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Updated: 48 min 13 sec ago

US bishops denounce rise in anti-Semitic attacks

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 16:24

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2017 / 02:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops are responding with solidarity and concern for the Jewish community, following a surge in anti-Semitic actions in recent weeks.

“On behalf of the Bishops and people of the Catholic Church, as the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanksi of Springfield in a press release.

“I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions,” Bishop Rozanski continued.

On Feb. 20, more than 150 headstones were damaged in University City, Missouri at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. Just a week later, over 100 headstones were found similarly knocked over at the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was "deeply saddened" by the vandalism at Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery, and called for "prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed."

"As a community, we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize, and incite prejudice," the archbishop continued. "We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition. Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding."

No suspects have been named in either case, but the damage has reached hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More than 50 bomb threats targeting the Jewish community have also been reported across the country since the beginning of the year, including scares at Jewish community centers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Milwaukee.  

According to the Anti-Defamation League, violent anti-Semitic actions soared in 2015, and continued into 2016 with increased online anti-Semitic harassment.

Leaders and officials have denounced the surge in anti-Semitic actions, including words from President Donald Trump last week, who said the recent attacks on the Jewish community were “horrible and are a painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia also spoke out, saying that “hate is not permissible in Philadelphia,” and that the perpetrators “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” according to the New York Times.

Echoing these sentiments, Bishop Rozanski promised that “the Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism.”

Quoting Pope Francis, he pointed to the dangers of the anti-Semitic attacks, linking them to acts of dehumanization, which is most notably seen in hatred towards neighbors.

However, the Springfield bishop also voiced hope that these attacks could be an opportunity for neighborly love to shine brightly.

“But here we also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark; that it may wake us up and let true humanity burst through with authentic resistance, resilience and persistence.”

“I encourage everyone to remember their neighbor, to find the opportunities to be lights of resistance, resilience, and persistence during these contentious times, especially with all our brothers and sisters of faith.”

 

 

African American Catholics discuss path toward unity, respect for all

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 11:55

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 27, 2017 / 09:55 am (CNA).- They came from across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to stand together, worship side-by-side and honor their shared history: African American Catholics, a small yet faith-filled community, sang God’s praises as one during this year’s Black History Month Mass on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown L.A., which has hosted the annual Mass every year since 2003.

“Black Catholics have always had a very strong faith,” said Andrew Knox, a parishioner at St. Brigid Church, who spoke to Angelus News during the February meeting of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization (AACCFE), which serves the local African American Catholic community year-round, and helps organize parish and archdiocesan-wide events like the Black History Mass.

“We’re rooted in a strong spirituality and we are always moving forward,” added Knox, a member of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization council, which represents 25 parishes and meets monthly September through June. “Our faith never fails us … we believe that Jesus is always going to lead us in the right direction. We’re strong believers.”

And they are strong evangelizers, too, noted Anderson F. Shaw, director of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization. During the Feb. 18 Mass, participating parishes each presented one individual to be recognized as a Keeper of the Flame, which honors those who have “kept the flame of evangelization alive” in their parish communities.

“We want to evangelize and help bring all people into the fold” – including those on the periphery and fallen-away Catholics of all backgrounds, explained Doris Tims, an African American Catholic Center for Evangelization member who attends St. Eugene Church. “We want to reach out and evangelize the whole community, so we can get them back into the Church.”

And those evangelization efforts are ongoing throughout the year, via parish-based ministries and the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization, including regional evangelization task forces, liturgy committees, ethnic ministry groups, music ministries, prayer groups, pro-life committees, supporting deacon and priestly vocations, and much more.

According to Shaw, groups such as the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization and related observances — the Black History Month Mass, Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, National Black Catholic Congress, Black Catholic History Month and others — are particularly essential within such a small community. Based on national demographics, about 76 percent of African American Catholics across the U.S. attend parishes where they make up a very small minority of the community.

In some parishes, there may be only four or five families, noted Shaw.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the total number of African American Catholics is approximately 70,000. By contrast, an estimated 5 million total Catholics — including all races and ethnicities — make up the local archdiocese.

“Among the reasons we conduct special liturgies and events are [because] we seek to bring all African American Catholics together, so they can share in their common culture and to also demonstrate a more visible presence within the archdiocese,” explained Shaw. “Through these visible presentations, the Church of Los Angeles gets a better picture of the contributions and gifts the African American Catholic community brings to the Church, and it gives confidence to African American Catholics to share their gifts with the Church.

“And with visibility comes a greater voice,” he added.

Terry Dicks of St. Jerome Church also emphasized the importance of promoting both unity and confidence, and also stressed the need to “remember” and to educate younger generations about the realities of “our story.”

“I would say that Black History Month really is more needed now than ever — we have to encourage each other to remember our story,” said Dicks. “Black History Month is a time to not just … remember [our story] and to remember whose shoulders we’re standing on — people suffered and died, and so it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve come a long way, although there’s always room for improvement — but Black History Month to me is also an opportunity to, as a people, say, ‘This is who we are, this is where we have been.’

“I was raised in New Orleans, where there were ‘colored’ signs and ‘whites’ signs, so it’s important for me to tell my story to my kids and to my parish, so they understand why we’re singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” she added. “A lot of times, many teenagers don’t really know our story and they need to know it.”

But, continued Dicks, it’s not enough to just celebrate black history.

“At our parish we have many cultures, so we celebrate each other,” said Dicks. “You have to go to the Filipino celebrations, to the Nigerian, to the Mexican American — you have to go to all of the celebrations. It’s not about dividing [to celebrate different races and cultures]; it’s actually unifying, because we learn to be hospitable to each other.

“What’s the point of being Catholic if it isn’t to support each other?” she asked.

Harry L. Wiley Jr., a knight of Peter Claver and parishioner at St. Raphael Church, shared similar thoughts.

“Pope Francis is a gift to this world. [He] has allowed the Church itself to say that it is with all people who are disrespected, downtrodden, impoverished,” said Wiley. “The leadership of this Church does not want to see people divided.”

Speaking of divisions, he pointed to the recent marches and demonstrations, expressing solidarity with those marching against inhumane policies and in support of safeguarding civil liberties for people of all religions, races and ethnicities.

“As Catholics we can’t stay back; we’ve got to know that Christ gave us an opportunity to see our value as humans, and to recognize that value in others, and to realize that we are no better than anyone else,” said Wiley. “Liberties can be taken away from us, just like they can be taken away from you or anyone else. … As black Catholics, as black [Americans] — from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King — we have never supported just black issues; we have been inclusive. … Martin Luther King did not work for black rights; he worked for civil rights, for all.”

Tims agreed wholeheartedly.

“We can’t stand alone, we have to stand together, whether it’s for Black Lives Matter or for immigration, we have to come together,” she said, recounting the despair she felt upon learning about the undocumented Arizona mother of two who was recently deported despite having resided in the United States for decades.

“No one group can do it alone; we need to be unified, otherwise there’s no way we’ll be able to stop this division that’s going on,” said Tims. “We have to love one another.”

 

Republished with permission from Angelus News.

Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Sun, 02/26/2017 - 17:46

Denver, Colo., Feb 26, 2017 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his new book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.  
 
“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”

Is the Catholic Church anti-woman? Two feminist scholars debate

Sun, 02/26/2017 - 05:02

Boulder, Colo., Feb 26, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Erika Bachiochi, the Catholic Church has been able to offer a genuine pro-woman theology which not only safeguards and protects her stance as a feminist, but also enhances her ability to be strong in all aspects of her life.

Dr. Mary Anne Case would like to differ. She believes that while Catholic feminism exists, the institutional Catholic Church – namely the Vatican and Magisterium – is overtly anti-woman.

These two legal scholars from varied backgrounds met on the common stage of feminism at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought’s 10th annual Great Debate in Boulder, Colo. on Feb. 23. The two women presented dissenting arguments for both sides of the spectrum on Catholic feminism and tackled the question: is the Church anti-woman?

Dr. Case, a law professor at the University of Chicago, answered in the affirmative, while Erika Bachiochi, a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, answered in the negative.

“In my lifetime, the Church that had made me a feminist betrayed me,” Dr. Case said in her opening statements.

“I think the Church has let us down, and I think the Church has let us down relatively recently. The early church was very much not anti-woman. The gospels are not anti-woman,” she continued, saying the Catholic Church of the past was not anti-feminist.

However, Dr. Case argued that when the Church definitively said “no” to priestly ordination for women in the 1970s, they closed the door to half of the population of the Church.

“The problem with the Catholic Church is that all authority flows from ordination. The Magisterium – as it need not be – is composed of men and cardinals,” Dr. Case said, suggesting that women should at least be allowed in the decision-making that flows from the hierarchy of the Magisterium.

The law professor spoke at the debate wearing a button from the 1970s on her shirt that said “If you aren't going to ordain women, stop baptizing them.”

This, she said, is a representation of the economy of salvation: if women cannot be priests because they do not image Christ, how can women become saved in the eyes of the Church, since salvation can only arrive through the extent that Christ images us?

Dr. Case also pointed to some of the Catholic Church's greatest thinkers, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that “women are necessarily in a state of subjection,” and that females are “misbegotten males.” She also highlighted that the Sistine Chapel’s Creation of Man, is indeed that of a man – and does not include Eve.

Within the last 50 years, Dr. Case believes that the Church shifted away from the idea that men and women are equal when it introduced the idea of complementarity, particularly seen in Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, saying that placing characteristics or roles on each gender negates their equality.

“There should be no fixed notions concerning the role of males and females,” Dr. Case suggested, and pointed to St. Augustine’s notion that the soul does not have a sex.

In response, Bachiochi said that “papal teaching has rejected the essentialist view that woman and men possess mutually exclusive fixed character traits.” Sexuality does not take away from the equality of men and women, she said, but simply makes them “distinctive.”

While Bachiochi was once a pro-choice, socialist feminist, she has since shifted her beliefs towards the teachings and beliefs of Catholicism. She agreed with Dr. Case on a number of different levels, saying that “there should be more women's voices in the Church.”

However, the most notable differences between the two scholars was on the point of clerics and sexual teachings. While Dr. Case argued that women can and should be ordained Catholic priests, Bachiochi said the notion reeked of clericalism.

“I have no less authority than a priest as a baptized Christian,” Bachiochi said.

“A priest has authority to represent Christ in a sacramental way, and I have the authority to represent Christ in every other area of my life,” she said, adding that the focus on female priests can also take away from the good work that professional and religious women are already doing within the Church.

However, Dr. Case pointed out that men in the Catholic Church “have all of the opportunities, and then some. How can the church not be anti-women…if women are not part of the decision making?”

To this, Bachiochi agreed that more female voices are needed within the Church, but did point to the Pontifical Council of the Laity, which seeks female voices, and other prominent church leaders such as Mary Glendon, who serves on various Vatican boards, and Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., who is a philosopher appointed to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.

Bachiochi went on to find fundamental differences with the modern idea of feminism, which claims that abortion and contraception rights are the capstone to the whole movement. She has found in her own experience that these same notions can also be the downfall to women.

Instead, Bachiochi suggested that Catholic feminism indeed exists, and is protected by the Church, precisely because of its teachings about sexual and reproductive rights, particularly Natural Family Planning.

“I believe that Catholic Christianity, and in particular the controversial sexual teachings of the Catholic Church, are deeply pro-woman. It was precisely these teachings on monogamy, divorce, birth control, abortion and infanticide that attracted women in the first century into the Christian fold,” Bachiochi stated.

“As a feminist, NFP does something that contraception neglects… it gets men to think about the reality,” she noted, saying that through NFP, less pressure is put on the woman to take the pill or get an IUD, and more emphasis is placed on men and their responsibility in the sexual act.

She also mentioned that the Catholic Church in particular has always been pro-woman, as seen through its recognition of female saints, political leaders, and scholars, and its production of educational systems and healthcare centered around the good of women.

Bachiochi additionally noted that “Mary, the Mother of God, is heralded by the Catholic Church as the single greatest human that has ever lived.”

“The greatest among us are not the clerics, but the saints.”

Cincinnati Catholics hope to give Church a megaphone on racial, social problems

Sat, 02/25/2017 - 06:15

Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb 25, 2017 / 04:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Cincinnati are hoping that an upcoming meeting of bishops and leaders will give the local Church a much stronger voice to address issues of racism and violence.

“It is a blessing for this archdiocese, through the archbishop, to embrace addressing racism, the pervasive gun violence, restorative justice…race relations, and mental health, that our voice has to be heard,” said Deacon Royce Winters, director of African-American ministries for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

“That’s what we really wanted to do was to say as big and as powerful as the voice of the Catholic Church is in the United States, we have to do our part to bring about justice and the dignity of life for all peoples,” he told CNA.

The Feb. 28 meeting of Catholic leaders at Xavier University – entitled “Promoting Peace In Our Communities” – is a continuation of a years-long effort by Catholics to restore race relations and heal social tensions in the archdiocese, Deacon Royce said.

Area social tensions were inflamed after a 2015 incident where a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in a car. The officer was tried for murder and voluntary manslaughter before a judge declared a mistrial in November. A re-trial has been set for May.

That was the starting point for next Tuesday’s meeting, Deacon Royce recalled.

“We began to have conversations about what is the role of the Church to use this prophetic voice to address violence, whether it be police violence or black-on-black crime or any violence,” he said.

Several members of the archdiocese’s pastoral services department met to bring the problem of violence in the city to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. The archbishop then celebrated Masses for peace at four African-American parishes in the archdiocese, and staff sent out prayer intentions and homily suggestions to parishes on “the role of the Church in seeking justice.”

Then, after a rash of violent incidents across the nation in the summer of 2016 – police shootings of minorities and retaliatory shootings of police officers – Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for a Day of Prayer and Peace in Our Communities on Sept. 9. There were two Masses for peace that day in the archdiocese, at African-American parishes.

The U.S. bishops also commissioned a special task force to plan the day of prayer, but also to issue a report to the U.S. bishops’ conference on “promoting peace.”

Bishops addressing these issues at the national level proved to be a vital support to Catholics in the archdiocese who had been working for years on them, Deacon Royce said, noting that it “emboldened us to be even more intentional about addressing the issues in the diocese.”

Two big social problems in the Cincinnati area are “policing” and “black-on-black violence,” he said. Back in 2002, the police department and federal government entered a collaborative looking at “how they are policing in our communities.”

The collaboration led to firearm training and cultural sensitivity training for police officers, among other things, but “there’s still more to do,” Royce said.

He recalled that during the initial trial of the police officer that killed the unarmed black man in 2015, Catholics joined ecumenical leaders and social activists to pray on the steps of the court house. They prayed for the young man who was shot, and for his family, as well as for the police officer.

“We were also…that justice be done, whatever that justice is,” he added, insisting that “we weren’t praying for an outcome” in the case.

In November, Deacon Royce gave a presentation on Church statements against racism at the University of Cincinnati, citing the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” The previous November, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville discussed his letter on the “racial divide” at both Dayton University and Xavier University, preached at Mass, and participated in a panel discussion with area police chiefs and state representatives.

When Cincinnati hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in the summer 2015, Catholics joined with ecumenical leaders, activists and members of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center to ask the MLB to take public stands against racism and violence. They met with the owner of the Cincinnati Reds and representatives of the MLB.

Church leaders must be better equipped to talk about racism and gun violence, the deacon insisted.

“Our pastors, our deacons, or whoever’s preaching in our communities, are not skilled to address this issue, so that means the people in the communities are not being formed and most of us as preachers and as homilists would rather steer away from it than address it.”

After Archbishop Kurtz called for the Day of Prayer, Deacon Royce and others reached out to him and began planning the event modeled after the theme of the task force, “Promoting Peace In Our Communities.” The archdiocese, along with Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice and Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, will host the event.

“It provides us an opportunity to, again, promote the Church’s response to the letter that was sent out from the general secretary and Archbishop Kurtz,” the deacon said.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. in the university’s Bellarmine Chapel to begin the event, with Archbishop Kurtz concelebrating.

The Mass will be followed by dinner and discussion on “embracing diversity in our communities.” This topic is needed for discussion, Deacon Royce stressed, because even though Catholic organizations do “great work” in the area, “we tend not to be engaged at the street level of dealing with people where they are.”

“We have to ask ourselves the question: Are we prepared to minister to all of God’s people and the range of race, culture, and origin in which they place themselves?”

This involves “teaching our staff” to look at “our own personal biases,” he said, “and identify their impact on our ministry.”

He added that there must be “an understanding that there is no one culture in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati into which non-white cultures are supposed to assimilate.”

The discussion will be followed by a keynote address on “Carrying Out Our Prophetic Ministry in Times of Racism and Violence” by Archbishop Kurtz.

The meeting is so important, Deacon Royce emphasized, because it gives the opportunity for Catholics to “be engaged” on these societal issues.

“When we say there’s a seamless garment of life from the womb to the tomb, then that means that we have to be engaged in those events to help people know what that dignity of life is.”

 

Archbishop Chaput and his new book are coming to NYC, DC

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 18:33

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 24, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput will present his latest book in New York City and Washington, D.C. in the near future, discussing the changed situation for Catholicism in America.

“As Christians, we're offering a salvific message in a therapeutic culture. It's a tough sale,” the archbishop told CNA. He suggested that new understandings of religion and civic life are very different from previous generations.

“Jesus changed the world with 12 very flawed men,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We have plenty of good men and women, and more than enough resources, to do the same. But not if we’re too self-absorbed and too eager to fit into the world around us to suffer for our faith. We’re not short of vocations. We’re short of clear thinking and zeal.”

His newest book, “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World,” was released Feb. 21 by Henry Holt and Co. The archbishop makes the case that American culture has undergone a qualitative change from the past, and he considers the future for Catholics and Americans in public and private life.

While there are tens of millions of actively practicing Christians in the U.S., Archbishop Chaput suggests the overall trends in religious affiliation are not good. He stressed that the Christian past was great only insofar as Christians were faithful to Jesus Christ.

The archbishop will hold a book signing, deliver comments and take part in a panel discussion.

On Feb. 27 in New York City he will hold an event at 7 p.m. at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street, Manhattan.

The Washington, D.C. event will take place March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Catholic Information Center, 1501 K Street NW.

Admission at both events is free.

 

Supreme Court hears case of Mexican teen shot at border

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 18:25

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2017 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in the case of a Mexican teen shot dead by a border patrol agent. But when it comes to legal standing in the case, the situation is far from clear.

“This is a difficult case, as its facts are very compelling for the plaintiffs, but the law is less so,” said Mary G. Leary, professor of law at The Catholic University of America.

Leary spoke with CNA about the case Hernandez v. Mesa currently before the Supreme Court.  

At the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010, three Mexican boys played a game of “chicken” by seeing who would run the closest to the border. Fifteen-year-old Sergio Hernandez crossed the border and was noticed by border patrol agent Jesus Mesa. As Hernandez ran back into a culvert between the walls on either side of the border, the agent shot him dead.

Mexico requested that Mesa be extradited for the killing, but the U.S. refused. Hernandez’s family sued for damages, claiming that the Fourth Amendment protects against such use of force on the border.

Although the Hernandez family has appealed to the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protections might not necessarily apply in the case, Leary said.

“The plaintiffs have made a constitutional claim, but it is far from clear that the Constitution applies to the family of a non-American citizen injured or in this case killed outside the border of the United States,” she stated.

The Fourth Circuit had dismissed the case, saying “the plaintiffs fail to allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that the Fifth Amendment right asserted by the plaintiffs was not clearly established at the time of the complained-of incident.”

Oral arguments in the case of Hernandez v. Mesa were heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“This tragic case is one of the most simple extraterritorial cases this Court will ever have in front of it,” said Robert Hilliard, arguing for the teen’s family.

“First, all of the conduct of the domestic police officer happened inside the United States. Second, it was a civilian domestic police officer. Third it was a civilian plaintiff, not an enemy combatant. Fourth, it was one of the most fundamental rights, the right to life. Fifth, the other government involved supports – the government of Mexico supports the claim,” he said.

Justice Stephen Breyer admitted that the family has “a very sympathetic case,” but he and other justices were skeptical of issuing a broad ruling that could affect drone killings carried out in foreign countries by citizens operating in the U.S.

Also, justices noted, there is no specific rule on the books dealing with these instances. Lawyers are trying to make the case for the victim’s family by appealing to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against “unreasonable search and seizure.”

Hernandez’s case is not an isolated one, Hilliard insisted, claiming that there have been “at least 10 cross-border shootings” with six deaths of Mexican nationals.

Justice Kennedy asked whether the Court should consider the matter if “this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs” and “the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be.”

“But isn't this an urgent matter of separation of powers for us to respect the duty that…the executive and the legislative have with respect to foreign affairs?” he asked Hilliard.

When Randolph Ortega argued for Mesa before the Court, justices pressed him on the location of the killing and the role of Border Patrol officers.

“The actor is the Border Patrol member. And the instruction from the United States is very clear: Do not shoot to kill an unarmed, non-dangerous person who is no threat to your safety. Do not shoot to kill. That's U.S. law,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed.

“It's the United States law operating on the United States official who's acting inside the United States. This case has, as far as the conduct is concerned, United States written all over it,” she said.

Ortega insisted that “in areas of the United States where there is a clearly defined border, as we have here, the Fourth Amendment stops unless the person seized – in this case Hernandez – had some voluntary contact with the United States.”

Ginsburg asked how it would be different if an officer, standing in the U.S., shot a foreign national in the U.S. versus shooting someone on the border.

“That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it, to distinguish those two victims?” she asked.

“I think it's very distinguishable because of the very real border,” Ortega replied. “Wars have been fought to establish borders. The border is very real.”

 

New immigration rules will hurt the vulnerable, US bishops warn

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 14:24

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2017 / 12:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration’s new border and immigration enforcement rules needlessly endanger the vulnerable, militarize the border and will cause many other problems, the U.S. bishops warned this week.

“They greatly expand the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, who wrote the bishops’ Feb. 23 response.

On Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security issued two memoranda to implement President Donald Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration enforcement on the border and in the U.S. interior.

“Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation, thus prioritizing no one,” Bishop Vasquez said.

Important protections for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, have been removed from federal policy, the bishop said.

The memoranda promote the use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. This disregards “existing relationships of trust” between local law enforcement officials and immigrant communities, he said.

“The engagement of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law can undermine public safety by making many who live in immigrant communities fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.”

In addition, the rules aim to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants, to erect new detention facilities, and to speed up deportations, the New York Times reports. Administration officials said that those brought to the U.S. as young children will not be targeted. However, parents living without documentation in the U.S. who smuggle their children into the country could face deportation or prosecution for smuggling or human trafficking.

Bishop Vasquez urged the Trump administration to reconsider its approach in the memoranda and in its executive orders.

“Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability,” he added.

He voiced the U.S. bishops’ commitment “to care for and respect the human dignity of all, regardless of their immigration status.”

“During this unsettling time, we will redouble our work to accompany and protect our immigrant brothers and sisters and recognize their contributions and inherent dignity as children of God,” he said.

 

Texas must fund Planned Parenthood, federal judge rules

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 22:02

Austin, Texas, Feb 23, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the controversy over investigative videos appearing to show illegal activities at Planned Parenthood, a federal judge has temporarily barred Texas from denying Medicaid funding to the abortion provider.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the decision is “disappointing” and “flies in the face of basic human decency.”

“The raw, unedited footage from undercover videos exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts, as well as manipulate the timing and method of an abortion,” he said Feb. 21. “Even the remains of the most vicious criminals are treated with respect.”

“No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct,” Paxton added. “We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks issued a preliminary injunction stopping the state from defunding the abortion provider’s 30 health centers, which receive $4 million for services not related to abortion, the New York Times reports.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission ruled that Planned Parenthood was unqualified to provide medical services “in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner.”

Judge Sparks said that the inspector general did not present “even a scintilla of evidence” that Planned Parenthood was unqualified, that it had profited from fetal tissue, or that a doctor had altered an abortion procedure for any purpose.

Planned Parenthood came under heavy criticism after undercover investigators with the Center for Medical Progress produced videos appearing to show Planned Parenthood staff and leaders engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and body parts from unborn babies.

Judge Sparks was dismissive of the videos and said the case was about “the State of Texas’ efforts to expel a group of health care providers from a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources.”

The case will go to trial, and Paxton said Texas would appeal the judge’s injunction.

Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, characterized the ruling as a “victory for Texas women.”

Planned Parenthood said its Medicaid-funded services in Texas include breast cancer and cervical cancer screening and treatment, contraception counseling, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and primary health services.

The abortion provider has denied any accusations of wrongdoing and has claimed the videos were deceptively edited.

The videos, first released in July 2015, prompted a massive response from Planned Parenthood backers.

A grant proposal attributed to George Soros’ Open Society Foundations indicated at least $7-$8 million would be spent in a campaign to counter the videos and “transform the narrative.” While the document charged that the videos were doctored, it said the videos’ release was “severe and without warning” and would require “an enormous amount of resources and staff time” for Planned Parenthood to respond.

The grant proposal particularly voiced concern about state-level investigations, especially in Texas.

Federal courts have blocked at least five other states’ attempts to bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid reimbursements: Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

How old anti-Catholic laws still threaten religious freedom today

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 17:54

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Anti-Catholic state laws from the 19th century are today being used by secularists to fight public funding of all religious organizations, warned a religious freedom advocacy group.

State Blaine Amendment laws are utilized today “to counter religious organizations and religious individuals,” said Eric Baxter, senior attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“The First Amendment was set in place to ensure that religious beliefs and religious exercise could have an equal part in our public life and culture,” he told CNA.

These state laws, however, “are being used to thwart that, to say that somehow religion is like the ugly stepchild of the family of civil rights, and creates this idea that religion should be sidelined in public life.”

What was the original Blaine Amendment, and how were state laws modeled after it?

In the years following the Civil War, there was widespread suspicion and even open hostility toward Catholics in the U.S., especially toward immigrant Catholic populations from Europe.

Public schools at the time were largely Protestant, with no single Christian denomination in charge, and many Catholics attended parochial schools which were seen as “sectarian” by prominent public figures, explains historian John T. McGreevy in his book “Catholicism and American Freedom.”

Public figures, he notes, including one current and one future U.S. president at the time, pushed against taxpayer funding of Catholic schools and even advocated for an increase in the taxation of Catholic Church property in the U.S.

Ohio’s Republican gubernatorial candidate and future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes opposed Catholic priests being able to visit state asylums.

In a speech to Civil War veterans in 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant insisted that no federal money “be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school.”

And, the former general-in-chief of the U.S. armies during the Civil War added, “if we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.”

As McGreevy noted, “audience members understood” what Grant meant about “superstition,” as he had “referred to a Catholic Church that he saw as increasingly aggressive.”

Grant pushed for a federal amendment by Sen. James Blaine of Maine that prohibited taxpayer funding of “sectarian” schools – the original “Blaine Amendment.” It failed in the Senate, however, although as McGreevy noted some Republican senators, during the debate, cast aspersions toward Catholics as they argued for the passage of the amendment.

Nevertheless, the federal amendment took form at the state level and many states eventually passed versions of the bill barring state funding of Catholic schools.

In the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision Mitchell v. Hobbs, a four-justice plurality insisted that the Blaine Amendment’s motive to deny public funding of “sectarian” institutions was bigoted.

“Finally, hostility to aid to pervasively sectarian schools has a shameful pedigree that we do not hesitate to disavow,” Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, wrote in their plurality opinion.

“Consideration of the amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic’,” the opinion read. Furthermore, they added, “pervasively sectarian schools” are not blocked by the Constitution from receiving federal funding “from otherwise permissible aid programs.”

“This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now,” they stated.

While they were introduced more than a century ago, these state laws are still in use today against religious organizations, Baxter said. For instance, a case before the Supreme Court involves the Missouri version of the amendment.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo. was seeking to enter a state program to receive “used tires from landfills” in order “to create playground material.” The playground is used by the public, but the state denied the church’s participation in the program because it is a religious institution.   

It is “blatant discrimination,” Baxter said, given that the state used tire program is a “purely secular program” and “open to everyone, and yet the state saying you can’t participate if you’re religious.”

Other Blaine cases around the country include a church-run program in Florida that met inmates released from prison and connected them with programs to meet their needs of housing, mental health treatment, and job training. It had a positive record of preventing recidivism, Baxter said, but atheists sued over the program’s connection with the state.

Although a federal judge ruled in the favor of Prisoners of Christ, “that comes at the cost of years of litigation,” Baxter noted.

In Oklahoma, students with disabilities were not sufficiently helped at the public schools and were instead given scholarships by the government to attend private schools with programs to meet their needs.

A lawsuit was brought against the use of scholarships for religious schools, but the state supreme court ruled in favor of the religious schools despite the state’s Blaine Amendment, Baxter said.

Another state school scholarship program in Georgia was criticized for sending children to Catholic schools on public scholarships, and the state’s Blaine Amendment was used in a lawsuit against the practice.

School cases present a substantial portion of Blaine Amendment cases, Baxter noted, because there are “a number of these programs…where states are trying to figure out how best to provide a publicly-funded education to every student” and incorporate private schools, including religious schools, into the programs.

These state laws are deleterious to religious groups, Baxter insisted, because even if the groups win in court, they are hampered by years of litigation and legal feeds. Also, he added, they “contribute” to “religious strife” in society by marginalizing religious groups.

The laws, when applied against equal participation in state programs by religious groups, are unconstitutional, he argued.

“If they’re applied to discriminate against religious organizations and individuals, and keep them from participating on equal footing with other organizations and state programs, they violate the First Amendment’s free exercise and establishment clauses,” he insisted, “by basically trying to suppress religious believers or penalize religious entities on grounds that aren’t applied to everyone else.”

Their main problem is “this idea that somehow religion is not welcome in public life, when really, the First Amendment was created to ensure just the opposite,” he said, “to remind us that religion is a part of what it means to be a human being.”

 

Race-based death sentence rejected at US Supreme Court

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 16:34

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 02:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A death row inmate in Texas deserves a new sentencing hearing because his own lawyers called on an expert who claimed he was more likely to be dangerous because he is black, the U. S. Supreme Court has said.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the Feb. 22 decision in Buck v. Davis, saying: “When a jury hears expert testimony that expressly makes a defendant's race directly pertinent on the question of life or death, the impact of that evidence cannot be measured simply by how much air time it received at trial or how many pages it occupies in the record. Some toxins can be deadly in small doses.”

The man sentenced to death, Duane Buck, was convicted for two 1995 murders, which included killing his ex-girlfriend in front of her children. He also shot his step-sister at close range.

Buck will now be able to argue before a lower court that he should have a new sentencing hearing.

The 6-2 ruling was dissented from by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The case before the Supreme Court did not argue for Buck's innocence, but emphasized his attorneys’ handling of the sentencing hearing, which considered whether Buck met the standard for “future dangerousness,” CNN reports.

Dr. Walter Quijano, a psychologist retained by Buck’s own defense attorneys, spoke at the sentencing hearing and claimed that the fact that Buck was black “increased the probability” he would commit future acts of violence.

Texas law allowed the jury to impose capital punishment only if it found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that Buck was likely to commit acts of violence in the future.

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the sentence before the high court. He said Quijano’s testimony played a limited role at the trial. Other evidence of his future dangerousness cited the brutality of the murders, his lack of remorse, and the testimony of an ex-girlfriend.

During oral arguments, Alito said the race-related testimony was “indefensible” and “bizarre.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked “What competent counsel would put that evidence before a jury?”

In the dissenting opinion, Thomas said the lower courts had followed proper standards in upholding the sentence, National Public Radio reports. He added that the jury that sentenced Buck had sufficient reasons to recommend a death sentence on grounds other than Quijano’s comments.

Thomas wrote that “Having settled on a desired outcome, the Court bulldozes procedural obstacles and misapplies settled law to justify it.”

Trump draws praise for withdrawing transgender bathroom regulation

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 14:27

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday night, the Trump administration withdrew an Obama-era guidance that had directed schools to allow students to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender they currently identify with, not the facilities of their birth or biological sex.

The guidance had prompted criticism on the grounds of safety and privacy. In dropping it, the Trump administration said the policy had created too much confusion and the issue should be left up to the states.

The move was applauded by Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

“While we must be sensitive to the dignity, privacy, and safety concerns of people who identify as transgender, that is not a reason to ignore the dignity, privacy, and safety concerns of everyone else,” Anderson wrote in the Daily Signal.

“Unfortunately, the Obama-era policies were entirely one-sided. They favored the concerns of people who identify as transgender while entirely discounting the concerns of others.”

The decision also drew praise from Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Gary McCaleb.

“Student privacy in those facilities must be protected, and by restoring the right understanding of Title IX, our nation also restores common sense: School officials should be free to protect their student’s privacy, safety, and dignity,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration had announced that it would stop fighting to defend the policy in court.

Back in August, the Northern District of Texas federal court placed an injunction on the policy, halting it from going into effect. In response to the injunction, the Obama administration appealed its case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal was dropped Feb. 10.

The guidance in question was an interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination “on the basis of sex” within “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

In its interpretation, the Obama administration said the Title IX anti-discrimination protections include those for gender identity, meaning that transgender students had to have access to facilities of the gender with which they identified, like single-sex locker rooms and bathrooms.

Leading U.S. bishops had expressed serious concerns with the guidance, saying that it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”

“Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect,” said Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, chairs of the committees on youth and Catholic education, respectively.

“All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents. The federal regulatory guidance issued on May 13 does not even attempt to achieve this balance.”

The August injunction by the Texas district court came weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court had halted from going into effect a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that a transgender student had to be able to access the public school bathroom of their choice. The Court will still hear that case of Gavin Grimm this term.

 

Catholics shouldn't totally reject human gene editing – but it still has ethical problems

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 04:50

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Recent American guidelines for human gene modification have raised important ethical questions, especially with regard to modifying the genes of unborn children and of reproductive cells.

The National Academy of Sciences last week released a 261-page report on guidelines for editing the human genome to treat diseases and other applications. The report covers a wide array of topics, from the editing of adult cells for therapies such as cancer treatment, to the editing of embryos and germ cells (reproductive cells, i.e. ova and sperm), to the question of human enhancement.

John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, spoke to CNA about the perils and the promises of gene editing, as well as the oversights contained in the National Academy of Sciences' report.

“Gene editing generally can be morally legitimate if it has a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person,” DiCamillo explained. In this regard, the report’s guidelines for laboratory treatment of somatic  – or non-reproductive – cells and human trials of somatic cell treatments were reasonable, he noted.

DiCamillo pointed to upcoming clinical gene therapy trials for cancer and proposed gene therapy treatments for disorders such as sickle cell disease. However, it’s important to limit these trials to non-embryonic persons, to ensure that the modifications – intended as well as unintended – are not carried in the patient’s reproductive cells.

While this would mean that patients treated for inheritable diseases “could still transmit it to their children,” any children who then developed the disease could themselves be treated through the same process.

The question of transmission to descendents opens up two more points discussed in the National Academy of Sciences report: the modification of ova and sperm, as well as edits to the genomes of embryos. Both of these changes would mean that people would maintain these edits in all of their cells for all of their lives – and could pass on these edited genes to new generations.  

“There could be limited situations that could exist where the germ line could be legitimately edited. In other words, making changes to sperm, to eggs, or to early embryos as a way of potentially addressing diseases – inheritable diseases and so forth,” DiCamillo stated.  

However, permitting edits to germ line cells could also be “very dangerous on multiple levels,” he warned.

There are considerable, and not yet fully controllable, risks to genetic manipulation. A person conceived with edited genes could experience a range of “unintended, perhaps harmful, side effects that can now be transmitted, inherited by other individuals down the line.” An embryo who experiences gene modification could also carry and pass on edited genes, particularly if edits were performed before his or her reproductive cells began to differentiate themselves.

The National Academy of Sciences' regulations surrounding germ cells and embryos are also problematic for what they overlook, DiCamillo commented.

Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

In addition, scientific researchers rarely differentiate between experimentation on sperm or ova – which are cells that come from a human subject – and embryos, which are distinct persons with their own distinct genomes, DiCamillo noted.

The National Academy of Sciences’ guidelines reflect this lack of distinction between cells and embryos. “That’s very misleading because embryos are not germ line cells; they are new human beings,” DiCamillo said.

For research on embryos to be ethical, he continued, therapies should be ordered to treating and benefitting that “that particular embryo, not just for garnering scientific knowledge or seeing what’s going to happen.” DiCamillo condemned policies that see destruction of embryonic persons as a back-up if research does not go as planned, as well as current policies that require destruction of embryos as standard procedure.

“We’d be in that area of very dangerous exploitation of human life and destruction of human life,” he warned.

While the guidelines stumble across ethical roadblocks in regards to gamete and embryo research, the new report’s rules regarding human enhancement are strong, DiCamillo said.

The ability to edit genomes could also be used for purposes other than medical treatment. A whole host of human traits could be enhanced or changed, such as vision, intelligence, or abilities. “There’s any number of things that we could do to change the qualities of human beings themselves and make them, in a sense, super-humans … this is something that would also be an ethical problem on the horizon,” he warned.

The existence of these gene altering therapies raises a question of how much modification and enhancement is permissible. DiCamillo praised the report for its recommendation “entirely against enhancement efforts and that these should not be allowed.”

Currently, gene editing of both germ cells and somatic cells is legal in the United States, including on embryos. However, various US government institutions have policies in place prohibiting federal funding of such research efforts on germ cells and on embryos.

Furthermore, Food and Drug Administration regulations prohibit gene modification on viable human embryos – meaning that human embryos who receive gene modification are always destroyed.

The new guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences are significant because they lay a groundwork for future policy on human gene modification. They cautiously welcome the use of gene therapy on human embryos who are not later targeted for destruction after experimentation concludes.

DiCamillo recalled, however, that “they are merely guidelines – they are advice from the National Academy of the Sciences to the government in regards to future policy. This is not itself a new regulation or policy that the government has established.”

The ethics of gene editing has been questioned for several years – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed the issue in Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions. It has become more pressing recently, however, because a new technique known as CRISPR is easier to use and less expensive than previous means of gene editing.

Although the ethical questions surrounding gene modification are many and there are a number of problematic applications of these technologies, DiCamillo cautioned Catholics not to renounce  completely human gene modification: “We don’t want to be hyper-reactive to the dangers. We have to realize there’s a great deal of good that can be done here.”

He pointed again to the kinds of modifications that can treat deadly genetic diseases and treatments that can be done in an ethical manner, with full respect to the dignity of human persons.

“We do need to be attentive to where the dangers are,” he warned, “but we don’t want to … automatically consider any kind of gene editing to be automatically a problem.”

Virginia bishops lament veto of bill defunding Planned Parenthood

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 18:35

Richmond, Va., Feb 22, 2017 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Virginia's two dioceses on Tuesday decried Governor Terry McAuliffe's veto of a bill which would have redirected state funding away from abortion providers and toward community health centers.

“Surrounded by Planned Parenthood supporters at a veto ceremony outside the Governor’s Mansion this morning, Gov. McAuliffe said his actions protected the rights and dignity of Virginia women – when, in fact, his actions harm the dignity of the women deceived by the multi-billion dollar abortion industry as well as the tiniest females, those still in the womb whose lives are brutally eliminated by abortion,” read a Feb. 21 statement of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

The conference said it “upholds the timeless truth that every human being, born and unborn, has an equal right to life. The Conference finds Gov. McAuliffe’s pride in protecting an organization that destroys life and harms women and their families deeply offensive. We will continue to fight for the day when Virginia law protects all human life, at every stage of development, from conception until natural death.”

The conference represents the public policy interests of Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, had vetoed an identical measure in 2016. The bill, HB 2264, had been introduced to the House of Delegates, the lower house of the Virginia legislature, by Ben Cline (R – Rockbridge). McAuliffe claimed that the bill would disincentivize businesses who wish to invest in Virginia.

It would have barred Virigina's health department from providing funds to any entity that performs abortions not covered by Medicaid, and would have redirected the money to other health clinics which provide more comprehensive health care services.

The bill passed in the House of Delegates Feb. 7 with a 60-33 vote that fell along party lines. A week later, Feb. 14, it passed in the state Senate with a 20-14 margin.

After the veto, Cline expressed his hope that the Virginia General Assembly would override the decision. “This important legislation would have prioritized taxpayer dollars toward providers of more comprehensive health care services, and the governor’s veto undermines those efforts to improve health care in rural and underserved areas,” Cline said in a prepared statement.

The Virginia bill and McAuliffe's veto come on the heels of the national legislature’s moves to block funding to Planned Parenthood on both the state and the national levels. Last week, the House of Representatives rolled back Obama Administration regulations blocking individual states from defunding Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, both the House and the Senate have set in place measures that could lead to the eventual blockage of Planned Parenthood receiving federal funds.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R- Wisc.) has repeatedly advocated using funds earmarked for Planned Parenthood on community health centers and other forms of health access for low-income citizens.

Archbishop: Care for creation and human life aren’t opposed – they go together

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 16:11

Baltimore, Md., Feb 22, 2017 / 02:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Both Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi provide the right perspective on caring for creation in a way that places care for humanity at its center, said Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta.

“They invite us to see and to respect the grandeur of God’s creation – beginning with the lofty dignity of the human person and our divinely inspired responsibility to care for the world which God has entrusted to us,” Archbishop Gregory said Feb. 16, delivering a keynote speech at the Mid-Atlantic Congress held in Baltimore.

The congress, co-sponsored by the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, aims to help form pastoral and administrative leaders. 

Archbishop Gregory’s keynote focused on care for creation. He said that creation is good in itself, not simply because it is profitable or useful or exploitable.

“First and foremost, it is good because it reflects God’s goodness itself. In the very act of creation, God was bestowing upon all of nature an undeniable reflection of His own divine goodness,” he said.

And human beings are the apex of that creation, he stressed.

“Human beings are God’s creation that most perfectly reflects His own divinity. If we are to begin to safeguard God’s creation, we must launch an increased reverence for every human life,” the archbishop said.

For Archbishop Gregory, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si” proposes an “integral ecology” that reminds us “that we are the custodians of creation and not its exploiters.”

“God’s creation invites us to enter into a threefold relationship – with God, with one another and with nature itself,” he explained. “Each of these relationships is interconnected and ultimately they are intended to enhance and to strengthen one another.”

Despite important concerns for the planet’s fragility, safeguarding human life is “the very starting point of environmental security,” he said. 

Respect for human life extends from those in the womb to frightened immigrants who may or may not have documented status. It extends to the mentally or emotionally fragile, prisoners guilty of “horrendous crimes,” and the neglected poor who “may be seen as inconvenient but who nonetheless are our brothers and sisters in the Lord,” the archbishop said. 

Archbishop Gregory, who was the first African-American to serve as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also discussed recent racial tensions, unrest and violence.

Baltimore itself witnessed protests and severe unrest in April 2015 after an African-American man arrested by police died after injuries apparently received in police custody. 

“For  the  past  several  years,  our  nation  has  faced  a  tragic  eruption of widespread violence that has directly impacted the  African-American  community  as  well  as  the  law enforcement communities in too many different locations – including this City of Baltimore,” the archbishop reflected.

The violence has put neighbors “on edge” and has threatened the peace of neighborhoods.

“We Americans have begun to discuss our common future as though the civil rights achievements of the past generation had not taken place,” he said. “Our public language has grown so more severe and offensive.”

“Some people have begun to question if not even to doubt our future as a home community unified by a sense of national identity,” Archbishop Gregory continued.

He noted the U.S. bishops’ conference has worked to discuss these trends. Archbishop Gregory praised the leadership of the Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori in aiding an ecumenical and inter-faith response to the Baltimore unrest. These efforts are “signs of hope,” he said. 

Returning to environmental issues, Archbishop Gregory said the Atlanta archdiocese partnered with the University of Georgia’s environmental department to prepare a local response to the encyclical.

The archbishop lamented the “destructive exploitation” and the “wanton damage” done to the environment and reminded his audience that the poor are especially harmed by environmental destruction. 

He cited the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who “saw God’s fingerprints throughout every element of creation.” 

In the face of threats to the earth from technological exploitation and greed, he suggested Catholics need to ask St. Francis “to rekindle within each one of us a share of his profound spirit of wonder, awe and gratitude for God’s creation.” 

“Without the benefit of our modern scientific acumen and expertise,” he noted, “Saint Francis was able to view all of nature as a precious treasure that God has entrusted to us to be shared and preserved for those who will follow us.”
 

How rice bowls can build a 'culture of encounter' this Lent

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 04:50

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Through its annual rice bowl initiative, Catholic Relief Services has announced it will be promoting a “culture of encounter” in its Lenten operation.

“At a time when there is so much conflict in the world, this Lenten program gives people of all ages a way to respond to human suffering with compassion and action,” Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for Catholic Relief Services, stated.

“To learn the names and stories of our brothers and sisters, to include them in our prayers, to contribute our Lenten sacrifices so they can live better, healthier lives; this is the way we deepen our faith, building a culture of encounter and holding up the dignity of each and every one of us,” she added.

“CRS Rice Bowl” is the annual Lenten initiative of Catholic Relief Services. Participating Catholics pray, fast, and give alms to CRS in solidarity with each other and with other needy families throughout the world.

The theme is “encounter,” CRS insists. “Through prayer, we encounter Christ, present in the faces of every member of our human family, so often still walking that long road to Calvary,” they stated.

“Through fasting, we encounter our own obstacles, those things about ourselves that prevent us from loving God and neighbor,” they added. “Through almsgiving, we encounter our brothers and sisters around the world, asking what we can give up so that others might have life to the fullest.”

In addition to accepting donations from Catholics, Rice Bowl provides weekly prayer reflections and its website CRSRiceBowl.org features videos on how to practice Lent, from leaders like Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.

The program also provides meatless recipes, and opportunities for Catholics to learn about other families around the world helped by CRS and the social teaching of the Church.

CRS claims that only one dollar donated per day of Lent could provide a month’s worth of food for another family in need. Donations could also provide medical care for children or clean drinking water.

“We want to meet people where they are in their day-to-day lives, in schools, in parishes, and on the go.  CRS Rice Bowl is an easy to use tool that helps people deepen their Lenten journey by participating in our Lenten traditions – prayer, fasting and almsgiving - in a time and way that suits them best,” Beth Martin, director for U.S. operations of the program, explained.

Participants can receive email updates from the program by signing up on the website, or they can download the Rice Bowl app onto their smartphones.

A quarter of donations go to local anti-poverty and food programs while three-quarters “goes to support CRS’ humanitarian and development programs overseas, providing life-saving assistance and hope to impoverished and vulnerable communities,” the group said.

Pope Francis, in his Lenten message, asked Catholics to participate in Lenten campaigns “promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family.”

Why San Diego's Bishop McElroy wants disruption in the Trump era

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 02:04

Stockton, Calif., Feb 22, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA).- If President Donald Trump is the candidate of “disruption,” similar disruption is needed to build a better society, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego told a gathering of faith-based groups co-sponsored by the Vatican.

“Well now, we must all become disruptors,” the bishop said Feb. 18 at the U.S. regional gathering for the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which aims to promote structural changes for greater justice in racial, social, and economic areas.

“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God.”

“We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor,” he continued. “We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children.”

At the same time, the bishop told the multi-religious audience of the need for constructive action: “as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of Abraham, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, of people of all faiths and no faith, we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders.”

The Feb. 16-19 conference was held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton. It was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.

The PICO network is composed of faith-based community organizations. It claims 1,000 member institutions representing over 1 million families in 17 U.S. states. The network’s Latin American branch has been supported for a decade by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, who now coordinates the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis. The cardinal addressed a launch event PICO’s “Year of Encounter with Pope Francis” campaign in early 2015.

The Pope himself sent a message to the California meeting that praised the gathering’s “constructive energies” and criticized the brutality of an economic system “that has the god of money at its center.” He encouraged their efforts “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants.”

For Bishop McElroy, the meeting was an opportunity to call to rebuild the country.

“Let us disrupt and rebuild. And let us do God’s work,” he said, advocating the advancement of human dignity and equality.

“We must rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God,” he said, calling for a $15 minimum wage, decent housing, food for the poorest, and attention to environmental issues in the face of industrial threats.

“We must identify the ways in which our very ability to see, judge and act on behalf of justice is being endangered by cultural currents which leave us isolated, embittered and angry.”

Citing Benedict XVI, he said that truth itself is “under attack” and “whole industries have arisen to shape public opinion in destructively isolated and dishonest patterns.”

He said social issues like jobs, housing, immigration, economic disparities and the environment must be made “foundations for common efforts rather than of division.”

Bishop McElroy flatly criticized free market ideology as a rival to human dignity.

“The fundamental political question of our age is whether our economic structures and systems in the United States will enjoy ever greater freedom or whether they will be located effectively within a juridical structure which seeks to safeguard the dignity of the human person and the common good of our nation,” he said.

“In that battle, the tradition of Catholic social teaching is unequivocally on the side of strong governmental and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical care, the unemployed.”

He placed property and wealth in the context of Catholic teaching that sees creation as God’s gift to all humanity.

“Wealth is a common heritage, not at its core a right of lineage or acquisition,” he said. “For this reason, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is instrumental in nature and must be structured by government to accomplish the common good.”

The bishop stressed the “intrinsic human rights” to medical care, decent housing, protection of human life, food, and work. These rights are not merely negotiating points to discuss after the free market system has distributed wealth, he said.

“Rather, these rights are basic claims which every man, woman and family has upon our nation as a whole,” he said, warning that these rights are being denied to large numbers of people.

Bishop McElroy cited Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium and its description of an economy that excludes some people from meaningful participation in social, political, and economic life.

The bishop said that statements like “this economy kills” are not simply exaggerations. He suggested many people have known someone the economy has killed: a senior citizen who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is working two or three jobs and is “really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids;” and young people who turn to drugs, gangs, or suicide because they cannot find a job.

“Now mourn them,” he said. “And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills.”

At other times, Bishop McElroy has been outspoken against the proposed removal of a statue of St. Junípero Serra from the U.S. Capitol, and against a California law barring health plans that restrict abortion coverage.

He urged in 2015 an overhaul of the US bishops' voting guide to reflect how Pope Francis has “radically transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements.” And following the release of Amoris laetitia, he suggested that the divorced-and-remarried may make a “discernment of conscience” that “God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist.”

In addition to Bishop McElroy, other scheduled speakers at the Modesto conference included Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton; Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark; Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux; Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles; and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces.

One co-sponsor of the event, PICO Network, came to public attention in August 2016 when a cache of documents attributed to billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundations were hacked and posted to the site DCLeaks.com.

The documents said the foundations committed $650,000 in funds for PICO Network and Faith in Public Life in 2015 to use Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. to influence the 2016 elections and cultivate influence within the Catholic Church.

It claimed the grantees were involved in “the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression” and claimed that some U.S. bishops sought to curb Pope Francis’ influence on social justice issues. The documents are not always accurate and erroneously indicated the World Meeting of Popular Movements would take place in 2016, rather than 2017.

The same cache of documents indicated that the Soros network funds abortion advocates in Ireland as part of a strategic model to overturn abortion restrictions in Catholic countries. The Soros foundations also took part in a multi-million dollar effort to respond to videos appearing to show the politically powerful abortion provider Planned Parenthood was involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and body parts from aborted babies.

According to the documents, the Soros foundations gave $450,000 to the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good from 2006-2010, crediting the group for changing Catholic voters’ priorities on abortion. Emails to and from leading Democratic Party strategist John Podesta, published on WikiLeaks, claimed that Catholics in Alliance was a group founded with the intent of creating a “Catholic Spring” revolution against the U.S. bishops.

Christopher Hale, who became Catholics in Alliance’s executive director in late 2013, told CNA in October 2016 that the group was not concerned with the internal politics of the Catholic Church. The group has become more critical of abortion groups in recent years.

US anti-Semitism feared to rise if incidents aren't condemned

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 22:01

Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States must be prosecuted and condemned by the government to curb their rise, a religious freedom expert insists.

Regarding recent bomb threats made to Jewish community centers and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Missouri, there must be “very vigilant enforcement of the law,” said Prof. Daniel Mark of Villanova University, who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“It’s kind of a shame,” he told CNA, that “a lot of these crimes go unpunished.” They must be recognized for what they are and condemned, he added. “If you’re not willing to recognize what it is and call the thing by its name, you’re going to have a hard time addressing it.”

Jewish leaders have been alarmed at the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in recent years, from the desecration of synagogues to attacks on Jews wearing religious symbols in public to violent attacks like in 2015, where a gunman who pledged allegiance to ISIS took hostages at a Paris kosher market and killed four.

The incidents have grown so numerous and so serious that questions have been raised about the future of Jewish communities in Europe.

However, the fervor of antisemitism in the U.S. has risen as well, religious freedom advocates have warned.

The Anti-Defamation League reported a sharp rise in violent antisemitic assaults in 2015, and leaders noted a distressing surge in online harassment of Jewish reporters during the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories on the internet.

Shortly after Trump’s election to the presidency in November, white nationalist leaders gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Richard Spencer said “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” and was met with fascist salutes.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum responded that they were “deeply alarmed” at the gathering and its antisemitic rhetoric.

In recent weeks, there have reportedly been dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers in the U.S. A Jewish cemetery in Missouri was vandalized recently and as many as 200 headstones were reportedly damaged.

President Trump must speak out forcefully against such behavior but he has not, advocates warn, and he has even partly enabled such behavior amongst many of his far-right supporters.

“I think in some cases anti-Semites may feel emboldened by the rise of Trump,” Mark noted of the election year incidents.

“Now that’s not to say that Trump himself is not an antisemite in the way they are, but I think again, it is fair to say that Trump probably could have done more during the campaign to make it clear to his supporters that these kinds of attitudes and this kind of behavior is not tolerable, it will not be tolerated.”

Such behavior must be condemned, and Trump did not speak forcefully enough against it during the campaign, Mark insisted.

“Instead it seems like he chose the path of saying just little enough that those people could tell themselves that secretly, he’s on board with them and their bad motives, which I don’t believe he is.”

President Trump denounced antisemitism on Tuesday as he spoke at the newly-opened National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” he said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are a painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

However, his statement came after weeks of statements – or omissions – that drew more concerns about his administration’s response to anti-Semitism.

In his Jan. 27 remarks on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Donald Trump left out any specific mention of the Jewish people, a mention made by the White House in past years.  

For instance, President Obama in 2015 said that “the American people pay tribute to the six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazi regime.”

In 2016, in his remarks at the Righteous Among Nations Awards Dinner at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., President Obama insisted that “we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise” including in the United States.

Then last week at a Nov. 16 press conference, Trump was asked by reporter Jake Turx, writing for the Jewish magazine “Ami,” about the rise in antisemitic incidents.

While Turx noted there were no accusations of antisemitism leveled against Trump by members of his community, he added that questions do exist of how the Trump administration would respond to the other anti-Semitic incidents nationwide.

As Turx cited reports of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers, Trump interrupted him and scolded him for not asking a simpler question, calling it “not a fair question.” He asked Turx to sit down and told him “I understood the rest of your question.”

“I am the least antisemitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Trump began, calling himself also the “least racist person.” When Turx interrupted to follow up his question, Trump ordered him to “quiet” and said he hated both the “charge” of antisemitism leveled against him and Turx’s “question.”

The day before, at a Feb. 15 joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Trump was asked by a reporter about the rise in antisemitic incidents:

“And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?”

President Trump responded first by pointing out his Electoral College victory and the “tremendous enthusiasm” for his administration in the country. He then promised to “stop crime in this country” and would work “to stop long-simmering racism” and noted that he had “so many (Jewish) friends” and family.

The advocacy group Human Rights First criticized Trump’s answer, calling it “inappropriate” and saying it “widely missed the mark.”

“The president’s response today once again highlights a deeply concerning trend toward accommodating antisemitic voices and failing to clearly and unequivocally denounce hate,” Susan Corke of Human Rights First stated.

“His inappropriate response is all the more troubling given his campaign’s association with antisemitic tropes, his administration’s embrace of individuals with deep ties to anti-Semitism, and his decision not to include any reference to the Jewish people in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

On Tuesday, however, Human Rights First commended Trump for finally issuing strong statements against antisemitism, saying they were “necessary and overdue.”

“These declarations, while welcome, are a departure from those made by the president during his campaign and post-inauguration, that animated those with antisemitic and other racist views into reprehensible acts of hatred,” the group continued.

Words must be accompanied by action, they added, like “by improving data collection and providing additional resources to protect communities.”

“A national leader failing to clearly denounce harmful speech can serve to embolden extremist voices and serve as a legitimation of violence,” they stated. “President Trump should make clear immediately that he condemns all forms of antisemitism and intolerance, and that he will do everything in his power to support investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes.”

We're more likely to jail the mentally ill than get them help

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 17:11

Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2017 / 03:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- People with severe mental illness are much more likely to be incarcerated than treated for their disorders, advocates said at a recent panel, and changes need to be made in order to break the vicious cycle of prison and homelessness.

“We don’t have a mental health professional in half the counties in America. We need to do something about that,” Doris A. Fuller of the Treatment Advocacy Center said at a panel in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

Almost 400,000 inmates in the U.S. prison system are estimated to be mentally ill. For many with severe mental problems like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, their untreated illness may have played a primary role in landing them in prison.

“The going in and out of jail is a challenge. And many of the times it is because of the mental illness,” said Karen Ostlie, director of behavioral health services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

“So that’s the same as across the country, is you get a lot of people that are incarcerated because of their mental illness,” she told CNA, and it might be for something small like “trespassing if they’re homeless and they’re trying to find a warm place to sleep at night.”

The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized.

And if they are released from the criminal justice system back into society, without receiving the proper treatment, they may very soon end up back in jail.

In the span of five years in Miami-Dade County in Florida, 97 people – primarily homeless men and people with schizophrenia – were arrested a total of 2,200 times, said Judge Steve Leifman of the Miami-Dade County Court Criminal Division.

The panel discussion, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., discussed the criminal justice system and the U.S. mental health crisis. Participants explored the scope of the problem after the release of a new report “Emptying the ‘New Asylums’” on reducing the number of inmates waiting in prison to be treated at a state hospital.

“We have a population of inmates behind bars in America today with mental illness that’s about the size of the city of Oakland, California,” Fuller stated, noting that an average of 5,000 people with “serious mental illness” are booked in jails per day.

They are arrested for a number of crimes ranging from the small, like trespassing or public urination, to violent felonies. Many crimes among this population are the result of someone’s untreated mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, panel members argued.

The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. An estimated 40 percent of those with severe mental illness are incarcerated at some point in their lives.

A shortage of mental hospitals

Some 90,000 people in prison have been judged “incompetent to stand trial.” In all but three states, they must then be treated back to a competent state. Usually they are sent to state mental hospitals for this, yet there are far too few beds available for them there.

In the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. housed far more people in mental hospitals, but starting in the 1950s, a push to “deinstitutionalize” the system – as well as federal cases brought against hospitals for horrific abuses there – led to budget cuts and the closing of hospitals rather than states working to reform them, Leifman said.

Thus, state hospital beds for the severely mentally ill fell dramatically from 337 per 100,000 persons in 1955 to only 11.7 per 100,000 in 2016.

As a result, severely mentally ill persons are “languishing” in jail and even dying there, advocates warn. “Incarcerating pre-trial and convicted criminal offenders with serious mental illness is so common today that jails and prisons are routinely called the ‘new asylums.’ They are anything but protective,” said the report “Emptying the New Asylums” by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

The prison system does nothing to help an existing case of mental illness, and all too often exacerbates it. Studies have shown the deleterious effects of prolonged solitary confinement on someone’s mental condition, and for those with serious mental illness, a prolonged stay in prison can cause crippling damage to their health.

“If you want to really improve your public safety, improve the community mental health system.”

There may be no immediate option for people in this situation, said Kianna Richardson, a correctional support specialist with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The jail or prison cannot release someone who is not competent to stand trial onto the streets without treatment.

“It would be kind of difficult just to work with them, because they may refuse services, and in turn, they may go through the same cycle and commit another crime,” she told CNA.

One way to help seriously ill inmates get the treatment they need more quickly would be to make “small changes” to the waiting system at state hospitals, said participants at the AEI panel.

The Treatment Advocacy Center contracted with the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University to gather and analyze data from five state hospitals. Their findings led them to believe that changes could benefit the system.

In Florida, for instance, where 120 inmates per month will need to be treated for illnesses before they stand trial, “if you divert two of them, the average bed wait drops from 12 days to 3 days,” Doris A. Fuller noted. In Wisconsin, if eight beds were added to the state hospitals, the average waits for a bed would fall from two months to two weeks.

The importance of post-jail treatment

However, even after mentally ill inmates are released from jails and state hospitals, if they are not properly treated in their communities, they are at high risk of recidivism.

“Putting someone in jail with mental illness for even a few days and then releasing them – which everyone gets released – is not an improvement of public safety,” Leifman insisted at the panel. “Most of them have serious trauma issues, and jail re-traumatizes people.”

“If you want to really improve your public safety, improve the community mental health system,” he added.

Matthew D. Chase of the National Association of Counties pointed to the example of Leon County, Florida, which established a system where non-profits met officials at the jail at midnight to take in homeless individuals and inmates with serious mental issues.

They were sent to various groups who worked with mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse cases, among others, he said, where previously these people would have gone straight onto the street.

Other groups like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. are actively ministering to this population, providing case management and long-term psychiatric treatment for inmates and those who have been released from the justice system.

Kianna Richardson, a correctional support specialist with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., sees clients with arrest records, most of whom are “non-violent offenders.”

She provides 60-day case management for those “with severe and persistent mental health diagnoses who are returning from Charles County detention center back to the community.” She insisted that “it’s crucial for them” to receive treatment.

“Hopefully that will help them avoid being incarcerated in the future,” she said, and “reduce their recidivism rate”

Housing and employment are the biggest challenges for this population, she insisted. If they have untreated mental health problems and an arrest record, they have a much lower chance of getting a job and holding it down. If they have no job, they can’t pay for a place to live.

Also, in the county where she works – Charles County, Md. – the temporary shelter stays open only during the winter months, meaning that the homeless may have no options from April through September.

Washington, D.C. is one of the highest cost-of-living metropolitan areas in the U.S., and this poses a unique challenge to the city’s homeless population, said Karen Ostlie of Catholic Charities, D.C., who has worked in mental health in the district for 20 years.

“There’s a lack of affordable housing,” she said. “That can be very difficult, when somebody doesn’t have a stable place to live, to stabilize that person, for them to follow through with their mental health treatment.”

Catholic Charities provides psychiatric treatment, and the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team “works with about 120 of our consumers,” Ostlie explained, including “some of the most disengaged” and “seriously ill consumers.”

They also work with other clients who had long-term hospitalizations at St. Elizabeth’s, a psychiatric facility in Southeast D.C.

The ACT team will find and meet the homeless where they are, seeking to engage them in treatment, she said. But there are challenges – even if they receive prescription medication upon being discharged from mental hospitals, if they have no stable home, it is harder for them to keep the medication and take it as ordered.

The goal is to get the patients to engage in treatment with a psychiatrist, Ostlie said. They also work to get benefits for the patients and to help them apply for the appropriate housing, such as a single occupancy room or a group home.

“With some of our most seriously ill consumers, part of the difficulty with finding housing, other than the cost of apartments, is that they can’t manage in a shared group home situation, or their behaviors are so challenging that the folks that run the group homes won’t accept them or they leave or they don’t want to deal with the rules.”

Drug abuse is another significant challenge among this population, she said. Not only can it make mental illness worse, but even if patients go through treatment for it, they can easily fall back into addiction by returning to their former place on the streets.  

“The key is to change the way we think about these things,” Leifman said at the panel, insisting that there must be a greater national focus on improving mental health in communities rather than just incarcerating the perpetrators of crimes. “So much of our money is now going into correctional cost.”

“There is no other illness in this world that is permissible to send people out into homelessness in the middle of the night,” he said, but when it comes to mental illness, “people don’t bat an eye.”

 

This 200 year-old black Catholic school is a 'gem' in Baltimore's inner city

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 08:02

Baltimore, Md., Feb 21, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nestled among the mix of shiny new storefronts, foreclosed row houses, parks, and public housing, lies what locals call the “gem of East Baltimore:” St. Frances Academy. Perduring the Civil War, social tumult, economic growth and decline in the neighborhood, the 189-year-old Catholic school still operates from the principles of its foundress, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange.

Along with the building, Mother Mary Lange’s legacy has been preserved as well: to educate and form children left behind by society, particularly those of African descent. While the kinds of challenges faced by many of Baltimore’s students have changed over nearly 200 years, what has not is the need for strong, Christ-centered education in the heart of the inner city, say educators at the school.

“The kids really understand and appreciate the legacy. They know the story, they know the history,”  Sister John Francis Schilling, OSP told CNA. “They will tell you in a minute,” she added of the students’ eagerness to share Mother Mary Lange’s story, “and are very proud of it.”

Dr. Curtis Turner, Ed.D,  principal of St. Frances Academy and a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington, noted that St. Frances Academy still has its eyes on the same goal their founders did –  Christ.

“You’d have 180 souls really in jeopardy if we weren’t here,” the principal said to CNA.

In 1828, a Haitian refugee named Elizabeth Lange began teaching children of African descent, both slave and free, out of her home in Baltimore – a slave state with a large free African-American population.

“Mother Lange started this school because she wanted to teach the children of slaves about the Bible, about religion and realized they couldn’t read,” Sister John Francis recounted. While it wasn’t illegal to teach slaves in Maryland at that time, educating persons of color was socially taboo. Despite this, Lange was determined to teach the girls from her home.

A year later, Sulpician Father Nicholas Joubert approached Lange and asked if she and her co-teacher, Marie Balas, would be willing to start a religious order while continuing their work in girls’ education. Lange responded that she had been wanting to dedicate her life to God, and with the blessing of the Archbishop of Baltimore she took vows and the name “Sister Mary.”

Mother Mary Lange was named the superior of the new congregation, the Oblate Sisters of Providence – the first religious community for women of African descent in the United States.

The new order also rented a house for the community to live in and use as a school house. Today, the school continues to operate in the building it moved into in 1871, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence still help to teach and form St. Frances Academy’s hundreds of students.

Within the building, next to an English classroom and under a science lab, the room of Mother Mary Lange remains virtually undisturbed from how it was left after Lange’s death in 1882. “The kids see it and walk by,” Deacon Turner commented, adding that the emphasis on Mother Lange's present preserves her legacy at the school. “She lived, died and prayed here.”

“It’s one of the few places where we can all claim to be third-class relics,” he joked.

Since the 1820s, both the school and the order have gone through several changes. The main school building has served as a school, a dormitory, and an orphanage over the years, and the campus has expanded to include a gym, classrooms, computer labs, and other facilities. The school has become a co-educational preparatory school.

The order has expanded, with presences in Maryland, New York, Florida, and Costa Rica, and sisters from around the globe. Mother Mary Lange’s cause for sainthood was opened in 1991 by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore.



In spite of, or perhaps because of, this growth, St. Frances Academy has persisted as the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic educational institution. In addition, the school is the oldest continually operating black educational facility in the United States, predating the founding of  Cheyney University of Pennsylvania – the nation’s oldest Historically Black College – by nearly a decade.

Today, the school remains dedicated to Mother Lange’s vision and her desire to educate all those in need of a good education. “We’re carrying out her mission,” Sister John Francis said. The school continues its work despite the challenges of this mission. “She was a risk-taker, and we’re risk takers,” Sister said.

One of those risks is accepting kids who are deemed high-risk or who are suspended or expelled from school. “We take kids who are risks. Sometimes they call us the second-chance school because we allow kids the opportunity to fail and then come back,” she explained. “We’re pretty much always willing to give them a second chance.”

Another risk is the school’s decision five years ago to house a number of boys who are homeless or who don’t have stable housing or family situations, in the Fr. Joubert Housing Program. “It’s been very successful … These kids are considered to be ‘throwaway’ kids by the city,” Sister John Francis explained. The first class of students to go through the program have graduated and are now in college; both made the National Honor Society while at the Joubert program.

Deacon Turner noted that he and the lay staff who oversee the housing programs seek to treat the boys as their own children, making sure they have home-cooked meals, clothes, things to do on the weekends, and adequate furnishings for their bedrooms: “It’s like we have 16 sons on campus.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the boys are also under the sisters’ watchful eye from the convent across the street. “They know that the second they step outside of the Joubert house, they’re within sight of the convent,” Deacon Turner laughed.

The program takes some of the most at-risk students in the city and turns them into the stars of the school, the principal continued. “The funny part is what takes them a while is that they’re the kids who are the most needy, economically, but then they get here and they actually end up being the envy of the rest of the school community.”

As with the success of the boys within the Fr. Joubert Housing Program, St. Frances Academy has managed to thrive in the face of challenges – and do just as well as many area schools with more privileged students. In the past several decades, Catholic schools in Baltimore have faced wave after wave of school closings.

Deacon Turner said that 11 of the academy’s 14 feeder schools have been closed in the past 15 years, and all of its partner Catholic schools in West Baltimore have also been shuttered. “We feel like we’re the last person standing in the breach right now.”

But despite the struggles facing Baltimore’s inner city, the school itself is doing very well: “We’re a poor school, but not a broke school.”  Because of their success, the faculty and administration are focusing on making sure that the tuition remains accessible for the school’s students, more than 84 percent of whom receive federal food aid for lunches.

Yet even though their tuition is considerably less than many of the city’s other Catholic and secular high schools “our kids are going to those same colleges.” The drive – and the stakes – are what set the academy’s students apart.

“The difference that we make isn’t just college or a better college, it’s college or no college – sometimes, it’s life or death without us,” Deacon Turner reflected.

Without St. Frances, many students also would not have had an introduction to what a life with Christ looks like, Deacon Turner said.  “The majority of our students are not Catholic – the vast majority are not Catholic – and I would say at least half are unchurched altogether, so we’re their first introduction to a life with Christ.” In many cases, he continued, a student’s turnaround can be traced to their introduction to a Christian lifestyle and Christ himself.

 “I’ve seen other organizations try to work in the city from a purely secular point of view, and of course they meet with some marginal success, but our success rate is that virtually all our kids go to college. If we tried to do that without Christ in the equation, there’s no way we’d be at that statistic,” Deacon Turner stated.   

“All the challenges that an inner city child faces – economically, socially– in my opinion, can only be overcome with the help of Christ, by introducing them to Jesus.”

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