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For the first time, most Americans prefer life imprisonment to death penalty

Sat, 11/30/2019 - 18:59

Washington D.C., Nov 30, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- For the first time in more than three decades, a majority of Americans favor life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

A Gallup poll released this week found that 60% of survey respondents said life without parole is the preferable sentence for a person convicted of murder, while 36% said the death penalty is preferable.

This is the first time in Gallup’s 34 years of tracking that respondents have favored life imprisonment over the death penalty. In the 1980s and '90s, Americans showed a clear preference for the death penalty for convicted murderers.

The latest survey was conducted in October, and polled 1,500 adults living throughout the United States.

The past five years has seen a shift among all major subgroups toward favoring life imprisonment, Gallup said. Two-thirds of women, and a little over half of men surveyed support life imprisonment over the death penalty.

Almost 8 in 10 Democrats favor life imprisonment without parole to the death penalty, while almost 6 in 10 Republicans favor the death penalty.

But while life imprisonment is generally seen as a better punishment for murder, a majority of Americans still approve of the use of the death penalty, Gallup found. Fifty-six percent said they approve of the death penalty as a punishment for murder, and 42% said they oppose its use.

These numbers have remained roughly consistent in recent years, but are down from the 1990s, when up to 80% of Americans voiced approval of the death penalty.

“The percentage of Americans who are in favor of the death penalty, generally, has fallen to 45-year lows,” said Gallup Senior Editor Jeffrey Jones. “And when given an explicit alternative, for the first time in at least 30 years, more say life imprisonment with no possibility of parole is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty.”

Jones noted that state laws have changed alongside public opinion on the death penalty.

“Five states have abolished the death penalty this decade, leaving 29 where it is legal,” he said. “Several states where the death penalty is legal have instituted moratoriums on its use or are considering abolishing it. Many recent cases that have cast doubt on death penalty convictions in light of new evidence may be helping to move public opinion away from it.”

In 2003, the Obama administration placed the federal use of the death penalty on hiatus, while the Justice Department reviewed execution protocols. The move followed a series of rulings against the three-drug cocktail that had been linked to botched executions in several states.

The Trump administration announced over the summer that it is planning to resume federal use of the death penalty. Attorney General William Barr has ordered executions to be scheduled for five inmates on death row, although court challenges have halted the executions from moving forward.

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.


Is it weird that Catholics venerate relics? Here's why we do

Fri, 11/29/2019 - 14:02

Houston, Texas, Nov 29, 2019 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- “We are many parts, but we are all one body,” says the refrain of a popular '80s Church hymn, based on the words of 1 Cor. 12:12. 

While we are one body in Christ, if you happen to be a Catholic saint, the many parts of your own body might be spread out all over the world. 

Take, for example, St. Catherine of Siena.  

A young and renowned third-order Dominican during the Middle Ages, she led an intense life of prayer and penance and is said to have single-handedly ended the Avignon exile of the successors of Peter in the 14th century.

When she died in Rome, her hometown of Siena, Italy, wanted her body. Realizing they would probably get caught if they took her whole corpse, the Siena thieves decided that it would be safer if they just took her head. 

When they were stopped on their way out by guards outside of Rome, they said a quick prayer, asking for St. Catherine of Siena’s intercession. The guards opened the bag and did not find the dead head of St. Catherine, but a bag full of rose petals. Once the thieves were back in Siena, Catherine’s head re-materialized, one of the many miracles attributed to the saint. 

The head of St. Catherine of Siena was placed in a reliquary in the Basilica of St. Dominic in Siena, where it can still be venerated today, along with her thumb. Her body remains in Rome, her foot is venerated in Venice. 

From the Shroud of Turin, or the finger of St. Thomas, to the miraculous blood of St. Januarius, or the brain of St. John Bosco, the Catholic Church keeps and venerates many curious but nevertheless holy artifacts, known as relics, from Jesus and the saints. 

To the outsider, the tradition of venerating relics (particularly of the corporeal persuasion) may seem like an outlandishly morbid practice. 

But the roots of the tradition pre-date Jesus, and the practice is based in Scripture and centuries of Church teaching. 

While it’s one of the most fascinating traditions of the Church, it can also be one of the most misunderstood. 

Father Carlos Martins, CC, is a Custos Reliquiarum, which is an ecclesiastically appointed Curate of Relics with the authority to issue relics. 

He is a member of Companions of the Cross, and the head of Treasures of the Church, a ministry that aims to give people an experience of the living God through an encounter with the relics of his saints in the form of an exposition. The ministry brings expositions of various relics throughout North America by invitation. 

In the following interview with CNA, Fr. Martins answers questions and dispels some common misunderstandings about the tradition of relics. 

First of all, what is a relic? 

Relics are physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Our Lord. They are usually broken down into three classes: 

First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh.

Second class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book (or fragments of those items). 

Third class relics are those items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first, second, or another third class relic of a saint.

The word relic means “a fragment” or “remnant of a thing that once was but now is no longer.” Thus, we find in antique shops “Civil War relics” or “Relics of the French Revolution.” Obviously, we are not talking about these kinds of relics but rather sacred relics.

Where did the Catholic tradition of venerating saints’ relics come from? 

Scripture teaches that God acts through relics, especially in terms of healing. In fact, when surveying what Scripture has to say about sacred relics, one is left with the idea that healing is what relics “do.” 

When the corpse of a man was touched to the bones of the prophet Elisha the man came back to life and rose to his feet (2 Kings 13:20-21).

A woman was healed of her hemorrhage simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:20-22).

The signs and wonders worked by the Apostles were so great that people would line the streets with the sick so that when Peter walked by at least his shadow might ‘touch’ them (Acts 5:12-15).

When handkerchiefs or aprons that had been touched to Paul were applied to the sick, the people were healed and evil spirits were driven out of them (Acts 19:11-12).

In each of these instances God has brought about a healing using a material object. The vehicle for the healing was the touching of that object. It is very important to note, however, that the cause of the healing is God; the relics are a means through which He acts. In other words, relics are not magic. They do not contain a power that is their own; a power separate from God.  

Any good that comes about through a relic is God’s doing. But the fact that God chooses to use the relics of saints to work healing and miracles tells us that He wants to draw our attention to the saints as “models and intercessors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828).

When did the veneration of relics begin?

It was present from the earliest days of Christianity, during the Apostolic age itself. The following is an account written by the Church in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) when its bishop, St. Polycarp was burned alive:

“We adore Christ, because He is the Son of God, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord. So we buried in a becoming place Polycarp’s remains, which are more precious to us than the costliest diamonds, and which we esteem more highly than gold.” (Acts of St. Polycarp, composed approx. 156 AD)

Polycarp was a significant figure. He was converted by John the Apostle, who had baptized him and subsequently ordained him a bishop. Thus we see that from its outset the Church practiced devotion to the remains of the martyrs. 

What is the spiritual significance of relics? 

I think that St. Jerome put it best when he said:

“We do not worship relics, we do not adore them, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator. But we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.” (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).

We venerate relics only for the sake of worshiping God.  

When we collect relics from the body of a saint, what part of the body do we use? 

Any part of the saint’s body is sacred and can be placed in a reliquary. Any and every bone may be used. In addition, flesh, hair, and sometimes blood, are also used. Sometimes everything from the tomb is dispersed from it. Sometimes a tomb is preserved.

At what point in the canonization process are items or body parts considered official relics by the Church? 

Before the beatification takes place, there is a formal rite whereby the relics are identified and moved (the official word is “translated”) into a church, a chapel, or an oratory. Put simply, the grave is exhumed and the mortal remains are retrieved.

Only the Church has the juridical power to formally recognize the sanctity of an individual. When the Church does this – through beatification and canonization – their relics receive the canonical recognition as being sacred relics. 

There is an importance difference between beatification and canonization. Beatification is the declaration by the Church that there is strong evidence that the person in question is among the blessed in heaven. Nevertheless, beatification permits only local devotion. That is, devotion in the country in which the individual lived and died. When Mother Teresa was beatified, for instance, only in India and in her native Albania was her devotion permitted. Her Mass could not be celebrated, for example, in the United States, nor could her relics be placed within its altars.

Whereas beatification permits local devotion, canonization, on the other hand, mandates universal devotion. It grants to the canonized individual the rights of devotion throughout the universal Church.

The Church allows saints’ body parts to be scattered for relics, but forbids the scattering of ashes of the deceased who are cremated. Why is that? 

Every person has a right to a burial. This means that the community has a duty to bury the dead.  

Every human society and culture throughout time has felt this duty. The dead have always been buried, and archaeology has never discovered a human community that did not practice this.  One could rightly say, therefore, that burying the dead forms part of our human cultural DNA. 

The theological term for this instinct is natural law. Nature has imprinted a law within the human heart that manifests itself in the practice of burying the dead as a final act of love and devotion, or at least an act of respect and propriety.  

It should be no surprise, then, that the Church lists as one of the corporal works of mercy burying the dead. Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.

There is flexibility in the kind of burial. Remains may be buried in the ground, in the sea, or above ground within, for example, a cave or columbarium. The point is that a burial occurs within a single place, such that it can be said that the person “occupies” the place as a final location of rest. The human heart longs for this. We see people arriving at graves and speaking to the grave as if they were speaking to the deceased. And they do so differently than they might speak to the dead at home. At the grave, they speak to the dead as if they are in a place.  

For this reason, among others, the Church has always taught not only that it is completely beneath the dignity of human body to have its remains “scattered,” but also completely beneath basic human sensibilities. People need a place to encounter and meet the dead in their physicality.  

Nevertheless, the saints, as members of the body of Christ, have a right to have their remains venerated. And this right, flowing from their dignity as members of the Body of Christ, supersedes their right to have their remains remain in burial.   

What is the proper way to keep relics? Are lay Catholics allowed to have first class relics in their homes? 

Relics are very precious. They are not something that was alive at one time and is now dead. In the case of first class relics, we are talking about flesh that is awaiting the general resurrection, where the soul of a saint will be reunited with his physical remains.

As such, the way we treat relics is of the utmost importance. Ideally, relics should be kept in a Church or chapel where they can be made available for public veneration. 

The highest honor the Church can give to a relic is to place it within an altar, where the Mass may be celebrated over it. This practice dates from the earliest centuries of the Church. In fact, the sepulchers of the martyrs were the most prized altars for the liturgy.  

As an alternative to encasing them within altars, they may be installed within a devotional niche where people may venerate them. Such shrines are important as they afford people a deeper experience of intimacy with the saint.

The Church does not forbid the possession of relics by lay persons. They may even keep them in their homes. However, because of the many abuses that have been committed concerning relics, the Church will no longer issue relics to individuals – not even to clergy.

These abuses included failing to give them proper devotion (neglect), careless mistreatment of them, discarding them, and in some cases, even selling them. The abuses were not necessarily committed by the person to whom the Church had originally bequeathed the relics. But when such persons became deceased, and the relics were passed on by inheritance, they were often subject to great vulnerability. With the eclipse of the Christian culture in the western world, faith can no longer be taken for granted, even among the children of the most devout people.

Thus, to protect relics, the Church only issues them to Churches, chapels, and oratories.

How important is the authenticity of the relic? How does the Church go about determining authenticity of very old relics from the beginning of the Church? 

The authenticity is critically important.

But for the ancient saints, determining identity is much easier than you might think.  It was tradition to build a church over top of a saint’s grave. That is why St. Peter's Basilica is where it is, or why St. Paul Outside the Walls is there. Both encompass the tomb for the saint, which is located directly beneath the altar.

Modern archaeology has only affirmed what the ancient tradition has believed.


This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 11, 2017.

Meet the monks who decided to go green years before Laudato Si

Fri, 11/29/2019 - 05:00

Arlington, Va., Nov 29, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical Laudato Si' was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship.

“This really is a re-founding,” Fr. James Orthmann of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. told CNA, a “real renewal and a re-founding, and in a real sense getting back to our traditional roots.”

Since 2007, the community has taken concrete steps to be better stewards of the earth in the tradition of the Cistercian Order, while also reaching into the outside world to draw more Catholic men to their monastic life.

The abbey was founded in 1950 after a planned Trappist abbey in Massachusetts burned down. The Diocese of Richmond offered to accept the monks and they procured 1200 acres of pasture on the Shenandoah River in Northwest Virginia, just in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

However by the early 2000s, the community had shrunk along with the overall number of religious priests and brothers in the U.S., which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1965. The community’s Father Immediate – the abbot of their mother house – suggested in 2007 they start planning how to sustain the abbey for the long-term.

The monks discussed their most important resources and “literally everybody talked about our location, our land,” Fr. James recalled. “As monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, we have a vow of stability. So we bind ourselves to the community and to the place that we enter.”

The Trappists have a long history of settling in valleys and caring for the land, dating back to their roots in the Cistercian Order and their mother abbey in Citeaux, France, founded in 1098. Monks at Holy Cross Abbey began farming the land in 1950 but as the community grew older, they leased out the land to local farmers and made creamed honey and fruitcake for their labor.

“We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land,” Fr. James explained. “The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”

So what specifically have the monks done to become better environmental stewards? First, they reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could be more environmentally sustainable in the Cistercian tradition.

A group of graduate students made the project their master’s thesis. The result was a 400-page study, “Reinhabiting Place,” with all sorts of recommendations for the monks. With these suggestions as a starting place, the monks took action.

First, they turned to the river. They asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease 600 acres of their land to stop his cattle from grazing in the river. This would protect the riverbanks from eroding and keep the cows from polluting the water, which flows into the Potomac River, past Washington, D.C., and eventually feeds the massive Chesapeake Bay.

They fenced off tributaries of the river and planted native hardwoods and bushes on the banks as shelter for migratory animals and to attract insects and pollinators to “restore the proper biodiversity to the area,” Fr. James explained. They also leased 180 acres of land to a farmer for natural vegetable farming.

Most of the abbey’s property was put into “conservation easement” with the county and the state. By doing this, the monks promise that the land will forever remain “fallow,” or agricultural and undeveloped, and they receive a tax benefit in return. The county provides this policy to check suburban sprawl and retain a rural and agricultural nature.

The community also switched their heating and fueling sources from fossil fuels to propane gas. They had a solar-fed lighting system installed in two of the guest retreat dorms, and they pay for the recycling of their disposable waste. The monks stopped making fruitcake for a year to install a new more energy-efficient oven and make building repairs.

The have even started offering “green burials” at Cool Spring Cemetery in the Trappist style.

Normal burials can cost well over $7,000 with embalming fluids and lead coffins that can be detrimental to the soil. A Trappist burial, by contrast, is “rather sparse” and “rather unadorned,” Fr. James explained. A monk is wrapped in a shroud and placed directly on a wooden bier in the ground.

The Trappist burials, while quite different from a typical modern burial, actually have an earthy character to them that’s attractive, Fr. James maintained.

After the “initial shock” at seeing such a sparse burial for the first time, “oddly enough, it’s very cathartic and you have a real sense of hope,” he said. The burials are “a lot less formal” and “people [in attendance] are more spontaneous,” he noted, and there’s “even a certain joyfulness to it.”

With their “green burials,” the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container like a wooden coffin, and buried in the first four feet of the soil. By one year, just the skeleton may be left, but it’s a harkening back to the Ash Wednesday admonition, “Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

And this contrasts with the complicated embalming process of normal funerals where chemicals like formaldehyde can seep into the ground.

The monks have already touched lives with their example of stewardship.

Local residents George Patterson and Deidra Dain produced a film “Saving Place, Saving Grace” about the monastery’s efforts to remain sustainable, for a local PBS affiliate station. The affiliate’s general manager had looked at the story and thought everyone needed to hear it.

The monastery has been an “example” to the county’s leadership with its care for the land, Patterson said. Dain, a retreatant at the monastery some 15 years ago, is not Catholic but found her time at the abbey “inspiring” and as a lover of nature praises their sustainability initiative.

All in all, the communal effort for stewardship is “helping to renew our life,” Fr. James said of the community.

Papal statements on the environment have given a boost to their efforts. “There was a lot of supportive stuff from the time of Pope Benedict about the environment,” Fr. James recalled, particularly in his 2008 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which upheld the responsibility of man to care for the environment.

This “helped bridge” any gulfs that kept certain members of the community from fully embracing the sustainability initiative, Fr. James said.

Parts of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment Laudato Si' are “so sophisticated in (their) grasp of environmental teaching,” he continued, and it’s quite a support to have popes promoting environmental stewardship amidst the bureaucratic tediousness of upgrading the abbey’s land and facilities.

“At the end of the day, I can open up Laudato Si' and say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done’,” he said.

The community hopes too that it can be a sustainability model for developing countries that might not be able to afford high-tech and expensive solutions to environmental problems. Their facilities are simple by nature and not sophisticated, and the monks’ consumption is already low because they take a vow of poverty.

Plus, retreatants at the monastery can observe first-hand the changes made and consider what they can do in their own lives to be more caring for the environment.

However, in its “re-founding” efforts, the community has also explored ways to attract more vocations to the abbey.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost most of our seniors first to illness, aging, and then death. So in a sense, the community has a whole new profile right now,” Fr. James said. The abbey was founded to be “separate” from the cosmopolitan world, but young men are not actively seeking out the monastic life like they did in the 1950s and '60s.

So the community created a new website and continuously update it with new posts. They started hosting “immersion weekends” where men come and live with the monks for a weekend, praying with them. They expanded their local profile in the community by hosting teenagers to earn their school community service hours. “Only two students had realized we existed here,” Fr. James recalled in a telling moment.

“We’re reaching out to men of all ages, and it’s probably even more likely, given the limits of our way of life, that nowadays it’s going to be older men who are coming to this vocation,” Fr. James admitted. “This way of life and its limits make much more sense to people who have tried their quote-unquote dream, have been disillusioned by the result, and they’re yearning for something more.”

What distinguishes Holy Cross Abbey and the Trappist way of life? Their vocation to community life, Fr. James answered, “the silence, the discipline of silence, and daily familiarity with the Scriptures.”

The monks follow an intense daily schedule of prayer, contemplation, and work that includes 3:30 a.m. prayer and a “Great Silence.” They don’t leave the abbey grounds and don’t own private property.

“It’s a lifestyle that very much will develop one’s interiority, spirituality, relationship with God,” he said. “It’s a vocation of adoration, done in community, and offered to the world around us through hospitality here in this place.”

And the modern world offers special challenges to a man discerning this vocation, he admitted.

“There’s not much in the pop culture to invite a person to even think about interiority. And in fact it can be rather threatening to people,” he said. “Initially,” when one begins to seriously cultivate an interior life, “it’s the negative stuff that comes up.”

However, “with guidance you realize that’s the negative face of very important, unrecognized resources. And our vulnerability is perhaps the greatest resource we have in life. (Even if) that’s not the message you’d get from watching Oprah.”
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 2, 2015.

Death in the modern age – and how to prepare as a Catholic

Thu, 11/28/2019 - 14:03

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2019 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- Death. It’s a subject seen as sad, morbid and fearful, something that people would rather not think about, and certainly not discuss.

Yet for Catholics, death is an essential part of the faith.

“For those who die in Christ's grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The celebration of the sacraments hearken for a kind of death: death to self, death as a consequence of sin, a remembrance of Christ’s death and entrance into eternal life.

As the 20th century priest Fr. Henri Nouwen remarked, “Dying is the most general human event, something we all have to do.”

The question, he asks, is “Do we do it well?”

Hiding from death

Advances in medicine and technology have drastically increased life expectancies in the past century. In 1915, most people would not expect to live past age 55. A child born in the US in 2017 is expected to see their 85th birthday.

As a result, death has become something distant and even foreign, argues Julie Masters, a professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

“We get lulled into thinking death doesn’t hit us very often, because it waits until people are very old,” she told CNA. “We know that younger people do die, that middle aged people do die, but in this country, the majority of people who die are going to be older people.”

The average American in the 21st century simply doesn’t have the experience with death that previous generations had, she said. And this lack of experience can lend itself to fear and a tendency to ignore the uncomfortable unknown of the future.

“So we’ll put it off until we have to talk about it, and when we do talk about it, then we get in a pickle because we’re not sure what people want,” Masters said.

Hiding from death can have other consequences, as well. Cultural unease and inexperience with death can affect how we approach loved ones as they die.

“If we’re uncomfortable with death, if someone is dying, we may be unwilling to visit them because we don’t know what to say, when in reality we don’t need to say anything,” Masters said. “We may be less available to comfort them.”

Avoidance of death can also impact vulnerable members of society who are not actively dying, Masters warned.

“Our uncomfortableness with dying may be symptomatic of our desire to control dying and death,” she said. When that control or the fear of becoming a “burden” gives way to conversations about physician-assisted suicide, she continued, “we look at the most vulnerable and say ‘are they really worthy of living, think of all the resources they’re taking up?’”

“Each step in that slope, it gets easier to get rid of people who are no longer valuable or are vulnerable. Yet don’t we learn from the vulnerable?” she questioned. “They’re the ones who teach the strong what’s most valuable in life.”

But Masters also sees a desire to move towards a broader discussion of how to die well. She pointed to the spread of Death Cafes and other guided discussion groups that encourage conversations about death, dying and preparation for the end of life.

Churches can offer a similar kinds of programming, she suggested: “People want to talk about it, they just need the place to do that.”

What does it mean to have a ‘happy death’?

While a person may plan for their death, ultimately the circumstances of one’s passing will be out of their control. However, everyone can aspire to a “good” or “happy” death, said Fr. Michael Witczak, an associate professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America.

He told CNA that the essential qualities of a happy death are being in a state of grace and having a good relationship with God.

The idea of a happy death, or at the very least the aspiration of it, gained popular consideration in the Ars Moriendi – a collection of 15th Century Catholic works laying out the “Art of Dying,” he noted.

The texts elaborate on the temptations – such as despair – that face the dying, questions to ask the dying, advice for families and friends, how to imitate Christ’s life, and prayers for the bedside.

Resources such as these, from ages of the Church that had a more daily experience of death, Fr. Witczak suggested, can be a good resource for beginning to live “intentionally” and to think more about death and how to die well.

Masters agreed that intentionality is key in shifting the cultural mindset on death and dying.

“What if people approached death with the same joy that they greet the birth of a new baby?” she asked.

It’s a fitting analogue, she argues. Both processes – birth and death – are the defining markers of human life, and natural processes that all the living will experience. Both processes also open the door to a similar set of unknowns: What comes next? What will it be like afterwards? How will we cope?

She added that the modern tendency to view death with suspicion and trepidation – or to ignore it altogether – reflects something about the culture.

“If we’re so afraid of death and dying, I have to wonder if we’re also afraid of life and living.”

Last wishes

Discussing death is the first step in making practical preparations for it.

Without planning, Masters said, loved ones may not know a person’s preferences for treatment, finances, or funeral preparations, which can lead to sometimes sharp divides between friends and family.

“When we get comfortable talking about death,” she noted, “we can let people know what our wishes are, so that hopefully our wishes are followed.”

Thorough planning includes setting advanced directives and establishing a power of attorney who can make medical decisions on one’s behalf if one is unable to do so.

It is also important to be aware of different care options in an individual’s geographic location. These include palliative care, which focuses on improving quality and length of life while decreasing the need for additional hospital visits. Not just limited to end-of-life situations, palliative care is available for a range of long-term illnesses, and seeks to relieve pain rather than cure an underlying condition.

Hospice care is also an option when the end of life approaches. At this point, the goal is no longer to extend the length of life, but to alleviate pain and offer comfort, while also helping mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to prepare for death.

Funeral planning and creating a will are also important steps in the preparation process. Even for the young or those without material possessions, planning for one’s death can be useful for grieving friends and family members, Masters said. She explained that the idea of creating an “ethical will” is a Jewish tradition in which a person writes a letter or spiritual autobiography, leaving behind the values and morals they found important in their life to pass on to the next generation.

The practice, which is growing in popularity, is available to anyone “to put down into words what’s given their life meaning,” and can have special meaning for those who “feel, because they don’t have a lot of wealth or a lot of possessions, that they have nothing to leave their family.”

Masters pointed to a student of hers who wrote an ethical will shortly before passing away in college and the example of her own grandparents instilling the recitation of the Rosary as people who left behind some of their most meaningful gifts to their loved ones.

“It’s a testament to what that person believed in. What a gift that is!”

Paul Malley, president of the non-profit group Aging with Dignity, stressed that planning the more specific details of end-of-life care can help respect a person’s dignity during illness or on the deathbed.

“Those who are at the end of life, whether they may be suffering with a serious illness or disability, tend to have their dignity questioned,” he told CNA.

The sick and dying are often isolated, receiving care from medical professionals, he explained. And while advanced care planning often focuses on decisions regarding feeding tubes, ventilators, and other medical treatment options, that discussion “doesn’t tell your family anything about what dignified care means to you.”

“It’s important not to just talk about caregiving in terms of medical issues,” Malley stressed. “That’s a small fraction of a day – the rest of the day plays out at the bedside.”

Aging with Dignity promotes planning for acts of comfort, spiritual issues and family relationships in order to make the time surrounding death easier and more dignified for all involved.

“These issues were never talked about when it came to end-of-life care or advanced care planning.” Among some of the requests participants make, he elaborated, are small acts of comfort like cool cloths on a forehead, pictures of loved ones in a hospital room, favorite blankets on a bed, or requests for specific family or friends to come visit.

Planning to incorporate what Malley calls “the lost art of caregiving,” was important to his own family when his grandmother died. “One of the most important things for her was that she always wanted to have her feet poking out of the blanket because her feet were hot,” he recalled.

Although nurses and care providers would often bundle her feet up to try to keep her warm, her family was able to untuck her feet afterwards so she could stay comfortable.

“That might be something that sounds very trivial, very small, but for her, for my grandmother, laying in that bed where she couldn’t get up and couldn’t reach down to pull up her own blanket, having her feet stick out at the edge of the blanket was probably the most important thing to her all day long,” Malley said.

The end of the earthly pilgrimage

For Catholics, spiritual preparation for death should always include the sacraments, Fr. Witczak said.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, important for all the faithful throughout their lives, is a particularly important spiritual medicine for those nearing death.

Additionally, Anointing of the Sick should be sought for those who have begun to be in danger of death due to sickness or old age, and it can be repeated if the sick person recovers and again becomes gravely ill, or if their condition becomes more grave.

“The Church wants people to celebrate the sacrament as often as they need to,” Fr. Witczak said.

The Eucharist can also be received at the end of life as “viaticum,” which means “with you on the way.”

“It’s receiving the Lord who will be with you on the way to the other side,” said Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

He added that the Eucharist can be received as viaticum more than once, should a person recover, and can also be given even if someone has already received the Eucharist earlier during the day.

A good death is a gift

Prayer, reception of the sacraments, and seeking forgiveness from God and one another can mark death as a time of peace, Fr. Petri said. Death can also be a time of surprise, as it “either amplifies the way a person has lived their life or it causes a complete reversal,” with some people undergoing profound conversions or surprising hardenings of the heart during their last days.

“Much of it really does rely on the will of God,” he reflected, adding that we should all pray for the grace of a holy death.

Dying a happy death is not only a blessing for the person dying, but can be a gift to others as well, Fr. Petri said, noting that family and friends can be drawn closer to one another and to God as the result of a holy death.

Masters agreed, adding that “the dying can serve as examples or role models,” by teaching others how to die without fear.

Ultimately, Fr. Witczak said, Christians “do” death differently because Christians “do” life differently.

“I think as human beings, death is a topic we’re afraid of and we’re told not to think about, and the Christian tradition keeps trying to bring it before people, not to scare people, but rather to remind people of their ultimate destiny,” he said.

“This is not simple and it’s something people ultimately have to learn for themselves, but it’s the important task of life. I think what the Church tries to do is to help people live their life fully and even live their death as an entryway into the life that is promised to us by Jesus Christ.”

Looking toward death and the vulnerability that surrounds it can be a vital way of encountering death – and overcoming the fear of it, he said.

Masters agreed, noting that those who have had encounters with death or profound suffering often “look at life differently.”

“They understand it is so fleeting. But because they know how close death is they look at life in a different way.”

For many people, this different approach to life includes an increased focus on family, friends and service, she said. “That’s how you’re remembered at the end of the day: what did you do for other people?”

Starting with even the most basic conversations about death, she added, can be beneficial for those wanting to confront mortality.

“When you can acknowledge that you’re going to die, you can begin to live your life.”

Does 'gender affirming' treatment really improve mental health?

Thu, 11/28/2019 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A reporter and a researcher who reviewed literature on “gender affirmation” have raised concerns about growing political and academic support for life-altering surgical procedures.

“We don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know,” Madeleine Kearns, a William F. Buckley fellow in political journalism at the National Review Institute, told CNA of the long-term results of “gender affirmation” practices.

“And so if the answer keeps being we don’t know, it does raise the rather glaring question that why on earth are we doing it? What evidence suggests this is necessary?” she asked.

Kearns wrote a Nov. 21 article in National Review, “The Tragedy of the ‘Trans’ Child,” which discussed cases of gender dysphoria, as well as efforts to influence the debate over “gender affirmation” practices.

There are three main responses to a child exhibiting signs of gender confusion, Kearns wrote in National Review. Two of them are “talk therapy” to find out what underlying issues might be influencing the child’s confusion, and “watchful waiting” to see if children “grow out” of the stage.

The third route is so-called “gender affirmation,” which presents a radical departure from previously-accepted medical practice, Kearns said. It involves practices which could seriously or permanently alter a person’s development.

“Gender affirmation” could involve having a child’s community reinforce their desired sex to them—“a form of social-psychological treatment,” Kearns said—or administering puberty-blocking drugs or cross-sex hormones followed by puberty-blocking drugs. Surgical intervention would be the most drastic action, she said.

Kearns shared her conclusions with CNA from researching various studies that purportedly showed minimal or even salutary effects of gender-affirmation on the mental health of children with gender dysphoria.

Many of these studies, she told CNA, are actually very limited in scope, because of the novelty of “gender affirmation” techniques, or they disregard other standard research safeguards, such as control groups.

Society still does not know with certainty how a child will feel 10 to 15 years after gender affirmation procedure, Kearns said.

A recent study claimed that sex-reassignment surgery might actually benefit recipients in the long-term. The American Journal of Psychiatry in October published the results of a Swedish study that aimed to discover the rates of mental health treatment for persons diagnosed with “gender incongruence” who had also undergone sex-reassignment surgery.

Persons with “gender incongruence” in the study had significantly higher rates of “a mood and anxiety disorder health care visit”—around six times that of the general population, the study said.

Yet it was another claim in the study that made headlines—that the rates of mental health visits among persons with gender incongruence who also had gender-affirmation surgery actually declined over time.

The Swedish study claimed specifically that mental health problems declined after a period of ten years post-surgery.

That claim was picked up in the press as possible support for gender affirmation. “When transgender people undergo sex-reassignment surgery, the beneficial effect on their mental health is still evident — and increasing — years later, a Swedish study suggests,” Reuters reported earlier this month.

But the sample size in the Swedish study was extremely small, Professor Mark Regnerus, sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, subsequently wrote in the online journal The Public Discourse.

The Swedish study collected data of more than 9.7 million people. Only 2,679 were diagnosed with “gender incongruence,” and of these, 1,018 people had undergone sex-reassignment surgery, he noted.

Out of this population of just over 1,000, only 19 people had gone more than 10 years after having surgery. Thus, the study was basing this claim upon a national sample of 19 people.

Regnerus, in his Public Discourse piece, put the numbers in perspective: “if a mere three additional cases among these 19 had sought mental health treatment in 2015, there would appear to be no discernible overall effect of surgery on subsequent mental health.”

“It’s important to keep some perspective here—how national debates and discourses are being driven by quite small shares of the population,” Regnerus said in a written statement to CNA.

And it is these types of studies that are fueling the rise of gender-affirmation of children—despite a lack of deep knowledge about the effects of these surgeries ten years down the road, Kearns said.

“Again, it’s important to note that the studies related to children are very, very new,” Kearns said. Children, especially those supportive of gender affirmation, may answer that they feel great after surgery.

Yet in 2016, Paul R. McHugh, M.D., the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Lawrence S. Mayer, M.B., M.S., Ph.D., then a scholar in residence in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. 

“Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes,” they concluded.

And as to their condition ten years later, “nobody has a crystal ball,” Kearns said. And with the adult population, there is only “very ambiguous research.”

Many serious medical studies include a “control group” for comparison’s sake. However, some studies used to tout the positive effects of gender affirmation “completely disregard that,” she said. “They don’t really tell you anything except for the foregone conclusions of the ideologues running them and funding them.”

The push to use limited or unsound research in favor of gender affirmation should concern everyone, she said.

“This should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue of scientific integrity,” Kearns said. “This is not secular versus religious, this is not Democrat versus Republican.”

“And I really do think that we are living through this tremendous medical scandal which our children’s children will hang their heads in shame about.”


Dinners, deliveries and drives: how some Catholics serve up Thanksgiving for the poor

Thu, 11/28/2019 - 05:00

Denver, Colo., Nov 28, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- As many gather for Thanksgiving each year around tables filled with food and family, the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul sets out to make sure that the poor and homeless will also experience a holiday filled with community.

“Society members work with people in poverty and the homeless 365 days a year. Our parish-based Conferences operate food pantries, dining facilities, and shelters year-round to help people in need with food and shelter,” said Dave Barringer, the National CEO of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“In addition to our year-round efforts, many St. Vincent de Paul Conferences and Councils do extra work around Thanksgiving,” Barringer told CNA.

The Society’s many councils and conferences across the country annually host or partake in local efforts to serve the poor and homeless for Thanksgiving, Barringer said.

For example, the Society’s Baton Rouge Council in Louisiana annually hosts a Thanksgiving meal for the community’s poor and homeless. They usually feed more than 600 people at the St. Vincent de Paul location, and in recent years, they also teamed up with the city’s Holiday Helpers to feed an additional 1,000 people.

“That is such a fantastic tradition for our community,” said Michael Acaldo, who works for the Baton Rouge Council, according to local news. “Over 1,000 people are served there. We serve over 600. When you put the two together, it’s a magnificent example of our community in action.”

In Arizona, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Phoenix Council also helps with the community’s annual turkey drive, in what locals calls “Turkey Tuesday.”

Every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, locals bring turkeys to designated grocery stores to donate them to those in need. In 2016, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul received more than 26,000 donated turkeys.

A St. Vincent de Paul Conference in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley, Pennsylvania delivers about 100 Thanksgiving dinners to families in need around the area, including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy.

“People need an extra hand all year round – it is important to be there. But it’s common knowledge that people suffer around the holidays. Picture being alone this time of year. If we can help, we want to,” said John Nard, the president of the local Conference, according to local news.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic organization whose mission is to “end poverty through systemic change.” They offer tangible assistance to those in need through the councils and conferences found across the country, and are dependent on the support of the individuals involved with each conference.

Although feeding the hungry during the holidays is necessary, one of the main goals of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to address the needs of the poor every day of the year.

“The holidays are a time when interest in caring for people in poverty is especially high. It is also a good time to invite people to carry on in that spirit of generosity and put their faith in action by helping people in need throughout the year,” Barringer said.

“People are hungry every day of the year.”


An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Nov. 19, 2017.

Michigan diocese supports priest accused of LGBT Eucharist 'discrimination'

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 20:55

Grand Rapids, Mich., Nov 27, 2019 / 06:55 pm (CNA).- A Michigan diocese said it supports a priest who told a parishioner that because of her same-sex civil marriage she should not receive the Eucharist.

“Inclusion and acceptance have been a hallmark of Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids throughout the diocese’s history. They remain so. They presume, however, a respect on the part of individuals for the teachings and practice of the wider Catholic community,” the Diocese of Grand Rapids said in a statement Thursday.

“No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.” the diocese added.

The diocesan statement came after a Nov. 26 report from local news channel WOOD TV 8, which claimed that Fr. Scott Nolan of St. Stephen Parish in East Grand Rapid had “denied Communion,” to Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court.

Smolenski, 62, did not apparently tell the news channel that she had been denied communion during Mass, but rather that Nolan had instructed her by telephone not to continue receiving the Eucharist at the parish.

The priest did administer the sacrament to Smolenski Nov. 17, according to a letter some parishioners sent to Grand Rapids’ Bishop David Walkowiak.

The parishioners wrote that Smolenski stopped attending St. Stephens “last spring for fear that she would be denied the Eucharist,” as other parishioners apparently had.

While Smolenski attended Mass Nov. 17, and received the Eucharist, the parishioners wrote that Nolan subsequently “called her to demand that she ‘respect the church’ and not return for the sacrament in the future.”

Smolenski told the news station that: “The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion.’”

“I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you,” she added, also telling the local news station that she had devoted her life to the Church and recently given a $7,000 gift to the parish.

Smolenski reportedly told a fellow parishioner that she was attending Nov. 17 Mass to see whether Nolan would administer communion to her, according to sources in the parish.

The priest told WOOD TV 8 Nov. 27 that he “taught what all of the popes who have ever said something about the emergent family have said up to and including Pope Francis,” regarding the reception of holy communion.

Nolan said that he is required in his ministry to ensure that those who receive the Eucharist do so in accord with Catholic doctrine and discipline.

The Church teaches that homosexual activity is a moral evil, and that those conscious of grave sin should not receive the Eucharist. The Church also has taught that contracting a same-sex civil marriage can be “obstinate perserverance in manifest grave sin,” which would prohibit a person from being admitted to communion.

The diocese agreed with the priest’s version of events. “Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports,” the Nov. 27 statement said.

Nolan, 33, was ordained a priest of the Grand Rapids diocese in 2013.

Smolenski and Nolan have had previous run-ins. The judge is one of several parishioners who has criticized some of Nolan’s actions as pastor of the parish; which have included requiring that lectors at parish Masses be Catholics.

In October, Smolenski co-authored a letter to Michigan lawyers raising concerns about Nolan, who is chaplain to the Catholic Lawyer’s Association.

The letter said that Nolan had refused the Eucharist to two women in a same-sex civil marriage.

“This hurtful and humiliating action of publicly denying communion because they are gay has caused much hardship at the parish and in the greater community.”

“This act by Fr. Scott is a clear indication that he will continue to practice selective discrimination against members of our community,” the letter said.

Nevertheless, Smolenski wrote, “We acknowledge Fr. Nolan's right, under the authority of the Church, to deny communion to those who are not in conformity with the teaching of the Church.”

The diocese also recognized that right.

“Father Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish, has dedicated his priesthood to bringing people closer to Jesus Christ. Part of his duty in pursuing that end is to teach the truth as taught by the Catholic Church, and to help it take root and grow in his parish. Mercy is essential to that process, but so are humility and conversion on the part of anyone seeking to live an authentically Catholic Christian life,” the diocesan statement said.


W. Virginia’s scandal-ridden Bishop Bransfield must make amends for ‘betrayal’

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 19:20

Wheeling, W.V., Nov 27, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- The disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield, former head of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, should apologize to his victims of sexual harassment, apologize to the diocese’s Catholic faithful, and repay nearly $800,000 to begin to make amends for his behavior, West Virginia’s new bishop has said.

Bishop Mark Brennan, head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since last year, said Bransfield’s actions have caused “a deep and abiding sense of betrayal” among the faithful of the diocese, clergy and diocesan employees.

“I am grateful for the patience of the good people of this diocese, despite their justified eagerness for some sense of justice and closure to this very tragic chapter of this local Church,” Brennan said in a Nov. 26 letter to the Catholic faithful.

He said he has listened to Catholics’ “anger over the deeply troubling behavior and actions of the former bishop.” He has met with the diocese’s priests and victims of Bransfield’s sexual harassment.

Wheeling-Charleston is West Virginia’s only Roman Catholic diocese. About 1.8 million people live in the state, and about 110,000 of them are Catholic.

Bransfield headed the diocese from 2005-2018. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in September 2018, just after Bransfield turned 75, the mandatory age at which Catholic bishops must offer their resignation.

Pope Francis then ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to investigate allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Virginia. Investigators established that the bishop had engaged in a pattern of sexual malfeasance and serious financial misconduct.

Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his thirteen years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Baltimore in March. In July the Vatican imposed additional sanctions, including a ban on Bransfield living in his former diocese.

Brennan’s latest letter cited the Pope’s requirement that Bransfield make amends for some of the harm he has caused. While Pope Francis instructed Bransfield that the nature and extent of the personal amends are to be decided in consultation with Brennan, Bransfield “has consistently declined to do so,” Brennan said.

“Consequently, I have presented this plan to him,” said the bishop.

Bransfield must make apologies to the victims of sexual harassment for the “severe emotional and spiritual harm” he caused them. He must apologize for the “grievous harm” he has caused to the faithful of the diocese and to the reputation of the Catholic Church in West Virginia. He must apologize to diocesan employees for the “culture of intimidation and retribution” he created.

Bransfield spent nearly one million dollars on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as bishop of his former diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations.

He often travelled with young priests in their twenties. Bransfield was accused of sexual harassment by at least one of his travel companions.

The bishop spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, DC during his time in office.

Bishop Brennan said the diocese believes a request for the $792,000 restitution from Bransfield constitutes “a fair and just amends” to the diocese for “what were clearly and solely personal expenses.” His letter detailed the results of the diocese’s financial reviews and consideration of his personal expenses and expenditures on his “luxurious lifestyle.” The proposed restitution does not include the $110,000 penalty Bransfield owes the IRS.

All proceeds would go to a special fund to provide counseling, care and support for sexual abuse victims, Brennan said.

Instead of receiving an ordinary bishop’s stipend, Bransfield must accept a stipend of only $736 per month, equal to the stipend of a retired priest who has served 13 years in the diocese. The diocese will still provide his Medicare supplemental health care coverage, but Bransfield must pay for his pharmacy benefit plan and must be personally responsible for long-term health care and disability policies.

Bransfield must either purchase or return the car he was provided upon his retirement. He may not be buried within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s diocesan cemetery upon his death.

“I wish to make clear that it is not my intention to impoverish the former bishop,” Brennan said.

“While not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for the former bishop’s excessive expenditure of diocesan funds, I believe that this amount reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’ requirement that Bishop Bransfield make ‘amends for some of the harm that he has caused’.”

If Bransfield accepts the proposed effort to make amends, it would be “an act of restorative justice” from him. The proposal “is also for his own spiritual good and his own healing as a man who professes to follow Christ,” Brennan said.

It is now up to Bransfield whether to accept these measures and “accept responsibility for his actions which have caused grave harm to this diocese he once led.”

“I have strongly encouraged the bishop to do so and put the well-being of this diocese ahead of his own personal considerations,” said Brennan, who prayed that God’s grace will allow the Catholics of West Virginia to move forward.

In his letter, Brennan noted that the liturgical season of Advent will soon begin. He described Advent as “a time of renewed hope and anticipation” that culminates in Christmas, “the assurance of a new beginning.”

Brennan’s letter drew a response from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who said it was “a step forward.”

Morrisey called on the diocese to release “all of its investigative reports on Bishop Bransfield,” to tighten its child protection measures, and to implement “concrete measures to provide assistance to the many victims of sexual abuse and pedophilia needing medical, social, or mental health services.”
“It is time for the diocese to truly come clean and begin to put this horrific scandal behind it,” said Morrisey, who suggested that the diocese needs prodding from his office.

“The subpoena from our Office is likely the only reason we have a list of diocese (sic) priests who are credibly accused of sexually abusing minors,” said Morrisey.

In a Nov. 27 response, Brennan said the attorney general is aware of the diocese’s “rigorous controls regarding the protection of young people consistent with our Safe Environment program and policy to protect children and young adults.”

The diocese began to review and compile its list of credibly accused clergy in July 2018, several months before the subpoena.

Brennan noted the Nov. 6 decision of the Circuit Court of Wood County, which tossed out Morrisey’s lawsuit against the diocese pending a state Supreme Court ruling on whether it violates protections of church-state separation. That lawsuit took the unusual step of citing consumer protection law in alleging the diocese under Bransfield covered up criminal behavior and employed admitted sexual abusers without adequate background checks.

This court decision was “obviously adverse” to the attorney general, said the bishop, who added “we can only assume this is why he continues to criticize the diocese and the Church.”

This October another allegation surfaced that Bransfield had inappropriately touched a nine-year-old girl during a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., in 2012. A police investigation is underway. Bransfield has denied the accusation.

At least four senior American prelates received financial gifts from Bransfield. These same churchmen also received complaints against him from the West Virginia faithful, the Washington Post reported in July 2019. Archbishop Lori is among the bishops who have said they would return the gifts. He said he would returned $7,500 in gifts he had received from Bransfield in 2012.

Before he was named bishop, Bransfield served as the first rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He is a past treasurer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Some of the bishop’s travels were connected to his work with the Papal Foundation, which supports projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. Bransfield headed the foundation’s board until his retirement last year.

The disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, co-founded the Papal Foundation in 1988. He was credibly accused of sexual abuse in 2018 and later removed from the clerical state by Pope Francis.

Pennsylvania adopts three laws protecting child sex abuse victims

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 15:01

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov 27, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf signed into law Tuesday three bills on child sex abuse, which were recommended by the state’s 2018 grand jury report on allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors.

“These bills will today become law, and victims of one of the most unimaginable forms of abuse will receive the support and rights they deserve,” Wolf said Nov. 26. “And while we celebrate the monumental victory of many survivors of childhood sexual abuse finally receiving their opportunity for justice, we must continue pushing forward until every survivor, of every age, has the chance to tell his or her story.”

The first law abolishes the state’s criminal statute of limitations on child sex abuse and extends the timeline victims have to file civil action against their abusers. It also extends the statutes of limitations for victims age 18-24, and provides funds for counseling services.

The second increases penalties for failure to report child abuse by a mandated reporter, and the third exempts conversations with law enforcement agents from non-disclosure agreements.

A redacted version of the grand jury report was released Aug. 14, 2018. It detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-rite dioceses, following an 18-month investigation into thousands of alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades.

The grand jury report was adopted and issued by the grand jury, but its text was drafted by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

At the bills’ signing, Shapiro said, “These reforms fundamentally change our justice system and will protect generations of children who experience abuse from this day on. While we still must address justice for those survivors who made this day possible, seeing this progress gives me hope that bravery and activism will win over entrenched interests and powerful institutions.”

Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation in the report cannot be criminally prosecuted.

Wolf also supports House Bill 963, which would amend the state constitution to create a two-year revival window in which victims can file civil charges in old cases. The bill must pass two consecutive legislative sessions before it can go on the ballot for voters to amend the constitution.

Phoenix bishop calls for 'humility and courage' to face difficult years ahead

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 14:00

Phoenix, Ariz., Nov 27, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Church must face the fallout of the abuse scandal with humility and courage, Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix has said, while predicting “very difficult” years ahead for the Church.

“We need a spirit of humility, but also courage and praise for the mercy of God who is always present and working within us,” said Olmstead in an interview published in the Catholic Sun Nov. 22 to mark the 50th anniversary of the diocese. 

“There’s a need for a sense of humility, especially with what we have had to face in the terrible scandal,” said Olmstead. “When those who are ordained to serve others are actually taking advantage of others, that’s a horrible scandal.” 

Olmstead said that humility in the face of failures was essential in seeking God’s forgiveness and mercy. 

“The Lord works well in a humble heart. It’s fertile soil for Him to work,” he said. 

In addition to humility, Olmstead said, the Church today must also be courageous, and look to the Bible for guidance on how to persevere through challenging periods.

“It is especially at times when we looked weakest or when things seemed hopeless, like Good Friday, when the biggest explosions of grace and wonder occur,” he said. “That’s true for us now.”

When people surrender their will to God, the bishop explained, “we find He does things we never expected.” These unexpected answers of God “give us courage to trust Him in whatever comes along next.” 

Olmstead has led Phoenix for 16 years--nearly a third of the diocese’s history. He said he had no previous experience of the area upon arriving in Arizona, and was very unsure as to what it would be like to lead the diocese. Despite this, he explained that he feels “very much like the spiritual father” to the Catholic of Phoenix, and that he is “deeply moved by being here.” 

Phoenix is the fastest-growing city in the country, something that Olmstead said has caused him to rely more on his trust in the Lord that things will work out.

“We are growing very, very fast, and if the Lord asks us to live at this time in history, we trust that He gives us the grace to respond at this time in history,” he said. 

The new people arriving to the area are from all over the country and the world, “bringing gifts themselves that are going to be good for us as a community.” It is important that everyone, regardless of origin, seek to learn from each other. Olmstead said that he believed the influx of new people to the diocese has “brought us a broader sense of being Catholic.”

Catholics “are called to go out to all the world,” he said. “In many ways, a lot of the world is coming to us. The one thing that unites us is Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith, and the Catholic faith moves us beyond where we are.” 

Noting that Jesus had ordered people to teach all the nations, Olmstead said that in Phoenix’s case, “a lot of that is to welcome those who are coming here. We go out to those who have come to us, and we welcome them.” 

While Phoenix is growing as a diocese, the bishop’s view of the Church in the coming years is decidedly cloudy.

“I think the years immediately ahead are going to be very difficult,” he said. “We continue to struggle with a large part of society that doesn’t believe in God any longer. So, I think that challenge is there.”

To combat this mentality, Olmstead said that the Church has to be one with “an even deeper rootedness in Christ.” 

“But you know, the light is most brilliant and most wonderful when there’s darkness. We need to expect that the Lord will ask us to have a real, living faith,” he said.

US justice department supports Christian school banned from voucher program

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 13:30

Baltimore, Md., Nov 27, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The United States Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a statement of interest in support of a Christian school in Maryland that says it was banned from a voucher program due to its religious beliefs.

The DOJ said it found no evidence that the school had discriminated against students or violated the rules for religious schools set forth by the voucher program.

Bethel Ministries, an ecclesial community that runs Bethel Christian Academy, filed a lawsuit in June against the Maryland Department of Education, after the department disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) voucher program, which benefits low-income students.

The school claims it was disqualified from the program on account of its religious beliefs in Christian marriage and sexuality, stated in its handbook. The handbook was reviewed by the state’s department of education before the school was banned from the program.

Bethel is a kindergarten through eighth-grade academy with a diverse student population of 85% non-white students, according to the DOJ. It had participated in the BOOST program since the 2016-2017 school year. 

Earlier this month, a federal district court judge denied Maryland's motion to dismiss the school’s lawsuit.

In its Nov. 26 statement, the DOJ said, “The United States is resolutely committed to protecting the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment enshrines both the right to ‘the free exercise’ of religion and ‘the freedom of speech’ at the bedrock of the Nation’s constitutional system. These freedoms lie at the heart of a free society and are the ‘effectual guardian of every other right.’”

The DOJ also noted that it has an interest in enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “which allows the Attorney General to file suit when a school board deprives children of equal protection of the law, or when a public college excludes persons based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The department stated that it found Bethel Christian Academy does not discriminate against its students and that the school’s lawsuit was likely to succeed on the grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“Bethel has introduced a declaration, made under penalty of perjury, stating that it ‘does not ask about, or consider’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression ‘in its student admission decisions,’” the DOJ stated.

“And Bethel has represented to the Court that it ‘has not, and will not, discriminate against any student based on sexual orientation, either in admissions or beyond,’ that ‘Bethel discriminates against no one,’ and that its ‘conduct policies apply equally to every student and only when at school.’”

The school requires all of its students to use facilities according to their biological sex and to refrain from discussions of a sexual nature or from public displays of affection. Its uniform policy has a unisex option with slacks, and an option with dresses or jumpers for girls, if they so choose.

According to the DOJ, beginning in 2019, the BOOST program has prohibited discrimination on the basis of “gender identity or expression,” as well as in “student admissions, retention, or expulsion or otherwise.” “The BOOST program’s nondiscrimination requirement states, however, that it does not ‘require any school or institution to adopt any rule, regulation, or policy that conflicts with its religious or moral teachings,’” the DOJ noted.  The DOJ said that the statement of the school’s beliefs in a Christian view of marriage and sexuality in its handbook does not constitute discrimination, and that the program’s banning of the school constitutes “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

“Although the government may prohibit discriminatory conduct, even when the discriminatory conduct involves some ancillary speech, Defendants have introduced no evidence of discriminatory conduct. Further, Bethel has repeatedly affirmed that it does not, and will not, discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and has squarely represented to the Court that it ‘discriminates against no one,’” the DOJ stated. “Supreme Court and lower court precedent make clear that penalizing Bethel for its beliefs goes beyond regulating conduct to regulating expression in violation of the Free Speech Clause, and coercing Bethel to renounce its religious character in violation of the Free Exercise Clause,” the statement added.

Furthermore, the defendants are violating the school’s right to free speech “by predicating government funds on the nature and expression of Bethel’s beliefs,” the DOJ noted. “For the foregoing reasons, the Court should hold that Bethel has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its free speech and free exercise claims for purposes of its motion for a preliminary injunction,” the DOJ concluded.

The statement was submitted by Reed D. Rubinstein, Principal Deputy General Counsel  for the DOJ, Riddhi Dasgupta and Christine Pratt, attorney advisors for the U.S. Department of Education, Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General, Elliott M. Davis, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Eric W. Treene, Special Counsel for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.

Detroit priest faces lawsuit over homily at suicide victim’s funeral

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 06:00

Detroit, Mich., Nov 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit is facing a lawsuit filed by the parents of a teenager who committed suicide last year.

The parents say Father Don LaCuesta homily at their son’s funeral Mass —during which the priest said multiple times that their son died by suicide, and urged prayers for his soul— caused them “irreparable harm and pain.”

Eighteen-year-old Maison Hullibarger committed suicide Dec. 4, 2018.

On Dec. 8, 2018, LaCuesta celebrated Hullibarger’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Temperance, Michigan.

Maison’s parents, Jeff and Linda Hullibarger, last week filed a lawsuit against LaCuesta, as well as against the Archdiocese of Detroit and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, seeking $25,000 in damages.

“No parent, no sibling, no family member should ever, ever have to sit through what we sat through,” the mother said in a Nov. 14 statement released by the family’s attorneys. 

In his homily, which the archdiocese released in full, the priest said that suicide is an act against God’s will, but he also emphasized the mercy of God in the face of suicide.

“Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth—that taking your own life  is  against  God  who  made  us  and  against  everyone  who  loves  us,” the priest’s homily text said.

“Our lives are not our own.  They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits.”

The homily continued: “On most people's mind, however, especially [those] of us who call ourselves Christians, on our minds as we sit in this place is: Can God forgive and heal this? Yes, God CAN forgive even the taking of one's own life. In fact, God awaits us with his mercy, with ever open arms.”

“God wants nothing but our salvation but will never force himself on us, he will not save us without us. That's how much he loves us. Because of the all embracing sacrifice of Christ on the cross God can have mercy on any sin. Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken.”

According to the lawsuit, the Hullibargers met with LaCuesta before the funeral Mass to discuss the service.

The couple says they told him that they wanted the funeral to be a celebration of their son’s life and his kindness, and that they did not tell the priest, or the general public, that their son had committed suicide.

Maison’s father, Jeff, says he approached the pulpit during the homily and asked LaCuesta to “please stop” talking about suicide, according to the lawsuit, but LaCuesta continued his homily.

Monsignor Robert Dempsey, a pastor in Lake Forest, IL and visiting professor of liturgical law at the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, told CNA that determining the content of the homily for a funeral Mass is the sole responsibility of the homilist, who must always be a bishop, priest, or deacon.

“Although the homilist is solely responsible for the content of his homily, he is obliged to follow the liturgical norms,” Dempsey told CNA in an email.

The Order of Christian Funerals, the Church’s liturgical norms for funerals, states that the homilist at a funeral Mass ought to be “attentive to the grief of those present.” 

“The homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. The homilist should also help the members of the assembly to understand that the mystery of God’s love and the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection were present in the life and death of the deceased and that those mysteries are active in their own lives as well,” the General Introduction to the norms reads. 

Dempsey pointed out that the celebrant, "whenever possible...should involve the family in planning the funeral rites" (Order of Christian Funerals, 17), but the content of the homily is ultimately his responsibility, he said.

“Reasonable requests from a family for privacy and sensitivity should be honored; requests that are contrary to the Church's belief or liturgical discipline should not,” Dempsey said, adding that “no one has a right to hear only those aspects of God's word they agree with or to receive the sacraments according to their own preference or understanding.”

However, Dempsey said that compassion is important for a preacher.

“In the [Detroit] case, a modicum of common sense and human compassion could have avoided a multitude of woes for all concerned. Weddings are not the appropriate time to preach on the immorality of the contraceptive pill; funerals are not a suitable occasion for preaching about the objective immorality of suicide or uncertainty about final perseverance,” Dempsey said.

The Order of Christian Funerals reads in paragraph 16: “In planning and carrying out the funeral rites the pastor and all other ministers should keep in mind the life of the deceased and the circumstances of death.”

“They should also take into consideration the spiritual and psychological needs of the family and friends of the deceased to express grief and their sense of loss, to accept the reality of death, and to comfort one another.”

Dempsey emphasized that the Church’s norms direct the priest to confer with the family in planning a funeral Mass, and “gives specific indications about the nature of the homily to be preached.”

“Moreover, natural justice and pastoral charity suggest that the priest should respect the family's wishes for confidentiality about specific facts regarding the deceased's life and manner [of] death. In cases of suicide, overdose, addiction, the less said the better— even if the family doesn't specifically request confidentiality,” Dempsey said.

Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, chair of pastoral studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California, told CNA that in his view, the immorality of suicide is not preached about enough at funeral Masses.

"I tend to be one who thinks, contrary to the current of public thought, that we don't preach enough about the immorality of suicide,” he told CNA.

“It is not merciful to tell someone that it's okay to commit suicide. It's never merciful to do that. And yet, I think we indirectly do that when we don't preach strong enough, we don't make clear enough, the grave immorality of suicide, and the culpability that can be associated with it."

Father Pietrzyk stressed that we cannot know for certain the state of any deceased person's soul.

"A priest at a funeral is not preaching to the dead. He's preaching to the living. And while one ought not in a sermon condemn the soul of the person being buried— no one wants that— a priest shouldn't dance around the immorality of the issue at stake."

Father Pietrzyk acknowledged the complicating factor that the manner of the young man's death was, according to the couple, not widely known before the funeral.

"If this were not widely known in the community, and the couple wanted to keep the details of this less public, I do think a priest should respect that," he said.

"But if this was widely known in the community that he committed suicide, I think the priest has a moral obligation to touch on the subject. So it just depends on the circumstances of how widely known it was."

He said he always teaches his students that when preaching a funeral, the priest ought to respect the wishes of the family as much as possible.

The family of a deceased person has no strict civil or canonical rights to compel a priest to preach on a certain topic or not to preach on others, he stressed.

"One doesn't preach the truth that the family gives; one preaches the truth of the Church," he said.

"That can involve taking into account the desires and wishes of the family, but it always requires taking on, first and foremost, the mind of Christ and the teachings of the Church."

Father Pietrzyk said he observes many priests, and even some bishops, fostering a sense of the laity having the right to "control" the liturgy, especially in the context of wedding and funeral Masses. But, he said, the Mass does not belong to "the people," but to the Church.

"It's the Church's expression of prayer and grief for the couple," he said.

"It doesn't mean that one ignores the should listen to them attentively. But the wishes of the family cannot supersede the mind of the Church with regards to these matters."

The Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement on the matter Dec. 17, 2018.

“Our hope is always to bring comfort to situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry,” the statement read.

“We...know the family was hurt further by Father’s choice to share Church teaching on suicide, when the emphasis should have been placed more on God’s closeness to those who mourn.”

The archdiocese also announced that for the “foreseeable future,” LaCuesta will not be preaching at funerals and he will have all other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor. In addition, the archdiocese said, he has agreed to “pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.”

The Hullibarger family has said that LaCuesta tried to keep Maison's parents from giving a eulogy for their son during the Mass, even though “that had been agreed on well in advance,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

The archdiocese has not commented on the allegation that LaCuesta agreed to allow the Hullibargers to eulogize their son, and then changed his mind.

The Church’s norms officially prohibit the practice of giving eulogies during a funeral Mass, but Monsignor Dempsey said the Church’s liturgical norms offer the possibility of a member or a friend of the family to speak in remembrance of the deceased following the prayer after communion and before the final commendation begins.

He said the possibility of offering a “remembrance” is often determined by diocesan statute.

“The Catholic funeral is not a ‘celebration of life’ of the deceased, but a celebration of the baptized believer's participation in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Dempsey explained.

“The words of ‘remembrance’ should be brief and should focus on how the deceased bore witness in his [or] her life to what we profess in the paschal mystery.”

The funeral norms for the Archdiocese of Detroit acknowledge the possibility of a ‘remembrance’ at Mass in keeping with the OCF norms, but emphasizes that “those words should not be a eulogy.” The Detroit norms also state that the Vigil for the Deceased, or the memorial luncheon or reception that often follows the funeral, is an appropriate place for family and friends to offer their own words or stories.

Whether or not it was a ‘remembrance’ at the Mass that LaCuesta promised the family rather than a eulogy, and whether or not LaCuesta later tried to prevent them from doing so, remains unclear.

Following the funeral, the Hullibargers had complained to the Archdiocese of Detroit, asking that LaCuesta be removed.

The Hullibargers said in the lawsuit that they were granted a meeting with Archbishop Allen Vigneron after the funeral, but claim that the archbishop cut the meeting short when the mother began discussing Father LaCuesta.

Father Pietrzyk also said that in his view, the civil lawsuit should is not likely to succeed because “no court, not in Michigan, not in federal court, and certainly not the Supreme Court, is going to sustain this kind of tort action, and they're certainly never going to require the Church to remove a particular priest.”

"The couple might have legitimate disagreements with the homily and the way the funeral was treated, but the idea that this is a legal matter, the idea that the courts should be getting involved in this, is just contrary to all of the Constitutional precedence of the US. It's not going to go anywhere, and nor should it," he commented.

"Even if one is sympathetic to [the couple's] plight, as one should be sympathetic to the plight of any parent who's lost a child, the question of the civil, legal rights is another matter. So I do think one can and must criticize the civil lawsuit, even if one has a great deal of sorrow and sympathy for the couple."

Father LaCuesta declined to comment to CNA on the ongoing case, referring questions to the archdiocese.


In Mexico, thousands renew consecration to Christ the King

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 02:05

Guanajuato, Mexico, Nov 27, 2019 / 12:05 am (CNA).- More than 10,000 lay Catholics in Mexico renewed their consecration to Christ the King at a special Mass and ceremony over the weekend.

The event was held at the foot of the Christ the King monument in Bicentennial Park, located in Silao, Guanajuato state. It was held on November 23, the eve of the Solemnity of Christ the King as part of the “Day of Laity” celebrations that also honored Blessed Anacleto González Flores, a martyr of the Cristero War, whom the bishops have chosen as the patron of the laity.

Archbishop Franco Coppola, apostolic nuncio in Mexico, presided over a Mass for the event, which was concelebrated by Archbishop Alfonso Cortés of León, Bishop Gerardo Díaz Vázquez, who serves as president of the president of FAJULAVI (Commission on Family, Young People, Adolescents and Life), and Bishop Víctor Alejandro Aguilar Ledesma, president of the bishops’ ministry to the laity, as well as a large group of priests.

The event also included a concert, theatrical performance, testimonies, and various presentations.

Organizers explained that the consecration to Christ as King was particularly meaningful given the “terrible culture of death” facing the Mexican people, manifested through “a powerful threat to life, the family, fundamental freedoms, the death of so many innocent people at the hands of organized crime, and the ever-growing rate of abortions in our country.”

“Along with all of that, we have also suffered the terrible pain of receiving the news of the death of our brother priests and desecrations and sacrileges in our churches, for which this very day we also make an act of reparation to Jesus in the Eucharist,” they said.

Violence against priests has been denounced as a major problem in Mexico. Some two dozen priests have been killed in the country since 2012, according to reports.

Other Christ the King events were also held throughout Mexico, including in San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Yucatán, and Mexico City.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Papal honors for Courage director point to clear Catholic witness

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 20:01

Bridgeport, Conn., Nov 26, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Papal honors for Father Phillip Bochanski have been announced, and the priest says they are a recognition of the Courage apostolate’s ministry for people with same-sex attraction at a time when the world and even parts of the Catholic Church are unsupportive, confusing, or hostile to their desire to live the Catholic faith in its fullness.

“In this apostolate I’ve met some of the most dedicated people I know. People who at great personal sacrifice are following Jesus with what I would say is heroic virtue,” Bochanski told CNA Nov. 26. “For me it’s been a real blessing to be able to a spiritual father to them.”

Since 2017, Bochanski has been executive director of the Bridgeport, Conn.-based Courage International. The Courage apostolate provides pastoral support, prayer support, and fellowship for people with same-sex attraction who want to live chaste lives according to Catholic teaching.

On Nov. 25, the Philadelphia archdiocese announced that Bochanski was among four people honored with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, an honor given to Catholics over age 45 with a history of long and distinguished service to the Church and to the office of the pope.

“The thought that the Holy Father is willing to extend the award, knowing that my nomination must have had a lot to do with my work at Courage, means a great deal to me,” Bochanski told CNA.

The Courage apostolate has grown since its founding in New York in 1980. It is currently present in more than 15 countries, with about 110 chapters in the U.S. alone. It also has an outreach to parents and spouses, called EnCourage.

Bochanski said the work of Courage includes pastoral care to people who have same-sex attraction and providing formation to clergy and others in ministry “to understand and appreciate the teachings of the Church... and to be able to explain them well.”

Bochanski reflected on the present-day difficulties in ministry related to sexual morality and same-sex attraction.

“There’s a significant amount of opposition that the Church’s teaching receives from the secular world, of course, but even in recent years it’s not always clear that everyone within the Church acknowledges and accepts the goodness and the truth of those teachings,” he said.

The priest, who was ordained in 1999 for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said he was nominated for the papal honors by his archbishop, Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. He received a letter from Chaput informing him of the honors.

“It caught me completely by surprise,” he said. “It meant a great deal to me of course to receive it.”

A Nov. 25 statement from the Philadelphia archdiocese said Bochanski “has worked tirelessly, with compassion and great sensitivity, to advance Church teaching on human sexuality, and gained national respect for the Courage apostolate in the process.”

Bochanski voiced gratitude both to Pope Francis and to Chaput, who will bestow the Cross on the priest on the pope’s behalf at a Dec. 9 Vespers at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia .

“To know that (Chaput) notices the work I’m doing here at Courage means a great deal to me,” said Bochanski, who added that Archbishop Chaput has “always been very supportive of my participation in the apostolate.”

The Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, Bochanski said, is a reminder that the Courage apostolate is living and teaching in harmony with the Church and with the Church’s expectations for pastoral care and ministry.

He hoped the honors will provide clarity, both for Courage members and for others who “may be confused by some of the ambiguities and the controversies in the world and in the Church with regard to those teachings.”

Bochanski said the main difficulty for the Catholics in Courage is is that the secular world and some parts of the Church “don’t value the sacrifices that our members are making in terms of living chaste lives and starting to pursue holiness according to the mind of the Church.”

“Some of our members, in coming back to the Church and embracing a chaste life, lost a lot of friends they had before,” he said. “People don’t understand why they would follow a Catholic teaching that requires so much sacrifice.” For many, this means choosing a celibate life that “certainly requires a new way of looking at themselves and relationships.”

“They’ve had that experience of being misunderstood or even pushed aside because of the commitments that they are making to the Church,” said Bochanski. Such attitudes can provide obstacles for those who “don’t feel support from people around them and sometimes from people in the hierarchy of the Church.”

Bochanski also praised the Christian witness of Courage members, whether in public or private.

”Many want to be private about their experience but an increasing number are willing to speak about how participating in Courage and living according to Church teaching have changed their lives,” he told CNA. “A number of them talk about how they feel much more free to be themselves, to have strong friendships, to live fully alive because they are embracing this invitation to chastity.”

Some members have reported that people who tried to affirm them in their attractions and desires only increased their unhappiness.

“The fact that people weren't giving them the truth about their identity and morality was making that much worse.” said Bochanski.

“When they hear the teaching of the Church that our identity is not in our sexual orientation but in our identity as sons and daughters of God, and that God’s plan for chaste relationships is meant to build this up and lead us to fulfillment, it’s a real liberation. They experience a great real freedom by embracing their Church’s teachings.”

Others can learn from Courage members, he said.

“Whether people themselves are experiencing same-sex attraction, just to see the witness of our members who are living in such a heroic way inspires all of us to take our own commitment to holiness more seriously and to be always growing in our ongoing conversion, our ongoing acceptance of God’s plan for each our lives,” said the priest.

“People who are living that in a radical way, which many of our Courage members are doing at real personal sacrifice, can become a real inspiration and encouragement to pursue our universal call to holiness,” he added.

Church teaching on sexual morality is “really coming from a great love and desire that people live an authentic, happy and holy life,” the priest explained. “That would be a counter-witness to people who would suggest that the Church teaching is harmful or hateful.”

After his ordination, Bochanski was a pastoral associate in several Philadelphia parishes and a chaplain for the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, the Catholic Medical Association’s Philadelphia guild, and the Courage apostolate’s Philadelphia chapter.

He joined Courage International in 2016 as associate director.

Courage and EnCourage will host its next Truth and Love Conference, intended for those in Catholic ministry, in Sterling, Va., April 27-29. The Courage and EnCourage annual conference will be held in Mundelein, Ill.,, July 23-26.

In 2020 the Courage apostolate will mark the 40th anniversary of its first meeting on Sept. 26, 1980 with an anniversary Mass at the Church of St. Joseph in New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is scheduled to celebrate the anniversary Mass, Bochanski told CNA.

Louisiana says abortion clinic is hiding criminal evidence

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 18:19

Baton Rouge, La., Nov 26, 2019 / 04:19 pm (CNA).- The Louisiana Department of Justice is asking an appeals court to unseal documents from abortion provider June Medical Services (Hope Medical Group) in order to report evidence of criminal and professional misconduct against a staff member of the group that the department says was hidden from the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Louisiana Department of Justice filed the writ of mandamus with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Nov. 18, according to the department’s website. The staff member in question worked at a Shreveport abortion clinic.

Hope Medical Group filed three lawsuits against abortion restriction laws in Louisiana, including a pending suit before the Supreme Court challenging a law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

"I am deeply concerned about the basic health and safety of Louisiana women. And Hope's continued efforts to hide this information from the Supreme Court and to block reporting to proper authorities casts serious doubt on Hope and its abortion providers' claims that it represents the interests of Louisiana women,” Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill said in a statement on the state’s DOJ website.

“As DOJ officers, if we learn of potentially criminal activity during litigation, we have a legal obligation to report it to criminal investigators and licensing authorities. We also have a basic legal duty to protect the public from dangerous behavior when we learn of it. Shockingly, Hope Medical Group is refusing to unseal this evidence and permit us to carry out our legal duties," Murrill added.

The Louisiana DOJ added in the statement that ordinarily, the evidence they uncovered against the staff member would have resulted in a criminal referral, but that referral has thus far been impeded by the sealing of documents by a federal judge in the case.

The law being challenged at the Supreme Court by Hope Medical Group in Gee v. June Medical Services, LLC is Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act.

When then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law in 2014, it was promptly challenged in court by pro-choice groups and activists. Texas had passed similar regulations in the name of protecting women’s health, but the Texas law was eventually struck down in the Supreme Court’s 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In Hellerstedt, the court ruled that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state, as it had decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that state abortion laws could not pose such an obstacle.

The court said in 2016 that for Texas abortion clinics, such a “working arrangement” was already in place with hospitals in the state, and that the provision forced the closure of around half the clinics in the state.

After Hellerstedt, a district court barred the Louisiana law from going into effect.

That decision was reversed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Gee, which ruled that the Louisiana case sufficiently differed from the Texas case so that the Supreme Court decision was not applicable on a like-for-like basis. The court in January denied a motion for a rehearing of the case.

The Circuit Court noted in its decision that the Louisiana law varied from the Texas law because of differing requirements between the states for doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

“Few Louisiana hospitals” required a doctor to see a minimum number of patients in order to have admitting privileges, unlike in Texas where “almost all” hospitals had such requirements, the court said. While most clinics in Texas closed because of its law, “only one doctor at one clinic is currently unable to obtain privileges” in Louisiana, the court noted, though this claim has been disputed by Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups.

In February, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from going into effect, after a petition from abortion providers and activists. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case in early 2020.

Mary can renew the family and the parish, new USCCB evangelization chair says

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 12:00

Baltimore, Md., Nov 26, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Mary must be our key to the New Evangelization in the U.S., the incoming head of the U.S. bishops’ evangelization committee says.

“The greatest evangelization that ever happened in the history of the world was when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in what is now Mexico City, and converted seven million people within ten years,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, told CNA in an interview at the recent fall meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“So divine help is the ultimate goal,” he said.

Bishop Cozzens was elected as the chairman of the Committee on Evangelization of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the recent fall assembly in Baltimore, from Nov. 11-13.

He will succeed Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, in the role. Barron has served as chairman of the committee since the fall of 2017.

During his tenure, Barron emphasized the challenge of evangelizing the “nones,” or Americans who do not affiliate with any religion. In a presentation to fellow bishops in June of 2019, Barron noted that for every convert to the Catholic Church, more than six people are leaving the church.

The problem of religious disaffiliation is especially marked among young people. According to the Pew Research Center, more than four-in-ten Millennials are religiously unaffiliated.

Cozzens credited Barron with keeping the issue prominent as the bishops’ conference simultaneously responded to the renewed clergy sexual abuse crisis.

“I’d love to see us, as a bishops’ conference, take the problem head-on and come together in various ways,” Cozzens said, while stressing that evangelization at the parish level is the primary aim, together with strengthening families. He said that Marian devotion will be critical to any success.

“Teaching that Mary’s role in our faith and in the family can really help strengthen families” is essential, he told CNA.

As the Church responds to a rise in the “nones” and in Catholics leaving the church, a key question needs to be “how do we make our Catholics missionary disciples?” Cozzens asked.

This needs to be done at the “grassroots level,” he said, noting efforts which have been underway by groups like Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), St. Paul’s Outreach, the Neocatechumenal Way, and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

This involves “helping lead people to that encounter and that formation they need to be able to send forth people as evangelizers,” he said.

Another development during Barron’s tenure as evangelization chair was the V Encuentro, a national gathering of Hispanic Catholic leaders, held in September of 2018.

The future of the Church in the U.S. will largely be tied to the Hispanic community, but, in October, Pew reported that Catholics no longer constitute a majority among Hispanics in America.

“The whole basis of the Encuentro process was forming missionary disciples,” Cozzens said, “so that process, as it goes forward, is really intended to form leaders who would be able to help our young people, especially our Latino young people.”

“In some ways, I find it much easier to evangelize than your average American young person,” Cozzens said of the Hispanic Catholic community in the U.S. “They’re very open. But we have to do it.”

'Once the Church is persecuted, the faith becomes alive': a pastor's story

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- As he helps his flock recover from the horrific bombing of their cathedral in Jolo, in the Philippines, earlier this year, Monsignor Romeo Saniel, OMI, said a miraculous event 17 years ago prepared him for his enormous task of the present.

On May 4, 2002, Saniel was on foot distributing Holy Communion to parishioners in downtown Jolo. He noticed two young men approaching him from behind before one of them drew out a pistol.

Saniel felt the gun against the back of his head and heard a loud click—the weapon had jammed. His security escort immediately jumped in to save him, and the assailants ran away.

It took Saniel several years to tell his mother about the near-death experience. What she said back to him changed his life.

At the date and time of his assassination attempt, his mother said she was immobilized with a fever. Feeling that “one of her children was in danger,” she knelt and prayed her rosary.

“I think that rosary, the prayer of my mother, saved me,” Saniel told CNA.

What happened next was a lengthy process of grief, healing, and preparation for a much greater burden to come.

“I was so afraid to go out,” he told CNA, “and I was really full of resentment and anger” toward the assailants. He received treatment for his post-traumatic stress, moving through the various stages of trauma from anger to denial and, ultimately, to forgiveness.

“With much prayer and maybe assistance from counselors, I was able to forgive my assailants, realizing that Jesus Himself was persecuted, forgave those who persecuted Him,” he said.

“With that wound, with that pain, I discovered God was calling me for another mission,” he said.

Monsignor Saniel spoke with CNA in Washington, D.C. last week before he delivered a presentation at a vespers service at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Nov. 23 on “A Night of Witness.”

The event was hosted by Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation that serves persecuted Catholics and the poor in 145 countries.

Nearly 17 years after his his brush with death, Saniel was appointed by Pope Francis as apostolic administrator to the Vicariate of Jolo—a territory not yet a diocese, and one which includes an archipelago at southern end of the Phillippines in a heavily-Muslim region.

One month after his appointment, on January 27, 2019, Islamic militants bombed the cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, killing 26 Mass-attendees and injuring 116. The regional ISIS-affiliated terror group Abu Sayyaf took credit for the attacks.

The ceiling and roof of the cathedral was destroyed; pews were scattered in the sanctuary and blood was everywhere, Saniel said. It was a horrific sight, so much so that the bodies of the dead could not be recognized.

Just one month into his assignment, Saniel was tasked with ministering to a flock reeling in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

A day after the bombing, Pope Francis sent him a message through the papal nuncio to the Philippines. He gave Monsignor Saniel three instructions.

“Number one, make sure that the victims do not feel abandoned by the Church,” Saniel said, and also “to take good care of the victims” and their families.

Finally, the pope told him to “make sure also that this bombing of your cathedral shall not destroy the good relationships between Muslims and Christians built throughout the years.”

The cathedral has been mostly rebuilt, thanks to donations from the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need, and local bishops, among others. On July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, it reopened.

Now, however, the task remains of “rebuilding of the lives of those who have died,” Saniel said—initiating trauma healing sessions for survivors, prioritizing housing facilities for the homeless, and granting educational scholarships for children who lost their parents in the bombing.

“Sometimes people ask ‘where was God during this attack?’” he said. “I think gradually we will be able to discover the purpose and the reason.”

Even in the midst of death and destruction, survivors saw miracles. The cathedral choir was supposed to sing from the loft at the Sunday Mass the day of the attacks—directly above the bomb. At the last minute, the choir moved downstairs and in front of the congregation because the microphone in the loft couldn’t be found.

“People will say, ‘of course it was Bishop Ben who took the microphone,” Saniel said of Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, the former bishop in the area who was assassinated in 1997 in front of the cathedral and whose cause for canonization has been requested by local Catholics. The bishop’s picture was hanging on the wall of the church, never touched by the bomb’s explosion, Saniel said.

And outside the cathedral now sits a statue of the Blessed Mother.

“I believe the Muslims won’t destroy anything when there is an image of Mary, because in the Quran, there are more passages about Mary than the Bible,” he said. “Even fanatics will not destroy the church, because they are afraid.”

Saniel’s third instruction from Pope Francis was to ensure the integrity of Catholic-Muslim relations in the region.

Although the Phillippines is around 85% Christian, only around three percent of the population of Jolo is Catholic, Saniel said, with Muslims comprising the vast majority of the population.

Yet there is much interreligious dialogue and respect between Catholics and Muslims in the area, Saniel said, and they appear determined not to let Abu Sayyaf terrorists drive a wedge in between neighbors. The tragedy brought about solidarity in suffering.

In the wake of the bombing, relations between the communities are even “stronger and greater” than before. At the funerals of Christian bombing victims, over half of the attendees were Muslims, he said, crying and mourning the “death of their friends in the neighborhood.”

“When we are in pain, we begin to set aside our differences, and the pain unites all of us even beyond religion,” he said. “We were in pain because of the bombing, but the Muslims have suffered a lot for the past 40 years.” A 40 year-long Moro separatist conflict in the area, in which Abu Sayyaf is a key player, has claimed more than 120,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

“Once the Church is persecuted, the faith of Christians becomes alive,” he said. “In the First World today, churches are empty, no vocations,” he said. “Their faith is not challenged and tested.”

In Jolo, where only three percent of the population is Christian, “every day, our faith is tested. It becomes real,” he said.

Pope Francis appoints new bishop of Gary, Indiana

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 09:10

Gary, Ind., Nov 26, 2019 / 07:10 am (CNA).- Msgr. Robert J. McClory has been appointed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, the Vatican announced on Tuesday, Nov. 26. 

The Diocese of Gary, in northwestern Indiana, is part of the metropolitan province of Indianapolis. The diocese is home to 170,203 Catholics and has been sede vacante since April 25, when Bishop Donald J. Hying was named the new bishop of the Diocese of Madison. McClory will be consecrated and installed as the new bishop of Gary on Feb. 11, 2020. 

McClory was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit on May 22, 1999, and was given the honorific title “monsignor” in 2005. He has been the pastor of the parish of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, MI, since July 2017. McClory celebrated his first Mass at the shrine in 1999. 

“I am honored and humbled that the Holy Father has appointed me as the bishop of Gary. During this week in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, my heart is full of gratitude that he has entrusted me to serve the people of northwest Indiana,” Bishop-elect McClory said in a statement published by the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

“I look forward to getting to know the needs of our local church and, together, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ,” he added. 

A native of Detroit, McClory has a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School and worked as a civil lawyer from 1991 until 1994, when he entered seminary. He received a bachelor's degree in sacred theology in 1998 from Gregorian University in Rome, and received a canon law license from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome in 2000. 

Since his ordination, McClory has been assigned to parishes throughout the archdiocese of Detroit. Since 2001, he has been a judge of the Detroit Metropolitan Tribunal, and he has taught canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary since 2002. 

From 2009 until 2018, MCClory served as the Moderator of the Curia and Vicar General in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He has also acted as a consultant for the Catholic Leadership Institute, and served as a priest-observer for Region VI for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement early Tuesday morning congratulating McClory for his appointment. USCCB Vice President Archbishop Allen Vigneron praised McClory as a “zealous priest who generously devotes all the talents God has blessed him with to the ministry of spreading the Gospel.” 

“The pastors and people of the Church of Gary will find themselves blessed by his service,” said Vigneron. “We, the priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit, send him on mission with our heartfelt prayers.”

Anchorage looks to eliminate homelessness with help of grant from Amazon CEO

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 05:01

Anchorage, Alaska, Nov 26, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- A multi-million dollar grant could help Catholic Social Services of Anchorage and its partners bring the homeless population of that city to “functional zero.”

“This grant will make an enormous impact on our community by expanding the work Catholic Social Services does every day to support families in homelessness to transition to permanent stability,” Lisa Aquino, executive director of CSS, said Nov. 22.

“We believe that this funding will propel us, together with our partners, to achieve functional zero in family homelessness in the Anchorage area.”

The $5 million dollar grant came from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund, which awards one-time grants to organizations that are making an impact on homeless populations. This year, it awarded a total of $98.5 million in grants to 32 organizations working with the homeless population throughout the United States.

Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska, with 294,356 people. Of that population, about 92 families are in the city’s homelessness system at a given time, Aquino told local news station KTUU.

“That number has pretty much stayed the same over the past years,” Aquino told KTUU, as some families have been rehoused while others have become homeless.

Currently, there’s room in the Anchorage rehousing system to serve about 60 families per year.

Jasmine Boyle, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, told KTUU she thinks the grant could help CSS and its local partners to bring the homeless population to essentially zero.

“This, I believe, will allow us to either get darn close to, or solve family homelessness...In partnership with two other local initiatives that we have in our community,” she said.

“Clare House is our safe place; I’m very comfortable here,” Shanna, who stayed at Clare House, a CSS shelter and now is rehoused, said in the CSS statement about the grant. “I don’t know where we would be without the help of Catholic Social Services. I’m so grateful that they are here.”

Aquino told KTUU that while the grant is for CSS, it will serve the whole community because “we could never do this alone.”

Partners of CSS include the Coalition to End Homelessness, Salvation Army, United Way, and other service providers who serve the gamut of needs of the homeless.

“What I’ve seen firsthand is that the intent is for Catholic Social Services to take the lead in convening partners in the community so that we’re building systems to address family homelessness,” Boyle told KTUU.

The grant will also be used for a homelessness prevention program, which would provide families with rent assistance or other one-time needs that may prevent them from ending up on the streets, Boyle said.

Such “diversion programs”, as they are calle,d “help people seeking shelter identify immediate alternate housing arrangements, often on the phone or before they even enter shelter. These programs focus on eliminating the footprint in the system and keeping families who just need a little support right now, get it and not have to come to the shelter,” the CSS statement noted.

Because the Day 1 Families grant is a one-time donation, Aquino said she hopes that it will encourage more donations in the future, especially after state budget cuts threatened to dramatically decrease funding for CSS and other homeless service providers earlier this year.

“The more that we can demonstrate its success, and show partners in the community how much this helps, then I think that we'll be able to find other funding to support it in an ongoing way,” Aquino told KTUU.

Senators reportedly blocked Armenian genocide resolutions at White House request

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Congressional resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide were reportedly blocked by Republican senators at the direction of the White House.

Axios reported Saturday that a resolution recognizing the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire that had overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives was recently blocked from moving forward in the Senate by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), after the White House requested he do so.

The House passed the resolution recognizing the genocide Oct. 29, just over two weeks before an official visit of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House. The resolution sponsored by Rep. Adan Schiff (D-Calif.) said it is U.S. policy to recognize and commemorate the Armenian genocide.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians praised the resolution as “a clear condemnation of the Turkish government’s denial of the atrocities committed by their predecessor’s against Christians.”

The resolution was a controversial topic around Erdogan’s visit to the White House.

In a joint press conference with President Trump Nov. 13, Erdogan said the resolution was one of the “allegations” that “hurt deeply the Turkish nation.”

“The decision makers in an incident that took place about 104 years ago should not be politicians, but historians. We have nothing to hide, and we have a full self-esteem in that regard,” he said.

“I believe the Senate will take this -- take the United States out of this vicious cycle, which happened as a result of the resolution of the House of Representatives,” he said.

Many scholars have recognized the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923 by name; in that span, the Armenian minority—mostly Christians—in eastern Anatolia was systematically displaced and annihilated by the Ottoman Empire. The death toll of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs is estimated to be around 1.5 million.
Turkey has long denied that genocide took place, claiming the number of deaths is far less than estimated and that they were largely due to conflicts related to World War I.

On the centenary of the genocide in 2015, the Vatican published its archive of documents related to its work helping the genocide victims in the region. Pope Francis has also referred to the killings as genocide several times.

The House resolution would have established it as U.S. policy that the genocide took place. However, the White House reportedly did not want to let the resolution torpedo its efforts to get Turkey to reject an S-400 missile system from Russia.

Graham told Axios he was asked by the White House to block the resolution in the Senate; another resolution that was introduced in the Senate which recognized the genocide was also blocked by Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) reportedly at the request of the White House.