan, recognized for “his tireless dedication to developing critical public policy protections for conscience rights and the rights of unborn children.”

Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the education and research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List pro-life advocacy group. His long career in the pro-life movement includes service as the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director from 1979-1981. He has held a leadership role at the Family Research Council and co-chaired the Heritage Foundation’s Religious Liberty Working Group.

A third recipient of the award, Marian Derosiers, won praise for “her joyful and dedicated pro-life service,” the U.S. bishops’ conference said.

She has worked for decades in the Diocese of Fall River. She presently serves as the diocese’s pro-life director and led the diocese’s post-abortion ministry Project Rachel for 25 years. Additionally, she is director of advancement at Bishop Connolly High School and works to help women and children at the diocese’s transitional home for women.

There have been 37 People of Life Award recipients since 2007, when the award was established.

 

Archbishop Chaput: Look deeper than symptoms to solve mass violence

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 12:50

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 6, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- Gun control laws alone will not stop mass shootings effectively, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, said in a column written in response to the recent shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, and Dayton, Ohio.

Chaput belives that there needs to be societal shift to transform the present “culture of violence.”

Writing in his Aug. 5 column, Chaput said that while he fully supports the use of background checks and restrictions on who is able to purchase firearms, “only a fool can believe that ‘gun control’ will solve the problem of mass violence.”

“The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we've systematically created over the past half-century.”

Chaput drew from his experience as Archbishop of Denver consoling the community after the shooting at Columbine High School. At the time, he buried some of the victims, and met with their families.

During his testimony to the U.S. Senate shortly after the Columbine shooting, Chaput spoke of “a culture that markets violence in dozens of different ways” that has become “part of our social fabric.”

“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes the universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes,” he asked at the time. “When we glorify and multiply guns, why are we shocked when kids use them?”

Chaput also addressed the use of the death penalty and the legality of abortion as “certain kinds of killings we enshrine as rights and protect by law,” which creates a societal “contradiction.” This contradiction has reduced the view of human life, he said.

In 1999, Chaput suggested that America embrace a “relentless commitment to respect the sanctity of each human life, from womb to natural death,” and that he did not think the shooting at Columbine High School would be the last mass shooting.

“In examining how and why our culture markets violence, I ask you not to stop with the symptoms,” he said. “Look deeper.”

Chaput repeated this call in his column Monday, saying, “treating the symptoms in a culture of violence doesn’t work. We need to look deeper. Until we’re willing to do that, nothing fundamental will change.”

In focusing on the hearts of those who commit mass schootings, twisted by the culture created in the past 50 years, Chaput’s statement was markedly different than others published by Catholic bishops in the wake of the shootings.

The USCCB issued a sweeping statement Aug. 4 requesting “effective legislation that addresses why these unimaginable and repeated occurrences of murderous gun violence continue to take place in our communities.”

“As people of faith, we continue to pray for all the victims, and for healing in all these stricken communities. But action is also needed to end these abhorrent acts,” said the bishops.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh called for various gun control measures in an Aug. 5 statement, including "limiting civilian access to high capacity weapons and magazines.” Zubik also said there was a need to address websites that encourage violent acts, as well as to improve access to mental healthcare and work to overcome racism.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso did not call for increased gun control measure, but instead urged the people of El Paso to “recommit to love” and to “brace ourselves for just action that will overcome the forces of division and build a more loving society.”

And Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati said Aug. 4 that “it is with a heavy heart that we turn to the Lord in prayer on this Sunday. As tragic and violent shootings continue in our country … I ask for everyone of faith to join in prayer for the victims and their loved ones. May we, the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, in unity petition our Blessed Mother to intercede for our families and neighbors to know the peace and healing of Jesus, her Son.”

Indianapolis Jesuit high school makes Vatican appeal of disciplinary measures

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 18:30

Indianapolis, Ind., Aug 5, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- A Jesuit-sponsored high school in Indiana has asked the Vatican to overturn Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson’s decision to revoke the school’s Catholic identity, and announced that a scheduled Mass for the opening of the academic year is not permitted at the school.

Fr. William Verbryke, SJ, president of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, announced this week that the Jesuits have begun the process of appealing  a June decree from Thompson, which said that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will no longer recognize the school as Catholic.

“The appeal process is being led by Fr. Brian Paulson, S.J., the Provincial of the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and his staff, in conjunction with input and support from our school leadership,” Verbryke wrote in an Aug. 4 letter.

“The first stage of the appeal involved formally requesting that the Archbishop reconsider and rescind his decree. He declined to do that. We are now in the second stage of the appeal, in which Fr. Paulson, on behalf of Brebeuf Jesuit, has asked the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome to consider and address the issues at hand and, hopefully, suspend the effects of the decree during the appeal process.”

Thompson’s June 21 decree was issued after a disagreement about the school’s employment of a teacher who attempted to contract a same-sex marriage.

“In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, every archdiocesan Catholic school and private Catholic school has been instructed to clearly state in its contracts and ministerial job descriptions that all ministers must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church,” the archdiocese said in a June 20 statement.

Teachers, the archdiocese said in June, are classified as ‘ministers’ because “it is their duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. To effectively bear witness to Christ, whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching.”

“Regrettably, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School has freely chosen not to enter into such agreements that protect the important ministry of communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students. Therefore, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School will no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.”

Verbryke’s letter also said a school Mass of the Holy Spirit, scheduled for Aug. 15 at the beginning of the academic year, has been cancelled because Thompson did not give permission for the Mass to be celebrated.

“Within the past two weeks, the Archbishop has informed us that, as a result of his decree, the current priests of Brebeuf Jesuit, Fr. Chris Johnson, S.J. and I, will require his express, advance permission in order to celebrate any Masses on campus.  Archbishop Thompson has given this permission for our daily 7:45 a.m. Mass, which is held each school day in our chapel.  However, although we duly complied with his request and sought the Archbishop’s permission to hold various other Masses on campus this year, he declined to grant his permission for those,” Verbryke wrote.

“We must, and do, acknowledge the authority of the Archbishop with respect to the celebration of Mass within the Archdiocese. In lieu of celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit as a traditional opening-of-the-school-year Mass on Thursday, August 15, our Brebeuf Jesuit community will call upon the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our school community for this academic year by holding a school-wide prayer service during the school day,” the priest wrote.

Layton Payne-Elliot, the Brebuef teacher who attempted a same-sex marriage, is civilly married to Joshua Payne-Elliot, who was dismissed earlier this year from a different Catholic high school in Indianapolis, because contracting a same-sex marriage violates archdiocesan policies and Catholic teaching. Joshua Payne-Elliot has filed a lawsuit in protest of his dismissal.

Thompson has faced other criticism for his decision, and some Catholic pundits have suggested his decision is not in line with the pastoral approach of Pope Francis. The archbishop responded to that criticism in a July interview with The Criterion, his archdiocesan newspaper.

“Pope Francis appointed me here as archbishop of Indianapolis so I have to constantly be reading and listening to what he’s saying, and paying attention to what he’s doing—to have that guidance. And I discern it with other bishops. I don’t make decisions in a vacuum.”

“Not only am I committing this all to prayer, I’m also looking for guidance through the Holy Spirit. But also through consultation, from people within the archdiocese as well as people from outside the archdiocese. People who I believe have a good sense of Pope Francis’ leadership, his intentions and the direction he is leading the Church,” the archbishop added.

“I firmly believe that we’re in line with Pope Francis. If we’re not, I’d hope he’d let me know. I trust he would. But I believe we’re carrying on the vision of Pope Francis as well as any diocese in the Church.”

 

Bipartisan senators urge Trump administration to keep refugee program

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 18:26

Washington D.C., Aug 5, 2019 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- A bipartisan group of 18 senators is urging the Trump administration not to shut down refugee admissions, but rather to increase admissions.

Citing “alarming” reports that the administration might cut off refugee admissions in FY 2020 amidst what the United Nations Refugee Agency says are the “highest levels of displacement on record,” the letter from the senators asks the administration “to increase the refugee resettlement cap and to admit as many refugees as possible within that cap.”

“America has an obvious interest in demonstrating and promoting freedom of religion to the world, including accepting refugees who flee persecution because of their faith,” states the letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

The letter initiative was led by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

A bipartisan group of senators signed on to the letter, including Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tom Carper (D-Del.),  Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

The refugee admission quota is currently at its lowest recorded level, a cap of 30,000 for FY 2019. That’s lower than the FY 2018 cap of 45,000, and just half of that number were actually admitted to the U.S. in FY 2018.

Now admissions could be shut off entirely in FY 2020. Politico first reported on July 18 that Trump administration officials were considering setting refugee admissions at zero, or limiting the number of admissions to anywhere from 3,000-10,000.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, said the report “if true, is disturbing.”

“The world is in the midst of the greatest humanitarian displacement crisis in almost a century,” he said. “Eliminating the refugee resettlement program leaves refugees in harm’s way and keeps their families separated across continents.”

Bishop Vasquez called for a return to the “historic norms” with resettlement goals of 95,000 refugees.

The Trump administration’s reduction in refugee admissions comes after the Obama administration accepted around 85,000 refugees in FY 2016, and planned to accept 110,000 refugees in FY 2017 before Trump ordered a four-month halt to refugee admissions to review the program when he took office, ultimately capping the number at 50,000 for the fiscal year.

The senators said they were “especially surprised” at the news of a possible shutdown in refugee admissions after the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held in Washington, D.C. from July 11-13.

The second annual Ministerial was a gathering of religious and civic leaders from all around the world to discuss religious persecution and religious freedom. Survivors of religious persecution from various countries shared stories of harassment, imprisonment or torture on account of their religion.

Citing U.S. interest in harboring survivors of religious persecution, the letter says that “In fact, the administration acknowledges the partnership between refugee admission and protection of inherent human rights in both the 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom and the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.”

As for concerns about security, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is successful, the letter said, with refugees being “some of the most well-vetted travelers in the world” having to undergo “biometric and biographic checks” in “multiple stages throughout the process.”

Furthermore, the number of refugees alone who have either completed the screening process or are close to completing it would fill this year’s quota and would extend into next year, the letter said.

Citing the concerns of illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, the letter states that “It is inconsistent to maintain policies that promote in-country asylum and simultaneously eliminate the legal refugee process.”

Maine's pro-life movement 're-vitalized' to oppose abortion, assisted suicide laws

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 18:01

Portland, Maine, Aug 5, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A pair of petition campaigns for a people’s veto referendum vote have kicked off in Maine with the support of the state’s Catholic bishop, as residents attempt to repeal a law that legalizes taxypayer-funded abortion, and another one that legalizes assisted suicide.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) has signed two pieces of legislation that have caught the ire of the state’s pro-life and Catholic communities during her short tenure as governor. The first, LD 820, “An Act To Prevent Discrimination in Public and Private Insurance Coverage for Pregnant Women in Maine” was passed by the legislature in mid-May and was signed into law shortly thereafter.

LD 820 requires that MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, and other insurance companies that offer plans in the state, cover abortion services if they also cover maternity benefits.

“Good citizens who diligently pay their taxes are being forced to fund abortions, with no way to avoid the reality that they are paying for an immoral act,” said Bishop Robert Deeley of the Diocese of Portland in a letter to his diocese dated July 18.

“This is not simply a religious issue. It is about human dignity of a law’s attempt to rob individuals families of their right to respect that dignity from conception to natural death,” he said.

The laity in the state have “a clear role to effect a successful opposition” to this law, said Deeley, who urged the state’s Catholics to sign the petition to recall the bill.

In June, Mills signed LD1313, legalizing assisted suicide, into law. She signed the bill shortly before the time limit to sign the bill into law would have expired, and Mills said the decision to sign the bill into law was one of the toughest of her political career.

“It is my hope that this law, while respecting the right to personal liberty, will be used sparingly,” Mills said prior to signing the bill. She also added that she hopes the people of her state would “be as vigorous in providing full comfort, hospice and palliative care to all persons, no matter their status, location or financial ability as we are in respecting their right to make this ultimate decision over their own fate and of their own free will.”

Deeley also released a letter July 18 reiterating his opposition to assisted suicide and promoting and supporting the effort to recall LD1313.

“We can be grateful that God created us with the inner gifts of love and mercy, and thankful that our country affords us the opportunity to defend that which we believe,” said Deeley.

“Several organizations outside of the Church are leading a ‘People’s veto’ against physician-assisted suicide. As your bishop, I support this effort and urge you to have your voice heard.”

Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of Maine Right to Life, told CNA that she believes the new laws are motivating the state’s pro-life movement into action.

“The recent radical taxpayer-funded abortion law and doctor-prescribed suicide law have re-vitalized pro-life Maine like never before in recent history,” she said. “We have an enormous groundswell of enthusiasm at the grassroots level.”

McCann-Tumidajski stated that she is committed to defending life in the state, in order to “protect our most precious resource: our people!”

“Above all else, this is a spiritual battle,” she said, and she requested prayers as Mainers work “to fight, to protect, to support, and to defend vulnerable human life in our beautiful state.”

In both campaigns, organizers will have to gather a total of 64,000 signatures from registered Maine voters in order for the bills to qualify for a statewide referendum.

Knights of Columbus donated over $185 million to charity in 2018

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 14:18

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 5, 2019 / 12:18 pm (CNA).- Ahead of its annual convention this week, the Knights of Columbus announced August 1 that it donated more than $185 million to charity in 2018.

“The men who choose to become Knights of Columbus are generous, and their impact is immense. While we are known mainly for our local efforts, our reach is global,” said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus is a fraternal and charitable organization with over 1.9 million members and more than 16,000 councils worldwide.

It was founded by Fr. Michael McGivney in 1882 to provide relief and assistance to members, their families, and widows of members, as well as opportunities for fraternity and service for Catholic members. The “four pillars” of the Knights are charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism.

According to the Knights, the $185 million in charitable giving came from direct fundraising, the efforts of local Knights councils, and its insurance operations; the Knights offer insurance and annuities products to members.

The group also says its members gave over 76 million hours of hands-on service in 2018, worth over $1.9 billion according to a valuation of volunteer work by the Independent Sector.

More than 16,000 Knights councils in nine countries were responsible for the volunteer work and for raising money for charitable causes, which included relief for persecuted Christians, disaster aid, support for crisis pregnancy centers and pro-life initiatives, the Archdiocese of the Military Services, U.S.A., and the Knights’ annual pilgrimage to Lourdes for wounded military veterans.

In just over 12 months between 2017 and 2018, the Knights raised and delivered $2 million for the Iraqi town of Karamles; the Knights have helped Christian survivors of the ISIS genocide in the town resettle in their homes and rebuild for the future.

Volunteer work included support for the Special Olympics, coat drives, and food drives for needy families.

“Regardless of how or who the Knights serve, it's the chance to help those who are unable to help themselves and to be of assistance to the sick or disabled that is at the heart of what being a Knight is all about,” Anderson said.

The annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota this week from August 6-8. Knights councils from all over the world will attend, along with bishops and leaders of the organization.

After the opening Mass on the morning of Tuesday, August 6, Anderson will deliver the annual Supreme Knight’s report in the afternoon followed by the States Dinner in the evening.

Mass and an awards session will follow on Wednesday, followed by a Memorial Mass on Thursday.

Auxiliary bishop did not disclose Cincinnati priest accusations

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 10:30

Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug 5, 2019 / 08:30 am (CNA).- An auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and member of the USCCB committee on child protection, is facing accusations that he failed to report to Cincinnati’s archbishop a series of allegations that a priest had engaged in inappropriate behavior with teenage boys.

After CNA presented its investigation to the archdiocese, a spokesperson said that Bishop Joseph R. Binzer would be removed from his position as head of priest personnel, effective immediately, while the archdiocese begins its own internal investigation.

The archdiocese has not removed Binzer, 64, from his post as archdiocesan vicar general, a position of authority second only to the archbishop. Binzer is also a member of the U.S. bishops’ conference committee for the protection of children and young people.

Binzer could face further disciplinary action by Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, and is likely to undergo a formal investigation under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, a recently promulgated policy for dealing with bishops who fail to properly handle allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct.

Senior sources in the archdiocese told CNA that Schnurr has not yet determined what options the archdiocese will pursue to investigate and address the matter.

According to sources familiar with the case, it emerged recently that Binzer was told in 2013 about allegations concerning recently suspended priest, Fr. Geoff Drew, and failed to disclose those allegations to Schnurr and other officials of the archdiocese.

Diocesan officials confirmed to CNA that in 2013, Binzer received a report that Drew had had inappropriate contact with minors at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Liberty Township, Ohio.  

The contact consisted of uninvited hugs, shoulder massages, patting legs above the knee, and inappropriate sexual comments about body and appearance, all directed at teenage boys.  

At the time, the complaint was forwarded to Butler County authorities, who found no evidence of criminal behavior. While the archdiocesan victims’ assistance coordinator, who reported to Binzer, was aware of the allegation, the information was not made known to the diocesan priest personnel board or Archbishop Schnurr. 

In 2015, similar allegations were again made against Drew while he was still at St. Maximilian. Again the matter was forwarded to Butler County officials, who determined that the activity was not criminal. Again, Binzer reported neither the complaints nor the investigation to the archbishop or informed the priest personnel board.

Despite the allegations concerning behavior that would meet the level of “grooming,” sources in the archdiocesan chancery told CNA that Binzer met with Drew twice, was assured by him that he would reform his conduct, and considered this sufficient.

In early 2018, Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese.

As head of priest personnel, Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. 

Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and the transfer was approved.

The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest’s personnel file that would have been available to the archdiocesan personnel board as part of the process.

One month after Drew’s arrival at St.Ignatius, a parishioner at St. Maximillian resubmitted the 2015 complaints about the priest. The complaint was again reported to Butler County officials, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

Sources close to the chancery told CNA that because Binzer failed to notify the archbishop or the priest personnel board about the previous allegations he had received, the accusation was believed by them to be an isolated incident.

Drew was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned to meet regularly with a “monitor,” but school faculty and administration were not told about these restrictions, or the reasons for them.

During a diocesan investigation into the 2018 complaint, Binzer received an additional complaint of similarly inappropriate contact by Drew, this time from his time as a high school music teacher, before his ordination as a priest. 

Following a diocesan investigation, Drew was ordered to attend counselling with a psychologist.

On July 23, Drew was removed from ministry at St. Ignatius, when it emerged that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year old. Sources in the archdiocese told CNA that Drew persistently sent the teenager messages after obtaining the boy’s number from his older brother, and that the matter came to light when the boy’s father discovered the messages. 

Both the archdiocese and Hamilton County prosecutors have said there is no indication that any civil laws have been broken, but school officials told local media that they had been given no warning about previous allegations of misconduct against the priest.

A source told CNA that it was only after the recent incident at St. Ignatius that archdiocesan officials discovered that the otherwise undisclosed complaints about Drew had been made to Binzer, and that the auxiliary bishop had failed to report them to other diocesan officials, or raise them during the decision to approve his transfer in 2018. 

According to one senior chancery official, Drew’s assignment to St. Ignatius would “never have happened” had Schnurr and the archdiocesan personnel board been aware of the allegations reported to Binzer.

In a statement released to CNA Monday morning, Archbishop Schnurr said that he is “working on personnel and procedural changes to be announced in the very near future to ensure that every member of the Priest Personnel Board has complete insight into a priest’s background and profile before an assignment is made.”

“We obviously made serious mistakes in our handling of this matter, for which we are very sorry,” Schnurr said.

While the archbishop’s statement did not address Binzer’s role directly, senior sources in the archdiocese told CNA that Schnurr had “gone nuclear” when he discovered the situation.

“The archbishop as as mad as I have ever seen him. When he was told that Bishop Binzer had withheld information, well, he used words I have never heard him use before,” one senior source told CNA, saying Schnurr called Binzer’s actions a “firestorm” for the archdiocese.

“Binzer told the archbishop that nothing criminal had happened, he believed it was all in the past for Drew, and that Drew had ‘the right to his good name.’ It did not go down well.”

Senior sources in the archdiocese told CNA that Schnurr spent the weekend considering options for further action against Binzer, including his removal as vicar general and possibly from any executive role in the archdiocese.

“That’s an ongoing conversation, and the archbishop is considering what his options are.”

The failure of bishops to act on allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse has been the locus of several successive scandals in the Church in the past year. In addition to accounts that accusations against former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick were ignored by Church authorities over a period of years, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report revived criticism of past occasions where bishops ignored complaints against predator clergy.

The allegations that Binzer internally withheld the allegations against Drew come just weeks after the USCCB met in Baltimore to adopt measures aimed at building processes to address episcopal misconduct or neglect, and the ongoing crisis of credibility widely perceived to overshadow ongoing work to eliminate sexual abuse from the Church. These measures included a set of directives applying in the U.S. the new universal norms for investigating allegations against bishops promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi and which came into force on June 1.

The USCCB’s child protection committee, on which Binzer sits, is charged with “advising the USCCB on all matters related to child and youth protection and is to oversee the development of the plans, programs, and budget of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.”

Binzer is the representative on the committee for the 13 dioceses of Ohio and Michigan. The bishop is a canon lawyer, who served in a variety of archdiocesan administrative and executive positions before becoming vicar general in 2007. He was consecrated bishop in 2011.

U.S. bishops: Mass shootings are an ‘epidemic against life’

Sun, 08/04/2019 - 16:46

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2019 / 02:46 pm (CNA).- U.S. bishops are calling for prayer and action in the wake of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio this weekend. 

“We encourage all Catholics to increased prayer and sacrifice for healing and the end of these shootings,” the bishops wrote in an Aug. 4 statement. “We encourage Catholics to pray and raise their voices for needed changes to our national policy and national culture as well.”

“God’s mercy and wisdom compel us to move toward preventative action.”

On Saturday Aug. 3, a 21-year-old man opened fire at a shopping complex in El Paso, TX. He killed at least 20 people and injured more than two dozen others before he was taken into police custody. 

The shooter reportedly published a four-page document online in the hours before the attack, detailing his hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics. He also reportedly described the weapons he would use in the shooting. 

Less than 24 hours later, a 24-year-old man fired an assault rifle in downtown Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and injuring more than two dozen others. Within one minute, Dayton police arrived and killed the shooter.

“The lives lost this weekend confront us with a terrible truth,” bishops wrote. “We can never again believe that mass shootings are an isolated exception.”

“They are an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face.”

The mass shootings came one week after a 19-year-old man shot and killed three people at a garlic festival in California. Two more people died in another shooting July 30 in Mississippi.

“Something remains fundamentally evil in our society when locations where people congregate to engage in the everyday activities of life can, without warning, become scenes of violence and contempt for human life,” the bishops wrote in an Aug. 3 statement. 

The bishops repeated their call for President Donald Trump and Congress to pass responsible gun legislation.

“Once again, we call for effective legislation that addresses why these unimaginable and repeated occurrences of murderous gun violence continue to take place in our communities,” the bishops wrote. 

“As people of faith, we continue to pray for all the victims, and for healing in all these stricken communities. But action is also needed to end these abhorrent acts.”

“Things must change."

Appeals court orders further review of Florida abortion waiting period

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 18:21

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 3, 2019 / 04:21 pm (CNA).- The 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida has overturned a circuit court ruling which deemed a 24-hour waiting period requirement unconstitutional, sending the case back to the circuit court for further review.

Denise Harle, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, praised the ruling, saying “the appeals court was on solid ground to reverse the trial court’s decision.”

“Abortion is a life-altering decision, and no woman should be rushed or pressured into it,” she said in an Aug. 1 statement.

“The appeals court noted evidence from medical experts that the standard of care for significant, non-emergency medical procedures is that they are not and should not be done on a drop-in basis,” Harle said. “The court also described evidence of the ‘mental health effects and negative outcomes’—including suicide—associated with women who undergo abortions without adequate time to process the serious consequences and come to a place of certainty.”

Medical Students for Choice in Gainesville, Florida, along with two local abortion clinics and the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged in court a June 2015 amendment to Florida’s abortion law requiring a 24-hour waiting period between the time a patient is informed of the nature and risks of having an abortion and a physician’s completion of the procedure.

Opponents of the law argued it is an unconstitutional violation of the state’s right to privacy, and singles out abortion from other riskier medical procedures that don’t require a waiting period.

The circuit court in Jan. 2018 agreed with the plaintiffs, striking the law down as unconstitutional, with the judge writing that the state had not produced evidence that such a broadly sweeping law was the “least restrictive means” of safeguarding women’s health. The Florida Supreme Court had previously blocked the new law temporarily, while the court challenge against it proceeded.

The appeals court on Aug. 1 ruled that all doubts about issues of fact must be resolved before the law can definitively be ruled unconstitutional.

“Appellees’ summary judgment motion asserted that the 24-hour Law deviates from the accepted standard of medical care in Florida by requiring the 24-hour delay and an unnecessary visit to a physician,” the decision reads.

“But the State produced conflicting evidence from medical experts that the absence of such a decision-period after receiving information about the nature and risks of an abortion procedure and the procedure itself falls below the accepted medical standard of care.”

If the State’s experts prove correct, that the 24-hour Law brings Florida in-line with the informed consent standard of care, the judge wrote, then the law would pass muster under a Florida Supreme Court’s decision approving informed consent in the abortion context. The court sent the case back to the circuit court for further review.

The Florida bishops' conference issued a statement supporting the law after its 2015 passage. They called it “good legislation” that “gives women one day to reflect upon the risks of abortion, one day to view the image of her unborn child’s ultrasound, and one day to consult with friends, family and faith.”

They also noted that more than two dozen other states have such waiting period laws, and that Florida “already requires waiting periods before marriage, divorce, and the purchase of a handgun.”

Protected status extended 18 months for some Syrians in the US

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 06:53

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2019 / 04:53 am (CNA).- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced August 1 that it is extending Syria’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, although qualified people who have not yet applied for the program will be ineligible to participate.

The decision to extend means that some 7,000 TPS holders from Syria will be able to remain and work in the U.S. through March 31, 2021. After that, the department will determine whether to again renew the designation or end it.

“The decision to extend TPS for Syria was made after a review of the conditions upon which the country’s designation is based, which was ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions, as well as an assessment of whether those conditions continue to exist as required by statute,” the Department of Homeland Security said.

The department determined that these conditions are still present in the country, and that Syrian nationals returning to their country would face perilous and life-threatening conditions.

Organizations that work with Syrian TPS holders welcomed the decision, while lamenting that new applicants who are currently in the U.S. will not be accepted.

Americans for a Free Syria, the American Relief Coalition for Syria, and the Syrian American Council have formed a coalition to advocate with Congress and DHS officials, as well as build public awareness and support for Syrian TPS holders.

In a statement, the group applauded the TPS extension, but added that “we remain gravely concerned for the Syrians in this country not protected by TPS.”

“If Syria is unsafe for American travelers and current TPS holders, it’s also unsafe for Syrians who came to the United States more recently. We urge the Administration to take a closer look at redesignation until the country is at peace and ready to accept returning Syrians.”

Nada, a Syrian TPS holder working with the coalition, voiced gratitude at the extension. Nada is an art teacher who just completed her master’s degree last year. She is the mother of two teenage children, and the breadwinner for her family.

“As a TPS holder, I can’t tell you how much my family and I are relieved about this decision,” she said in a statement. “It opens new horizons for us and allows us to feel more at peace.”

The U.S. provides “temporary protected status” to some groups of immigrants who are unable to return home due to temporary emergencies in their homeland, including armed conflicts or natural disasters. TPS beneficiaries must pass background checks and cannot be linked to criminal or terrorist groups. Syrian TPS holders must have been in the U.S. since Aug. 1, 2016.

Syria has been included as a TPS country since 2012, following the outbreak of a civil war in the country. More than 500,000 people have been killed in the ongoing violence, and some 5.6 million people have become refuges, with 6.6 million more believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.

While TPS benefits have been extended for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security declined for the second time to redesignate TPS for the country, meaning that those qualify for TPS but had not yet applied are ineligible for the program’s protections.

DHS first chose to extend TPS benefits for Syria without redesignating last year, after several years of both extending and redesignating.

The coalition of advocacy groups working with Syrian TPS beneficiaries objected to this failure to redesignate, stressing that “[t]he threat to civilians living in Syria and those returning is still very real.”

“The State Department issued a travel advisory in April of this year stating plainly: ‘No part of Syria is safe from violence.’ Until that changes, no Syrian should be forced back to a war zone,” the group said.

Abuse survivor: Some 'victim advocacy' groups 'have their own agendas'

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 14:54

Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2019 / 12:54 pm (CNA).- This story is the second part of a two-part series about how one victim of sexual abuse found healing. The first part was published Aug. 1.

When Michael* was 15 years old, he was abused by a priest at his Catholic high school. He told CNA recently about the suffering he endured, and about how, seven years after his abuse, he confided in another priest – only to have his faith in God and the Church shattered again.

For nearly three decades, Michael struggled with the pain and trauma of his abuse. He spent years, and tens of thousands of dollars, in therapy. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He needed help.

The therapy was a beginning.  But Michael told CNA he found the most healing in the Church and faith that his abusers had driven him from. Healing did not come not easily.

Michael says he wants to see real reform in the Church, and to ensure no one suffers like he did. But, he urges caution against what he calls “predatory advocacy groups” and an “industry that trolls for victims.”

Michael spoke to CNA about his experiences with such groups.

--

In 2010, it had been 28 years since Fr. James Rapp had subjected Michael to the abuse for which he would eventually be sentenced to two decades in prison.

It has been 21 years since another priest, Michael’s confessor and spiritual director -- and at the time the only person he had told about his abuse -- left him a series of obscene messages on his answering machine.

Michael was a successful professional. He had two children and had been married for more than a decade. His sons went to Catholic school, and he sometimes attended Mass with his family.

During the Spotlight scandals in the early 2000s, he had spoken to a priest; he was trying to move on, but he was still in pain.

“My wife couldn’t understand why I couldn’t leave it in the past. Really, I couldn’t either.”

One day, he was asked to give a keynote speech for work. During the preparations, Michael lost the sense of control he had created through exercise and work.

“I had become an authority in certain aspects of my field. Authority, this was a bridge too far. Authority made me very nervous, I mean, unable-to-function nervous. I could not even be in a room with an authority figure if the door was closed. Now I had to talk to a room full of them – to be one myself....”

Michael became obsessed with the preparations, panicking about what the room would look like, what size it would be, if the doors would be open at all times.

He began to doubt himself, his work, everything.

“Before that talk, I broke, and realized I needed to get help.”

Michael started therapy, first with a counselor at his work, and later with specialists.
 
“As I entered into therapy, I became concerned about Rapp. Was he still alive? Was he still around kids? I was feeling guilty that I had not reported.”
 
An internet search led him to the website BishopAccountability.org, where he learned that Rapp had been arrested in Oklahoma. Also on the website, Michael saw two links to victim support and advocacy groups. One was called Road to Recovery, the other was Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
 
He was in therapy, but he still needed help. He decided to reach out.
 
--
 
Michael used a proxy email account to contact Road to Recovery. The group’s leader, a laicized priest named Robert Hoatson, responded immediately, applauding Michael for coming forward.

“How about talking to an attorney?” Hoatson wrote.

Michael was surprised by the question. “It wasn’t why I was reaching out to them. I declined and said I just wanted to get better.”

At first he welcomed his new contact with Road to Recovery. After paying up to $900 a week for therapy, Hoatson was available on the phone or by email, day or night, free of charge, though persistently offering to put him in touch with an attorney.

“He seemed more helpful than the therapist, and he was always available.  He said he had worked with hundreds of victims … I felt fortunate to have found such a resourceful person.”

The gentle but persistent invitations to meet with a lawyer continued, Michael says, but he declined each time.

Even as his therapeutic costs mounted, Michael resisted speaking to a lawyer.

“If I took money for my therapy, would I be taking it from finite resources?” Michael asked. “Someone less fortunate than I might need the help more.”

In emails reviewed by CNA, Hoatson assured Michael that there was “plenty of money for everybody’s therapy.”

Eventually, Michael agreed to work with a lawyer towards recouping some of the costs of his therapy – something he says he is glad to have done since it helped lead to the criminal case against his abuser.

But, he said, his experience of groups meant to support survivors of abuse was far from perfect.

Over five years, Hoatson became a significant influence on Michael. Looking back now, he says, he believes that an agenda shaped their relationship.

--

Michael said that Hoatson introduced him to Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer well known for representing victims in Boston, and encouraged him to attend a SNAP conference in Chicago. There, Michael says he came to a very different understanding of such organizations and their priorities.

“SNAP describe themselves as a support group, but what I encountered was very different. The conference was run by attorneys.”

Michael said he watched as another lawyer, Jeff Anderson, led fundraising efforts for SNAP among lawyers during the conference, offering to match donations.

“I sat next to Hoatson during this. I asked ‘What the hell is this?’ I thought it was supposed to be a support group for victims, but the focus was all lawyers and fundraising and lawsuits.”

Michael said Hoatson pointed at one attorney and whispered to him, “See that guy, all he does is sue the Church and he has a private jet.”

“He laughed when he said it. I was in disbelief, I felt like I was in a parallel universe.”

The conference broke into small groups to discuss victim support.
 
“I was looking forward to this part more than anything else, because I thought maybe someone could tell me how to break through, to get to the other side.” 

Michael’s small group was led by a lawyer, another former priest, working for Anderson.

“I thought, ‘How is this possible, they have an attorney moderating the small group session?’ This was not the kind of support I was hoping for.”

Michael stepped into the hall, upset at the legal, rather than therapeutic, focus of the event. As he sat on the bench, a young woman came and sat next to him, asking if he was alright.  He told her the conference was not what he had expected from a group meant to help victims move past their abuse.

“I asked her if she was part of SNAP.  She said ‘No, I am an attorney here to learn how I can help.’” She handed Michael her card. “A wave of nausea swept over me.”

CNA asked SNAP’s executive director, Zach Hiner, about Michael’s experience.

“It is saddening to me any time that we fail to provide a survivor with the help and support they need,” he said.

“I was not involved with the organization at the time this survivor was, and so I cannot offer my opinion or view of that conference nor what he experienced. What I will say is that during my time at SNAP in this past year, we have tried very hard to ensure that we are talking not only about the problem of institutional sexual violence within the Catholic Church, but within other institutions as well,” Hiner told CNA.

--

While Michael was at the conference, he introduced himself to SNAP’s president David Clohessy, who had written an article about his abuser, Fr. Rapp.

“I wanted to know what he knew about Rapp, but he didn’t remember writing the article, or Rapp, or anything about him. I’d hoped he could point me in the right direction for finding out some more information as I looked for closure on what I had been through – it was why we were supposed to be there after all – but he did not seem interested in that.”

Michael said he feels organizations like SNAP commoditize victims in their campaigns.

“While SNAP hosted talks and sessions with titles that might sound helpful, I did not observe any activity intended to equip victims for recovery, their welfare, or advocacy.  It was a pure lawyer-fest.”

“I felt that the SNAP organization was weaponizing victims against the Church.  I felt it was a violation of vulnerable survivors.”

Clohessy told CNA that “First and foremost, I’m sorry I hurt or upset or disappointed a survivor.”

He also noted that SNAP’s national conferences “are a bit skewed toward activism over recovery.”

“We’ve found over the past 30 years that more recovery happens in our smaller, local, monthly support group meetings.”

Himself an abuse survivor, Clohessy said that there is a tendency to “oversimplify” his motives, based solely or largely on his public comments.

Following a lawsuit in 2016, in which a former SNAP employee accused the organization of taking kickbacks from lawyers representing abuse victims, Clohessy resigned as president of SNAP.
 
Michael said he felt “gratified” by the lawsuit against SNAP, and that it validated his own experience of seeing victims treated as a “resource” to be “bartered” between lawyers and advocacy groups.

“In my experience with Clohessy it seems he is mostly concerned with smearing the Church in any way that he can.”

Clohessy defended himself against that characterization, telling CNA that “If I wanted to ‘smear’ the Church, I’d constantly picket and protest. But I don’t. Like nearly every SNAP leader, I spend most of my time in one-on-one sessions with survivors, offering comfort, support and understanding.”

“When asked by victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, I help them expose wrongdoing in the hopes of protecting kids and deterring wrongdoing, not with the intent of ‘smearing’ anyone.”

Hiner told CNA that part of SNAP’s advocacy is demanding transparency from institutional authorities to make communities safe for children.

“This is not anti-Catholic at its core,” he said, “but it is easy to paint it as such in an effort to dismiss the valid criticisms that survivors and advocates have been bringing forward for years.”

In 2018, Clohessy returned to the organization as an official spokesman. Earlier this year, he appeared on television in Detroit, calling out Archbishop Alan Vigneron for not including some offending priests on a list published by the archdiocese.

The TV report highlighted the case of Fr. James Rapp, although the priest was never active in the archdiocese.

“It felt like my abuse, what I went through, was just a card to be played on TV. He wasn’t there representing Rapp’s victims, he was using us to attack a bishop who had nothing to do with it.”

Michael said that he made multiple attempts to contact the TV station and Clohessy, asking them to clarify the story, but received no response.

Clohessy told CNA said he recalled the event, but clarified it was in front of the archdiocesan chancery, not the cathedral, and that he could only remember an email in response to the appearance.

“It was six months ago, and I don’t recall that it was a survivor or someone else who complained, nor whether or not I responded.”

He also told CNA that he was more than willing to discuss the matter with Michael.

“I don’t remember meeting this survivor. I did not use ‘his abuse’ in any way but rather information that was already in the public domain because of Rapp’s criminal history,” he said.

“Over the years, I’m sure I’ve disappointed a number of survivors, I apologize to him and I’m sad that I’ve upset him and hope he contacts me so we can continue this dialogue.”

Last month, at a SNAP conference held in Virginia, Hoatson was presented with the 2019 “I Made a Difference Award.” During the presentation, he was introduced as “a true friend to survivors and a real leader in our movement.”

--

Michael said that while he was encouraged during his time with Road to Recovery and Robert Hoatson to sue the Church, he was discouraged from having anything to do with the practice of the faith, even as he was making efforts in therapy and to attend Mass with his family.

“Hoatson advised me to stay away from the Church, that it would just cause me too much stress,” Michael said.

“It was true, attending church was difficult for me while I was in counseling, and his advice helped trigger my departure from the Church – again.”

Michael says that Hoatson also advised that he get his family out of the Church as well, discouraging him from having his wife and children attend Mass.

“He said nothing good could come from them going to Mass; I didn’t listen to Hoatson on this point, but thanks to his advice, my family was going to church without me.”

This was in 2012. Michael opted for exercise as an outlet.

“I was hammering out long rides on my bike while my space in the family pew went vacant.  I deeply regret that time. I was worried about the effects on my marriage, I struggled with not going to church. I told Hoatson about a statistic that I once heard that 50% of married couples divorce, but of those who attend religious services together, only 25% divorce. He assured me, ‘That’s not because they go to church.’”

--

Michael told CNA that although he was discouraged from practicing the faith, good did come from his contact with the legal process: it put him in contact with the bishop of his home diocese, and the provincial superior of his abuser’s religious order. That contact started a chain of events that led to real healing and forgiveness for him.

He found that healing and forgiveness in the counsel of a good priest, Fr. Ken. Despite Michael’s past experience of confession, and how it figured in his departure from the Church, Fr. Ken steered him to the sacrament, with life-changing consequences.

Michael said he was reluctant to tell Hoatson about his reversion to the faith. When he did, he began to speak about the day he was drawn to the confessional.

“He told me: ‘Oh no, I hope you didn’t go!’”

Michael says that by September 2018, he was happier in his faith, in the Church, in his marriage, and in his family – happier than he had ever been.

The McCarrick scandal, he says, he took in his stride, but the Pennsylvania grand jury report was something else.

“Thinking I was recovered, and wanting to stand as a witness to fellow survivors, I read the first few pages of the report. I was not as strong as I thought. I had to stop reading it, and it knocked me down really hard.”

About that time, he received an email from Hoatson sharing a press release in response to the Pennsylvania report.

The scope of Hoatson’s press release, Michael said, “was to tell Catholics to stick together, to embrace homosexual and transgender priests.”

“He placed great emphasis on the idea that homosexuals don’t rape minors, only predators rape minors. He did not include any statistical data on the overwhelming majority of the homosexual predation of minors.”

Michael said he felt that his experience was, once again, being treated as a commodity. That what he went through was being repurposed to support a political agenda.

“I felt it was a great injustice to all of us survivors who were raped by gay men to deny that we were. It was like trying to change history to fit an agenda. Hoatson was disenfranchising all of us victims who simply want the truth told about what happened.”

Michael wrote to Hoatson about those points.

“I told him that I found his piece hurtful in denying the truth. I asked him to add facts and to tell the truth, but he only reaffirmed his position on the subject and told me that I was the only survivor that felt that way, that he owned me no apologies.” 

Since then, Michael has contacted the apostolic nuncio in Washington, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark – where Road to Recovery is based - to report what he considers to be the exploitation of survivors by Road to Recovery and similar organizations. He says the responses he received have confirmed that he is not alone in feeling victimized by groups supposed to advocate for victims.

Michael told CNA the Archdiocese of Newark disclosed that others had been in touch about Hoatson with similar stories. He said the archdiocese put him in contact with a lawyer they had recommended to others who felt taken advantage of.

The Archdiocese of Newark declined to comment on any complaints it may have received regarding Road to Recovery.

Hoatson told CNA that he has “the deepest respect for survivors of clergy sexual abuse and will continue to have their best interests at heart.”

“At times, unfortunately, emotions get in the way of accurate reflections and recollections of situations and events. It is my honor to advocate on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victim/survivors.”

Michael told CNA he has been in contact with the website where he first found links to Road to Recovery and SNAP, BishopAccountability.org, and shared his experience about how the groups treated survivors with the site’s managers.

The banner links have since been removed and a new page added, with links to a number of survivor support groups, including SNAP and Road to Recovery, as well as agencies that encourage spiritual healing.

The new page on Bishopaccountability.org cautions that the site is “not recommending or endorsing these organizations” and encourages survivors to “exercise due diligence” before making contact with any group.

Michael says that the response of groups like Road to Recovery and SNAP to the Pennsylvania report has affected him profoundly.

“Under all of the talk about victims and advocacy, these groups have their own agendas. On the one side, there are the lawyers and the money, on the other is a whole agenda about the Church and its teaching on gay priests. Where are the victims in all this?”
 
Michael said he is far from alone in his experience, but when victims are hurt by the very campaign groups meant to help them they have few places to turn or ways to get in contact with each other.
 
“There are groups out there, though,” Michael told CNA. “One’s that really do put the victims first, and are committed to healing abuse sufferers.” He named the Grief to Grace organization which, he said, “has put together the most comprehensive healing program imaginable.” 
 
Michael works with the Daniel Coalition in Michigan, and said that he would encourage any abuse survivors who have had adverse interactions with victim advocacy groups, particularly if they felt pressured to take action against the Church like he was, to contact the group via their own website.

In 2016, Michael testified against his own abuser, who is now in prison. The last time they saw each other was in the courtroom. But the last contact they had was a letter Michael sent to Rapp in prison. Michael explained God had given him the grace to heal and to forgive. In two short paragraphs he wrote “forgiveness” eight times. He signed the note “Victim A”, the name under which he had testified.

“We all want justice, and we deserve that. But what I received, I needed most was healing. I found it. I found it in therapy, in my family. I found it most powerfully in the Church, in God’s grace. That is what put me on the true road to recovery.”

Michael told CNA he hopes that other victims will find healing too, and that the Church can as well. During his first confession in nearly thirty years he learned to understand his own suffering in the light of the Cross.

“Christ prayed on the cross, and then commended his soul to the Father. I learned to do the same – that is how I forgave, that is how I really began to recover.”

Michael added he regrets that some of those from whom he sought help and healing almost kept him away from the place where he finally found it.

“That’s what the Church is, isn’t it? A place to heal?”

 

*Michael’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

 

 

New Iran sanctions continue discussion on 'proportionality'

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Trump administration added another high-ranking Iranian official this week to its list of sanctions against Iran, inviting continued discussion about the morality of lethal and non-lethal means of resolving conflicts.

The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it would take action against Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the “face” of the regime in Iran. The move is a continuation of President Trump’s Executive Order 13876 in June, which issued sanctions against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his office, and placed Supreme Leader Khameni on the Office of Foriegn Assets Control (OFAC) List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.

As part of that order, Zarif on Wednesday was added to the OFAC list, which freezes the U.S. assets of the named individuals and prevents people in the U.S. from dealing with them.

A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday that Zarif “is the international face of this regime,” spreading “propaganda” on behalf of its “nuclear program,” “terrorist network,” execution of homosexuals and detention of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.

In June, Zarif defended the regime’s executions of homosexuals in a joint press conference with the German foreign minister, telling a reporter from the German tabloid Bild the law was based on “moral principles.”

“While the United States has historically placed a high priority on preserving space for diplomacy, there are limits to our patience when a regime so routinely flouts these protocols,” a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday.

In June, President Trump said he called off a planned missile strike against Iran, in retaliation for Iran shooting down a U.S. drone, because the use of force would not be “proportionate” to the shooting of the drone. Moral theologians explained to CNA the Church’s teaching on the proportionate use of force in a just war; “the use of arms must not produce evils or disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a moral theologian at Franciscan University of Steubenville, said to CNA.

And when the use of military force is not “proportionate” to an act of aggression, or is not the “last resort” against an unjust aggressor, other “non-lethal” means of pursuing peace must be employed, Monsignor Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College, explained to CNA earlier in July.

Regarding the morality of sanctions in general, they must be judged in the context of the “promotion of peace,” and must always be used with the goal of bringing the parties to the negotiating table, he said.

Sanctions can take many forms, from targeted sanctions against individual human rights abusers to sanctions against whole sectors of a country’s economy such as import or export bans; “they can’t be used indiscriminately,” Swetland said, and must be “continuously reevaluated” as they are applied.

The broader the sanctions are, he continued, the more scrutiny they merit; “when ordinary people can’t get food and medicine, it’s gone too far,” he said.

The actions against Zarif are part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday.

Since announcing that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers—a deal that lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for the regime curbing its nuclear program—the U.S. has reimposed sanctions and placed additional sanctions on Iran, including on goods such as aluminum and oil exports.

Citizens in Iran have reported feeling the brunt of economic sanctions, having difficulty accessing needed medical treatments and paying higher costs for food, as CNA reported previously; the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the cost of imported medicines in Iran have sharply increased.

Bioethicist responds to Japan's approval of human-animal hybrid research

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 12:45

Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2019 / 10:45 am (CNA).- The Japanese government is expected to approve funding for a research project, led by stem cell scientist Hiromitsu Nakauchi, to use stem cells to create animal embryos that contain human cells.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that the research involves the implantation of human cells, typically human stem cells, into non-human animal embryos, such as embryos from pigs and sheep, for the purposes of growing human hearts, kidneys, and other organs in those animals.

“These organs would be generated for potential use in organ transplantation situations and to alleviate organ shortages...which could be a very helpful development for many people currently on the waitlist for an organ,” Pacholczyk explained.

“The aim is to make one species grow an organ of the other, rather than seeking to somehow ‘combine’ two species into a new, third species.”

That being said, however, Pacholczyk warned that if such research must be done, it should not include the creation or destruction of human embryos.

In general, he said, research destructive of human embryos is always morally unacceptable, because it involves “the purposeful destruction of younger humans to serve the interests of older and more wealthy humans.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life stated its 2000 Declaration on the production and the scientific and therapeutic use of human embryonic stem cells that “on the basis of a complete biological analysis, the living human embryo is - from the moment of the union of the gametes - a human subject with a well-defined identity,” and that as “a human individual it has the right to its own life; and therefore every intervention which is not in favor of the embryo is an act which violates that right.”

These will not be the first experiments done involving human-animal hybrid embryos, but it is the first to receive official support from a government. The National Institutes of Health in the US has had a moratorium on funding such work since 2015, according to Nature.

Nakauchi is the director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Tokyo and team leader at Stanford's Nakauchi Lab. He is still awaiting final approval from the Japanese government to begin his research.

Nakauchi told Tech Explorist that he plans to inject animal embryos, which have been engineered to lack a specific organ such as the pancreas, with human stem cells in order to see if they can grow the missing organ using those cells.

Rather than embryonic stem cells, Pacholczyk said, the researchers should consider using adult stem cells— typically harvested from the bone marrow consenting adults— or what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell–like state.

“These kinds of experiments require very careful ethical discernment, and the scientific community, with ethical input from the Church and appropriate outside regulatory control, must adhere to clear moral lines, meaning they need to agree that there are practices they will not do,” Pacholczyk said.

“This kind of research has the potential to be done in an ethical way, and to produce solid scientific advances, or in various unethical ways and to result in harmful and controversial scientific practices.”

Japanese scientists were previously forbidden from allowing human cells to grow within other animals past a 14-day period, but in March the government relaxed the rules on embryonic stem-cell research aimed at creating human-animal hybrids, allowing such creations to be brought to term.

Bioethicists have raised the possibility that human cells might stray beyond development of the targeted organ, travel to the developing animal’s brain and potentially affect its cognition, Nature reports.

To that end, Pacholczyk said that for any chimeras— third, hybrid animals— produced, care must be exercised to avoid the replication of major pillars of human identity in animals, such as the brain system.

In addition, chimeras which produce human sperm or human eggs should never be generated, he said, to avoid the production of the basic building blocks of human reproduction.

The Japanese scientist plans to begin with mice and rats, experimenting for two years, and said it is his hope to eventually apply for government approval to grow human-pig hybrid embryos for up to 70 days.

“Human cells generally do not grow very well in pigs or sheep, likely due [to] the evolutionary distance between us and them, so additional ‘tricks’ and genetic manipulations may be needed to help the human cells grow,” Pacholczyk commented.

“There is also a chance of transmitting new viruses from, say, pigs into the human organs that the pigs are growing, so this will have to be carefully addressed to be sure that if such organs were ever used in transplants, humans would not become susceptible to new infections.”

In the US, the NIH proposed in 2016 federal funding of projects to possibly create a human-animal hybrid, prompting serious moral and legal concerns from Catholic ethicists.

In comments submitted to NIH at the time, the National Catholic Bioethics Center stated that using human embryonic stem cells for research is wrong because “human beings at these vulnerable stages must be safeguarded, not exploited, in both clinical and research settings.”

On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 05:18

New York City, N.Y., Aug 2, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Today's feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola and its associated indulgence is a way to focus on the importance of Mary and the Franciscan tradition in the Church, said one friar.

The Aug. 2 feast is found in the Franciscan tradition, and marks the dedication of the parish church, called Porziuncola or “little portion,” which is one of those Italy's St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”

“The Porziuncola is at the heart of the Franciscan journey,” Father David Convertino, the development director for the Holy Name Province of the Observant Franciscans, told CNA.

“For Francis, it was his most beloved place. He lived near it with the early followers … and he loved the Porziuncola, as it was part of his devotion to Our Lady.”

The Catholic Church teaches that after a sin is forgiven, an unhealthy attachment to created things still remains. Indulgences remove that unhealthy attachment, purifying the soul so that it is more fit to enter heaven. Indulgences are either plenary (full) or partial.

A plenary indulgence also requires that the individual be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

Anyone who visits a Catholic church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and recites the Creed, the Our Father, and prays for the Pope's intentions, may receive a plenary indulgence on Aug. 2.

“Any kind of a prayer form that helps people come closer to God is obviously a good prayer form, and certainly an indulgence is one way,” Fr. Convertino said.

“It helps us focus on, in this case, the meaning of the Porziuncola and the Franciscan tradition, how it's situated in the greater idea of the Church.”
 


Porziuncola located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Credit: emmav674 via Flickr (CC BY_NC_SA 2.0)

The Porziuncola was built in honor of Our Lady of the Angels in the fourth century, and by St. Francis' time had fallen into disrepair. The church, which was then located just outside of Assisi, became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscan orders.

“Although Francis realized that the kingdom of heaven is found in every dwelling on earth … he had learned nevertheless that the church of Saint Mary at Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and visited more frequently by heavenly spirits,” says the life of St. Francis written by Friar Thomas of Celano, read today by Franciscans.

“Consequently he used to say to his friars: 'See to it, my sons, that you never leave this place. If you are driven out by one door return by the other for this is truly a holy place and God’s dwelling.'”

Fr. Convertino added that the Porziuncola “was the place he chose to lie next to on his deathbed, and at that time of course you could have looked up to the city of Assisi, which he also loved so well.”

The Porziuncola, a rather small chapel, is now located inside a large basilica which was built around it, to enclose and protect it.

“You have this large basilica built over this teeny tiny little chapel,” Fr. Convertino reflected. “If that chapel wasn't there then the basilica wouldn't be there, but if the basilica wasn't there, the chapel probably wouldn't be there either, given 800 years of war, weather, and turmoil.”

For Fr. Convertino, the duality of the big church and the little church is a reflection of the relationship between the world-wide Catholic Church and the smaller communities which make it up.

“We feel the Franciscans kind of convey, we're the ones at the heart of the Church, the little church there.”

He said that each time he visits Assisi, the “experience” of the Porziuncola is “compounded more and more,” and added that “it's such a magnificent place, and the friars there are wonderful.”

Fr. Convertino also discussed the fresco now painted around the entrance of the Porziuncola, which shows St. Francis, together with some of his followers, receiving the indulgence from Christ and Our Lady.

“The idea behind the story is that Francis is asking Jesus for a Porziuncola indulgence, and Jesus is saying to Francis, 'Well, you really better ask Mary, ask my mother.'”

This article was originally published Aug. 2, 2013.

What the Philadelphia foster care case could mean for the Supreme Court

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 19:28

Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2019 / 05:28 pm (CNA).- When the U.S. Supreme Court mandated legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the majority opinion argued that doing so “would pose no risk of harm” to those who disagreed with it.

In his dissent, however, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that serious religious liberty issues had been left unanswered by the majority, and that the country would ultimately have to contend with the question of how individuals who object to the recognition of same-sex marriage should be treated.

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example… a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples,” he said.

In just four years, Roberts’ prediction has become a reality. Last week, the Supreme Court was asked to hear a case regarding the city of Philadelphia ending a contract with a Catholic foster agency because it was unwilling to place children with couples in a same-sex marriage.

Catholic Social Services, run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, notes that no same-sex couple has ever sought certification through the agency and been denied. If such a couple were to do so, the agency says it “would refer the couple to one of 29 other agencies in Philadelphia—several within blocks of Catholic’s headquarters.”

Referrals are common, the agency notes, and are routinely carried out for reasons including geographic proximity, a specific agency’s medical or behavioral expertise, language needs, or a specialization in pregnant youth or other types of foster situations.

The case contains echoes of another Supreme Court case – the June 2018 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which the Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Colorado cake baker Jack Phillips, who in 2012 declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, because of his religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Phillips maintained that he was not declining service because of his clients’ sexual orientation, but because he objected to the ceremony in which they were asking him to participate. He said that he would happily create a birthday cake or a graduation cake for a gay client, but that he would not make a cake for a gay wedding. A devout Christian, he also refuses to bake cakes for bachelor parties, divorce parties, and Halloween.

In the Philadelphia case, Catholic Social Services is arguing that certifying a home study for a same-sex couple - married or not - is a tacit endorsement of the union, which is forbidden by the Catholic faith.

“[Catholic Social Services] sincerely believes that the home study certification endorses the relationships in the home, and therefore it cannot provide home studies or endorsements for unmarried heterosexual couples or same-sex couples,” the agency’s lawyers argued in a brief.

The Philadelphia case thus addresses head-on the question that has been lingering since Obergefell: Does the principle of religious freedom protect those who say they cannot in good conscience accept legal same-sex marriages?

Catholic Social Services has several strong arguments in their favor.

A key part of the Masterpiece decision was the finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Phillips’ religious convictions. Catholic Social Services is arguing that they too have faced this impermissible hostility toward religious belief.

They note that the agency was told by city officials to change its religious practices because it is “not 100 years ago” and “times have changed.” Officials also instructed the agency to follow the city’s view of the “teachings of Pope Francis.”

“One of the City’s highest officials called a religious organization into a meeting to tell its leaders how to interpret the Pope’s teachings, then penalized them when they arrived at the ‘wrong’ answer,” the agency’s lawyers argued in a brief.

In addition, the agency says Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has demonstrated “a long history of publicly criticizing the Archdiocese” and once said that he “could care less about the people at the Archdiocese.”

Catholic Social Services also argues that the City of Philadelphia’s actions are not neutral, and its policies are not generally applicable.

The city claims that it has a policy requiring foster agencies to provide home studies to every applicant who wants one. However, Catholic Social Services’ lawyers argue in a brief, “The City also admitted it never told secular foster agencies about this policy, nor monitored their compliance.”

The city also allows exemptions at the commissioner’s discretion, without any identifiable written guidelines, but told Catholic Social Services that they would not be getting an exemption.

For these reasons, Catholic Social Services is arguing that the case should be reviewed under the judicial standard of “strict scrutiny,” meaning that the government is not permitted to place a substantial burden on free exercise of religion unless there is a compelling state interest for doing so, and the least restrictive means of doing so are used.

In the Obergefell decision, the majority dedicated a paragraph to the question of religious liberty, clarifying that religious groups and individuals maintain the right to “advocate” and “teach” their beliefs against same-sex marriage. Court observers, however, noted that this language reflects a commitment to free speech about religious beliefs, rather than the freedom to put those beliefs into action – to practice or exercise religion, as the First Amendment states.

At the heart of the Philadelphia case is the question of whether the newly-recognized “right to gay marriage” precludes religious individuals and organizations from living out their centuries-old beliefs.

If the Court were to rule in favor of Catholic Social Services, it could have significant implications. A narrow ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services, based on the city’s alleged display of hostility toward religion, would affirm the Masterpiece decision and prompt lower courts to examine the language that is used by government officials in similar cases, looking for signs of hostility. In cases where this blatant hostility is absent, courts may be split in their decisions.

If the Supreme Court ruled more broadly, affirming that the principle of religious freedom protects individuals and agencies that object to tacitly endorsing same-sex marriage, it could offer widespread legal protection to wedding vendors of all types – photographers, florists, bakers etc. – as well as adoption agencies, marriage counselors, homeless shelters and other service providers.

A ruling against Catholic Social Services would also have significant repercussions for Christians who object to same-sex marriage, potentially leading wedding vendors and service providers to close their businesses. While such a ruling would be surprising to many observers given the Court’s current composition, unexpected results are always possible.

Four years after the Obergefell ruling, it is clear that Chief Justice Roberts was right in suggesting that the larger question of religious freedom and how it relates to same-sex marriage would need to be answered. A ruling in the Philadelphia case, should the Court choose to take it up, could play a significant role in answering that question.

 

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