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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: 58 min 44 sec ago

Colorado baker asks for true tolerance, and an end to the spotlight

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 16:20

Denver, Colo., Mar 12, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- A Colorado baker who became the focus of legal battles over religious freedom and same-sex marriage hopes his time in the spotlight is over after a Supreme Court victory last year and a resolution to a subsequent case.

“I hope this is the end of my legal battles, and that I can return to my quiet life as a cake artist,” said Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. “I love creating my cake art for all people. What I can’t do is create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with my religious beliefs.”

In a March 8 Denver Post opinion essay titled “Can I just be a cake artist again?”, Phillips said this “should be OK because a truly tolerant society tolerates different convictions. The First Amendment protects the peaceful exercise of my beliefs, and it protects my choice of what not to say and what not to celebrate. It protects you as well.”

Philips said he opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in 1993 and focused his talents on artistic cakes. He developed his talents through “countless art classes and years of practice.” He believes his cakeshop has become an “art gallery of cakes.”

In 2012, he said, he became the target of state officials who were “unabashedly hostile to my faith.”

That year, Phillips declined a same-sex couple’s request to make a wedding cake for their union on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs, although he did offer to create a different cake. Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple filed a lawsuit against Phillips and in 2013, a Colorado judge sided with the plaintiffs. He ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether. He chose to stop serving weddings.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission then ruled that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law categorizing sexual orientation as a protected class.

In the commission’s unanimous 2014 vote against the baker, then-Commissioner Diane Rice said: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we ... can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use—…to use their religion to hurt others.”

In Phillips’ view, Rice “blasted my (and your) constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom as a ‘despicable piece of rhetoric’.”

“She and her colleagues forced me out of the wedding industry, costing me 40 percent of my business. In their eyes, it seemed, my religious beliefs were incompatible with participation in a tolerant society,” he said in the Denver Post. “In other words, my beliefs were intolerable.”

Rice’s words were later cited in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy commented that tolerance is “essential in a free society” and said Colorado officials had been “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.”

In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips with a 7-2 decision in the case, known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It said the officials had shown “clear and impermissible hostility” towards Phillips’ religious beliefs and had acted inconsistently in other cases where bakers had refused to create cakes with messages to which they objected.

After that decision, Phillips thought he was “vindicated,” saying, “I hoped that I could return to being just a cake artist.”

But another case was pending.

In June 2017 lawyer Autumn Scardina ordered a cake to celebrate the anniversary of a “gender transition,” pink on the inside and blue on the outside, and Phillips declined on the grounds of his religious beliefs.

He was again put before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which issued a formal complaint against the cakeshop in October 2018 on the grounds he had discriminated on the basis of gender identity.

Phillips said he decided to “push back” because “no one should be driven out of business because of their religious beliefs.” Represented by attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, he filed a legal challenge against the commissioners, the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and other state officials.

“Those legal proceedings revealed an even deeper hostility toward my faith than previously known,” he said. One state commissioner had called him a “hater” on Twitter, while two others had publicly endorsed Rice’s “anti-religious” statements.

In January, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Wiley Daniel had said the lawsuit could proceed, given there is evidence of unequal treatment of Phillips “sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith” motivated by his religion. Phillips “adequately alleged his speech is being chilled by the credible threat of prosecution.”

The judge allowed departing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to be dropped from the suit because he was leaving leaving office. Gov. Jared Polis was not added to the suit.

State officials later agreed to drop the case.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said March 5 that both parties agreed “it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.”

“The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them,” he said, adding “equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”

In his essay, Phillips said he hoped that the United States can “learn to tolerate and respect our differing beliefs” and that “governments stop harassing people whose faith they dislike.”

“If that happens, then maybe, just maybe, I can go back to being just a cake artist.”

The Supreme Court case came amid increased advocacy from influential LGBT groups and others against broad religious freedom protections.

The case was a focus of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a San Francisco-based private family foundation with half a billion dollars in assets, which gave at least $500,000 to LGBT-supportive groups on advocacy and public relations campaigns related to Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2017 and 2018. The fund is one of several large funders which have committed nearly $10 million in various anti-religious freedom grants, according to CNA reports.

The Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop was one of several recent cases involving the collision between legal recognition of same-sex marriage and the freedoms of speech and religion. Florists, photographers, and other wedding industry professionals have been involved in lawsuits about whether they can be required to create works of art for same-sex weddings to which they hold religious objections.  

The rise of same-sex marriage and strict anti-discrimination laws and regulations have helped to close Catholic adoption agencies and others that decline to place children with same-sex couples.

Catholic soldier posthumously awarded Medal of Honor

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 15:38

Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2019 / 01:38 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins, who was killed on June 1, 2007, after tackling a suicide bomber in Al Yusufiyah, Iraq.

 

The White House announced March 12 that the Medal of Honor would be posthumously awarded to Atkins, a Catholic, on March 27, 2019. Atkins’ son, Trevor Oliver, and other members of his family, will be present at the White House for the ceremony.

 

“Staff Sergeant Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates,” said a statement from the White House.

 

Atkins, a native of Montana, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division out of Ft. Drum, NY. He was killed during his second tour of duty in Iraq, aged 31. He had enlisted in the army in November of 2000, and first deployed to Iraq in 2003. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant, and re-enlisted in 2005. He was deployed again in 2006. Exactly a month before he was killed, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

 

On the day he died, Atkins engaged in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent. When he realized that the insurgent was trying to detonate an explosive vest strapped to his body, Atkins tackled the man and shielded other soldiers from the explosion.

 

At his funeral Mass at Bozeman’s Resurrection Parish, Fr. Val Zdilla praised Atkins for the heroism displayed in his lact actions on earth.

 

“Human lives were saved by his heroic action that can never be forgotten or denied,” said Zdilla. He described Atkins as someone who truly lived out his calling in life by serving in the military.

 

“We now remember Travis and how his life made a difference,” he said. “He was this nation’s son.”

 

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Atkins was also awarded a Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Combat Infantryman's Badge, and Air Assault Badge.

 

The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor in the United States, and is reserved for those who have demonstrated “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty.” Atkins will be the fifth person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during the Iraq War.

Brooklyn bishop condemns SNL R. Kelly sex abuse jokes

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 14:30

Brooklyn, N.Y., Mar 12, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Brooklyn has demanded an apology from the NBC network, calling jokes comparing Catholics to supporters of a disgraced singer charged with child sexual abuse “disgraceful and offensive.”

The jokes were broadcast by the late-comedy show Saturday Night Live on March 9. Cast member Pete Davidson suggested that the only difference between practicing Catholicism and supporting disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly is that Kelly’s music is “significantly better.”

The Brooklyn diocese released a statement condemning the routine on Monday.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn is demanding an immediate public apology from Saturday Night Live and NBC,” the statement from the diocese said.

“Apparently, the only acceptable bias these days is against the Catholic Church,” said the statement.

The diocese criticized the use of the sex abuse crisis as a laugh line, “at the expense of the victims who have suffered irreparably,” and insisted that widespread reforms had been instituted to prevent sexual abuse.

“The faithful of our Church are disgusted by the harassment by those in news and entertainment, and this sketch offends millions. The mockery of this difficult time in the Church’s history serves no purpose.”

During the Weekend Update segment of the show, Davidson said “If you support the Catholic Church, isn’t that the same thing as being an R. Kelly fan?”

Kelly, a former songwriter for Michael Jackson, was indicted in February on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He was the subject of a recent documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, in which several women accused him of sexual abuse against both adults and minors.

The SNL audience had a mixed reaction in response to the joke, while Davidson added that the only difference between the Catholic Church and R. Kelly is that “one’s music is significantly better.”

“The other day, my Mom is like ‘I’m going to Mass’ and I’m like OK, I’m going to go listen to the Ignition remix,” said Davidson, referring to Kelly’s hit single from 2002. Davidson also called Kelly a “monster” who should be jailed.

Davidson was raised Catholic and graduated from a Catholic high school in Brooklyn before briefly attending St. Francis College.

Kelly has a long history of accusations of sexual misconduct. In 1994, Kelly, who was 27 years old, illegally married his protege Aaliyah, who was only 15 years old at the time. Kelly used a fake birth certificate that claimed the singer was 18. The marriage was annulled in 1995, and Kelly was not charged for the illegal relationship. In 2008, he was acquitted on 14 counts of child pornography that stemmed from a video discovered in 2002.

In January 2019, Kelly was dropped from his record label. He maintains his innocence, and said recently in an interview that he is “fighting for his life” against the charges.

The Diocese of Brooklyn said in its statement that “it is likely that no other institution has done more than the Catholic Church to combat and prevent sexual abuse.”

“The insensitivity of the writers, producers, and the cast of SNL around this painful subject is alarming.”

Heartbeat abortion bans move forward in Tennessee, Georgia

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 02:09

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 12, 2019 / 12:09 am (CNA).- Lawmakers in Georgia and Tennessee have advanced bills that would ban most abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. Should they become law, both are expected to face legal challenges, as courts have historically ruled similar laws unconstitutional.

House Bill 481 passed the Georgia House by a vote of 93-73 last Thursday and now moves to the Senate, according to WSB-TV Atlanta. Governor Brian Kemp released a video message supporting the bill shortly after its passage.

The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest— which would be demonstrated by a police report filed by the woman— as well as when a pregnancy is deemed to threaten the life of the mother or to be “medically futile.”

The Georgia Health and Human Services Committee tabled a second piece of legislation that would have created a “trigger law” to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that found a Constitutional right to abortion, is overturned by the Supreme Court.

Georgia House Democrats turned their back on Republican Rep. Ed Setzler as he introduced the heartbeat bill in the house chamber. Several Democrats had already walked out in protest of the bill.

In Tennessee, House Bill 77 passed the legislature 65-21 the same day and continues to the Senate. Gov. Bill Lee has said he will sign the heartbeat bill into law if it makes it to his desk.

Tennessee’s Catholic bishops chose to oppose the state’s heartbeat bill over concerns that it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s leading pro-life group, also opposed the bill.

“While we wholeheartedly support the intention of the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ being considered by the Tennessee Legislature, we must also be prudent in how we combat the pro-abortion evil that dwells in our society,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 26 open letter.

The bishops cited similar laws in other states that were signed into law but never went into effect because of legal challenges. In those cases, the laws were found to be unconstitutional, and the state was forced to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain, has already said they will file suit against Tennessee if the heartbeat bill becomes law. The American Civil Liberties Union has also vowed to challenge heartbeat bills in court in several states.

As an alternative, the bishops voiced “urgent support” for the “Human Life Protection Act,” an bill which would, in the event that Roe were overturned, trigger an automatic ban on abortion in the state.

The Georgia and Tennessee heartbeat bills join a growing list of legislation recently passed in other states, some of which the courts have already thrown out.

In January, a district judge struck down Iowa’s heartbeat abortion law, which Gov. Kim Reynolds had signed last May. The law had not yet gone into effect because of a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, which also performs abortions.

The Kentucky House is considering a heartbeat bill that the Senate passed last month. If the bill becomes law, an examination would be required before an abortion to determine whether the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. If so, an abortion would be illegal, unless the mother’s health is determined to be in danger.

Ohio lawmakers reintroduced a heartbeat bill last month after former Gov. John Kasich vetoed a previous version in December. Ohio’s new governor, Mike DeWine, has reportedly expressed support for the measure.

Missouri lawmakers are currently considering a bill that includes a provision banning abortion if either a heartbeat or brain function can be detected.

The Arkansas legislature passed the first heartbeat-based abortion ban in 2013, and also voted to override a governor’s veto of the bill. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled it was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Maryland, Minnesota, Florida, West Virginia, Mississippi, Illinois, and South Carolina are currently considering heartbeat legislation.

New law in NY used to revive $20 million suit against Brooklyn diocese

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 22:21

New York City, N.Y., Mar 11, 2019 / 08:21 pm (CNA).- A new law in New York that extended the statute of limitations for the reporting of childhood sexual abuse has allowed a Florida man to reopen a $20 million suit against the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, for claims of sexual abuse of a minor against a former employee of the diocese.

James Carlino, 55, formerly of Queens, recently re-filed a suit in which he alleges that he suffered continual sexual abuse from his former basketball coach, Robert Oliva, previously employed by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

According to the New York Post, the suit alleges that the abuse occurred continuously between the years of 1974 and 1978, beginning when Carlino was 12 years old, and while Oliva was a “legendary” basketball coach at St. Teresa school in Queens. According to the suit, the abuse continued even after Oliva transferred to a new position at a different school.

Carlino, who now lives in Florida, had previously attempted to file the suit against the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2011, but it was dismissed due to the statute of limitations at the time, the Post added. However, the recently-passed Child Victims Act has extended the statute of limitations on civil cases involving childhood sexual abuse, allowing Carlino to re-file.

The act extended the age at which victims of child sexual abuse may bring civil charges against their abuser - extending it from from the age of 23 to the age of 55. Criminal prosecution cases can be brought forward until the accuser is the age of 28.

The act, signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in February, also created a one-year window for victims of any age to come forward.

Prior to Carlino’s first attempted suit, Oliva pled guilty to two counts of child rape and one count of disseminating pornography to a minor in a Boston court for a charge of sexual abuse against Carlino, who was 14 at the time of the charge of abuse. Oliva was sentenced to five years’ probation, the New York Post reported.

The new lawsuit from Carlino alleges that “Oliva developed an inappropriate relationship with Carlino, inducing Carlino, as a very young child, to look up to Oliva, and to place absolute trust and confidence in Oliva. Oliva then abused that trust and confidence by sexually molesting Carlino.” It seeks damages for charges of assault, battery, negligence and emotional distress.

The suit comes just weeks after a Vatican summit on the global issue of the sex abuse crisis in the Church.

O'Malley introduces whisteblower system for complaints against Boston bishops

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 17:30

Boston, Mass., Mar 11, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced it will implement a third-party system for reporting allegations of abuse or misconduct against bishops in the diocese.

Boston is the second archdiocese to announce such a system, after a proposed national reporting system for allegations against bishops was scuttled during a November 2018 meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“I have decided to implement EthicsPoint, a confidential, anonymous and third-party system, exclusively for the reporting of misconduct by a Cardinal, Bishop or Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston announced in a March 8 letter.

“Since 2011 we have utilized EthicsPoint for concerns of potential ethics violations, financial improprieties, and other violations of the Archdiocesan Code of Conduct related to financial matters.”

“Like the existing system currently in use, this will be web based and have a toll-free hotline to make a report. Reports will be sent to members of my Independent Review Board who will be charged to immediately notify law enforcement for claims of abuse as well as the apostolic nuncio; the diplomatic representative to the U.S. of the Holy See. The system will be hosted on secured servers at the EthicsPoint facility and is not connected to the Archdiocese of Boston website, intranet system or the existing EthicsPoint system currently in use. We anticipate the system being up and running soon and will provide more information at that time,” O’Malley said.

The cardinal said that the importance of “an effective reporting mechanism when a Bishop or Cardinal has failed in his duty to protect children or has himself abused children or vulnerable adults” was discussed at a February Vatican summit focused on prevent child abuse.

The bishop said he believes the U.S. bishops conference will introduce a national reporting procedure at some time, adding his desire to “address this need immediately for the Archdiocese of Boston.”

In November, the U.S. bishops’ conference was stopped by the Vatican from voting on proposals that would have created a nationalized third-party whistleblower system for reporting allegations against bishops, and a lay-led independent commission for investigating those allegations. The Vatican said it had not had sufficient time to review the proposals ahead of the scheduled vote.   

The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced a whistleblower hotline for complaints against bishops in January, as well as a plan for the archdiocesan independent review board to receive complaints and forward them to appropriate civil authorities.

When O’Malley announced Boston’s system, he also said that the Vatican’s abuse summit had pointed to the importance of hearing from the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“The way forward for the Church is to hold as a priority the voices and experience of survivors, to keep them close to every step we take and make all possible efforts to provide the means for them to be heard.”

“In Boston we will continue to provide pastoral care and counseling for survivors. We will continue to carry out programs of prevention and education in our schools and parishes. We will continue to do background checks annually for bishops, priests, all archdiocesan personnel, and all volunteers who work with children and young people,” the cardinal added.

O’Malley faced criticism last year, after it was reported that he had received a letter raising concerns about laicized bishop Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with seminarians, and did not respond by forwarding it to the proper ecclesiastical authorities. The cardinal apologized for the way that letter, and others like it, were handled in his office.

The cardinal said that he left the Vatican abuse summit “convinced that no bishop could possibly say that his diocese is not affected by these issues or that this is not a problem in his country and culture. Patience among our people and in the wider community is exhausted and understandably the call is rising for effective action.”

 

Bishops Bransfield, Bennett restricted from exercising ministry

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 12:40

Baltimore, Md., Mar 11, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore announced on Monday restrictions on the ministry of both retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and retired Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J.

The restrictions against Bransfield are the result of a months-long preliminary investigation conducted by Lori, into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as financial improprieties.

“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Lori said in a March 11 press release.

Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston in September, five days after Bransfield turned 75 and submitted his resignation to the Holy See. Wheeling-Charleston is the only diocese in West Virginia.

Shortly after Bransfield’s resignation, Lori announced that Pope Francis had directed him to open an investigation into claims the bishop had engaged in repeated “sexual harassment of adults.”

Lori said in September that a hotline for the investigation received more than three dozen calls during his first two weeks as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

In the March 11 press release, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said the investigation was led by Archbishop Lori as well as five lay experts, including one who is not Catholic. The team interviewed 40 people, including Bransfield, as part of their investigation. The results have now been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bransfield will be made.

In 2012, Bransfield was accused of covering up sexual misconduct by other priests, as well as molesting a minor. Bransfield denied these allegations, calling them “completely false,” and the alleged victim came forward to say that he was never abused by Bransfield.

The archdiocese also announced in the release that “similar restrictions were warranted” concerning former Archdiocese of Baltimore auxiliary Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J. Bennett was an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1998 until 2004, when he became the bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica. He retired, reportedly due to health reasons, just two years later in August 2006, at the age of 60. The ordinary retirement age for bishops is 75.

Lori’s press release revealed that in May 2006, the archdiocese received an allegation of “sexual harassment of a young adult” by Bennett, which it reported to the apostolic nunciature. The bishop resigned from his Jamaican diocese three months later.

Upon the announcement of Bennett’s retirement, Fr. John P. McCarry, S.J., provincial of the Jesuit California province, informed province members that Bennett would be moving to California “for medical assessment and treatment for fatigue and depression.” Bennett is a member of the Jesuit California province.

Bennett will no longer be permitted to do any sort of priestly or episcopal ministry within either the Archdiocese of Baltimore or the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

In January 2019, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced a series of new protocols to investigate allegations against a bishop within the archdiocese. These protocols were developed by the archdiocese’s Independent Review Board, which will investigate claims that a bishop of the archdiocese engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior or abuse towards a child, as well as claims of sexual harassment or misconduct with adults, or if bishops “engaged in activities that constitute seriously negligent supervision or improper cover-up” of the sexual misconduct of others. Bishops within the archdiocese also signed a code of conduct.

Lori’s is believed to be the first policy of its kind in the United States.

Why one Alabama man is suing on behalf of an aborted fetus

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 18:30

Montgomery, Ala., Mar 9, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the United States, an attorney will represent the estate of an aborted child, after the father filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the six-week old fetus.

Court documents allege that a then-16-year-old Alabama woman obtained a medication abortion in February 2017, despite the protestations of her boyfriend, who says he is the father of the child.

The man subsequently sued the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville last month, saying that he had wanted to keep the child.

Brent Helms, the attorney representing the father in the lawsuit, told CNA in an interview that the goals of the lawsuit are to ensure that no father has to endure what the defendant has so far endured, and also to protect unborn children in cases of abortion by establishing a right to legal “personhood” for them.

“The issue that we ran into, in the case of 'personhood,' there was some incongruency there in that the definition of 'person' from conception excluded an aborted child,” Helms said.

“And so one of the goals of this case was to ensure that we were able to establish personhood for the unborn baby.”

Alabama voters approved changes to the state constitution – Amendment 2 – in November 2018 to establish a right to life of unborn children, known as a “personhood clause.” The measure passed with 60 percent support from the public.

In addition to the new constitutional amendment, Alabama has statutes created by the legislature, Helms said, to define “personhood” as beginning at conception. The state also has seven opinions from the Alabama Supreme Court defining personhood as beginning at conception, he said.

None of these, however, have immediate legal effect, due to Roe v. Wade establishing a constitutional “right to abortion” nationally.

The attorney sees this lawsuit as another effort to enshrine personhood in the state.

Helms said he's already had one indication that the lawsuit could succeed; he successfully set up an estate for the aborted child – identified in court documents as “Baby Roe” – and Probate Judge Frank Barger has allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

“That was the first estate, to my knowledge, ever created in the United States for an aborted child,” he said.

“So we've already had one victory, and we're moving on now to the wrongful death case...Obviously, it's the first case of its kind, ever, and we hope to establish legal precedent.”

In terms of broader implications if the father wins his lawsuit, Helms explained that in the state of Alabama, abortion is a profit-making industry, and in a wrongful death lawsuit the wrongdoer is punished in some way. In this case, the lawsuit names as wrongdoers the manufacturer of the pill that terminated the unborn baby's life, as well as the abortion clinic, the doctor, the nurses, all those that participated in the abortion.

If those entities are found liable for the wrongful death of Baby Roe, Helms said, then what was once a profit-making industry will now be subject to liability.

“And the question for them will be, ‘are we more subject to liability than we are to profitability?’ If a drug manufacturer determines that they're going to be held liable for an abortion in the state of Alabama, I doubt they're going to send any kind of pills to Alabama for an abortion,” Helms speculated.

“So I would think [their] conclusion would likely be that liability outweighs profitability, and therefore abortion is eliminated in the state of Alabama. It's just a simple business decision.”

Prominent pro-abortion groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America have spoken out against the lawsuit and the implications for legal personhood for aborted fetuses.

Eric Johnston, a fellow attorney and president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, told CNA that while he doesn't “disagree in principle” with what Helms is doing, he is worried that the lawsuit will not succeed unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

While the lawsuit is currently in a state court, he said, if the abortion clinic or the drug company can successfully move it to federal court, it will be “rejected in pretty short order.” If it stays in the state system, he said, even the Alabama Supreme Court is unlikely to rule in favor of the father.

“That case is not going to be upheld until Roe v. Wade is reversed,” Johnston told CNA. “I really don't think that that approach is an approach that will get to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Johnston said putting together the right lawsuit to challenge a longstanding precedent like Roe v. Wade is extremely difficult. He said he thinks laws passed by states, that directly challenge Roe v. Wade and are designed to be reviewed in the Supreme Court, are more likely to succeed.

“The Court has ruled in the past that the father of the child does not have a right over the unborn child, that it's the woman's right, and that's based on the idea that abortion is legal,” Johnston explained.

“So I don't think that the claiming of wrongful death damages by a father is the right set of circumstances that would cause the Supreme Court [to hear the case] to review Roe v. Wade. I just don't think that's the right approach for it. I just don't think it's going to fly.”

Johnston said as long as Roe v. Wade gives the woman the right of privacy to have an abortion, then there is not a wrongful death cause of action, regardless of Alabama law.

“The Alabama Constitution does not supersede or overrule the U.S. Constitution,” Johnston said.

“And under Roe, they have held that the U.S. Constitution permits abortion. So it's irrelevant what the Alabama Constitution says and it's irrelevant what the Alabama Supreme Court has said in several cases.”

Helms is more hopeful. “We're in uncharted territory, and we're trying to do the best we can to navigate through it. But that also means the other side is in the same uncharted territory,” he said.

“We're obviously excited about the opportunities that this may present for future fathers who are in the same position as [this father].”

Helms said protecting life is a particularly important issue for his family – he’s the father of seven children.

“When my mom was pregnant with my brother, the doctor told her that your health is such that either you or the baby is going to die, and my mom said 'Well, if the Lord wants one of us or both of us he'll take us,'” Helms reflected.

“And so she refused to have an abortion, and had my brother. He's the smartest and best-looking of the bunch, an so we're grateful to have him. So yes, [the pro-life issue] does hit home, and my wife and I have been blessed and we're grateful to have such a large family.”

The Huntsville abortion clinic has until April 1 to respond to the lawsuit.

 

Utah school apologizes after student forced to remove Lenten ashes

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 06:50

Salt Lake City, Utah, Mar 9, 2019 / 04:50 am (CNA).- A school district in Utah has issued an apology after a fourth-grade student was told by a teacher that he must remove the cross from his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

William McLeod, a student at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful, Utah, arrived at school with ashes on his forehead in the shape of a cross, a custom for Catholics at the beginning of the Lenten season.

He told Fox 13 that he was the only pupil with ashes at the school. Other students were curious about them, he said, and he explained the Ash Wednesday custom when they asked.

But then McLeod says, his teacher Moana Patterson confronted him about the ashes, telling him they were inappropriate and that he needed to remove them.

Despite McLeod’s objections, Patterson made him remove the ash cross with a sanitizing wipe, said his grandmother Karen Fisher.

“He went to see the school’s psychologist crying,” Fisher told the Associated Press.  “He was embarrassed.”

The school has released a statement of apology, saying that the matter is being taken very seriously. Patterson has been placed on administrative leave, and additional disciplinary action is being considered.

“The actions were unacceptable,” district spokesman Chris Williams said, according to the Associated Press. “No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead.”

Fox 13 reported that the teacher met with the principal after the incident, and a phone call was made to the family. McLeod later received an apology letter with some candy from Patterson.

Jean Hill, government liaison for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, told the Associated Press that mistakes occur, and that the event was a positive opportunity for interreligious dialogue. Catholics are a minority in the predominantly Mormon state of Utah.

“The diocese is also very grateful to the young student who used the situation to educate his teacher about a part of his faith and its importance to him,” Hill said.

“Learning about one another is one way we build community across religious, political, racial, ethnic and other borders,” she added.

Kansas archdiocese responds after denying school admission to child of same sex-couple

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 19:03

Kansas City, Kan., Mar 8, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- A K-8 Catholic school in Kansas is defending its decision to deny admission to a kindergarten student who is the child of a same-sex couple, citing archdiocesan admissions policies.

Father Craig Maxim sent a letter dated Feb. 27 to the families of St. Ann Catholic School in Prairie Hills, a suburb of Kansas City. Maxim, the church’s pastor, wrote that when the question of whether to allow the child to enroll first arose, he sought the guidance of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

He wrote that diocese has the ability to “form policy on these matters while individual diocesan schools do not.” The archdiocese advised against admission, he said.

A petition dated March 1 asks the school to “prayerfully reconsider” its decision. The petition has reportedly garnered over 1,000 signatures and was sent to Archbishop Joseph Naumann and the school’s superintendent Kathy O’Hara.

The petition claims that the school admits children of parents who are divorced and remarried or have conceived through in-vitro fertilization, as well as non-Catholic children and families.

“Respectfully, we believe that the decision to to deny a child of God access to such a wonderful community and education, based on the notion that his or her parent’s union is not in accordance with the Church’s teaching on Sacramental marriage, lacks the compassion and mercy of Christ’s message,” the petition reads.

In a media statement, the Kansas City archdiocese explained its admissions policy, which all Catholic schools affiliated with the archdiocese are bound to follow.

The statement affirms the Church’s teaching both that “individuals with same sex attraction should be treated with dignity,” as well as the Church’s understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Marriage is considered the building block of the family, of society, and the heart of the Church. The Church’s teaching on marriage is clear and is not altered by the laws of civil society,” the statement reads, in reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

“The decision of the Supreme Court to grant marital status to same-sex unions does not change Church doctrine on marriage, but does present the Church with new pastoral challenges.”

The fact that a same-sex couple is not capable of modeling the “essential components” of the Church’s teaching on marriage “creates a conflict for their children between what they are taught in school and what is experienced at home,” the archdiocese said, and could become a source of confusion for other students.

“Our schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith. Incorporated into our academic instruction and spiritual formation, at every grade level, are the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the statement continues.

“It is important for children to experience consistency between what they are taught in school and what they see lived at home. Therefore, we ask that parents understand and be willing to support those teachings in their homes.”

The archdiocese concluded its statement by saying that the Church does not think it respectful, fair, loving or compassionate for individuals who disagree with the Church’s teaching to “place their children in an educational environment where the values of the parents and the core principles of the school conflict.”

While acknowledging that other diocese across the country have different policies regarding enrollment for children of same-sex couples, Father Maxim wrote that he had communicated his parishioners’ concerns to the archdiocese. He stressed that this was not to “undermine Church doctrine,” but rather an attempt to “continue dialogue” with the archdiocese about the policy.

“As your pastor, I am distressed over the division this sensitive and complex issue has caused within our school and church,” he wrote, asking for prayers for healing, peace, and understanding.

Assisted suicide bill advances in Maryland despite lack of 'meaningful safeguards'

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 16:45

Annapolis, Md., Mar 8, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The lower house of the Maryland legislature passed a bill Thursday to legalize assisted suicide, in the face of critics' concerns about a lack of safeguards and economic discrimination.

The House of Delegates approved the End-of-Life Options Act by a 74-66 vote March 7.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has said the bill would “further undermine the dignity of human life.”

“Physician-assisted suicide is not a partisan issue, and those who are concerned about the health disparity and economic discrimination issues raised by the bill stand in strong opposition to its passage,” said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

“Among those in opposition were a majority of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus and many members of Democratic House leadership, and we applaud their courage to stand up to the out-of-state interests pushing this predatory agenda.”

“We call on the members of the Maryland Senate and Governor Hogan to act swiftly to decry the action of their colleagues in the House and stop this dangerously flawed bill from advancing.”

Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a coalition opposed to the bill, expressed hope that the Senate would recognize “that the legislation simply does not address any of the dangers that physician assisted suicide poses to Maryland.”

“As coalition members have said all along, there are no meaningful safeguards in this legislation to protect against the coercion and abuse of seniors, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations. There is no way to address the fact that patients in states where this practice is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like burdens on their families, not because they are in pain … Alongside these dangers, this practice distorts medical ethics and devalues existing end-of-life care.”

This is the fourth attempt in five years to legalize assisted suicide in the state. The move is being supported by the Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group that advocates for assisted suicide, and the bill is based on Oregon's assisted suicide law.

Similar bills were introduced in 2015, 2016, and 2017, but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.

If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to adult patients with a terminal illness and six months left to live. The bill would overturn a 1999 Maryland law that banned assisted suicide, and it would protect from prosecution doctors who prescribe the drugs. It would require that a patient make two oral and one written request to a physician, waiting two to 15 days between requests.

Physicians who decline to provide the lethal medication would be required to refer the patient to another doctor.

The bills have also been opposed by groups such as the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.

The MCC found that, under the bill, no assessment screens for depression nor is there a supervisor to ensure a patient is not pressured into the process. The bill also does not require a medical professional to be present during the suicide, or a contingency if the attempt is unsuccessful.

Delegate Nic Kipke noted that “if people cannot afford treatments they need for their care, and if people are making choices based on economic factors that is not consistent with choice or safety from coercion,” WAMU reported.

The Senate version of the bill has at least 19 sponsors in the 47-member body.

Governor Larry Hogan, a Catholic and a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign the bill. The Baltimore Sun reported that Hogan has said the bill is “one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis.”

Assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, Hawaii, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.

According to MAPAS, Dr. Joseph Marine, an associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins, said this kind of end-of-life care is dangerous to Maryland, noting other states have already witnessed its ugly effects.

“We are already seeing reports of insurance companies in some states declining to cover the cost of life-extending treatments, and instead paying for these drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”

During debate on the bill, Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk said that “we have 40 years of documented evidence that this is not a problem and there has never been abuse.”

Pope, Congress condemn anti-Semitism

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis condemned Friday anti-Semitism as a fundamental contradiction to Christianity. The pope spoke during an audience with the American Jewish Committee held in Rome, during which he called for renewed commitment to dialogue between the two faiths.

 

The pope’s statements came amid a rise in overt anti-semitism in many Western countries, and just one day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a motion condemning the trend.

 

Francis told the March 8 assembly that recent anti-Semitic incidents are a “source of great concern,” and that an “excessive and depraved hatred is taking root.”

 

The pope said it is important to be “vigilant” against anti-Semitic attitudes, to prevent another event like the Holocaust.

 

“I stress that for a Christian any form of anti-Semitism is a rejection of one’s own origins, a complete contradiction,” said Pope Francis.

 

He called interfaith dialogue an “important tool” in increasing understanding between Judaism and Christianity, stressing the importance of forming new generation of young people who are committed to interreligious dialogue.

 

Citing the “rich spiritual heritage” shared by Christians and Jews, the pope said that members of both faiths should seek each other out during this time of “depersonalizing secularism” in the Western world.

 

“It falls to believers to seek out each other and to cooperate in making divine love more visible for humanity; and to carry out concrete gestures of closeness to counter the growth of indifference,” he said.

 

American Jewish Committee President John Shapiro thanked Pope Francis for agreeing to open Vatican archival files related to World War II and the papacy of Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII was pope from March 1939 until his death in October 1958. The archived files will be open in March 2020.

 

The pope’s comments on anti-Semitism come one day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to condemn various forms of hate speech, especially anti-Semitism.

 

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned bigotry against “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”

 

The resolution was widely seen as a response to a series of comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) which have been broadly condemned as anti-Semitic.

 

The resolution was initially drafted as a condemnation specifically of anti-Semitism and a rebuke of Omar’s comments, but was amended to include numerous other forms of discrimination. The resolution did not specifically name Omar.

 

While it passed by a wide margin, twenty-three members of the House of Representatives voted against the resolution, saying that a more explicit denunciation of overtly anti-Semitic rhetoric is needed.

 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), who voted for the resolution, said on Twitter that the revised text was a “deceitful” attempt “to give cover” to specific statements made by Omar.

 

Several Republicans have called for Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which she sits.

North Carolina bill would extend statute of limitations

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 12:59

Raleigh, N.C., Mar 8, 2019 / 10:59 am (CNA).- A proposed bill in North Carolina would allow more time for victims of child abuse to pursue both criminal and civil action against their abuser.

The bill, called the SAFE Child Act, has gained bipartisan support in the state legislature.

Attorney General Josh Stein (D) unveiled the legislation on March 7, saying “Our first job as parents and as a state is to keep our kids safe.”

Stein said the bill “will increase enforcement tools to make sure abuse is reported and prosecuted – which will allow more victims to see justice and put more abusers behind bars.”

The legislation would extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor child abuse from its current two years to 10 years. It would allow victims of child abuse to pursue a civil lawsuit against the abuser until age 50, rather than the current limit of age 21.

In addition, the bill would ban high-risk sex offenders from contacting minors on social media.

It would enable prosecutors to convene investigative grand juries to examine child abuse claims, utilizing tools such as questioning witnesses under oath, compelling sworn testimony from witnesses, and subpoenaing records. Currently, investigative grand juries can only be convened in drug trafficking and human trafficking cases.

It would also require “any person or organization to report all reasonably suspected child abuse,” expanding current mandatory reporting rules, which only cover cases in which an abuser “is in a parental role and in a residential setting,” according to a fact sheet released by the state attorney general.

The attorney general also announced that he has collaborated with experts to create best practices for organizations that work with children. These include policies to prevent, identify and report abuse, and education about resources to help victims.

The Diocese of Raleigh said in a statement that it “looks forward to reviewing the proposed act recently announced by Attorney General Stein and supports efforts to further protect North Carolina’s children from sexual abuse.”

“Bishop [Luis] Zarama and the diocese support additional measures that would further clarify or expedite reports of suspected abuse and aid survivors in healing,” the statement said.

The diocese pointed to child protection efforts that are currently implemented for Church personnel, including programs to screen all adult leaders who work with children, and to train them to recognize and report signs of child abuse or neglect.

More than 24,000 diocesan staff members and volunteers have received the training since 2003.

The diocese also noted that at its request, it entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys in 2003, creating “a self-imposed obligation to immediately report to the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys (NCCDA) all claims of sexual abuse or assault on a minor.”

The fact sheets released by the attorney general’s office did not discuss whether priests hearing confession would be deemed mandatory reporters under the proposed law. The question has been raised in other states and countries, with Catholic dioceses warning that priests would be unable to adhere to such a requirement, as the seal of confession is inviolable. In 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that priests cannot be required to break the seal of confession to report alleged abuse of minors.
 

NY senator who backed abortion law disinvited from Catholic group’s parade

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 05:02

New York City, N.Y., Mar 8, 2019 / 03:02 am (CNA).- Controversy over a New York abortion bill resulted in a rebuke for a state senator who has been disinvited from a Huntington, N.Y. Irish-American Catholic group’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities and asked to resign as a member due to his vote for the legislation.

Monsignor Steven R. Camp, chaplain of the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ John F. Kennedy Division 4 of Suffolk County, wrote to State Sen. James Gaughran, saying his vote in favor of the bill had caused “great dismay” among division members.

“The membership is dismayed that a member of their order could vote for such a law,” said the priest, who said he was writing on behalf of the division’s leadership and membership. “This law violates all the principles the AOH has ascribed to since its founding, adherence to our Roman Catholic faith, and the security of the Irish race.”

Msgr. Camp, who is also pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Huntington, said the senator was disinvited from marching in the parade with the Hibernians and from attending the parade grand marshal’s dinner dance.

The abortion bill, called the Reproductive Health Act, drew strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other pro-life advocates in the state.

The law allows abortions “within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or (when) there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient's life or health.” It aimed to protect legal abortion in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns pro-abortion rights precedents.

The state law removes the act of abortion from the criminal code and places it in the public-health code. It strips most safeguards and regulations on abortions and allows non-doctors tonperform abortions.

In response to Msgr. Camp’s letter, Gaughran contended that the division was requiring public officials “to perform their duties in conformance with the specific religious views held by its membership.”

“Respectfully, I find this troubling and contrary to the principle that our elected officials must represent all their constituents, not just those with whom they share their religious beliefs,” he said. Gaughran said he had not renewed his membership in the division and did not consider himself an active member. He said he had made clear his support for the bill during his campaign, and voiced concern that the division had not reached out to him earlier.

Professing respect for Catholic leaders and the Hibernian division membership, he said that despite their position against Roe v. Wade, “I maintain my belief that a woman should have the right to make her own personal reproductive health care decisions.”

“To be honest, I do not see how any elected public official could faithfully uphold their fidelity to their constitutional oath while participating in an organization that requires specific votes based explicitly upon religious views or litmus tests,” he said, going on to quote John F. Kennedy’s 1960 remarks on church and state before an audience of Baptist pastors during his presidential campaign.

Gaughran’s comments echoed the claims of bill backer Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who accused President Donald Trump and the “religious right,” including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, of “spreading falsehoods about abortion laws to inflame their base.”

Dolan, writing in a Feb. 7 blog post, said Cuomo “continues his attempt to reduce the advocacy for the human rights of the pre-born infant to a ‘Catholic issue’,” which the cardinal deemed “an insult to our allies of so many religions, or none at all.”

Quoting former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, Dolan said that abortion is not about “right versus left, but right versus wrong.” Dolan said “I didn’t get my pro-life belief from my religion class in a Catholic school, but from my biology and U.S. Constitution classes.”

In a Feb. 6 New York Times opinion essay, Cuomo, who is Catholic, said his decisions in his life are “based on my personal moral and religious beliefs,” but his oath of office is “to the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of New York--not to the Catholic Church.” My religion cannot demand favoritism as I execute my public duties.”

The New York Senate passed the bill by a vote of 38 to 24.

CNA sought comment from Msgr. Camp and the Diocese of Rockville Centre but did not receive a response by press time.

The Huntington-based Ancient Order of Hibernians division’s website says it has organized the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade since 1930, and claims it is the “oldest and largest” such parade on Long Island.

Ancient Order of Hibernians national vice president Danny O’Connell declined detailed comment, telling CNA that discussions about business and membership are an internal matter. He clarified that St. Patrick’s Day Parades are separate entities from the organization itself.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America dates back to 1836. It has tens of thousands of members nationwide. Full membership is limited to practicing Catholic men of Irish birth, ancestry or adoption, or to Catholic clergy and seminarians regardless of ancestry. The organization also has an associate membership and allows social privileges for such members not qualified for full membership.

The order’s three main principles are Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity. According to the 2016 edition of its national constitution, its purposes include to promote peace and unity for all Ireland and Irish independence; Irish heritage, culture and history; civic participation; equitable U.S. immigration law for Ireland; religious freedom; and “to protect and defend all life, born and unborn.”

The organization added the pro-life plank to its purpose in the 1970s after the U.S. Supreme Court mandated legal abortion nationwide in decisions such as Roe v. Wade.

The group’s constitution pledges “to work in harmony with the doctrines and laws of the Roman Catholic Church,” and also bars support for or opposition to “any political party or candidate” in the name of the order.

In the wake of the passage of the new abortion law, the New York State Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians recently reaffirmed its pro-life plank, saying “All life is precious from conception to natural death.”

“We pray, civilly protest and express this stance in our actions month after month, year after year and in support of Church teachings,” the state board said on its website Feb. 2. “We have never wavered or succumbed to political or socially accepted attitudes of the times.”

“Even when a culture of death seems to be accepted by many, we show love, and support Life in all stages,” it added. “Let it be known that, our position on abortion (and all respect life issues) does not change or evolve…. The latest bill signed in New York does not change the stance we take on the subject. It never will.”

 

These 17th century monks did a beer fast for Lent

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 02:25

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2019 / 12:25 am (CNA).- With the Lenten season fully in swing, Catholics are immersing themselves in 40 days of abstaining from sweets, technology, alcohol and other luxuries.

But did you know that Catholic monks once brewed beer specifically for a liquid-only Lenten fast?

Back in the 1600s, Paulaner monks moved from Southern Italy to the Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Bavaria. “Being a strict order, they were not allowed to consume solid food during Lent,” the braumeister and beer sommelier of Paulaner Brewery Martin Zuber explained in a video on the company’s website.

They needed something other than water to sustain them, so the monks turned to a common staple of the time of their region – beer. They concocted an “unusually strong” brew, full of carbohydrates and nutrients, because “liquid bread wouldn’t break the fast,” Zuber noted.

This was an early doppelbock-style beer, which the monks eventually sold in the community and which was an original product of Paulaner brewery, founded in 1634. They gave it the name “Salvator,” named after “Sankt Vater,” which “roughly translates as ‘Holy Father beer,’” Zuber said.

Paulaner currently serves 70 countries and is one of the chief breweries featured at Munich’s Octoberfest. Although its doppelbock is enjoyed around the world today, it had a distinctly penitential origin with the monks.

Could a beer-only fast really be accomplished? One journalist had read of the monks’ story and, in 2011, attempted to re-create their fast.

J. Wilson, a Christian working as an editor for a county newspaper in Iowa, partnered with a local brewery and brewed a special doppelbock that he consumed over 46 days during Lent, eating no solid food.

He had regular check-ups with his doctor and obtained permission from his boss for the fast, drinking four beers over the course of a work day and five beers on Saturdays and Sundays. His experience, he said, was transformative – and not in an intoxicating way.

Wilson learned “that the human body is an amazing machine,” he wrote in a blog for CNN after his Lenten experience.

“Aside from cramming it [the body] full of junk food, we don’t ask much of it. We take it for granted. It is capable of much more than many of us give it credit for. It can climb mountains, run marathons and, yes, it can function without food for long periods of time,” he wrote.

Wilson noted that he was acutely hungry for the first several days of his fast, but “my body then switched gears, replaced hunger with focus, and I found myself operating in a tunnel of clarity unlike anything I’d ever experienced.” He ended up losing over 25 pounds over the course of the Lenten season, but learned to practice “self-discipline.”

And, he found, one of his greatest challenges was actually fasting from media.

As he blogged about his fast, Wilson received numerous interview requests from local and national media outlets, and he chose to forego some of these requests and step away from using media to focus on the spiritual purpose of his fast.

“The experience proved that the origin story of monks fasting on doppelbock was not only possible, but probable,” he concluded.

“It left me with the realization that the monks must have been keenly aware of their own humanity and imperfections. In order to refocus on God, they engaged this annual practice not only to endure sacrifice, but to stress and rediscover their own shortcomings in an effort to continually refine themselves.”

Catholics are not obliged to give up solid food for Lent, of course, but they must do penance during the season of Lent in the example of Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness, in commemoration of His death, and in preparation for Easter.

Catholics in the U.S., if healthy adults aged 18-59, must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and are encouraged to continue the Good Friday fast through Holy Saturday to the Easter Vigil.

“No Catholic Christian will lightly excuse himself from so hallowed an obligation on the Wednesday which solemnly opens the Lenten season and on that Friday called ‘Good’ because on that day Christ suffered in the flesh and died for our sins,” the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote in their 1966 pastoral letter on fasting.

Fasting is interpreted to mean eating one full meal and two smaller meals that, taken together, do not equal that one full meal. There may be no eating in between meals, and there is no specific mention of liquids in the guidelines.

In their pastoral letter, the bishops also maintained obligatory abstinence from meat for all Catholics on Fridays in Lent, and “strongly recommend participation in daily mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting” on other Lenten days, as well as almsgiving, study of the Scriptures, and devotions like the rosary and the Stations of the Cross.

This article was originally published on CNA March 1, 2017.

Colorado Catholic Conference supports bill to repeal death penalty

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 20:01

Denver, Colo., Mar 7, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- As a measure to repeal Colorado’s death penalty passed a Senate committee this week, the Colorado Catholic Conference has expressed support for the bill.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 3-2 along party lines March 6. Before the bill is sent to the Senate for a full debate, the Colorado Catholic Conference encouraged the people to call or email their elected officials.

“We have always been staunch supporters of repealing the death penalty here in Colorado, and all of the bishops have spoken very publicly about the need to repeal and abolish the death penalty,” Jenny Kraska, executive director for the Colorado Catholic Conference, told CNA.

The bill's sponsors are Sen. Angela Williams, Sen. Julie Gonzales, Rep. Jeni Arndt, and Rep. Adrienne Benavidez.

According to 9 News, Williams said the death penalty is inefficient and that the fact that each of the three people on death row in the state are African American is evidence of racial inequalities.

"It's a barbaric practice. It's time to remove it from the books in Colorado," she said.

CPR reported that testimonies were also given in opposition to the repeal. Rep. Tom Sullivan had pushed for the execution of James Holmes after the 2012 Aurora Theater Shooting left dead the politician's son, along with 12 other people.

“We have a mechanism if those people don’t want to be a part of our society, we should have the ability to take those people out of our society,” he said.

The last execution carried out in the state was in 1997.

The inmates now on death row are Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people at a kids’ restaurant, and Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, who both had been involved with the death of a young couple.

In 2013, then-governor John Hickenlooper temporarily suspended the death penalty of Dunlap. Before the execution was suspended, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver was featured in a Denver Post guest column, where he expressed the importance of human dignity.

“My faith tells me that Dunlap’s crimes were sinful because murder ignores the human dignity which comes from being created in God’s image. But I believe that justice must also respect human dignity. My faith holds out hope for the possibility that some good can come from every single human life.”

Kraska said mercy, redemption, and healing should be made available to both victims and criminals. She said prisoners should not only have the chance to change and seek repentance, but the families of victims should be able to have interactions of forgiveness with the perpetrator. If people are put to death, these opportunities are lost, she said.

“For the Catholic Church, obviously, it’s about a consistent ethic of life, and we believe that all life has intrinsic value and whether that is life in the womb, life at the end of life, or life of somebody who has committed an atrocious crime,” she told CNA.

“We don’t think it is the right of the state or anyone to kill somebody. Perpetuating violence with violence is never the answer,” she added.

US State Department awards Irish nun for education work in South Sudan

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- An Irish nun who has been working to educate girls in South Sudan for the past eleven years is among the recipients of this year’s U.S. State Department International Women of Courage awards.

Orla Treacy, a Loreto sister from Bray, Ireland, was invited in 2006 by the Bishop of Rumbek to open a girls’ boarding school. She had joined the Loreto Sisters in 2005, after working for a summer in Kolkata after college and witnessing the dire poverty there.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with First Lady Melania Trump, awarded the annual International Women of Courage Awards to ten women from around the world, including Treacy, at the State Department March 7.

Treacy told the Irish Times last year that after she arrived in the region that was then part of Sudan in 2006, it took two years to get their boarding school building actually constructed. The diocese where she arrived, according to a 2017 article from Catholic Ireland, was “the size of Italy but with just two [high] schools.”

Treacy said she also faced challenges convincing the local community to enrol their daughters in her school, in a country where less than one percent of girls graduate high school.

More than half of girls in South Sudan are married before the age of 18, and 17 percent before they turn 15, according to the Loreto sisters’ website. Ninety percent of women in South Sudan are “functionally illiterate.”

“If you live in a culture where marriage is more popular than school, it’s very hard to change that mentality,” Treacy told the Irish Times.

“We have been threatened at gunpoint, we have been insulted, all number of problems because she is a woman and should be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good. Technically it’s a boarding school but I call it a women’s refuge because you’re constantly trying to protect these girls from forced marriage.”

South Sudan voted to gain independence from Sudan in 2011, but a subsequent civil war that began in 2013 has left millions displaced and hundreds of thousands hungry. Though the two sides signed a peace agreement in September 2018, the country’s Catholic bishops recently expressed concern that the agreement is bound to fail, because the root problems of the conflict have not yet been addressed.

Today the school Treacy founded and is principal of educates around 200 girls per year.

“I work with people who live very much on the margins: life and death, hunger and despair. Every day they live on the edge. And yet in that you can still glimpse love and hope every day,” Treacy told the Irish Times in January 2018.

In his remarks at the award ceremony, Pompeo praised Treacy’s school as a “beacon of hope for girls who would otherwise be denied education, and be forced to enter early marriages.”

“Women of courage exist around the world; most will never be honored,” Pompeo said. “They face different challenges, but challenges that still matter.”

Among this year’s other awardees is “Mama Maggie” Gobron, a Coptic Orthodox woman who left behind a life of financial success to found a ministry to help children growing up in Egypt’s squalid slums. Her organization, Stephen’s Children, has helped 30,000 families with food and clothing over 25 years, according to the organization’s website.

 

With numbers booming, Dominican sisters expand to Texas

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 18:52

Austin, Texas, Mar 7, 2019 / 04:52 pm (CNA).- The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist had a problem.

They were running out of room at their convent in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they had been based since 1997.

It was a good problem to have, the result of a boom in young vocations. But it meant that the community of 140 sisters needed to expand.

With property in both California and Texas, the sisters prayerfully considered both options, ultimately deciding that God was calling them to open a new convent in the Georgetown, Texas.

Twenty-five miles north of Austin, Georgetown is in the Hill Country of the Lone Star State.

The sisters’ presence in Texas reaches back to 2009, when eight sisters came to teach in the Diocese of Austin, invited by then-Bishop of Austin Gregory Aymond. Members of the community currently teach in four Catholic schools in Texas.

“As our presence has steadily grown, our apostolate has flourished, enabling us to expand the work to which God has called us – to praise, to bless, and to preach through catechesis, evangelization, and witness,” the sisters said in a statement.

“Through it all, our hearts have been captured by the love of so many who have made all this possible through their sacrificial goodness.”

In 2012, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist began a $30 million capital campaign to fund the first phase of a new Religious House.

That phase was recently completed and is comprised of living space for 56 sisters, along with dining space, a gymnasium and library, and areas for education and community. Twelve sisters have moved in so far, the Dallas News reports.

The building was blessed in a Feb. 16 ceremony.

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, head of the diocese where the sisters are from, presided over the ceremony. He was joined by bishops from around the state of Texas: Bishops Joe Vasquez of Austin, Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi, Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Brendan Cahill of Victoria, and Stephen Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The new home is named “Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent.”

“As patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in the heart of our own community as well,” the sisters explained in their statement.

“We seek her motherly protection and guidance as our Sisters take up residence, begin their studies, and continue to nurture and teach those entrusted to their care.”

The Texas convent marks the community’s first expansion beyond the Motherhouse since 1997, with more expansion projects planned.

“Never in our wildest imagination, did we ever think about being in Texas when we first started,” said Mother Assumpta Long in an interview in the Dallas News.

“I tell people that it's such an adventure to be religious because when you worship, you never know what he has in mind… All you do is trust and you follow him, but he had it all planned. We didn't have a clue.”

Senators want study of 'non-compete' deals in low-wage jobs

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A bipartisan group of senators have written to the Government Accountability Office asking it to examine the use of non-compete agreements by employers when dealing with low-wage workers.

 

In a letter sent March 7,  Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Todd Young (R-IN) asked GAO comptroller general Gene Dodaro to review the practice non-compete agreements, and the effect these agreements have on the economy.

 

A non-compete agreement prevents or delays an employee from taking a new job either with certain competitors or in the same industry after his employment has ended. They are common in some fields as a measure to protect trade secrets and to lower turnover among employees, but the letter claims that the practice has expanded in recent years.

 

“We are requesting that GAO review the available research on the use of [non-compete] agreements and the impact of non-compete contracts on the nation’s workforce,” the senators wrote.

 

Specifically, the senators want the GAO to look at how prevalent non-compete agreements have become in lower-wage positions, and how these agreements impact the workforce and the economy as a whole.

 

The letter claims that 12 percent of workers earning less than $20,000 and 15 percent of workers earning between $20,000 and $40,000, have signed non-compete agreements. These employees may not know they will be subject to a non-compete agreement until after they have received a job offer, the letter explains.

 

Senator Rubio said on Thursday that the practice was in urgent need of review.

 

“It is unacceptable that non-compete agreements are being used to unnecessarily restrict entry-level workers from pursuing better employment opportunities,” Rubio said.

 

The senators also asked for a study of state-level measures taken steps to limit non-compete agreements, and how these have impacted local economies.

 

“The use of non-competes has spread from highly technical fields into less technical and lower wage work, where they might reduce wage and benefit competition among employers and restrict employee’s upward mobility--for no good reason,” said the letter.

 

The head of the Catholic Social Workers’ National Association said the practice of forcing employees, especially lower-wage employees, to sign non-compete agreements is contrary to America’s founding ideals and violates the rights of workers.

 

“According to Catholic Social Teachings, our economy must serve the people,” Kathleen Neher, co-founder and president of the CSWNA, told CNA.

 

“Work provides more than money, it provides a sense of community, dignity and participation in God's creation.The basic rights of workers must be respected, which includes helping them grow and achieve their dreams,” she said.


Non-compete agreements, she said, only increase the pressures faced by lower-wage workers who, Neher said, often are people students or people with fewer academic qualifications.

 

“We live in America, the land of opportunity,” Neher said. “We should never place limits on possibilities for growth.”

 

She warned that restrictions on workers like non-compete agreements would have negative impacts on their mental health, and the economy as a whole. Workers, she explained, achieve more when given the chance to do so.

 

“Lower-level employment is there to teach and guide employees so they can move up the ladder of success,” she said, which would result in higher tax revenue and more money being spent in the community.

States debate life and death laws

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 13:45

Annapolis, Md., Mar 7, 2019 / 11:45 am (CNA).- Legislators in Maryland are considering a bill to legalize physician assisted suicide. At the same time, Georgia lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The two measures are the latest in a rolling series of state-level laws on life issues across the country.

In Georgia, the fetal heartbeat bill advanced through the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 17 to 14. All Republican members of the committee voted for the bill, and all Democrat members of the committee voted against. Legislative deadlines mean that a vote on the bill must take place by the end of Thursday, March 7.

 

The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest--which would be demonstrated by a police report filed by the woman--as well as for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother or are deemed to be “medically futile.”

 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) had promised abortion restrictions during his campaign, and his website states that he is supportive of legislation that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

 

Georgia’s General Assembly has a Republican majority in both houses. If the bill were to be voted on, it is likely that it would pass, and be signed into law by Gov. Kemp.

 

However, even if passed, it is unlikely the law would go into effect. In other states that have considered similar laws, legal challenges have prevented legislation from going into effect.

 

In Tennessee, the state’s Catholic bishops recently issued a statement saying that they were opposed to the Tennessee legislature passing a “Heartbeat Bill” as it would result in a costly legal challenge that the state would lose.

 

In order for the “heartbeat bills” to be found constitutional, the Supreme Court would have to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a woman had a constitutional right to have an abortion.

 

Meanwhile, three states further north, Maryland lawmakers will soon vote on the “End of Life Option Act,” which would permit those with terminal illnesses to end their own lives with medication from a doctor. The bill, which received preliminary approval by the House of Delegates on March 6, will face a final vote on Thursday.

 

The “End of Life Option Act” would require that adults seeking to die be deemed “mentally capable,” in severe pain and have a prognosis of less than six months life expectancy, before they can be prescribed life-ending drugs.

 

The bill has previously been proposed several times, but it did not receive approval from two House committees--the Health and Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary Committee--until this year.

 

Currently, the “End of Life Option Act” has 68 co-sponsors--three short of the number required to assure passage of the legislation. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard County) told a local Fox station that she is “never confident [about the result] until the vote is taken.”

 

While the majority of the bill’s co-sponsors are Democrats, the measure does not have unanimous party support.

 

Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore County), voiced her opposition to the bill, saying that it was “not up to us to say when your life should end” and that she did not think the state should assist with suicide.

 

Assisted suicide currently is legal in six states and the District of Columbia.

 

The separate bills in Maryland and Georgia are the latest in a wider national trend of increased and opposed life legislation in 2019.

 

In January, New York passed a sweeping abortion law which codified a right to an abortion, and removed abortion from the state’s criminal code. Vermont passed a similar law in February. Efforts to pass similar legislation failed in Virginia, but are continuing in Rhode Island.

 

In Tennessee, a bill that would ban abortion after the detection of a heartbeat passed in the state’s House of Representatives on Thursday. Ohio lawmakers reintroduced the “heartbeat bill” in February after it was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich (R) in 2018.

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