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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Planned Parenthood announces highest election spending in its history

Sun, 01/19/2020 - 18:55

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2020 / 04:55 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood announced this week that it plans to spend $45 million to support pro-abortion candidates at the presidential, congressional, and state levels in the 2020 election.

The campaign, entitled “We Decide 2020,” marks the largest election spending in Planned Parenthood’s history.

Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, told CBS News that “The stakes have never been higher.”

She pointed to the upcoming Supreme Court case involving a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital as “an indicator of [the Trump Administration’s] intention and they've never been so bold.”

The case marks the first major abortion decision that the Supreme Court will hand down since U.S. President Donald Trump’s two court appointments. Abortion advocates fear it could reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

However, Lawson added that the Democratic hopefuls vying for an opportunity to challenge Trump also “have the boldest reproductive rights policies we've ever seen.”

This commitment to abortion policies among the Democratic candidates includes widespread opposition to the Hyde Amendment, an annual budget amendment since 1976 that prohibits federal tax dollars from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or when it is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother. The Hyde Amendment has enjoyed longstanding bipartisan support, and attempts to repeal it over the years have failed. Pro-life advocates estimate that more than 2 million unborn lives have been saved as a result of the policy.

Few of the Democratic candidates support restrictions on late-term abortions, and the majority have pledged to enshrine Roe v. Wade in federal law, appoint only pro-abortion judges, and advocate for abortion pills to be available without a prescription.

The Planned Parenthood Votes campaign will target Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, through digital, television, radio and mail ads, CBS News reports.

Planned Parenthood Votes is financially, structurally, and operationally independent from the group’s clinics, according to CBS News.

Still, the role that abortion plays in the non-profit’s overall work has been a subject of controversy. Last July, Planned Parenthood’s president, Dr. Leana Wen, was forced out after disagreements with board leaders over whether the organization should focus on health care or abortion advocacy.

Wen, who had been at the helm for eight months, said her goal had been to focus on health care for underserved women, while board leaders saw political advocacy in support of abortion as the organization’s priority.

Wen was replaced by Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of Planned Parenthood, who told CBS News last year that the organization is “not political by nature” but has been politicized and forced into focusing on political advocacy.

Meanwhile, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and its partner Women Speak Out PAC have announced a $52 million budget for the 2020 election cycle.

In addition to phone calls and digital and mail-based ads, the campaign plans to make 4 million visits to voters before the election, focusing on Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the groups, said the campaign will focus on educating traditional Democratic voters about the “extreme pro-abortion policies” supported by Democratic presidential and Senate candidates.

“Polls confirm what our on-the-ground experience and message testing show to be true: Democrats’ abortion radicalism is a liability for them at the ballot box,” she said. “Our focused, battle-tested voter outreach method will ensure we reach the voters who can provide President Trump and pro-life Senate candidates the winning margin on Election Day.”
 

 

DiMarzio welcomes investigation, points to personal record fighting abuse

Sun, 01/19/2020 - 12:00

New York City, N.Y., Jan 19, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has issued a statement welcoming an investigation into an accusation of sexual abuse made against him last year.

In a statement released to CNA on Sunday Jan. 19, the Diocese of Brooklyn said that Bishop DiMarzio had done nothing wrong and had no intention of stepping aside during the Vatican-ordered enquiry into the allegation, which dates back to the 1970s and DiMarzio’s time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark.

“Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has categorically denied the allegation against him,” the statement said. “He will vigorously defend himself against this false claim and is confident the truth will prevail.”

On Jan. 18, the Archdiocese of New York confirmed that Cardinal Timothy Dolan had been asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to conduct an investigation into the allegations of 56-year-old Mark Matzek.

Matzek alleges that DiMarzio and another priest, now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Diocese of Newark in the 1970s.

Although lawyer Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark in November saying he was preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek seeking $20 million, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn diocese told CNA on Sunday that no suit had yet been filed.

The investigation is being conducted under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi, the motu proprio issued by Pope Francis in May, 2019, which provided new mechanisms for handling accusations against bishops.

“As the Church investigation is a Vos estis lux mundi probe, it does not require that Bishop DiMarzio step aside during the preliminary investigation,” the statement from the Brooklyn diocese noted. “As such, his status has not changed.

The Diocese of Brooklyn also noted that in the two months since the accusation was made public, DiMarzio had received constant messages of support from Catholics in and out of the diocese.

“There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for Bishop DiMarzio, from here in the Diocese of Brooklyn and from the people he has served throughout his 50-year ministry, including parishioners from his time as parochial vicar at St. Nicholas Church in Jersey City,” the statement said.

The Diocese of Brooklyn also underscored DiMarzio’s reputation as a “recognized as a leader” in combatting sexual abuse in the Church.

“Even before the mandates of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop DiMarzio created protocols when he was the bishop in the Diocese of Camden from 1999-2003 to ensure that children were protected and that victims received the care they need,” a spokesperson for the bishop said.

The statement also noted that DiMarzio’s policies for the Diocese of Brooklyn, issued in 2003, went beyond the requirements of the Dallas Charter agreed by the U.S. bishops, and included an independent hotline for reporting abuse through which complaints are automatically sent to the district attorney.

“His record in fighting sexual abuse is further evident in Pope Francis’ recent selection of him to conduct an investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo,” a spokesperson for the bishop said, referring to the Apostolic Visitation of that diocese conducted by DiMarzio in October and November last year.

DiMarzio is the second U.S. bishop to be investigated under the norms of Vos estis since its promulgation by Pope Francis in May last year.

In September 2019, the Vatican ordered St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda to conduct an investigation using the new laws into Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner, who is alleged to have knowing kept an abusive priest in ministry. Hebda sent his report to Rome in early November.

While the Archdiocese of New York has not released a timeline for the investigation into DiMarzio, the Diocese of Brooklyn said that the bishop “looks forward to the investigation of the allegation made against him and having his good name cleared and restored.”

Cardinal Dolan conducting 'Vos estis' investigation into Brooklyn's Bishop DiMarzio

Sat, 01/18/2020 - 23:05

New York City, N.Y., Jan 18, 2020 / 09:05 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan is conducting an investigation into Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, following an allegation of sexual abuse.

The investigation is being conducted under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, the Church law issued by Pope Francis last year on dealing with accusations against bishops.

In a statement released Jan. 18, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications in the Archdiocese of New York, confirmed the investigation.

“As directed by Vos estis, Cardinal Dolan earlier notified the Holy See of the allegation that was raised concerning Bishop DiMarzio from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark. On January 7, 2020, the Cardinal received instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he is to begin an investigation.”

On Nov. 13, 2019, DiMarzio publicly announced that he was the subject of an allegation of sexually abusing a minor, dating back to his time as a priest in the 1970s in Jersey City.

According to the Associated Press, 56-year-old Mark Matzek says DiMarzio and another priest, who is now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Newark. DiMarzio was a priest there at the time.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark in November, notifying them that he was preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek. The suit is reportedly seeking $20 million.

DiMarzio has strongly denied the allegations, calling sexual abuse a “despicable crime” and highlighting his own work to eradicate it from his own Diocese of Brooklyn. In November, the bishop said that he would vigorously defend himself.

“In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation,” DiMarzio said.

The allegation was made shortly after DiMarzio himself concluded his own investigation into another bishop on behalf of the Vatican.

On instructions of the Congregation for Bishops, in October and November last year, DiMarzio conducted an apostolic visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo, which faced months of scandal surrounding Bishop Richard Malone, who was accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against a priest in his diocese.

Although that visitation was not conducted under the rules of Vos estis, Malone’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in December last year.

DiMarzio is the second U.S. bishop to be investigated under the norms of Vos estis since its promulgation by Pope Francis in May 2019.

In September 2019, the Vatican ordered St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda to conduct an investigation using the new laws into Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner, who is alleged to have knowingly kept an abusive priest in ministry, and pressured an alleged abuse victim to withdraw an allegation against a priest. Hebda sent his report to Rome in early November.

A spokesman for Cardinal Dolan said that the cardinal will be using experts to assist him in his task, but did not give a timeline for the enquiry into DiMarzio.

“As is our practice, the cardinal will rely on outside professional forensic investigators to assist him in this matter,” he said.

“The archdiocese will have no further comment on the matter while the investigation is undertaken.”

Miami archbishop promotes refugee resettlement

Sat, 01/18/2020 - 08:01

Miami, Fla., Jan 18, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Miami has emphasized the importance of welcoming refugees, and decried the decision of Texas Governor Greg Abbott not to participate in the federal refugee resettlement program.

“Often mentored by church volunteers and given resettlement support, refugees and their family quickly integrate into American society, finding work and making a positive contribution to their adopted country,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski in a Jan. 16 letter to the editor of the Miami Herald.

“Resettlement agencies are preparing to submit proposals to the Office of Refugee Resettlement on Jan. 21 to continue this ministry of ‘welcoming the stranger.’ Catholic Charities look forward to local governments continuing welcoming refugees in those communities where we already serve.”

The archbishop noted that Catholic Charities in Florida sponsored unaccompanied Cuban minors in the 1960s, resettled refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s, and has participated in the US Refugee Program since it began in 1980.

He stressed the security of the vetting policies already conducted by the United States' government. He said refugees have to meet established criteria such as fleeing religious persecution or political violence.

“Refugees are thoroughly vetted by agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, and the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and State,” he said.

A September 2019 executive order by President Trump requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries.

Archbishop Wenski expressed disappointment in Abbott for discontinuing Texas' participation in the refugee resettlement program.

“Forty two governors have gone on record supporting refugee services - 19 are Republican. Only the governor of Texas decided to discontinue resettlement - apparently without much public support.”

“Florida, and refugees, would lose if we were to follow Texas’ example,” he added.

Last week, the 16 bishops in Texas described Abbott’s move as “deeply discouraging and disheartening.” They asked the governor to reconsider his decision, noting that refugees contribute a great deal to society.

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided. It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans,” the bishops said in a Jan. 10 statement.

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien. We use this occasion to commit ourselves even more ardently to work with all people of good will, including our federal, state and local governments, to help refugees integrate and become productive members of our communities.”

Catholic family looks to honor late daughter with a dance

Sat, 01/18/2020 - 06:00

South Bend, Ind., Jan 18, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Raffaella Stroik loved beauty.

A devout Catholic and a talented professional ballerina, Raffaella felt she experienced the beatific vision when she was performing for others. She hoped her art could be transformative in their lives.

But Raffaella’s short life ended in tragedy. On Nov. 14, 2018, her body was found in a lake some 140 miles from St. Louis, where she was a member of the city’s ballet. She was 23 years old.

Authorities ruled that there seemed to have been neither foul play nor self-harm.

"...the only thing that seems to have happened, could have happened, is some kind of an accident," Duncan Stroik, Raffaella’s father, told WNDU News in South Bend, Indiana in November. "We don't know what could have happened."

In order to honor and continue their daughter’s legacy, Duncan and his family have decided to create a traditional ballet in honor of Rafaella, loosely based on her life and incorporating the elements of beauty and art that their daughter loved about ballet.

“We were trying to figure out how to remember her and how to memorialize her,” Stroik told CNA. “And I'm an architect, so I think buildings, monuments, tombstones, all kinds of things. And my wife actually had a dream that we would remember her through dance.”

“The goal was to continue her work, which was as a ballerina, in a way that we could, which is to create a new ballet,” he said.

Creating a new ballet is no easy feat, particularly a traditional ballet, which includes more in the way of sets and costumes and artistry than the minimalistic style of most contemporary ballets.

For help, the family set up an online fundraiser in order to raise the necessary money to hire professionals who could write the music and the choreography and help design the sets and costumes of the ballet.

“There's a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Stroik said. “There's a lot of artists that are part of this. And I've been calling myself the impresario, the producer in movie terms, who's organizing all of it, but then trying to hire the best people that would share our vision for this ballet.”

Stroik said they went with a traditional ballet because that was Raffaella’s favorite style, and they believed it would be the best way to create a more timeless ballet that could endure through the ages. Raffaella was inspired by the romantic, fairy-tale style and themes of traditional ballets and believed it could do more to portray beauty than the style of contemporary ballet.

“Raffaella's passion was to bring beauty to the world in many ways,” Stroik added. “Her prime strength was in dance and she really was trying in her own way to do things that were glorifying to God through traditional ballet and the beauty of the human body and what it can do.”

Stroik and his wife are writing the story of the ballet, which will loosely follow their daughter’s life - friends and family of Raffaella will be able to recognize the similarities, he said.

The story takes place in Italy, one of Raffaella’s favorite places to visit and the language that she studied. The story will take place in the 18th century so that it can incorporate some of the elements of traditional ballets - kings and queens, princes and princesses, peasants and village life.

The character of Rafaella will be a princess who grows up wanting to be an artist like her parents, meets interesting people in her life, and interacts with both a good prince and a deceptive prince who vie for her attention.

“(She’s) really searching for the true prince, and she sees him from time to time in her life. And then the other prince who comes along sweeps her off her feet and is very attractive, and she's totally compelled by him but he turns out to be a deceptive prince,” Stroik said.

Stroik noted that the theme of superficial beauty and its deceptive power is a common one in other traditional ballets.

The ballet's ending, of course, cannot be given away.

“My hope is it's the kind of story with the kind of good and evil love, joy, hatred, fighting, peacemaking that will speak to people for generations. That's my goal,” Stroik said.

The desire for a ballet that transcends generations is an idea that comes from his Catholic faith, Stroik added.

“We want to do something that's timeless, that's universal. And I think that relates to our Catholic faith. We're not doing something just for today...but we also want it to - if it's really good - hopefully, it will speak to future generations as well. So we'll see, but that's our goal,” he said. 

Rafaella’s Catholic faith was always central to her life and her art, Stroik said, and he noticed it in how she interacted with others as well as in her passion for her art.

“It caused her to try to always put other people first, which we saw a lot in her life. It caused her to forgive...and she tried, as best she could, to live the Beatitudes,” he said.

“She told us that when she danced and danced really well, she felt like she was experiencing the beatific vision. She really felt that it was a very religious, spiritual experience, especially performing,” he said. “She was experiencing a taste of heaven.”

The Stroiks have raised $115,000 of their $250,000 goal, and Duncan said he has been surprised and touched by the way this project has touched the hearts of people who knew Raffaella and those who did not.

“One of the things that's really surprised me in a good way is how many notes I've gotten from people - people that I know, but also people that I don't know - telling me they love the idea. They said, ‘What a beautiful tribute to your daughter.’ And, again, people that I don't even know will write me notes and say, ‘This is fantastic that you're doing this.’”

Stroik said he hopes the ballet will be ready to premiere in spring or summer of 2022. He said they are still exploring options as to where it will debut, but they are hoping to recruit dancers from Rafaella’s life - from her time at the St. Louis ballet, her college ballet at Indiana University, and her high school ballet - who are professional dancers and friends of Rafaella to perform in it.

“I'm hoping that some of them will return to be part of this production,” he said.

Stroik added that he hopes people who come to see the “Raffaella” ballet will walk away with a new appreciation for the beauty of the art form and with a sense of hope.

“We want to do this ballet in order to bring a whole new audience to ballet, for a broader audience,” he said. “And because ballet can be very beautiful, very powerful, and it can speak to all the issues that concern our lives and give us...in this case, it's a tragedy, but the way we've written the story is it's also full of hope, because Raffaella was a girl with a lot of hope and a lot of faith.”

 

Buffalo administrator: Catholic Charities donations will not go to abuse settlements

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 21:19

Buffalo, N.Y., Jan 17, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- The apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo said this week that despite the possibility the diocese could file for bankruptcy protection to settle over 200 lawsuits related to sexual abuse, donations made to Catholic Charities this year will be used to help the needy rather than to pay for lawsuits.

“All of the money that we are collecting is going toward immediate goals. We’re not talking about years down the line. We’re talking about right now. They are immediate and must be met, so we continue the campaign to meet those goals...The last thing we want to do is in any way to curtail the services because the needs are real,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said Tuesday as reported by the Buffalo News.

Catholic Charities of Buffalo announced Jan. 14 the launch of its 2020 appeal, with a goal of $10 million – $1 million less than last year’s goal. Programs and services provided by Catholic Charities benefited more than 160,000 people in 2019, the group reported.

Last year, Catholic Charities of Buffalo raised $9.5 million, $1.5 million short of their goal.

Buffalo's Bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019 after more than a year of calls for his resignation, amid accusations that he mishandled abuse cases in the diocese.

The recent enactment of the Child Victims Act in New York expanded the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits and a one-year filing window for suits related to historical cases.

To date, the Buffalo diocese has been hit with more than 225 lawsuits, the Buffalo News reports. In the days following his appointment as apostolic administrator, Scharfenberger indicated that he would not rule out bankruptcy as an option to settle the lawsuits.

The Diocese of Buffalo shut down its credit cards last September, and although some have interpreted the move as a step towards bankruptcy, officials said the decision was unrelated to the scandals and lawsuits affecting the diocese.

Scharfenberger said Tuesday that even if the diocese does file for bankruptcy, contributions to the 2020 Catholic Charities appeal would not be affected because a Chapter 11 reorganization would take years to complete, the Buffalo News reported.

In addition, Catholic Charities is separately incorporated from the Buffalo Diocese, which means its assets would not be in play in the case of the diocese declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would trigger an intense analysis of the diocese’s assets to determine what could be used to pay settlements, The Buffalo News reports.

In the past, about one-third of the funds raised during Catholic Charities’ appeal goes to Fund for the Faith, which is controlled by the diocese and is used for ministries such as diocese communications, seminary training, and campus ministry, the Buffalo News reports.

For the second year, donors to Catholic Charities will have the option to give to the Appeal as in previous years, which benefits Catholic Charities and the Fund for the Faith; give to Catholic Charities only; or give to the Fund for the Faith only.

In December, Catholic Charities announced Deacon Steve Schumer as the organization’s new President and CEO, effective Jan. 6, 2020.

“My understanding of the law is donor designated funds are donor designated. So, I tell people, in all honesty, yes, contribute your resources, and we’ll put them to work in the way you intend,” Schumer told the Buffalo News.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

On Oct. 3, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation – and canonical inspection – of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops.

That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.

Scharfenberger has said that he was not given a clear mandate by the Vatican when he was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese in December, and that he has not yet seen DiMarzio’s report.

Scharfenberger has emphasized that his position as apostolic administrator is by definition temporary, and the decision of who will ultimately lead the diocese is entirely up to the Holy See.

Supreme Court will hear Little Sisters of the Poor case, again

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor will have their case heard before the Supreme Court yet again in their years-long fight against the federal contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear oral arguments in the case of the sisters against the State of Pennsylvania, which challenged the order’s exemption from the contraceptive mandate.

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a statement on Friday. 

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all,” she said. 

“We are hopeful that this trip to the Supreme Court will be their last,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, which represents the sisters in court.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. Their mission is to care for the poor and the elderly in more than 30 countries.

Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit by the State of Pennsylvania against the exemption granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the contraceptive mandate.

The sisters originally sued the federal government over the mandate that employers provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs in health plans. The religious exemption that the Obama administration originally granted was so narrow that the sisters, and many other religious non-profits were not eligible.

When the administration issued an accommodation for the objecting non-profits, the sisters and other religious entities, including Catholic dioceses and charities, still challenged it in court.

Under the revised procedure, the objecting parties would report their objection to the government, which in turn would notify the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the contraceptive coverage anyway. The sisters said they would still be cooperating with the provision of morally objectionable drugs and procedures.

In 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case of the sisters and others back to the circuit courts, ordering the government and the objecting parties to come to an agreement respecting both the administration’s goal of contraceptive coverage and the sisters’ wishes to be exempt from participation in it.

Then in October of 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule protecting religious entities that objected to the mandate.

However, attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California challenged the rule in court, saying that the sisters and other objecting religious non-profits should not be exempt.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments in March of 2018 to determine if the sisters could intervene in the states’ lawsuits, which in April the Court said they could.

At the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania in July of 2019, and appealed to the Supreme Court in October. The Court on Friday agreed to hear their case.

The sisters also lost their case against California’s lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court in October.

Catholic parish will not host Episcopalian consecration

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 13:30

Richmond, Va., Jan 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia will no longer hold an episcopal consecration and ordination at a Catholic parish in Williamsburg, following an internet petition signed by over 3,000 people objecting to the event. 

“It is with great sadness that I have received a letter from Bishop-Elect Susan Haynes stating that, due to the controversy of the proposed use of St. Bede Catholic Church for her consecration of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, she has decided to find another location for the ceremony to take place,” said a statement from Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic Richmond diocese on Friday, Jan. 17. St. Bede Catholic Church is located within the diocese. 

A statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia said that the consecration will now take place at Williamsburg Community Chapel. The Williamsburg Community Chapel’s website states that it is home to an “interdenominational family of faith.” 

“The decision to change the location from St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg arose out of concern and respect for the ministries and leadership of both the Catholic parish and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond,” said the unsigned statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, released Friday. 

“Learning that its intended use of the building was causing dismay and distress, the Episcopal Diocese withdrew from its contract with St. Bede.”

The statement from the Episcopalian diocese cited 1 Corinthians 8, which warned against “pursuing behavior that might cause problems for others within their community.” 

Episcopal Bishop-Elect Haynes wrote a letter to Knestout and Msgr. Joseph Lehman, pastor of St. Bede, announcing the decision to change the location and thanking them for their prior willingness to host the event. 

“I am writing to withdraw from our contract to use the lovely, holy space of St. Bede for my upcoming consecration as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia,” said Haynes. “We have so appreciated and admired your grace and courage in extending this hospitality and abiding by your invitation even under fire from those within your own flocks.”

Knestout had defended the decision to grant permission to the Episcopal diocese to consecrate an Episcopalian bishop in the Catholic parish, citing various Vatican Council II documents on the importance of ecumenism and hospitality. Permission was first granted to host the event within the parish church in December 2018, well before Haynes was elected as bishop.

In the statement, Knestout said that his diocese “look(s) forward to continuing our ecumenical dialogue with the Episcopal community, and to working with Bishop-Elect Haynes in fortifying the long standing cordial relationship between our communities and our joint service to the poor.” 

Knestout said that he would be praying for Haynes and the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and encouraged the Catholics in his diocese to pray for them as well.

“Pray that the fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with humility, kindness, gentleness and joy, be expressed and strengthened in all our faith communities,” he said.

The Episcopal Dioceses of Southern Virginia, Southwestern Virginia do not have a cathedral, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which covers the northern part of the commonwealth, has only a “cathedral shrine.” Past episocpal ordinations for the Diocese of Southern Virginia have occurred either in Episcopal parishes or in other, non-Catholic locations.

'No international right to abortion' says HHS Secretary

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- There is no international right to abortion, the U.S. health secretary told officials from more than 30 countries on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“I stated this fact at the United Nations this past September, and I'll repeat it here: there is no international human right to abortion. On the other hand, there is an international human right to life,” Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated in remarks first reported by the Washington Times.

Azar addressed representatives from more than 30 other countries at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Other U.S. and international officials addressed the audience, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák, and the Deputy Chief of Mission Minister-Counselor Fernando Pimentel of Brazil.

Novak noted Azar’s remarks on abortion, on Twitter, and also said that Azar was the guest of the Hungarian Embassy to the U.S. on Wednesday, where he thanked Hungary and Poland for their cooperation on life and family issues.

In September, Azar also said “there is no international right to an abortion” at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Azar read a joint statement of the U.S. and 18 other countries before a high-level meeting on universal health coverage, where he said that “ambiguous terms,” including “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” should be opposed in UN documents as they can be interpreted to undermine the family and push for abortion.

On Thursday, Azar encouraged the countries present to collaborate with the U.S. in fighting against abortion at upcoming international meetings including the World Health Organization’s board meeting in Geneva, the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York, the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Thank you for taking a courageous stand with us for the unborn. Thank you for standing up for the idea that every life has value. And thank you for making clear that national sovereignty is not a vague or old fashioned concept, but the most important duty for each of us as leaders in our respective governments,” Azar said.

The venue for Thursday’s gathering, the Blair House, has a history of diplomacy, Azar said, as it hosted discussions between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, at the outset of World War II, to produce the Atlantic Charter.

“The Atlantic Charter highlighted the need for greater cooperation and collaboration, and emphasized that each nation has a sovereign right to self-determination,” Azar said. “These same principles came to undergird the work of the institutions that play a role in our modern world, including the United Nations and affiliated agencies like the World Health Organization.”

“These organizations were founded to protect human rights, defend the vulnerable, and give voices to all nations,” he said. “So it is fitting that we are gathered here, in this historic diplomatic setting, to take the next steps in our work to make these organizations live up to their founding ideals.

Washington DC clears out homeless camp, breaking up community

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:01

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 08:01 am (CNA).- A homeless encampment in Washington, DC, was permanently dismantled on Thursday, in a move the city said was designed to better improve the safety of the city’s sidewalks.

One former resident told CNA that he believes the dismantling was necessary, and he blames the city for letting the encampment escalate to the point of being out of control.

The encampment, located beneath the K Street NE train bridge, is one of three located on the city’s K, L, and M streets in the northeast quadrant of the city. It was cleared out at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

That afternoon, just one tent--belonging to a woman who was placed in a psychiatric hold earlier that morning out of fear she was going to harm herself--remained, along with scattered litter. 

Most of the former K Street residents have migrated to one of the other encampments nearby. One of those residents, Mike Harris, spoke to CNA about why he chose to move to L Street and why he thought it was “necessary” for the city to clean out his former street.

Harris said that he had lived for about eight months on K Street, and during that time, the conditions in the area had gotten continuously worse. Harris, who uses a wheelchair, said that he had been unable to navigate the sidewalks due to the size, placement, and number of tents, as well as the presence of lawn chairs in front of the tents.

He said he empathized with the people who complained about being unable to push strollers or even walk on the sidewalks due to the presence of tents. 

Harris said that while he was not sure it was necessary to permanently shut down the encampment, he did think it needed to be addressed, as the situation had deteriorated in recent months. 

Harris laid blame at the city for how K Street had changed. He told CNA that when he first moved to K Street, the city had been enforcing various regulations and laws regarding the placement and size of tents. That changed over time.

“I was there for two days and my tent got a warning,” said Harris. “I wasn’t even that far over.” He said that his neighbors, whose tents were blocking pedestrians from using the sidewalk, never received similar warnings, even though their tents were in violation. 

“[Now] 26 to 40 people who lived under the K Street bridge got displaced because approximately five or six people didn’t want to abide by the rules,” said Harris. “Everybody had to suffer the consequences of the actions of a few.” 

Harris told CNA that he thinks the city of Washington wanted the encampment to become a “red flag situation” that would “justify the removal” of the tents. Hence, they stopped enforcing rules. 

Fr. Bill Carloni, the pastor at the nearby Holy Name of Jesus Parish, told CNA that he has been ministering to the homeless populations for about three years. His parish runs a food pantry and also distributes lunches to the homeless on a weekly basis. Carloni told CNA he was concerned about what the future would hold for the former K Street residents. 

“Unfortunately, I still don’t know what happens now,” Carloni told CNA. He said that over the last eight months, he had noticed a “significant increase” in the number of people living under the bridge. 

“I think that more people are getting priced out of DC,” said Carloni. “I mean, we see another element of it where more people are coming looking for emergency rental assistance because they can no longer afford the rents and they are on the verge of becoming homeless.” 

Carloni said there is no “typical” resident of the homeless encampments, and that they ranged in age, health, and reasons for homelessness. Many suffer from mental illness. He said that while there was a reputation for danger and crime in the encampment, Carloni said he’d “never felt threatened” or been mistreated. 

As a pastor, Fr. Carloni said that he worries about the people he ministers to on the streets, and when the encampments are cleaned out, he has to work hard to track everyone down to ensure they are doing okay. While Carloni was concerned that there would be conflict due to the melding of the various encampments, Harris said that there was none of that thus far. 

“I’ve found [the homeless population on K Street] to be amicable and kind of community oriented, like I know a lot of them, that they care for each other,” Carloni said. 

“They like to eat together as a community and they like to share.” 

Harris confirmed this. As he spoke to CNA, other residents of L Street were helping him to move his belongings into his tent. He said there were plans to construct a community table on the street, where the residents would gather for meals and fellowship. 

There are imminent plans to install a generator on the street corner to provide electricity to charge phones--something that Harris said is crucial in the job search that might lead to getting off the street. This generator was purchased with money that was crowdfunded.

Harris said that he had been homeless for about a year, and had lived in the city’s homeless shelters before making the move to K Street. He told CNA that he much preferred life on the streets to life in the shelters.

Life in the shelters, said Harris, was over-regulated and no safer than living in a tent. 

“[The shelters] are nothing to write home about,” he said. “There’s violence, there’s germs, there’s disease, physical altercations, and a lot of stuff that you have to deal with living in such close proximity.”

On the street, he said, there are no set times to check in or leave, and there is more privacy and divided up space amongst residents. In the DC shelters, people sleep on cots or bunk beds. 

“There are benefits of being out here. There’s some shortfalls, too,” he said, noting that he recently had a tent stolen from him when it was packed up. “And I’ve had a backpack stolen too, but I’ve had stuff stolen at shelters too.”

“Yeah, it’s bearable. It’s much more bearable than an institutionalized shelter-type situation,” said Harris. 

Harris will not be spending much more time on the streets. He received a housing voucher, and had there not been a “signature snafu,” he would already have moved into an apartment by now. He told CNA that he has a “great support team,” and that he regularly attends Bible study, church services, and a men’s group. 

It was these influences which helped him to keep his faith during his time being homeless, and he hopes to one day to help others in his situation, as “some of the people out here who are chronically homeless, they lose hope, drive, motivation, courage and faith.” 

“I’ve got a network of positive-minded individuals that’s helping me weather the storm, and I’m going to try to encourage other people who are currently homeless to do the same thing,” he said.

He urges his associates on the streets to “develop a network, a support group, a support team. Someone that can call and check in on, come by, see if you’re doing alright.”

“Just to let you know that someone cares [about you] means a lot.”

Report: Around the world, 260 million Christians face persecution 

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 04:45

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 02:45 am (CNA).- Christian persecution around the world is a growing problem, says a new report from an agency that documents abuses against Christians across the globe.

Worldwide, the report states, 260 million Christians are facing persecution. This marks a 6% increase from the previous year.

The annual report from Open Doors, released Jan. 15, ranked North Korea first on its list of 50 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian, the 18th straight year that the country has received that designation.

There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst the total population of 25.4 million in North Korea. Open Doors reports that if North Korean Christians are discovered, the government will deport them to labor camps as political criminals or even kill them on the spot. Meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it is done in complete secrecy.

Following North Korea on the World Watch List Top 10 are Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.

“Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, rape, and even death as a result of their faith,” Open Doors said in a release accompanying the report.

China featured four spots higher on the list than last year, up from number 27 in 2019 to number 23 in 2020, due in large part to the Communist government’s efforts to preserve its rule.

Christians in China experienced, among other things, an increase in attacks on churches in the past year. Open Doors reports that 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List, compared with 1,847 attacks reported on churches worldwide in 2019. In 2020, the number is conservatively estimated to be at least 5,576 in China alone, the report states.

According to Open Doors, there are at least 97 million Christians in China. Policies enacted by the Communist Party in 2018 to “sinicize” the church - or adapt it to their way of thinking - have been enforced in more and more territories, resulting in the dramatic increase of persecution against Christians, the group reports.

People of faith also suffer from continual surveillance by the government. Open Doors cites a CNBC report that says there are nearly half a billion surveillance cameras in China, a number only expected to grow.

Additionally, Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from attending church, places of worship are monitored, and pastors are increasingly being asked to register with the Communist government, risking church closure and arrest if they refuse, the report continues. More than 5,500 churches in China have been closed down, and churches in at least 23 provinces have been harassed or shuttered.

There were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, the report states. Many attacks on Christians in India are perpetrated by radical Hindus and often take the form of mob violence.

Muslim extremist groups were responsible for significant violence against Christians worldwide in the past year. For example, in Sri Lanka, 250 people died and more than 500 were injured in attacks on Catholic and Protestant churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, the report notes. In Pakistan, radical Islamist groups often are given free rein by the government, the report says.

In Iraq and Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians— as much as 87% of the Christian population in Iraq— have been forced to flee due to civil war and the presence of militant groups such as the Islamic State.

Outside of Asia, the report took note of the plight of Christians in the African nation of Burkina Faso, which has risen 33 spots in the past year. Dozens of Catholic priests have been killed in the past year, and Protestant pastors and their families have been killed or kidnapped by violent Islamist militants.

Notably, a spate of violence in churches in Burkina Faso last summer and continuing throughout the year led to Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya saying in December that the Western world has been ignoring the plight of Christians in West Africa and has even been selling militants the weapons that they are using to kill Christians.

In total, nearly half a million people were forced to flee their homes in Burkina Faso in the last five years, and more than 60 Christians were murdered by militants in the country in 2019.

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram also maintains a presence in such countries as northern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Churches critical in fighting human trafficking, members of Congress told

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 19:15

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Faith-based groups play a critical role in the global fight against human trafficking—one which merits a closer partnership with the U.S., one Catholic leader told members of Congress Wednesday.

“Churches are safe havens for individuals and oftentimes the first place that victims seek protection and support,” said Limnyuy Konglim, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission’s U.S. Liaison Office in Washington, DC., to commissioners of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Jan. 15. The hearing before the bipartisan body in the House of Representatives marked the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

She added that “it is critical that faith-based actors receive greater consideration as implementing partners, in addition to suppliers of information for reporting.”

Almost 25 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking, an industry which is estimated to be worth $150 billion.

The TVPA, enacted in 2000 and authored by commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), set up punishments for traffickers, victim assistance, and prevention programs, making changes to the criminal code such as classifying that a minor exploited by a commercial sex act was a victim and not a perpetrator.

It also established a tier ratings system for countries at the State Department, based upon their efforts and success in curbing trafficking.

“Though it is hard to believe it now, when I first introduced the TVPA, the legislation was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition—dismissed by many as a solution in search of a problem,” Smith said Wednesday. “Reports of vulnerable persons—especially women and children—being reduced to commodities for sale were often met with surprise, incredulity or indifference.”

On Tuesday the Justice Department hosted a Summit on Combating Human Trafficking, during which Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen credited the law with spurring an increase in trafficking charges and convictions, but noted that “we have so much left to do.”

“The TVPA responded to the fact that the ability of one person to control, exploit, abuse and profit from another person’s labor and commercial sex acts has not yet been fully eradicated.  And it needs to be,” he said.

Also testifying on Wednesday were two Trump administration officials: the State Department’s trafficking ambassador John Cotton Richmond, and Katherine Chon, director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Konglim’s group, the ICMC, helps build a global network of national bishops’ conferences and Catholic institutions to serve migrants, refugees, and trafficking victims.

“The work of ICMC is inspired by the Holy Bible, as well as by the ongoing Teaching and
Tradition of the Catholic Church; and we are deeply inspired and guided by Pope Francis, who
has prioritized the Church response to human trafficking,” Konglim said Wednesday.

“As he [Pope Francis] has so eloquently said, ‘We are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country,’ and therefore, ‘we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.’”

She was formerly an advisor on humanitarian protection at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and advised the U.S. bishops’ conference on refugee policy and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts for the conference.

On Wednesday, she emphasized the need for the U.S. to work more closely with faith-based aid groups that are working with local actors on the ground around the world.

She noted that “considering the deep presence and trust of grassroot Catholic organizations within vulnerable communities, there has been a concerted effort to build their capacity,” and that “Organizations such as ICMC, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Caritas International to name a few—have provided both organizational and technical assistance to enhance the response of local actors.”

Smith noted the “long-standing” work of faith-based groups around the world “providing an enormous amount of support for people who have been horribly mistreated.”

He said he had witnessed faith play a critical role in the recovery process for trafficking survivors.

“I have actually been in trafficking shelters all over the world,” he said, “but I was struck … how women who had been so horribly mistreated and raped and assaulted, it was their faith and the nourishment that came from that, the sense of reconciliation, that was helping them to get their lives back together.”

Konglim vouched for the work of faith-based groups in fighting trafficking. “If they can serve, they will serve,” she said, noting the work done by Vatican conferences on trafficking prevention which gathered actors from all over the globe.

In February 2018, the Vatican hosted a conference on human trafficking with Church leaders and law enforcement officers from more than 30 countries.

Trafficking survivors need “holistic,” long-term assistance to get back on their feet, such as shelter and vocational training, she said, and faith-based groups “are looking at the holistic restoration of the person, and they do their best to serve them from beginning to end.”

These groups also have a global network to help better reunify trafficking survivors with their families on other continents.

Asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of the state of trafficking in the U.S., Konglim said that her group, through the USCCB, has observed, “there is definitely a challenge with labor trafficking, and how that’s being recognized.”

“Irregular migration does impact the occurrence of the trafficking, and that migrant populations are more vulnerable,” she said. “And so we are definitely concerned with there being increased border screening, to ensure that people that are coming in are not victims of trafficking, and if they are, they are receiving the appropriate services that they deserve.”

US Senate bill would abolish tax-deductibility of abortions

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Abortion is Not Healthcare Act Jan. 9, a bill that would reclassify abortions in the tax code and end their tax deductibility.

Currently, abortions are eligible for tax deductions with the Internal Revenue Service because they are considered out-of-pocket medical care.

According to the IRS, Section 213(a) of the tax code “allows a deduction for expenses paid during the taxable year, not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, for medical care of the taxpayer, spouse, or dependent, to the extent the expenses exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.”

The Abortion is Not Healthcare Act would amend section 213 of the IRS tax code to disqualify abortions from being classified as medical care, and thus disqualify them from contributing to the total medical expenses for the year.

Lee said in a statement that to classify abortion as health care is misleading.

“The government should not offer tax benefits for a procedure that kills hundreds of thousands of unborn children each year, nor should taxpayers subsidize such a practice. This undermines the truth that all human beings have dignity and worth, and that the purpose of healthcare is to heal and care for them - not kill them,” Lee said.

“Our bill would end the preferential tax treatment of abortion and clarify that this gruesome practice is not healthcare,” he added.

The bill was co-sponsored by 16 other Republican Senators: Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Scott (R-FL), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Steve Daines (R-MO), Ben Sasse (R-NE), David Purdue (R-GA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Scott (R-SC), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).

In May, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz, introduced a corresponding bill to the House, which was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, among other pro-life organizations.

Bishop calls Americans to build 'culture of religious freedom'

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The head of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee called on Americans to build a “culture of religious freedom” that respects the ability of all people to live out their beliefs in peace.

Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a statement for Religious Freedom Day, observed nationally on Jan. 16.

“The establishment of a culture of religious freedom is always an ongoing task,” he said. “A culture of religious freedom consists of respect for the dignity of others as they seek to live in accordance with the truth about God.”

Such a culture, he said, allows all people to thrive. Yet today, many religious communities continue to face obstacles in practicing their faith freely.

“Even today, many Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other communities, all in different ways, face challenges to their religious freedom,” Murry said. “A culture of freedom means that all people of faith and all religious groups are able to freely worship and participate in the life of our society, without fear of intimidation or coercion.”

In his proclamation of Religious Freedom Day 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump said religious liberty is a building block of the United States, attracting the pilgrims and many other early settlers in the country.

“More than 230 years ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was authored and championed by Thomas Jefferson,” he said. “This statute served as the catalyst for the First Amendment, which enshrined in law our conviction to prevent government interference in religion.”

Trump said that during his time in office, he has been committed to defending religious freedom at home and promoting it abroad.

He noted the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Last month, three civilians and a police detective were killed in a shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two weeks later, a stabbing left five people injured during a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in New York.

“To fight the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, I signed an Executive Order last month to ensure that Federal agencies are using nondiscrimination authorities to combat this venomous bigotry,” he said. “I have also made clear that my Administration will not tolerate the violation of any American’s ability to worship freely and openly and to live as his or her faith commands.”

Bishop Murry applauded the actions taken by the Trump administration, which late last year proposed a rule change to ensure that religious social service providers would not be refused federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services based on their belief in marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The proposal would particularly shield religious adoption and foster agencies that only place children in homes with a mother and a father.

“On this Religious Freedom Day, we are grateful that the right of religious liberty is cherished in this country,” the bishop said. “I appreciate concrete actions the Administration has undertaken, such as recent steps to protect faith-based social service providers.”

“May we Catholics in America resolve to build on our inheritance for the good of all,” he concluded.

 

Trump admin announces rules to allow equal access to grants for religious groups

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 17:55

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- The White House announced new rules from nine federal agencies Thursday to help ensure that religious groups have equal access to public benefit programs.

On Jan. 16, Religious Freedom Day, President Donald Trump announced the rules “to protect religious freedom” throughout his administration. Nine federal agencies issued proposed regulations to allow religious institutions equal access to government grants.

The agencies were the Departments of Justice, Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans’ Affairs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“From its opening pages, the story of America has been rooted in the truth that all men and women are endowed with the right to follow their conscience, worship freely, and live in accordance with their convictions,” President Trump stated in his Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, 2020.
 
“On Religious Freedom Day, we honor the foundational link between freedom and faith in our country and reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding the religious liberty of all Americans.”

The regulations seek to ensure that federal government social service programs are administered in line with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that religious groups are not barred simply on account of their religious status.

The rules were issued in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 Trinity Lutheran decision, which decided that a church property couldn’t be barred from a state renovation program simply on account of its religious affiliation.

In addition, a memo from the Office of Management and Budget states that the federal agencies themselves would be required to ensure that state recipients are also respecting the First Amendment and not discriminating against religious organizations when administering federal grants.

Currently, 37 states have some form of “Blaine Amendments,” many of them passed during a time of anti-Catholic vitriol to forbid public funding of “sectarian” institutions. The law at the heart of the Trinity Lutheran case was an amendment to Missouri’s Constitution modeled after the Blaine Amendment. The amendments are currently supported as a means of strict separation of church and state.

The president of Alliance Defending Freedom, Michael Farris, stated Thursday that “We affirm the administration’s proposed rules designed to ensure that the government doesn’t treat religious individuals and organizations as second-class to secular institutions.”

One of the nine agencies to issue regulations on Thursday, the Education Department also said it would publish new guidance on prayer in public schools, to improve the reporting process of any violations of a student’s right to prayer at the state and local levels.

“Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“The Department’s efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions.”

Trump held an event in the Oval Office Thursday afternoon to mark the release of the updated prayer guidance.

Critics: Utah bill on confession would criminalize priests, not counter sex abuse

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 17:01

Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 16, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Utah legislator’s proposal to remove protections for priests and other clergy who hear confessions of the sexual abuse of minors has drawn significant criticism from Catholics and other commentators.

“The motivation for the bill is understandable, to uncover and stop the abuse of children, but H.B. 90 will not have this intended effect,” said Jean Hill, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Peace and Justice Commission.

Removing the clergy exemption would be “making it a crime for the priest to maintain the Seal of Confession,” Hill said in a column for the Jan. 17, 2020 edition of the Intermountain Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. The proposal “could permanently destroy the relationship between our priests and ourselves in the confessional, without furthering the stated goal of the legislation.”

The proposed legislation “places a Catholic priest in the untenable position of violating state law and facing criminal penalties, or violating canon law and facing excommunication,” Hill added.

“For a Catholic priest, revealing the contents of a person’s confession is a mortal sin and grounds for automatic excommunication,” she said. “In the past, priests have been tortured and given their lives rather than break their solemn vow to protect the Seal of Confession. This isn’t just a convenient means of maintaining confidentiality, it is a sacred duty and thus critical to the free exercise of our religion.”

Under Utah law, certain professionals must report allegations of child abuse to authorities. These professionals include clergy, teachers, medical professionals, and law enforcement. At present state law exempts clergy if a perpetrator confesses directly to a religious leader and cannot report “without the consent of the individual making the confession.”

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was raised Catholic. She said she “understands our sacraments and it’s not my intent to go against them,” the Deseret News reports. She said her bill doesn’t target any religion specifically.

“This isn’t about the Catholic Church,” she said. “This is about religious institutions ensuring that people aren’t hiding under the guise of confession to get away with hurting children... Because the trauma they experience from sexual assault doesn’t just impact them, it impacts the entire community, it impacts our families. For me, that’s more important than protecting a perpetrator who will likely hurt other children.”

The legislation could affect the confidentiality of confessions to clergy in the predominant religious group in Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally known as Mormons. The Mormon church, whose global headquarters is in Salt Lake City, has not taken a position on the legislation, the Deseret News reports. It has faced criticisms and lawsuits for various leaders’ handling of sexual abuse of minors.

A woman in Oregon is suing the Mormon church for more than $10 million, after her husband was arrested for child sex abuse. He had confessed to his bishop, following the religion's doctrine, and believed the converation to be confidential. The clergyman reported the acts to law enforcement. The lawsuit claims the religion violated a privileged conversation between clergy and a member of the community.

Hill noted that Catholics are not alone “in viewing the private disclosure of wrongdoing as a path to God.” She cited the Orthodox Churches' use of the sacrament of confession, and wrote that the Church of England also “recognizes the inviolability of an act of confession.”

She added that the Mormon church “views confidential admissions of wrongdoing as an essential part of the repentance process,” and that the Presbyterian Church USA and Baptist and Lutheran ecclesial communities “all recognize the pastoral imperative of confidentiality when congregants seek counseling and care from their spiritual leaders.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, does not support the bill.

“I have serious concerns about this bill and the effects it could have on religious leaders as well as their ability to counsel members of their congregation,” he said in an email to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “I do not support this bill in its current form, and unless significant changes are made to ensure the protection of religious liberties, I will be voting against this bill.”

Wilson had received hundreds of emails critical of the bill. CNA sought comment from Wilson but legislative staff said he had nothing to add at present.

The House Speaker’s opposition to the bill could prevent it from a committee hearing. Romero said she looked forward to discussing the bill with the speaker.

“I’m hoping my colleagues will give this bill a fair hearing and they understand why this is an important piece of policy,” Romero said. “I hope we can follow the lead of other states who have placed the best interests of children over religious institutions.”

Several groups are calling for an end to the exemption, including the Truth and Transparency Foundation, which runs the controversial site MormonLeaks. The site publishes internal LDS documents relating to budgets, international relations and responses to sex abuse, among other topics.

The group said the exemption is “an affront to the safety and well-being of abuse survivors” that “provides an environment where predators are enabled,” it said in a November 2018 email to state legislators.

Sam Young, a former LDS bishop who founded the group Protect Every Child, is also in favor of eliminating the exemption.

Young, who lives in Texas, was excommunicated from the religion after he advocated for an end to the practice of leaders having one-on-one interviews with children that sometimes included sexually explicit questions, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Mandatory reporting exemptions for clergy have been removed by North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and West Virginia, the Deseret News reports. A California proposal to remove these exemptions was pulled from consideration.

Eric Kniffin, a Colorado lawyer and First Amendment attorney who followed the bill in California, told the Salt Lake Tribune that such proposals to remove clergy exemptions would “damage religious liberties.” He cited the Catholic prohibition on clergy revealing anything said in confession on pain of excommunication.

In Kniffin’s view, protecting clergy exemptions may provide greater benefits in the effort to address sexual abuse.

“The confessional is not just a black hole,” he said. “If a priest hears something in confession, they may urge the person to get help, talk to police or say ‘talk to me outside of the confessional’.”

Like Kniffin, Hill suggested removing legal protections for clergy would be counter-productive.

“There is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose cases of abuse learned of in the confessional would have prevented a single case of child abuse,” she said in her Intermountain Catholic column. “On the other hand, there is every reason to believe the elimination of the privilege would mean that perpetrators would simply not bring it to confession.”

The knowledge that confession is “a sacred conversation with God” would encourage Catholics to seek to make amends to both society and their victims. A priest who hears a criminal’s confession can encourage the penitent to self-report to law enforcement or to seek counseling, or can offer to accompany him or her to report their crime.

“H.B. 90 is a bad law that does nothing to protect children and undermines the very real possibility that a sex offender might repent,” she said.

While legislative counsel that reviewed Romero’s bill said it did not violate any religious freedom, Hill invoked the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision Trammel v. United States, which cited the longstanding precedent of protecting confessions to clergy in its ruling on whether spouses enjoy privileges to refuse to testify against a spouse.

“The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return,” that decision said.

Hill told the Deseret News that the bill is “trying to regulate a sacrament of our religion in a way that we believe violates our free exercise rights.”

The Apostolic Penitentiary reaffirmed the inviolability of the seal of confession in a July 1, 2019 note signed by its head, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza.

“Should the trust in the seal fail, the faithful would be discouraged from accessing the sacrament of Reconciliation, and this, obviously, with serious harm to souls,” Piacenza wrote. Defending this seal, he added, “can never constitute some form of connivance with evil,” but represents “the only true antidote to evil that threatens man and the whole world.”

Some court rulings have indicated that legal protections apply not only to religious groups with a formal confession rite.

Earlier this month, the Montana Supreme Court overturned a $35 million sex abuse judgement against the Jehovah's Witnesses on the grounds that a lower court wrongly ruled that the elders involved in hearing abuse allegations did not enjoy religious confidentiality protections guaranteed by state law.

Mike Pence to meet Pope Francis in Vatican next week

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Vatican next week to meet with Pope Francis.

Pence’s office confirmed with CNA on Thursday that the Vice President is scheduled to be received by the Pope during his overseas trip next week. No details have yet been released about the topics that might be discussed at the meeting.

The Vice President’s visit comes immediately after the U.S. religious freedom ambassador traveled to Vatican City for the launch of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, held on Tuesday at the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich.

Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was present at Tuesday’s opening session of the initiative, which was described by Ambassador Gingrich as “a dialogue designed to promote peace, religious freedom, and interreligious harmony” between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

It was inspired, she said, by the 2018 document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi that was signed in the United Arab Emirates.

That document, in part, stated that “[t]he pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

Cardinal Miguel Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was present at the gathering, according to Gingrich’s remarks.

“It’s fitting that your discussions should take place at the Pontifical Gregorian University,” Gingrich said, citing St. John Henry Newman that a Catholic university should “aid in the discernment of truth.”

Quoting Pope Francis, Gingrich stated the questions that could be considered by the initiative: “‘How do we look after each other?  ‘How do we nourish a fraternity which is not theoretical, but translates into authentic fraternity?’ And ‘how can religions be channels of fraternity, rather than barriers of separation?’”

In her remarks at the launch, Gingrich thanked Pastor Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, Imam Mohammad Magid of All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and Rabbi David Saperstein, the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador from 2014 to 2017, “for making this gathering possible.”

During Brownback’s trip, he and Ambassador Gingrich also met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States.

School threatens suspension for student's 'Virginity Rocks' sweatshirt

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:00

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 16, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- School administrators in Wentzville, Missouri, threatened to suspend a seventh grade student if he returned to school wearing a sweatshirt printed with the slogan “Virginity Rocks.” 

The student, 13-year-old Londyn Piglowski, received the sweatshirt as a birthday gift from a classmate. 

Local news station KMOV4 reported Thursday that Piglowski  was pulled out of social studies class and taken to the principal’s office after wearing the shirt to school. The principal instructed him to either remove the shirt or turn it inside out.

“He said it was a little bit borderline for the school and he told me to take it off or flip it inside or else they would have to take action," said Piglowski to KMOV4.

“I didn’t think this was bad so whenever they told me to take it off I was like, ‘why am I taking this off because it’s a positive message?’”

Piglowski removed the shirt, and his parents say the Wentzville School District threatened to suspend him from class if he showed up to school wearing the shirt again. He says his friend, who owns the same shirt, did not get in trouble when he wore it to school. 

His parents have said their son’s treatment for wearing a shirt that advocated virginity was inconsistent with other school policies.

“They teach sex ed," said Todd Piglowski, Londyn’s father. “How can you teach it but then say hey let’s not have it on a sweatshirt?"

The Wentzville School District has a dress code which prohibits clothing which advocates “immoral, sexual, or violent behavior.” 

The school defended the decision to make Piglowski change clothing. In a statement, the school said that the shirt was “potentially disruptive to the educational environment.” 

“We routinely have conversations with students around attire that may be inappropriate and by and large, our students and families work with our staff to address any concerns,” said the statement. 

Piglowski is not the first student who has been reprimanded over wearing a pro-virginity shirt. 

“Virginity rocks” shirts have been sold for over a decade by various Christian organizations to promote responsible sexual activity.

In 2008, students at Albemarle High School in Virginia reported that they were told by officials to stop wearing the shirts. The students were wearing them in an attempt to promote abstinence. The school district denied that the students were ever told what to wear.

Six years later, a student at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas was asked to change out of her “virginity rocks” shirt. The student, Chloe Rubiano, an eighth grader, said it was one of her favorite shirts, and that she had bought it at a Christian festival. 

In Rubiano’s case, the school vice principal said that while she agreed with the message on the shirt, she did not think it was appropriate for school as “it opens up too many doors for conversations."

Piglowski’s shirt came via the website of YouTube personality Danny Duncan, who sells clothing items with the slogan on them. Duncan, who makes skateboard and prank videos, started selling the apparel in 2018, and has said he designed the shirts to be tongue-in-cheek, but also with a positive message.

Since Duncan, who has nearly 3.5 million subscribers, began selling merchandise with the phrase to a more secular audience, increasing numbers of students have reported punishments. 

In 2018, a 17-year-old at Roseburg High School in Oregon was forced to go home and change after he came to school wearing a Virginity Rocks shirt from Duncan’s apparel line. He went home and changed into another Duncan shirt--one that made a sexual innuendo. That shirt was allowed to be worn. 

The district superintendent defended the decision to prohibit the Virginity Rocks shirt, saying that the school “would have made the same decision if the student had been wearing a T-shirt that said sex rocks or smoke more pot.” 

In October 2019, a student at Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School in Chetek, Wisconsin, was suspended for a day after he came to school wearing one of Duncan’s virginity rocks sweatshirts. 

The student, sophomore Thorn Willsui, was suspended after he refused to take off the sweatshirt or turn it inside out.

Tenn governor to sign bill protecting faith-based adoption agencies

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 22:34

Nashville, Tenn., Jan 15, 2020 / 08:34 pm (CNA).- Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Jan. 15 that he intends to sign into law a bill to protect adoption organizations which place children based on the belief in marriage as a union between a man and woman.

The state Senate approved HB 836 on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, Jan. 15, after the House approved it last April. Tennessee has several Catholic Charities agencies that handle adoption cases.

The bill would protect adoption agencies that follow their religious convictions in declining to place children with same-sex couples. Declined applicants would be unable to sue an agency for damages in such a situation, the Associated Press reports.

Although religious adoption agencies in Tennessee have not been prevented from acting out of their moral convictions, the bill comes at a time when Catholic agencies in other states have been shut down or denied access to funding for declining to place children with same-sex couples.

The AP reports that to date, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan have all enacted similar protections for adoption agencies to the one being considered in Tennessee. In March 2019, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Senator Paul Rose, Republican sponsor of the bill in the Senate, noted that the Trump administration last year proposed a federal rule change to protect faith-based foster care agencies.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced during Nov. 2019 that it would change its enforcement of previous regulations and propose a new rule, allowing faith-based adoption agencies to continue receiving federal funding while not having to match children with same-sex couples against their religious mission.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) praised the change at the time.

Rossi investigation still 'underway,' 4 months after it began.

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2020 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Four months after the Diocese of Scranton began looking into allegations against the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a spokesman for the diocese said the investigation is not yet concluded.

“At this point, the investigation is still underway and I have nothing new to report at this time,” Diocese of Scranton spokesman Eric Deadbill told CNA Jan. 15.

On Aug. 14, the Diocese of Scranton told CNA that Bishop Joseph Bambera had “commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation” into concerns regarding Msgr. Walter Rossi, a Scranton priest who works as rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

While the Scranton diocese confirmed this week that the investigation is still underway, it did not answer questions regarding who is actually appointed to conduct the review, and what role the Archdiocese of Washington is playing in the process.

In August the diocese said it would work “jointly and cooperatively” with the Archdiocese of Washington on a “comprehensive investigation.” Rossi lives in the Washington archdiocese.

On Jan. 15, the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the Scranton diocese but did not itself answer questions about the investigation.

The investigation was prompted by concerns raised about Rossi to Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory Aug. 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington.

During that session, Gregory called for an independent, forensic investigation of some allegations against the priest.

When called on for a question, a participant at the August event told Gregory that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with that allegation.
 
“That’s news to me. And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [this situation].”

“I suspect – I hope – that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that, I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”

Gregory was then asked why Rossi remained in ministry at the Washington shrine; as the local archbishop, Gregory is the chairman of the board of trustees.

“It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop, he’s a priest of Scranton.”

Acknowledging that Rossi is assigned to a Washington church, Gregory said that “the investigation has to begin with his bishop, that’s just how things are done.”

“Until that kind of investigation is done, a forensic one [with] outside investigators, I don’t know how we can make a decision [on the suitability of Rossi to continue in ministry in Washington] until those kinds of investigations are completed.”

Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations have also been leveled against Rossi.

In an interview in June, former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received “documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America.”

Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were “well aware of the situation,” and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.

In September, The Catholic University of America announced that Rossi has taken a leave of absence from the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America. That leave is expected to perdure until the investigation is completed.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law delineates norms for the “preliminary investigation” into possible delicts, or canonical crimes, but it does not mandate that preliminary investigations be completed within any established timeframe.

Rossi remains in office as rector of the DC shrine, which is the largest Catholic Church in North America, and designated by the U.S. bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage.

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