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Border dioceses prepare to aid migrants heading to U.S. in caravans

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Nov 1, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Catholic agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border are bolstering refugee aid efforts as thousands of people in multiple migrant caravans continue to trek north through Mexico to the border.

Thousands of migrants, primarily from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, started multiple caravans to the United States border earlier this month in order to seek asylum. While the caravans are still weeks out, Catholic charities along the border are preparing for an increased influx of refugees.

Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for Catholic Community Services in Tucson, Arizona told CNA that while they are monitoring the caravans, the agency is accustomed to receiving and helping large numbers of migrants with food and clothing, and then connecting them to their family in the U.S.

“In Arizona and all along the southern border last week there have been large numbers of releases anyway,” Cavendish told CNA.

“They (ICE) released upwards of 1,100 people in Arizona within a week, and that was around the first weekend through the middle of the month here in October, so that kind of rapid response on a mass scale is something that we have experience with,” she said.

The largest of the migrant caravans currently en route started in Honduras mid-October with about 160 people, and peaked at about 7,000 people. At this point, an estimated 2,000 or more migrants have either fallen behind or have decided to stay in Mexico, which has offered some work and health care benefits.

The Honduras caravan sparked others, including a group of about 200 people from El Salvador who are now also making the trek north to the U.S.

Cavendish told CNA that when Catholic Community Services (CCS) receives refugees who have been released by ICE, the first thing they do is “reaffirm their human dignity, we make sure they understand that they’re safe and welcome and give them a hot meal and something to drink.”

These refugees then spend about 24 hours in a CCS-established shelter while they are provided with food, clothing and shelter while arrangements are made to get them to their families in the U.S.

“Everyone who comes to us has sponsors here in the United States, and so we help them to reach out to their families and we help make their travel arrangements,” she said.

Every asylum seeker has 15 days of what is called “humanitarian parole” during which they are expected to connect with their families and attend their first immigration hearing.

Cavendish said that CCS provides those in their care with information about their legal rights, as well as on resources available to them in their destination city.

The migrant caravans are still weeks away from reaching the United States, but Cavendish said that CCS plans to employ essentially the same efforts that they have used in the past when there have been large numbers of migrant releases from ICE.

“We’ve had to do things like work with large church groups, and open up gymnasiums,” she said. She recalled several occasions where ICE released several hundred people at a time, and CCS rented out hotel rooms and provided services for the migrants there.

“So for us as we’re considering something like a caravan and how you would respond to that, it’s going to be deploying those same types of efforts,” she said.

Tucson is located further north and west than the Diocese of Las Cruces in New Mexico, or the five border dioceses of Texas. Cavendish said while at first the Honduras caravan was expected to land in Arizona, now it seems it will head toward the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. ICE will transfer migrants to other locations as needed, if aid facilities become too overwhelmed, she said.

In the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Catholic Charities Executive Director Antonio Fernandez told local media that the agency is planning to take 200 refugees from detention centers in Laredo and El Paso in order to free up room for migrants from the caravans.

Fernandez also asked for increased donations of food, water and clothing as the agency prepares for the influx of refugees. "We help everybody, we are not here to judge," Fernandez told Channel 4 News of San Antonio.

Jordan McMorrough of the Archdiocese of San Antonio told CNA that the archdiocese plans to partner with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley based in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas to help with migrant caravan relief efforts.

McMorrough said the archdiocese is still monitoring the specifics of the situation to know how many people to expect and how that will affect their efforts, but he said the caravans are not unlike other surges of migrants that they’ve seen in the past.

Brenda Riojas, the media relations director for the Diocese of Brownsville, told CNA that Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is also keeping an eye on the migrant caravan situation.

“Sister Norma Pimentel (the executive director of CCRGV) and hundreds of volunteers (Catholics and other faiths communities) are continuing their day to day efforts at the Respite Center that has been receiving up to 550 to 600 people a day,” she said.

“We are also in close contact with shelters on the Mexican side of the border and will be sending donations their way.”

Deacon Lonnie Briseno, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told CNA that he is concerned the migrant caravan could overwhelm an already-full immigration relief system.

“Our hands are full right now with the overflow that are currently in our system,” he told CNA.

“Our ICE detention facilities on the border are completely full, you’re having double the people in a cell that was it was designed for, so we’re talking about parents with children, parents with infants,” he said.

“And so what ICE does then is they release them on their own recognizance, so we received an email, and today is the day we run a shelter. So they released 260 refugees, and the church I work with tonight will receive 40,” Briseno said.

Different parishes in the Las Cruces area volunteer to serve as a temporary 24-hour shelters for the migrants throughout the week. Like CCS in Tucson, the shelters in Las Cruces feed and clothe the migrants, and help connect them with family and transportation.

The parishes that trade off hosting the migrants are very active parishes, Briseno said, and so they can typically only house migrants for their allotted 24 hour period.

What concerns Briseno is what happens when both ICE and the parishes run out of room.

“On Friday they released 75 refugees in downtown El Paso, no money, no phone, no food, no shelter,” he said.

Briseno said that he had spent time in meetings with other diocesan leaders about the migrant caravans, and he said the diocese hopes to have three more temporary shelters available by the time the caravans arrive.

“I’m also hoping that other faith organizations and non-faith organizations will step forward and say hey, we want to shelter once a week,” he said.

Briseno said the diocese is also hoping for additional donations ahead of the migrant caravan.

“We’re always in need of donations to feed and clothe and provide toiletries,” he said.

Sometimes a migrant’s family in the U.S. will send money for transportation, he said, but won’t be able to provide money for meals or a phone while the migrants are travelling.

“I hate to send a single mom with two little kids on a bus without a phone, so those monetary donations are always needed,” he said.

In light of the likely increase of asylum seekers in coming weeks, “it’s really important that the Catholic churches practice the corporal works of mercy, Matthew 25,” Briseno added.

“It’s just so important that we rise to the challenge, regardless of what we believe individually politically or how we see the situation,” he said.

“The truth is that we have brothers and sisters who are in need of basic hospitality.”

Abortion still at issue in several midterm races

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The issue of abortion has played a surprisingly limited role in campaigns for midterm and gubernatorial elections, this despite predictions by pro-abortion advocates that the Supreme Court could be poised to revisit the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade.

But while the issue has had a low profile in national campaigning, there have been several notable exceptions in individual races.

On Halloween, as parents/kids return home to enjoy the evening together, this is the mail piece that my opponent's campaign & @nydems thought was most fitting to greet them in their mailbox. It's the most disgusting mail piece I've ever seen in any campaign I have been a part of.

— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) October 31, 2018 Incumbent Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who represents New York’s 1st district, was the subject of an especially pointed political attack for his pro-life views. The New York State Democratic Committee sent out a mailer containing a picture of a wire hanger, labeled as “Lee Zeldin’s plan for women’s healthcare.”


Zeldin called the campaign “the most disgusting mail piece I’ve ever seen in any campaign that I have been a part of.”


The second-term congressman has a pro-life record over his time in the House of Representatives, and responded angrily in a tweet.


Polls have shown Zeldin with a narrow lead over Democratic candidate Perry Gershon.


In New Hampshire, in a congressional debate for the state’s 2nd district, Republican challenger Steve Negron confronted incumbent Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D) about her pro-abortion views. Negron describes himself as pro-life without exceptions, and refused to say if he would permit an abortion to save the life of the mother.


Negron said that advances in prenatal care make it so that these situations are rare, and that “right now, we don’t get to this point where it’s so draconian that we have to make a decision that it’s the life of a mother or the life of a child.”


Kuster defended the legality of abortion by saying that she did not feel it was something for the government to decide, and that it was “one of the most personal decisions” someone could make. Kuster, who worked for over two decades as an adoption attorney, said that she had worked with more than 300 women facing unplanned pregnancies, said that “it’s not the government’s choice whether they would carry a baby to term, whether they would terminate a pregnancy or whether they would place a baby for adoption.”


Kuster is expected to be reelected for her fourth term in Congress, and is polling well above Negron and Libertarian candidate Justin O’Donnell.


Two Senate candidates in Indiana, incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) and Republican Mike Braun, clashed over abortion during an Oct. 30 debate in which both tried to paint their opponent as inconsistent in their opposition to abortion.


Both are running as pro-life candidates, with Donnelly one of the few-remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress. Donnelly was endorsed by Democrats for Life of America, but the National Right to Life Committee gave him a score of just 40 percent in their 2018 Senatorial scorecard.


In Donnelly’s last Senate election in 2012, his opponent, Richard Mourdock, sparked a national controversy after he said that a woman who became pregnant from rape was “carrying a gift from God.” That debate was widely credited with cemeting Donnelly’s election.


The latest polling indicates that Braun has a slim lead over Donnelly ahead of the election next week.  

Trump administration to revise exemptions to contraception mandate

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 17:29

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2018 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration is modifying religious exemptions and accommodations against mandatory employer health care coverage of contraception, after federal judges blocked the administrations rules in December.

“The United States has a long history of providing conscience protections in the regulation of health care for entities and individuals with objections based on religious beliefs and moral convictions,” the Office of Management and Budget said. “These final rules expand exemptions to protect religious beliefs for certain entities and individuals whose health plans are subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage through guidance issued pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

It added that the rules “leave the accommodation process in place as an optional process for certain exempt entities that wish to use it voluntarily.”

The New York Times reported Oct. 30 that the revised rules will be issued by the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Federal District Court in Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration's initial rules Dec. 15, 2017.

She said Pennsylvania could suffer “serious and irreparable harm” from the rules, because a lack of cost-effective contraception would mean that women would either forgo contraception or choose less effective methods and result in “individual choices which will result in an increase in unintended pregnancies.” This would create economic harm for the state because “unintended pregnancies are more likely to impose additional costs on Pennsylvania’s state-funded health programs.”

Shortly after Beetlestone's ruling, Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. of the Federal District Court in Oakland also blocked the Trump administration's rules, saying they would “transform contraceptive coverage from a legal entitlement to an essentially gratuitous benefit wholly subject to their employer’s discretion.”

Under Trump, the Justice Department has argued that “a woman who loses coverage of her chosen contraceptive method through her employer may still have access to such coverage through a spouse’s plan … or she may otherwise be able to pay out of pocket for contraceptive services.”

The 2010 Affordable Care Act, and resulting rules issued by the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services mandated that employer health plans cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. The mandate drew opposition from Catholics and others.

The Trump administration established new rules in October 2017 allowing companies with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of the mandate.

The administration has appealed the rulings by Beetlestone and Gilliam, and other judges have issued rulings favorable to exemptions and accommodations to the contraception mandate.

In April, District Court Judge David Russell issued a permanent injunction and declaratory relief against the mandate for members of the Catholic Benefits Association.

Russell also ruled that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by attempting to force employers to provide contraception and sterilization in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Diocese of Buffalo 'stunned and dismayed' by whistleblower call for Malone's resignation

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 14:40

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 31, 2018 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Buffalo has issued a response to a whistleblower who called for Bishop Richard Malone to resign, after he was publicly accused of allowing priests credibly accused of sexual abuse to remain in ministry.

The diocese released a statement late Tuesday night, after Siobhan O’Connor, a former diocesan employee, said on “60 Minutes” Sunday that the diocese had knowingly omitted some priests from a list it published in March of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.

The list included 42 names; documents leaked by O’Connor included 118 priests credibly accused of misconduct.

The Oct. 30 diocesan statement said that Malone was “stunned and dismayed” by comments O’Connor delivered at a local press conference held that day. The diocese called her remarks "plainly and embarrassingly contradictory."

At the press conference O’Connor reiterated her earlier claims, and called for “a complete change in leadership here,” calling for the resignation of Malone, and urging the intervention of Pope Francis, “because it's just not going to get better."

The diocese said that “her comments directly contradict her comments to him while she worked at the Chancery and even after she left. In fact, her prior, written communications to the Bishop demonstrate her complete admiration for the Bishop and his efforts to lead the Diocese.”

The statement did not directly address the veracity of O’Connor’s claim that Malone worked with diocesan lawyers to parse down the list of accused priests published by the diocese.

The list, released March 20, “identifies diocesan priests who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor,” according to the diocese. It “also includes deceased priests with more than one allegation made against them.”

“It was a very carefully curated list,” O’Connor said.

“To my mind the overarching attitude seemed to be to protect the Church's reputation and her assets,” she added.

The Oct. 30 diocesan statement included a release of emails sent from O’Connor to Bishop Malone and her former diocesan co-workers, including one sent Aug. 9, 2018.

“Thank you, Bishop, for all of the opportunities I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned while working for and with you,” the email read in part.

“You have my heartfelt gratitude. I will always pray for you and your Chancery staff as I know so well the burdens you carry!”

In an email dated Aug. 21, O’Connor wrote: “I will always be deeply grateful to have worked with you truly countless ways you have inspired and edified me.”

During her “60 Minutes” interview, O’Connor said she loved Malone as her bishop and as her boss, and that her decision to leak documents was not motivated by personal animus for him.

“The reality of what I saw really left me with no other option,” she said. “Because at the end of my life I’m not going to answer to Bishop Malone, I’m going to answer to God.”

Malone has issued three public apologies and has offered to sell his residence to help to compensate abuse victims.

Malone declined to be interviewed by “60 Minutes,” saying in part: “it is clear to me and my staff that your roster of interviews did not include those who are aware of the full extent of the efforts of our Diocese to combat child abuse. Nor does it include those who urge me every day to stay the course and restore the confidence of our faithful.”

The Buffalo diocese was issued a subpoena in June as part of a federal investigation into clerical sexual abuse.

Fr. Robert Zilliox, an abuse victim himself, lamented on “60 Minutes” that it seemed the diocese and the bishop were not being transparent and holding abusive priests accountable.

“It’s beyond troubling. That’s not the Church. The Church is holy. Those are individuals in the Church who are weak, and who have made very bad decisions. And because of that, they need to be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Father Zilliox said.


NY auxiliary bishop is credibly accused of sexual abuse

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 12:31

New York City, N.Y., Oct 31, 2018 / 10:31 am (CNA).- A New York auxiliary bishop has been credibly accused of sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of New York has reported. The bishop maintains his innocence.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced in an Oct. 29 letter to parishioners of a Bronx parish that Bishop John Jenik, 74 had been accused of “an allegation of inappropriate behavior with one person was brought against Bishop Jenik, who has served at Our Lady of Refuge since 1978.”

“This was the first time any such allegation about him was ever made,” Dolan added.

Dolan’s letter, which was posted Oct. 31 on the Archdiocese of New York’s website, explained that the claim was reviewed by the diocesan lay review board, which concluded “the evidence is sufficient to find the allegation credible and substantiated.”

The case will be reviewed by the Vatican, most likely at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sources says, before being passed to Pope Francis for judgment. Canon law establishes that only the pope may judge a penal matter involving a bishop, unless the pope delegates that responsibility elsewhere.

Dolan did not offer specifics regarding the allegation, but cases forwarded to the Vatican generally involve abuse against minors or other "vulnerable persons," a term used in Church law to refer to the intellectually disabled.

“Although Bishop Jenik, loyal priest that he is, he has stepped aside from public ministry, and, as we await Rome’s review, may not function or present himself as a bishop or priest,” Dolan wrote.

Jenik also wrote a letter to the parishioners of Our Lady of Refuge, the parish at which he has served as pastor since 1985.

“While I have the utmost respect for both the IRCP and the Review Board, and I know that they have a great burden as they confront the evil of sexual abuse, I continue to steadfastly deny that I have ever abused anyone at any time. Therefore, I will ask the Vatican, which has ultimate jurisdiction over such cases, to review the matter, with the hope of ultimately proving my innocence,” Jenik wrote.

“In the meantime, I will abide by the protocols of the archdiocese’s policy, and will not be publicly exercising my ministry,” he wrote, adding that he would be “stepping aside and moving as pastor of Our Lady of Refuge until the matter is settled.”

The bishop asked parishioners to pray for the person who had accused him of abuse, and “for all those who are victim-survivors of abuse.”

Jenik has been an auxiliary bishop in New York since 2014. A New York Daily News profile published shortly before he was consecrated a bishop, said that Jenik is known in the Bronx as an advocate for affordable housing, and an opponent of drug dealers in his parish neighborhood.

Dolan encouraged those with allegations or concerns about Jenik to contact the Bronx District Attorney and the Victim Assistance Coordinator  in the Archdiocese of New York.


New Mexico political ad didn’t come from us, Catholic bishops say

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 06:00

Santa Fe, N.M., Oct 31, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A political group was wrong to use a letter from the New Mexico bishops for a newspaper ad backing a gubernatorial candidate in the upcoming election, the state’s Catholic bishops have said.
Two newspaper ads, published recently in The New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal newspapers, urged readers to “Vote your Catholic Values” and highlighted parts of a 2017 pastoral letter by New Mexico bishops dealing with abortion and assisted suicide.

The state’s bishops say they aren’t connected to those ads.
The ad says it was from “Concerned Fellow Catholics.” It was put out by the Dallas-based Hispanic Action Network, an evangelical Christian policy advocacy group that also produces election guides.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops were caught off-guard by the ads and disapproved of the political use of their letter.
“We’re very disappointed a political action committee would use a statement out of context like that,” Sanchez told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
“We want people to vote,” Sanchez said, adding that people should weigh all issues and “seek the common good.”
“What we object to is somebody trying to use the teaching of the Church to advance candidates,” he said, charging that the ad’s sponsors are “trying to appeal to the authority of the bishops for their own purpose.”
The ads emphasized the bishops’ words against abortion and physician-assisted suicide as “morally impermissible” and “always wrong.” The ads also described New Mexico as “the late-term abortion capital of America and the world.”
With the election approaching, the ads backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce’s stand against abortion and assisted suicide, noting his Democratic rival Michelle Lujan Grisham’s support for assisted suicide and abortion rights.
The group’s founder, Mark Gonzales, is an evangelical Christian pastor and longtime Republican advisor, volunteer and leader. According to his biography on the group’s website, he was part of the steering committee that led to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s June 2016 meeting with 1,000 prominent evangelicals in New York.
The Hispanic Action Network’s website says it aims “to educate, equip and engage the faith community from a biblical worldview, to pray and impact culture by turning our faith into action.”
“The values we stand for and live by are based on the scriptural truths found in the Bible. While culture and morals may change over time, we believe in the timeless truth of God’s word. We believe Biblical Values are the standard upon which any healthy and successful culture is founded,” it continued.
CNA contacted the Hispanic Action Network for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
The New Mexico bishops’ March 6, 2017 letter voiced concerned about legislators’ statements “that seem to say that a faithful Catholic can support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide.”
“It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching. This misrepresents Church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful,” the letter said.
“Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church. These represent the direct taking of human life, and are always wrong,” the letter continued.
“Individuals and groups do not speak for the Catholic Church. As bishops, we do,” the bishops said.
Sanchez said an external group’s use of the letter was self-contradictory.
“The whole point of that letter was that other people aren’t the voice of the Church,” he said, calling on Pearce to condemn the ads.
A Pearce campaign spokesman, Kevin Sheridan, directed questions about the ads to the groups sponsoring them, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.
“Steve Pearce supports people of faith, and it’s not surprising they support him,” Sheridan said.


Could a 'tiny house' subsidy help LA's homeless population?

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 02:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 31, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Aid agencies for the homeless often face what they call the NIMBY- “not in my backyard”- problem; the challenge that even those who support the homeless don’t want shelters in their neighborhoods.

But a Los Angeles program aims to reverse that, with homeowners inviting homeless families into their backyards to live in small, purpose-built residences subsidized by the city.

Los Angeles County has introduced a pilot program that would provide subsidies to homeowners building “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) or, as they are sometimes known, “tiny houses.” To qualify for the subsidy, homeowners would agree to rent the ADUs to homeless men and women for three years after construction.

The initiative is expected to begin next spring. The New York Times reported that more than 500 homeowners have already applied for the program. ADUs are typically small dwellings built behind a home, or converted garages.

The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, announced on Oct. 29 that Los Angeles has received $1 million from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, which will help fund the new program.

“The ADU pilot is specifically designed to pair homeowners with homeless Angelenos who are stable, prepared to move into housing, and ready to rebuild their lives,” said Garcetti, according to Los Angeles Daily News.

“For a homeowner, it’s a win-win: the city lowers your construction costs, matches you with a tenant who is determined to make their housing work, and connects you with a case manager to ensure a seamless transition.”

Through tax breaks and reduced permitting fees for building, homeowners could receive $10,000-30,000 to help construct the ADUs.

The tenants will receive reduced rent for two years and case management support. By the third year, tenants will be expected to pay full rental prices, unless they qualify for other housing subsidies.

Landlords will be matched with tenants through a computer matching tool that takes into account the needs of both parties. Homeless families will also be reviewed by nonprofit organizations, in a process designed to screen out tenants who would be a poor match for the program.

The program comes at a time when homelessness continues to rise in Los Angeles. The city has seen a 75 percent increase in its homeless population, increasing from 32,000 to 55,000 in the last six years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In 2017, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles lamented that the growing number of homeless people indicates a widening gap “between those who have what they need for a dignified life and those who do not.”

“I worry that we are getting accustomed to these sights in our city. We cannot allow ourselves to accept a Los Angeles where sidewalks become permanent residences for our neighbors.”


Class-action suit seeks apology from Pennsylvania dioceses

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 18:51

Harrisburg, Pa., Oct 30, 2018 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A class-action lawsuit against all eight Latin-rite Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania is seeking an admission from the Church that it covered up years of child sexual abuse, and the release of any Church records of abuse.

One of the plaintiffs, Ryan O’Connor, is an abuse victim and a current member of the Catholic Church whose children attend Catholic school. The other plaintiff, W.H., is a minor who is being represented by his mother.

The lawsuit accuses the dioceses of “public nuisance” and of failing to adhere to Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting requirements, claiming that the knowledge of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania was widespread and that the Church failed to “control, supervise, and report sexual abuse.”

The information that the plaintiffs want the dioceses to hand over would plug gaps in the Aug. 14 Pennsylvania grand jury report that named over 300 priests accused of sexually abusing over 1,000 children since the 1940s. Some of the names of clerics in the report were redacted.

Rather than seeking damages, the plaintiffs seek “injunctive relief,” which would include an admission that the dioceses are causing a public nuisance as laid out in the lawsuit, and a court order declaring the Church’s alleged actions unlawful.

The plaintiffs also want to see the release of all the dioceses’ records pertaining to sexual abuse dating back to 1948. Alternatively, they seek a court order compelling the defendants to meet their mandatory reporting obligations as set by the state.

Memento mori - Why this religious sister wants you to think about your death

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, has had an interesting Twitter project for the last year and a half: she has kept a small (ceramic) skull on her desk, and has been tweeting daily meditations on death with the hashtag #MementoMori.


The project has now grown to include two forthcoming books: a journal titled “Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Journal,” as well as a Lenten devotional titled “Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional.”


What makes a relatively young religious sister, certainly not one expecting to die soon, so eager to focus on death?


Noble told CNA that she was first inspired by the example of the founder of her order, even before she entered the religious life.


Bl. James Alberione kept a skull on his desk to remind him of his eventual death.


“Before I entered the Daughters of Saint Paul I read this and I thought, ‘That is so metal. Definitely going to do that at some point,” she said.


While she later forgot about the intention, it came back to her during a spiritual retreat last year. One of the priests at the retreat had a small skull with him. Noble took this as a sign to take up the meditation and borrowed a ceramic skull from one of her sister’s Halloween decorations. She created the hashtag campaign shortly thereafter.


The practice of meditating upon one’s death has been common in the Church for centuries, and daily prayers for the dead are part of the routine for many religious orders. In Catholic art, many saints are depicted holding a skull as a reminder of their death and the importance of preparing for a final encounter with God.


While death can certainly be an uncomfortable topic to think about, it is far from a morbid subject in the mind of the Church. Noble said that she believes that as Christians, “we are not just meditating on the reality of death but on Christ’s victory over death.”


With this in mind, Noble said that meditating about death is actually a “hope-filled practice.”  


“Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that ‘Christ died so that by dying he might deliver us from the fear of death,’” she said. The practice of memento mori, she said, “helps us to make that journey from fear to hope.”


Since starting her tweets, Noble told CNA that “hundreds” of people have sent her pictures of their own memento mori skulls, and that many people have seen the spiritual fruits that come along with meditating on their own death.


“One man told me that he had been suffering from insomnia and serious anxiety and had stopped going to church,” she said.


“But one Sunday he decided to go after seeing one of my tweets. As he walked into the church, the priest was saying an exact phrase from a Bible passage that I had tweeted earlier. The man felt God speaking to him in that moment through that ‘coincidence.’ He started going to Mass and meditating on his death, and his insomnia disappeared. God can work powerfully in people's lives through memento mori.”


With the journal and devotional she is now writing, Noble says she wants to help people with the spiritual practice of meditating on one’s death “with something more substantive than my tweets.”


The journal contains an introduction to the practice of memento mori, as well as prayers and quotes from the church fathers, saints, and scripture. The journal, she said, is meant to be a companion to the Lenten devotional, which contains journaling prompts. It can, however, be used on its own.


Noble told CNA that “it would not be an exaggeration” to say that the practice of memento mori has changed her life and how she thinks about the world. In addition to thinking about death in a more Christian sense, she says she is less afraid of dying and more motivated to ask God for graces to change immediately rather than putting it off for the future.


“We all think we will live until old age, but death could come at any time,” she said.


“Holiness becomes more urgent in view of the fact that death is both inevitable and unpredictable.”

Anti-religious freedom grants target Georgia, Florida, N.M., Texas

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 17:19

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2018 / 03:19 pm (CNA).- Four states, including Texas and Florida, are in the crosshairs of an anti-religious freedom funders’ network that coordinated the successful effort to recognize gay marriage in law.

The Proteus Fund’s Religion, Faith and Democracy Collaborative, launched last year, has dedicated at least $900,000 to efforts in Georgia and New Mexico, its 2017 grant listings show. At the same time, it is funding like-minded groups in Texas and Florida to develop grant proposals, apparently laying the groundwork for activist coalitions in those states.

“Together with progressive faith leaders and communities, we fight against discrimination under the false guise of religious liberty,” the funding collaborative said on its website.

Saying that success for LGBTQ and “reproductive justice” movements advance one another, the collaborative said it aims to unite leaders and organizations from diverse coalitions to maximize impact.

“We believe in the right of every individual to control their sexual and reproductive health and to live freely and with dignity in their gender identity and sexual orientation. We believe that these unalienable human rights should never be undermined by discrimination, whether justified by law, social norms, or religion,” the group said.

Regarding Texas, the Proteus Fund collaborative made small four-figure grants to develop proposals from four groups: the ACLU Foundation of Texas; the Equality Texas Foundation; the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Texas.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the group Texas Values, is among the critics of this collaborative’s goals.
“Some of the same people that are aggressively supporting abortion on demand and taxpayer-funded abortion are the same ones teaming up to use the government to attack religious freedom on issues related to marriage and sexuality,” he told CNA in a statement. “Texas Values is well aware of these organizations, and they have a long history of opposing common-sense religious freedom protections in Texas.”

Saenz’s organization, a self-described backer of family values, engages in policy research, public education, and voter mobilization in service of religious freedom and of “biblical, Judeo-Christian values.” He said there has been a “significant increase” in groups lobbying against religious freedom in recent years.

“They are misleading members of the public and business to serve their own political interests,” he said, charging that these groups have attracted support from those Saenz has called “fake Republicans.”

The Proteus Fund declined comment for this story. Its 2017 grant listings show $500,000 to four advocacy groups in Georgia. Four grants of $125,000 each went to Alternate Roots, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, SisterSong, and the Equality Foundation of Georgia.

According to Georgia grant listings, these grants were intended to help build “a long-term cross-movement public-education campaign rooted in reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights that uses a values-based messaging framework to reclaim religious freedom as a progressive value, center reproductive justice and change the environment in Georgia to support a comprehensive approach to civil rights.” This approach “includes religious freedom protections that are inclusive and unifying, rather than based in fear, hatred or discrimination against women and LGBTQ people.”

The Alternate Roots grant aimed to support the Georgia-based group Women Engaged’s work with this coalition. The group, a self-described social justice non-profit, aims to advance civil leadership of “women and young people of color living in the U.S. and global south interested in health equity, racial, and reproductive justice.” According to the Women Engaged website, it provides training in organizing, fundraising, and civic engagement, and creates policy recommendations and messaging campaigns.

The Proteus collaborative gave $400,000 to four New Mexico groups. Grants of $100,000 each went to the ACLU of New Mexico; the Center for Civic Policy; the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; and Young Women United, a policy change, social change, and community organizing project “by and for women and people of color” in the state.

Their grants, as listed on the Proteus website, aim to support a state coalition to build “a cross-sector, place-based movement with faith leaders, immigrants, LGBTQ youth and communities of color that challenges the discriminatory effects of religious refusals in New Mexico through public education, research, documentation, faith leader mobilization and place-based and intersectional organization and training.”

The Center for Civic Policy grant included support for the work of the New Mexico Dream Team, a group whose website described itself as “a statewide network committed to create power for multigenerational, undocumented, LGBTQ+, and mixed status families towards liberation.” The group engages in leadership training and development, community engagement, organizing and advocacy for “policy change fighting to dismantle systematic oppression.”

For Florida, the Proteus Fund made a $5,000 grant in 2017 to the Equality Florida Institute to work with Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida and also Proyecto Somos Orlando, a support group for those affected by the 2016 Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting, to develop proposals for the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative.

Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, was critical of the Proteus Fund collaborative’s advocacy of these causes as a way to advance the separation of church and state.

“Groups that aim to promote separation of church and state seem to be taking advantage of and are perpetuating a misperception of the proper role of religion in civil society,” Sheedy told CNA. “Religious persons have long been engaged in the public square, and religious entities have been a tremendous impetus for good in our society. Faith calls us to our better selves to serve those in need. We need more people engaged in promoting the common good – not fewer.”

There are various religious freedom concerns in Florida, he said. Adoption agency conscience protections were debated and failed to pass in the legislature, though unlike some other states there are no requirements for an agency to violate its faith in making a child placement.

Many Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because they cannot place children with same-sex couples, and so violated new regulations governing agency licensing or funding rules.

Florida law has conscience protections regarding participation in executions and regarding some end-of-life issues, Sheedy said. There are also protections related to abortion and family planning, though bills have been filed to limit this.

He did say there are some conflicts beginning to emerge between “Christian anthropology” and various LGBT issues.

Lobbying in Florida, said Sheedy, primarily focuses on local-level “conversion therapy bans” and state and local level advocacy for “housing and employment policies that relate to typically ill-defined concepts of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’.”

Saenz seemed optimistic that the efforts to restrict religious freedom will fail.

“With such important elections on the line, and recent victories for religious freedoms on the court many of the organizations that have been getting away for many years with suppressing religious freedom now know their days could be numbered,” Saenz added, citing like the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in a which a Colorado bakery owner successfully fought an anti-discrimination complaint for declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex union due to his Christian beliefs.

“If we stand united we can win, particularly in Texas,” he said.

The Proteus Fund collaborative said the change it envisions requires “a shift in the way that the public and policymakers understand religious liberty and the delicate but critical balance between it and many other equally important rights that protect against discrimination.”

State-based advocates need “significant additional resources” to test and implement “new public education, advocacy, organizing, and messaging strategies” and to build “organizational and collaborative capacity” while sharing knowledge across different states and issues.

The collaborative’s funding partners, listed on the Proteus Fund website, included the Alki Fund of the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and anonymous donors, as CNA reported in 2017.

According to the CNA’s running count, various foundations have dedicated nearly $10 million in earmarked anti-religious freedom grants. Grants from the Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative are counted separately to prevent double-counting of funds.

Foes of the Masterpiece Cakeshop’s Supreme Court case received $500,000 from the San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, which is also a donor to the Proteus anti-religious freedom collaborative.

A previous Proteus Fund project, the Civil Marriage Collaborative, dedicated at least $825,000 to support “special litigation efforts and work on use of religious exemptions to attempt to justify the undermining of full marriage.” This grantmaking included funds to groups in Arizona, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas, including ACLU affiliates.

This marriage collaborative, which ended in 2015, was a leader in the push for legal recognition of gay marriage. Paul Di Donato was director of this project, and in 2016 became the president and CEO of the Proteus Fund. The marriage collaborative itself awarded over $20 million in grants “strategically targeted to support a cultural sea change on the issue of marriage equality and LGBTQ justice at the state and national levels,” the Proteus Fund website reports.

The marriage collaborative’s “Hearts & Minds” report, analyzing the project’s work at its close, says that its funding partners altogether invested $153 million over 11 years in many states and at the national level in gay marriage-related advocacy.

“By aligning all their marriage-related grantmaking behind this shared game plan, the partners were able to exponentially increase the impact of the $153 million they put into the effort, including the $20 million invested in the CMC,” the report said.

Ahead of migrant caravan, Catholic leaders urge U.S. govt to protect the vulnerable

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 02:00

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- As a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America continues its trek north to the United States, the U.S. bishops’ conference and leaders of Catholic aid agencies have urged government officials to treat migrants compassionately.

Signers of the joint statement, released on Monday, included Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Bishop’s committee on migration, Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Sr. Donna Markham OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.

“We affirm that seeking asylum is not a crime,” they said in their statement.

“We urge all governments to abide by international law and existing domestic laws that protect those seeking safe haven and ensure that all those who are returned to their home country are protected and repatriated safely,” they said.

Earlier this month, a group of about 160 migrants in Honduras started a migrant caravan, trekking northward to seek asylum as refugees in the United States. That caravan, which is now in Mexico, is believed to have peaked at 7,000 people, although several hundred have reportedly dropped off or fallen behind at various points.

Other smaller caravans have also started making their way north to the U.S., including a caravan of about 200 people from El Salvador.

The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has offered benefits such as temporary work permits and medical care to migrants who want to stay in the country, but at least 4,000 people are continuing the journey to the United States.

Catholic Churches along the route in Mexico have provided places of brief rest and refreshment, the Washington Post reported.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump called the caravan “an invasion” and announced that 5,200 troops will be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the week to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure enforcement of immigration laws.

“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

In their statement, Vásquez, Callahan and Markham said they have helped assist the poor and vulnerable in the U.S. and throughout the world, and they “deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America. While nations have the right to protect their borders, this right comes with responsibilities: governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely, and provide due process,” they said.

They also urged the government to address not only the migrants that come to the U.S., but to work to address the regional issues that force migrants to leave their homes, such as violence and lack of economic opportunity in their countries.

“An enforcement-only approach does not address nor solve the larger root causes that cause people to flee their countries in search of protection,” they said.

“As Christians, we must answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions that honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life.”

The migrant caravan is still 900 miles from the United States, but is expected to reach the border in the next few weeks.

Annual White Mass honors the gifts of those with disabilities

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Oct 29, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Washington celebrated the ninth-annual White Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.


The Mass is held in honor of the dignity of those living with disabilities. It was first celebrated in 2010, and is called the “White Mass” as the color is symbolic of the “dignity shared by all who have been baptized into Christ’s body.”


Those who attend are encouraged to wear white.


The principal celebrant of the Mass was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of Washington, and the homily was delivered by Msgr. Charles Pope.


In his homily, Pope spoke about courage, and drew comparisons to the day’s Gospel, which featured Christ healing a blind man and restoring his vision. Pope said that Catholics should not only think of themselves as the blind man of the Gospel, but also as the crowd and even Christ, in that they are called to help others see.


“It takes courage to see, courage to even want to see,” he explained.  


Pope acknowledged that while some people in the room were physically blind, “all of us struggle with a degree of spiritual blindness.”


“There are many things we should see, but do not. Sometimes we are afraid to see, at other times we resist seeing because we know it will make new demands upon us.”


However, “many in our world recoil from looking at or seeing disability,” Pope said, despite the fact that some form of impairment is inevitable as one ages.


These feelings of discomfort towards others result in “many today remaining blind or vision-impaired when it comes to seeing the dignity and gifts of those who are disabled,” he continued.


Expanding his point, Pope shared a story about his late sister, Mary Anne, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a child and spent most of her life in mental institutions and group homes. Mary Anne passed away in 1991, as the result of a fire that she herself likely set.


It was a “great sadness,” said Pope, that it took his sister’s death for him to appreciate her dignity and true suffering. While she was alive, Pope said he did not enjoy talking to her and had complained to his parents when she tried to talk to him.


“I couldn’t see, I was blind, and in a certain sense I wanted it that way,” he said.


After her death, he was able to view her body, which was scarred by the flames. Due to the fire, the funeral directors were unable to change her facial expression, and “she had clearly died weeping,” he said. Pope, too, wept when he saw his sister.


Although he had previously been blind to his sister’s dignity, “that day, looking one last time at her, I received the gift to see her more as God did.”


“And so I was, and in ways still am, the blind man of Jericho,” he said.


“But my sister’s final gift was that God taught me to see through her and I resolved that it should not take a tragic death for me to see the dignity and gifts of those with disabilities or special needs.”


Now, said Pope, it is up to the Church to act as Christ did in the Gospel and “help others to see the dignity of those with special needs and the disabled.” This is, he said, is particularly important in a “culture of death” which permits an extremely high abortion rate for those with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome or other medical conditions, and the increasing legality of physician-assisted suicide.


“This blindness to the dignity of all human persons from conception to natural death is a blindness we are called to heal as the active presence of Christ in the world.”


It is up to the Church, he said, to work to “heal the blindness of so many who fail to see not only the current dignity of those who suffer, but also their future glory.”

At late bishop's request, Saginaw Catholics adore the Eucharist

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 20:00

Saginaw, Mich., Oct 29, 2018 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Joseph Cistone of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan planned one final diocesan event before succumbing to lung cancer in October: forty hours of continuous Eucharistic adoration to pray for the suffering of the Church, against a backdrop of country-wide revelations of sexual abuse.

After Cistone’s death, members of the diocese are participating in the forty hours of adoration, and are praying not only for the Church, but also for the late bishop’s soul.

Bishop Cistone died Oct. 16 after announcing in February that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He said at that time that he would undergo a treatment plan involving both chemotherapy and radiation. On Oct. 1 the diocese announced that the cancer had spread to other parts of Cistone's body, and that he had begun an aggressive course of chemotherapy.

His funeral was held Oct. 23 at Saginaw's Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption.

The forty hours of adoration began Oct. 28 with Mass at that same cathedral at 10 a.m, followed by a procession through the Cathedral to begin adoration. The adoration is scheduled to end after 7 p.m. vespers prayer on Tuesday Oct. 30.

Sister Esther Mary Nickel of the Religious Sisters of Mercy told CNA that the prayer intentions for the forty hours of adoration are for the diocese of Saginaw, the suffering of the Church, and for the repose of the Bishop Cistone’s soul.  

Sister Nickel said on the first night of adoration, men from the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus volunteered to stand guard at the door all night.

"I was so surprised that people came through the night," Sister Nickel said.”I must say we're having a wonderful turnout. I'm grateful.”

Sister Nickel said that Catholics in the Saginaw diocese had been experiencing various hardships lately, in addition to the bishop’s death. Police raided the bishop’s home in March, as well as the diocesan chancery and its cathedral rectory, as part of an ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations against several diocesan priests. Two priests have been placed on leave from their duties after a recent wave of accusations of sexual abuse against priests in the diocese.

The practice of forty hours of adoration draws its roots back to Rome over 500 years ago, begun by St. Philip Neri. Sister Nickel said the forty hours devotion was “near and dear” to Cistone's heart, and this event was the last one he approved for the liturgy office before his death. She said Bishop Cistone had a great devotion to St. John Neumann, a great proponent of the practice in the United States, who started the practice at his parish in Philadelphia in 1840.

Sister Nickel said Cistone brought this tradition back from Philadelphia to Saginaw with him, as well as his desire that his priests in particular would cultivate a devotion to the blessed sacrament.

Martha Arvizu, a lifelong Saginaw resident and a parishioner of the diocese since the ninth grade, told CNA it can sometimes be difficult for her to quiet her mind from the noise of daily life. She and her 91-year-old mother, who Arvizu said always wants to be there with her daughter despite being hard of hearing, attended the adoration service Sunday night.

"It's wonderful to come and be in the silence and get in the presence of our Lord," Arvizu said. "He's very forgiving and He walks with us.”

Arvizu said despite the difficult circumstances present in the Saginaw diocese and elsewhere in the Church, she plans to continue to practice her faith.

"I think if you lose your faith, you're nowhere," she reflected. "If you have your faith, and you believe in your faith, nothing can deter you. [God's] there to help us along, and what our destiny is, he's the only one that knows...I think our faith will get us through anything."

She said although there is at least one parish in the diocese that offers perpetual adoration, it was nice to be able to stay in adoration as long as they wanted under the protection of the Knights.

"We probably should do it more often, as long as we have preparation," "This was very well planned, they let everyone know that they were going to do this. I think it's a positive thing, and even those who have been going that don't come all the time find it enriching...[Adoration’s] something we all need, especially at this time, with the loss of our bishop.”



After synagogue shooting, bishops decry anti-Semitism and pray for victims

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 19:00

Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct 29, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic bishops promised prayers for victims and their families while condemning anti-Semitism, after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday killed 11 people.

“To our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, we stand with you,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

“May Almighty God be with them and bring them comfort at this tragic time.”

The cardinal, originally a priest of Pittsburgh, condemned the shooting and challenged officials “to confront the plague of gun violence.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said the diocese and the synagogue’s relationship has been “close over many years.”

The bishop said “anti-Jewish bigotry, and all religious and ethnic bigotry, is a terribly sin” and emphasized the importance of prayer and charity after the shooting.

“As we pray for peace in our communities and comfort for the grieving, we must put prayer into action by loving our neighbors and working to make ‘Never again!’ a reality.”

On Oct. 27, 48-year-old Robert Bowers entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue equipped with an assault rifle and three handguns. Shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Bowers killed eight men and three women. He also injured six others, including four policemen. After a shootout with Pittsburgh Police and SWAT, Bowers was wounded and eventually surrendered.

Bowers faces multiple charges, among them federal hate crimes for which he could face the death penalty.

Michael Eisenberg, a former president of the synagogue, said an estimated 85 people would likely have been gathered at the synagogue, spread over three separate services.

After the shooting, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that “Religious and ethnic hatred is vile in any form, but the ugly record of the last century is a lesson in the special evil of anti-Semitism.…It has no place in America, and especially in the hearts of Christians.”

“I want to express the heartfelt support and prayers of Philadelphia’s Catholic community, and my own, for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and their families. May God give them courage and solace, and may this be a statewide wake-up call to resist religious hatred,” he added.

Another Pennsylvania bishop also decried the violence. Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg said the news has left him “absolutely heartbroken.”

“People of faith should be able to worship God in peace and security. Our sacred places should be free of all violence,” he said.

He said his diocese would pray for first responders and “the loved ones of these victims and for all of our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community.”

Scranton’s Bishop Joseph Bambera, who is the head of the Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB, issued a statement on Sunday, claiming the act of violence to be cowardly.

“Anti-Semitism is to be condemned and has to be confronted by our nation. The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this time of great distress. May God grant peace to the dead, healing to the injured, and comfort to the families of those hurt and killed and to all the Jewish Community.”

On Sunday during the Angelus at the Vatican, Pope Francis offered a prayer for those affected by this “inhumane act of violence.” “May the Lord help us extinguish the fires of hatred that develop in our society,” he said.


Five nuns kidnapped in southern Nigeria

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 18:55

Issele-Uku, Nigeria, Oct 29, 2018 / 04:55 pm (CNA).- Five nuns were abducted by gunmen in Nigeria’s Delta state on Thursday, according to local media.

The nuns are members of the Order of the Missionary of Martha and Mary.

They were kidnapped Oct. 25 while returning from a burial. They were taken near Agbor, about 25 miles west of Issele-Uku.

The religious women were in a vehicle which the kidnappers shot at. Along with the five abductees, another two nuns were injured.

At least five priests have been kidnapped in Delta state this year.

Violence against Christians has significantly increased in Nigeria in recent years, with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram threatening safety in the north, and smaller violent gangs threatening security in the south.

Whistleblower says Buffalo diocese did not disclose priest abuse reports

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 17:30

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 29, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A former Church employee said she leaked diocesan documents because when the Buffalo diocese addressed sexual abuse allegations it seemed primarily concerned with protecting the reputation and assets of the Church.

A local media investigation published Aug. 22-23 revealed confidential diocesan documents indicating that Bishop Richard Malone allowed priests to stay in ministry despite multiple abuse allegations made against them.

Siobhan O’Connor, a former executive assistant to Bishop Malone, told “60 Minutes” on Sunday that she decided to leak the internal diocesan documents mentioned in the report after an incomplete list of priests accused of abuse was published.

“Bishop Malone had agreed to release a list of 42 priests accused of sexually abusing minors,” according to the program. “But O'Connor knew there should be more names because she had seen the draft list that circulated between the bishop and diocesan lawyers … As they worked on the list, the bishop and his lawyers decided they would not reveal the names of accused priests still in ministry.”

The list, released March 20, “identifies diocesan priests who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor,” according to the diocese. It “also includes deceased priests with more than one allegation made against them.”

O’Connor said: “It was a very carefully curated list. And I-- I saw all the-- the lawyers coming in and out, and I was aware of the-- the various strategies that were in place.”

“To my mind the overarching attitude seemed to be to protect the church's reputation and her assets,” she added.

O’Connor worked as Malone's assistant for three years, quitting in August, shortly after she leaked the personnel files to a local television station. That station’s report subsequent focused on two priests whose names were reportedly considered for inclusion on the publicly-released list of credibly accused clergy, but removed before publication. Both priests were in active ministry at the time of the list’s publication in March.

Among the cases which troubled her was that of Fr. Arthur Smith, who had been suspended from his parish by Malone’s predecessor in 2011, after complaints were made that he had shown signs of grooming and stalking students, and had inappropriate communications with one male student.

In November 2012, Bishop Malone returned Smith to ministry, as chaplain of a nursing home. There, two young adult men said they were touched inappropriately by Smith. The regional superior of the religious order running the nursing home wrote to Malone to report the complaints, and to say that the order was discontinuing Smith’s work there.

In 2015, Malone wrote in a letter to Vatican officials that Smith had groomed a young boy, refused to stay in a treatment center, faced repeated boundary issues, and been accused of inappropriate touching of at least four young men. However, in the same letter, Malone said that “On the basis of his cooperation in regard to regular counseling, I have granted Father Smith faculties to function as a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo.”

The same year, the bishop wrote a letter of approval for Smith to serve as a priest on a cruise ship, explicitly clearing him for work with minor children.

In 2017, Malone assigned Smith as a “priest in residence” at an area parish. The priest was suspended in 2018, after the diocese said it had received a new substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

“Our previous bishop had removed him from ministry, so I always thought it was odd that Bishop Malone had reinstated him,” O’Connor told “60 Minutes.”

“When I explored his file more in-depth, that might have really been the moment when I knew that I had to do something with this information.”

Because the list of accused priests was substantially shorter than she believed it should be, O’Connor said, “I felt that instead of being transparent, we were almost being the opposite or-- or half transparent. Here are the names that we would like you to know about, but please don't ask us about the rest.”

“60 Minutes” also interviewed two clerics of the Buffalo diocese who are dissatisfied with how the local Church has handled allegations of sexual abuse: Fr. Robert Zilliox, who holds a licentiate in canon law, and Deacon Paul Snyder.

Bishop Malone declined to be interviewed by “60 Minutes,” and issued a statement about that decision Oct. 27.

The first reason, he said, is that child protection and victim reconciliation is occupying most of his time.

Second, he said, “it is clear to me and my staff that your roster of interviews did not include those who are aware of the full extent of the efforts of our Diocese to combat child abuse. Nor does it include those who urge me every day to stay the course and restore the confidence of our faithful.”


Virginia dioceses pledge to cooperate with attorney general

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 12:30

Arlington, Va., Oct 29, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA).- In a statement released last Wednesday and repeated at Masses over the weekend, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond pledged that they would cooperate with an investigation into clerical sexual abuse of minors in the state.


Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced the investigation Wednesday, Oct. 24, together with a state police hotline and web form for the public to report accusations of abuse.


“Any instance of child sexual abuse is intolerable and gravely immoral,” read the statement from the Catholic bishops of Virginia.


“We hope that this process will bring healing for all victims and confirm our commitment to accountability and justice.”


Burbidge and Knestout said they had both met with victims and seen the effect “unforgettable” abuse had throughout a person’s life. Both bishops said that they valued the opportunity to meet with survivors and to “support them in their journey toward healing.”


In September, prior to the announcement of Herring’s investigation, both the Diocese of Arlington and the Diocese of Richmond issued press releases saying they would conduct a review of all diocesan clergy files. Additionally, the bishops said that they would be releasing a list of all clergy with “credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against a minor” made against them.


While this process remains ongoing, the bishops said they would “ensure it does not impede the attorney general’s investigation.”


Currently, policy in both dioceses requires allegations of the sexual abuse of minors to be reported to the police. The allegations are also presented to a majority-lay diocesan review boards in both dioceses.


Clergy, along with parish staff and volunteers who work with children, are now trained on how to identify “suspicious behavior” and how to report allegations of abuse.


The two bishops encouraged anyone aware of any sort of misconduct or abuse invovling either a member of the clergy or staff associated with the dioceses to both call the police and call the state’s clerical abuse hotline.


Victims of abuse were asked to contact their diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator to arrange a meeting with their bishop, to make a formal complaint against their abuser, and to receive pastoral and emotional support.


Priests across the two dioceses read a statement at all Masses over the weekend about both the investigation as well as the dioceses’ promises to cooperate in full.

Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2018 / 01:00 pm (ACI Prensa).- The number of Americans who claim to be witches has increased dramatically over the past 30 years.


An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people say they practice Wicca or paganism, a rise from an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, and 340,000 in 2008.


In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey found about 0.4 percent of Americans identify themselves Pagan or Wiccan, a significant increase over prior years.


If accurate, the Pew data would suggest that there are more self-identified "witches" in the United States than members of some mainline Protestant denominations. For example, according to 2017 figures, there are 1.4 million practicing Presbyterians in the United States.


Wicca is a form of modern pagan witchcraft begun in the 1940s and 1950s in the United Kingdom. Those who practice Wicca often refer to themselves as “witches.” People who practice other forms of witchcraft may not identify with the "Wiccan" or "pagan" label, meaning that the number of self-identified witches in the United States might actually be higher than reported.


Online, witchcraft has become increasingly popular and mainstream. The hashtag “#WitchesofInstagram” has been used nearly two million times on Instagram, featuring images of crystals, pentagrams, and people sharing their experiences as witches.


A priest pursuing doctoral studies in exorcisms told CNA that he was not surprised by the increasing number of Americans interested in dabbling in witchcraft.


The priest, who asked not be identified because of the attention exorcist priests often receive, pointed to the increasing popularity of spiritualism in general, which includes yoga and ouija, and the need for instant results in American culture.


He theorized that people who are dissatisfied with their religion begin to look for a “quick fix-- magic.”


And while some witches differentiate between “white magic” and “black magic,” with black magic being intentionally malicious, he rejected the idea there could be any such thing as positive or harmless magic.


“Both of them are associated with Satan, and he’s in charge of that,” the priest told CNA.


People who embrace one form of witchcraft, whether to find love or solve a problem may find themselves “trapped” in the world of the occult, he said.


“I have personally had many, many experiences of people coming to me,” with issues that stemmed from something initially thought to be innocuous, he said.


The modern appeal of paganism may stem from Christianity’s early roots, the priest said. When Christianity first spread to pagan areas--Ireland, France, etc.--the people who lived there were incredibly superstitious. Christianity was able to provide a sort of spiritual reassurance.


"Christianity always has good news, and the good news is that the devil is overcome," he said.


Now, he said, as people have begun to turn away from the message of Christ’s lordship, and have begun to “glorify their own reason and understanding,” Christianity has become less appealing--and people return to the superstitious practices of long ago.


A lack of faith in the Christian God coupled with the “very hedonistic society” of modern times adds to the appeal of the supposed quick fix of magic, he said.


“Anything we want, we have to have right away,” he said.

“I mean, if I suffer, I need to have a solution. Even if you go to a hospital, you look at the chart and they always ask you 'how do you feel from one to 10?' and if you feel that your pain is too high, they will pump you with opioid painkillers.”


These comments were echoed by Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies.


Petri told CNA that he did not find it surprising that some people who have turned away from Christianity would turn toward pagan worship.


“Man is essentially a religious animal who seeks meaning beyond the ordinary and so is prone to worship powers beyond himself,” he explained.


The increase of self-identfied "witches" could also be as a result of Satan, he said, who “is actively at work in the world seeking to drive as many people away from salvation in Christ as he can.” Satan, he said, does this “under the guise of principalities and powers that some people think are more novel and powerful than Christ.”


“Sadly, they couldn’t be more wrong and they need our prayers.”

Some Fighting Irish are fighting porn

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 02:00

South Bend, Ind., Oct 27, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Students at the University of Notre Dame have asked university administrators to block pornography on the university’s wi-fi networks.

More than one hundred students signed letters, one sent by men and one by women, requesting that filters be installed on university networks. The letters also referenced an online petition, at which more than 1,000 “Students, Faculty, Staff, and Friends of Notre Dame” requested the same filter.

The men’s letter, published Oct. 23 in the university’s student newspaper, said that a filter “would send the unequivocal message that pornography is an affront to human rights and catastrophic to individuals and relationships.”

The women’s letter, published Oct. 24 in the same newspaper, was addressed to the signatories of the men’s letter.

“We stand in solidarity with your request to filter out pornography on Notre Dame’s wireless internet networks,” it said.

“Every human person is worthy of the utmost dignity and respect. Pornography use at Notre Dame threatens this respect by preventing men and women from encountering the full personhood of one another in friendships and relationships. How? Pornography propagates a mindset that people, especially women, are mere sex objects,” the Oct. 24 letter said.

The letter sent by men noted a 2013 survey that showed 63 percent of male students at Notre Dame had used the university’s internet networks to view pornography.

“Pornography is the new sex education, providing a disturbing script about what men find sexually appealing and what women should do to please them.”

“Notre Dame’s sincere efforts to educate students about consent and other aspects of healthy sexuality are pitifully weak in light of the fact that by the time students arrive on campus, many have been addictively watching pornography for years,” the letter said.

That letter noted that pornography “is associated with a host of issues: addiction, child sexual abuse, divorce, male fertility problems, sexual assault and the acceptance, normalization and sexualization of cruelty towards women. It contributes to prostitution, human trafficking and the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases.”

The Oct. 24 letter sent by female Notre Dame students acknowledged that the university forbids that pornography be viewed on its wireless networks.

“A written rule alone does nothing to stop its rampant consumption, and this rule is rarely, if ever, enforced. It is time for the University to take a serious stand against pornography and implement a filter on Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi of the top-25 pornographic sites,” the letter said.

University officials did not respond to a request from CNA for comment on the student letters.

But students are hopeful that the university will respond to their request.

“We have come to expect our school to be a driving force for cultural change in our nation,” the Oct. 23 letter said, “and pornography is a cultural issue that needs changing.”


Mail-order abortion pill service may violate drug laws, FDA says

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 18:30

Denver, Colo., Oct 25, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A European online service that has been quietly offering mail-order abortion pills to women in the United States for several months is being investigated by the FDA for possibly violating abortion drug laws. Aid Access is a website that says it offers abortion-inducing drugs to healthy women who are nine weeks pregnant or less.

If women qualify for the pills through online consultations, Aid Access writes them prescriptions for the two abortion-inducing drugs, misoprostol and mifepristone. These prescriptions are filled at a pharmacy in India, which mails the drugs to women in the U.S.

To date, Aid Access has reportedly mailed abortion drugs to 600 women in the U.S. The service costs $95, and the website notes that financial aid is available.

The FDA, however, has issued warnings that women should not buy mifepristone online, “because you will bypass important safeguards designed to protect your health (and the health of others).”

“Mifeprex (mifepristone) has special safety restrictions on how it is distributed to the public. Also, drugs purchased from foreign Internet sources are not the FDA-approved versions of the drugs, and they are not subject to FDA-regulated manufacturing controls or FDA inspection of manufacturing facilities,” the warning states.

In a statement made earlier this week reported by The Guardian, the FDA said that it “takes the allegations related to the sale of mifepristone in the U.S. through online distribution channels very seriously and is evaluating the allegations to assess potential violations of U.S. law.”

Aid Access founder, Dutch physician Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, has not commented on the FDA statement but told CNN that she has “no worries.”

"Everything I do is according to the law," she said.

Gomperts is also the founder of Women on Web, a site launched 12 years ago to provide abortion drugs to women in countries where the procedure is illegal, and to military women serving overseas. Women on Web reportedly mails about 9,000 abortion pill packages to women each year.

Gomperts has said she believes she has a “moral obligation” to provide this service to women who may have difficulty accessing surgical or medical abortions for a variety of reasons.

A medical abortion consists of a woman taking two different medications within about 48 hours of each other – the first, mifepristone, blocks the progesterone that makes the womb an inhabitable place for a baby. The second, misoprostol, is taken 48 hours after the first pill, and makes the uterus contract and expel its contents – the baby.

Studies show that about one in every 100,000 women who induce a medical abortion will need surgical intervention due to complications. According to FDA numbers, about one in 155,000 women die from complications of medical abortions.

Doctors who perform medical abortion reversals have said that the risks of medical abortions are often due to lack of thorough follow-ups, because women often receive the abortion-inducing drugs from clinics with which they do not have an established relationship.

Pro-life groups have slammed Gomperts and her organizations for putting money and politics ahead of women’s welfare.

“Risking women’s lives to make a political point and a quick profit makes no sense, and we sadly anticipate horror stories when inevitably something goes wrong,” said Kristan Hawkins, a spokesperson for Students for Life of America (SFLA).

“Handing out deadly drugs through the mail is a disaster waiting to happen. We know that women have died using chemical abortion drugs, and that how far along a woman’s pregnancy is or where it is can be a life or death issue. Women later in pregnancy or women experiencing an ectopic pregnancy in particular are in great risk — two things that must be determined by examination and not by some online questionnaire,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Mail-order abortions would also aid abusers of women who want “to end wanted pregnancy, something that this distribution model would make even easier. Women deserve better,” she said. Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, told CNN that Aid Access’ service was "reckless and irresponsible,” especially since women cannot be screened online for an ectopic pregnancy, "a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition that no abortion clinic would try to manage."

"Because Gomperts' plan is dangerous to women's health and safety, the act of sending unregulated prescription abortion pills through the mail should be the subject of federal regulation," she told CNN. "For this reason, Americans United for Life is exploring the possibility of Congressional intervention to protect women."