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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 44 min ago

The Catholic faith of Kobe Bryant

Sun, 01/26/2020 - 16:08

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 26, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Southern California. Bryant, the father of four, was 41.

Bryant's daughter Gianna, 13, was reportedly killed in the helicopter crash as well, along with another teen and her parent, and the helicopter's pilot. They were reportedly traveling to a basketball game.

Bryant is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He retired in 2016 after a 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the shooting guard won five NBA championships, a league MVP award, two scoring championships, and myriad other distinctions.

Beyond basketball, Bryant was a husband and a father who in 2015 attributed his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

Bryant was raised in a Catholic family, and spent much of his childhood living in Italy. He married in 2001 in a Southern California parish.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

A 2004 decision to place deeper trust in God did not mean the basketball star’s life was thereafter without difficulties, or defined by virtue.

In 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from Kobe, citing irreconcilable differences. But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant and his wife have been reported to be regular parishioners at an Orange County, California parish.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

 

       

View this post on Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe. . . . . #kobebryant

A post shared by Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:44pm PST

 

Bryant also had connected his Catholic faith to a family commitment to help the poor, through the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. The foundation helped fund youth homeless shelters and other projects aimed at serving the poor.

“You have to do something that carries a little bit more weight to it, a little more significance, a little more purpose to it,” he said in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Homelessness “is one that kind of gets pushed on the back burner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault.”

“In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it … that’s not right,” he said.

Funeral announcements for Bryant and his daughter have not yet been announced.

 

How family life led this couple back to the Catholic Church

Sun, 01/26/2020 - 06:00

Gallup, N.M., Jan 26, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- With their children getting older, the Aguilars wanted to find a church home for their family. They visited a few Christian churches close to home, but nothing felt right. They were surprised, the couple said, to find that Catholic Church - the Church of their youth - was the place where they realized they were at home.

Michelle and Andres Aguilar decided to reenter the Catholic Church in 2019, finishing Michelle’s confirmation process and validating their marriage in the Church.

The couple now attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bloomfield, New Mexico, which is pastored by Fr. Josh Mayer. Michelle, 38, owns the oilfield company Ernie’s Pilot Service, and Andres, 33, works as a parole officer.

Michelle was confirmed by Bishop James Wall of Gallup last Easter. She told CNA that the Easter Mass, where her two children also received their first communion, was one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.

“Last April, we all made our sacraments together. I tell everybody that aside from my marriage and my kids’ births, that was the best day of my life. I felt so much joy and it was at the Easter vigil. We [got] home [at] like one in the morning and I could not sleep. I was just so excited from it,” she said.

Michelle and Andres were both baptized and raised in the Church. Michelle attended Mass and catechetical classes with her aunt, but she fell away during her teenage years once her aunt became too busy to take her to Mass. Andres told CNA that he began distancing himself from the Church when he was in his 20s, after a priest who gave a disappointing homily with a judgmental and unkind attitude at his cousin’s funeral.

“The priest at the time made a comment during her funeral. It just kind of shut me out,” he said. “She was murdered … the comment he made was, had she not been living the lifestyle [she] was living, she wouldn't have died. It was like I saw him almost condemn her in the Church.”

“I didn't want to be a part of something group that would condemn people,” he further added.

The couple was civilly married in 2008, three years after their son Augustine was born and a few months after their daughter Cheyann was born - both of whom were baptized in the Catholic Church.

The Aguilars said the family was a major reason for their desire to return to the faith, but they had tried several other denominations before finding themselves in the Catholic Church.

“We wanted to get back into church,” she said. “So we kind of tried different religions. We tried Baptist, we tried Pentecostal, we tried a nondenominational [church]. We just never really liked any of them. It didn't feel like church.”

“Other denominations, it is beautiful there, but they don't have structure, and I need that. I need structure and tradition. … It is so beautiful to see even the older ladies in Mass and it just reminds me of family,” she further added.

Not having found anything that fit, the family took a break from their search. Meanwhile, Augustine started attending Mass with Michelle’s father, who would often have Augustine stay over at his house on Saturday night before Mass. She said, seeing that, she wanted to start attending Mass again as a family.

“I kind of wanted to start going as a family and I spoke to my husband about it and then we decided that we would go,” she said. “We started a friendship with a family here [Adam and Desiraye Benavidez]. They’re really devout and we liked how they put [the faith] first. So we started talking and we decided to join them.”

Andres said the Benavidezs were a big motivator for his rejoining the Church too. He said Adam is a powerful example of a good Catholic father. He said the family possessed a peace and joy he wanted for his own family.

“They have this tradition where they, after mass, all eat breakfast, and I just saw happiness in them,” he said “It just made me want that for my family as well. He owns that peace, like you can't bring that man down. I think his faith has a lot to do with it, and being a part of the church I think really helps him be who he is as a person.”

He said, while he still disagrees with some of the things the priest said at the funeral, he has come to better understand the need to forgive and forget.

“This priest is a human and he sins just as much as I do. He made a mistake. That's the beauty of the church and reconciliation is that you can ask for forgiveness and start fresh.”

Michelle emphasized the important role of the RCIA classes. She said the group watched videos from the Augustine Institute and analyzed scripture prior to the Sunday Mass. She expressed a love for the group, especially Deacon Pat Valdez, who heads the parish’s RCIA class.

“I miss them since I've made my confirmation. I really miss them because it was so fulfilling. I learned so much,” she said.

“[Deacon] would give us the scriptures for the next week and he would break that down. So it was really neat to hear it there, and then on Sunday we'd go and hear it again.”

She said her decision to reenter the Church was verified during the first RCIA class. On the first day, she said, the deacon answered most of the questions she was struggling with, namely the Sacrament of Penance and prayers to the saints.

“I struggled with those growing up. I didn't understand why we were doing that. [During] my first RCIA class, [Deacon Pat] answered both of those without me even asking the question. That was what he talked about. And I was like, okay, this is where I'm supposed to be,” she said.

Both of them described how faith has inspired meaningful interactions with their children, especially for their son who is 15 years old. Michelle said, through the use of the Catechism, she has been able to engage the children in learning, such as looking up answers to moral questions.

“It's been really helpful in those aspects like discipline,” she said. [My son] had messed up and he felt really bad and I could tell it was weighing heavy on him. … [so] he went to confession.”

“We went together and I could just tell when he got out, he felt a relief and I got to explain that to him that you can mess up but you need to ask for forgiveness and then try your best not to make the same mistakes.”

Andres said the faith has given him more patience. He also said that faith has improved communication with Augustine and given him a better perspective on what it means to be a parent.

“Sometimes I can [be] pretty hot-headed and I can be a little strict with the kids, but at the same time I'm learning that being a parent is important in God's eyes,” he said.

“I feel like it's my job now to make sure that my kids have that happiness and the peace that they can find with the Lord and through the church. I feel like I shouldn't deprive them of that anymore.”

Cardinal Cupich: God 'schemes' for our salvation

Sun, 01/26/2020 - 00:01

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- God is a “tricky God” who schemes for the good of humanity and salvation, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in the homily at the Welcome Mass for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. 

“How many times in the scripture have we seen, either telling stories or having encounters with people, who all of a sudden are tricked into salvation,” said Cupich. 

“We think of the woman at the well - all of a sudden she's talking about all sorts of things and then (Jesus) asks her that question: bring me your husband. And then she ends up evangelizing the entire community even though she's the one who is shunned by God.” 

Cupich cited the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which depicts Matthew “cornered” by Christ.

“Jesus is at the doorway. There’s no exit for Matthew,” said Cupich.

The cardinal explained that these “tricks” extend past scripture, and are present in everyday life. 

“How many times in our life have we found ourselves tricked by God?” asked Cupich. These “tricks” include “putting us in situations where, all of a sudden, there was a grace that came from us that we otherwise would have not had.”

These tricks, explained the cardinal, help people to realize they must rely on God, and trust in God and His plan. 

“And yet in our lives so often our spiritual relationship with God, we have this little idea in our mind that we've got to be the one to save ourselves, that we have to do something to earn salvation,” he said. 

Cupich spoke at length about how people today seem more concerned with “image” over anything else. This is misguided, he said, as the “image” of something does not necessarily mean it is the reality. 

“We're in a moment of crisis and the life of the Church, where the brand name of the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged because of bad decisions, and so we might think we need a PR firm to get our image back,” said Cupich. 

“You have to be careful with that though, because the Lord is the one who saved us, but not our image.” 

Cardinal Cupich shared a humorous anecdote from when he was consecrated a bishop in 1998. His young niece took several of the prayer cards with his picture on it and brought it to show and tell at her preschool, where her classmates guessed he was a “ninja warrior.”

“How foolish would it be for me to get into that image of keeping up a reputation as a ninja warrior?” asked Cupich, to laughter. 

“I think of that, because it is foolish as well for us to try to keep up an image that we think (will) please other people,” he said. 

Other people choose to make their image a “central preoccupation” of their lives, he said, but the Christian should not. 

“It is a good test of whether or not we're open to this God who wants us to trust Him,” said Cupich. “A God who in fact schemes to the point of trickiness so that we trust Him.”

Earlier in the day, Cupich delivered the opening keynote address, titled “Our Call to Holiness: Life and Justice for All,” to the meeting. In the address, Cupich said that Christians should look to the actions of Christ as the inspiration for their lives. 

“Our Christian call to holiness is not about being called as individuals, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together, and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and a shared life,” Cupich said during his keynote.  

The cardinal reflected on his experience seeing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, including one that included an image of the Last Supper superimposed with camouflage. A piece of the camouflage exposed the image of Christ, which Cupich said “forc(ed) the viewer to look for the otherwise familiar image of the Lord at table.”

“May the light of the Gospel help us see through whatever camouflages the needy from our sight, whatever impedes us from being evangelized from those on the margins,” he said. 

“For it is in encountering the poor and the marginalized that we are mutually enriched, that we respond to the call to holiness as we take up the social ministry of the Church - because we know that whatever we do for the least of our sisters and brothers, we do for Christ.”

1 killed after car crashes into bus of Covington Catholic students heading home from March for Life

Sat, 01/25/2020 - 13:27

Lexington, Ky., Jan 25, 2020 / 11:27 am (CNA).- One person is dead and others are injured after an oncoming car struck a charter bus carrying Covington Catholic students and chaperones back from the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., local sources have reported.

According to witnesses speaking to WLWT in Kentucky, the car had been traveling in the southbound lane of AA Highway in the city of California, Kentucky, when it crossed the median into the northbound lane and hit the bus head-on.

"I saw a car come across the median and head toward me," Ricky Lynn, a witness driving north on the highway, told WLWT. "I was able to get out of the way."

The car's driver, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told WLWT that a priest on the bus gave the driver of the car a final blessing.

According to officials, four other people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, WCPO in Cincinnati reported.

The passenger side of the bus was significantly damaged in the crash, and passengers in the bus escaped through emergency windows, WLWT reported. The bus was one in a caravan of four, carrying a total of about 200 people who had attended the March for Life on Friday.

In a statement given to local media, the Diocese of Covington said: "This morning, a bus carrying students and chaperones home from the March for Life in Washington, DC was involved in an accident. EMT personnel and the Campbell County police have been at the scene and are handling the matter. Please join us in praying for everyone involved in this accident."

Covington Catholic students were the center of a barrage of media scrutiny following the March for Life last year, when a video published online showed Covington Catholic students as part of a confluence of demonstrators near the Washington Memorial, including some from a Washington-based religious group called the Black Israelites, and some from the Indigenous Peoples’ March.

Initially, a viral video depicted a crowd of teenage boys chanting, dancing, and doing the “tomahawk chop” cheer, while a Native American man played a drum in chanted in close proximity to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who stood silently. The drummer was soon identified as Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Tribe and Native American rights activist.

The students became the subject of widespread condemnation from media figures and some Catholic leaders, who accused them of disrespect, racism, and antagonism.

Later video and reports that emerged showed a more complex picture, depicting the protestors approaching the students rather than the students surrounding them. The students said that they were chanting school songs in response to taunts from the Black Israelites when Phillips approached.

In January of this year, CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann, who sued the network for accusing him of racism in its coverage of the incident.

According to the Washington Examiner and photos posted on Instagram by Catholic Connect, Sandmann attended the March for Life again this year, though it is unclear if he was on the bus that was struck in the accident or in the caravan of busses.

 

New Orleans Saints defend assistance of archdiocese as disclosure

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 20:29

New Orleans, La., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans Saints have said assistance that team personnel offered to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on communications strategy was not a coverup, but disclosure.

The team’s claim comes amid a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the archdiocese. Saints officials said that team personnel offered assistance to archdiocesan officials on how to manage a 2018 report on clerics removed from ministry for alleged sexual abuse, but that the Saints personnel did not act improperly, according to the AP.

At the center of the suit is George Brignac, a deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans who was removed from ministry in 1988 after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Brignac was listed among a November 2018 report of New Orleans archdiocesan clergy who were removed from ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

In July 2019, The New Orleans Advocate reported that attorneys of an alleged victim of Brignac were working to obtain copies of any communications between employees of the New Orleans archdiocese and those of the New Orleans Saints. The alleged victim's lawsuit, which WVUE identified as John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac, says the archdiocese failed to protect him from Brignac.

The attorneys said they had evidence that the Saints' Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, advised the archdiocese on its 2018 clergy abuse report, and that they wanted to understand how the Saints may have been “supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims.”

The AP reported Jan. 24 that lawyers “for about two dozen men suing the church” said documents obtained through discovery demonstrated that the Saints assisted the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior.” They said Bensel and other Saints employees had advised Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the communications made public, which both the Saints and the archdiocese are opposing.

A special master appointed by the court “is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential,” Jim Mustian of the AP wrote. The AP has filed a motion supporting their publication.

Lawyers for the Saints “acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure,” the AP reported.

The football team's lawyers called the assistance “the opposite of concealment” and called claims it had abetted the coverup of crimes “outrageous.”

According to the AP, an archdiocesan attorney had said the request to have the communications released was part of a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and that it was merely an effort to let the media “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

Brignac, 85, was ordained in 1976, and an allegation against him was received the following year. He held pastoral assignments at Cabrini High School, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans; St. Louise de Marillac School in Arabi; and St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.

He was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1977, and was acquitted the next year.

In 1980, Brignac was booked with indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but the allegations were not prosecuted, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

In 1988, charges of abuse of a juvenile were filed, but dismissed by the state.

The New Orleans archdiocese has settled several lawsuits involving Brignac.

One of those settlements, made in May 2018, was for more than $500,000. The victim said he was abused as an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans beginning in 1979. Roger Stetter, the plaintiff's attorney, told the New Orleans Advocate shortly after that “it was a fair settlement, and it was very, very prompt.” He added, “I think the archdiocese is doing a lot to try to curtail this type of abuse. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to weed out possible pedophiles.”

Stetter also said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is “a good man and wants to do right by the victims, even though it may cost the church a lot of money.”

For several years, until shortly after the May 2018 settlement, Brignac served as a lector at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Metairie, adjacent to New Orleans. The New Orleans archdiocese said its leaders were unaware he was lectoring until after the settlement was publicized, and that the priest who allowed it “was wrong to do so.”

In September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape, after a former altar boy said he had been repeatedly raped by the deacon 40 years ago.

Pro-life Democrat calls for 'unity' for life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 19:15

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-life unity comes before party loyalty, a Democratic state senator said Friday at the national March for Life on Friday.

“This is not a party issue. This is an issue of unifying America,” Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D) told CNA in an interview on Friday, before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Jackson addressed the March for Life rally later in the day.

“This is an issue that hits every community, and it’s not about where we come from or what party you’re a part of or a member of. This issue is about America itself and our children,” she said.

Jackson said her views on abortion are rooted in her Christian faith. 

“God hates the shedding of innocent blood,” Jackson said. “So when America really wants to see a turnaround, in our economy and in the things that we are concerned about,” she said, “we have to honor God. And being pro-life is a part of honoring God.”

Jackson was one of a series of speakers from both political parties at Friday’s March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

“I tell everyone Louisiana is the number one pro-life state, and you know why? Because in Louisiana the majority of Democrats that are elected are pro-lifers,” Jackson said at the rally. This is evidence of bipartisan unity on the issure, she said, while exhorting the pro-life movement to the principle into practice.

 “In unity, we must fight like we’ve never fought before,” she said.

The lineup of speakers at the rally most notably included President Donald Trump, the first president to attend a March for Life in person.

Trump addressed thousands of rally participants as his impeachment trial continued in the U.S. Senate on Friday, with House trial managers making their case for a conviction on two counts of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards—whose husband John Bel Edwards is the Democratic governor who signed a “heartbeat” abortion ban into law in 2019—also spoke from the rally stage.

“Pro-life is pro-woman," Edwards said at the rally. “Life is precious in every stage and should be respected and protected.”

Jackson told CNA on Friday morning that, even though Louisiana voters might in general be more pro-life than the rest of the country, other states do have pro-life constituencies which oppose abortion, in whole or in part, and they need to unify behind pro-life candidates from both parties.

“And so that is my concern, that if life is the issue, which it is—doesn’t matter what party you’re a member of—that pro-lifers should support each other,” she told CNA.

“And I’m hoping that what we’re seeing in Louisiana begins to basically move throughout other states.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman, is a national example of a politician deserving of pro-life support, she said. His “Republican constituency” may disagree with some of his votes, she said, but the message of bipartisan unity is making inroads around the country.

Earlier this month, Lipinski told CNA that support from pro-life groups was “not as much as I’d like to see,” as he faces a second consecutive primary challenge from pro-abortion candidate Marie Newman.

Jackson, answering for herself, said on Friday that as a Democrat she had seen support from national pro-life groups including National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List, as well as the group Save the Storks for whom she was a keynote speaker at their annual charity ball on Thursday evening.

Through attending national events, Jackson said she has discovered Democrats from around the country who either oppose abortion or are in disagreement with the party’s radical shift in support of abortion. For instance, the 2016 DNC platform that stated “unequivocal” support for abortion access, and no 2020 Democratic presidential candidate opposes taxpayer funding of abortion.

Jackson said she is working to give pro-life Democrats “a place back in their party.”

“I really believe that we’re on the cusp of really building up the party and understanding that what you believe, or what the party platform is, is not what most Democrats believe,” she said.

At March for Life, Trump gets mixed reviews

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 18:45

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His appearance was greeted by pro-lifers with both excitement and hesitation.

The presence of the president brought with it additional security, similar to when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the pre-march rally in 2017, but higher than his unexpected appearance last year. 

Trump’s decision to attend personally, instead of via video message as in past years, meant attendees were prevented from bringing certain items to the rally, faced long lines, and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Mall.

The extra measures discouraged some potential attendees, who stayed away, worried that the logistics of juggling security and children would be too much. 

Connie Poulos told CNA that she had already decided, reluctantly, to skip this year’s march due rather than face the event solo with her young son, the news that Trump was speaking at the rally made her feel “less bad” about missing the event, fearing the president would alienate non-Republicans. 

“As a pro-life person, I think the movement needs all the help it can get to cross party lines,” she said.

While signs are always commonplace at the March for Life, this year distinctly partisan bent. Familiar “Vote Life” or “Choose Life” signs manufactured by the Knights of Columbus were joined this time by “Pro-Life Voices For Trump” and “Most Pro-Life President Ever” signs with pictures of president. These signs were supplied by the RNC and were distributed at the rally by volunteers.  

Despite hesitation by some, most attendees told CNA they were happy about the president’s appearance.  

“President Trump is one of the greatest presidents that this country has ever had. A man who has a heart after God to do what God has called him to do, in spite of [what] anybody else thinks or [does],” Barbara Bell, who described herself as a “black American who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and loves President Trump,” told CNA. 

Bell, who is 70 years old, told CNA she was attending her fortieth March for Life in 2020. She came down from Massachusetts for the event, and she said she was even more excited than usual when she heard that Trump would be speaking. 

While politically independent, Bell said that she was extremely impressed with what Trump had accomplished during his time in office. 

Mimi Vertrees, an 18 year old attending the March for Life for the first time, traveled to DC from Nashville, Tennessee. She carried a sign reading “Stop Calling Violence Feminism,” and she told CNA that she believed there is a “misconception” about feminism because of its embrace of abortion.

Vertrees said she thought it was “amazing” that Trump was coming to address the March for Life, and that she was “so excited” when she found out he would be coming. She stressed that she thought it was important for the president to be physically present at the event.

One young woman was en route to Washington when she found out that Trump would be speaking at the rally. Quinley Fawks, who traveled 22 hours on a bus from Salisbury, Missouri to attend the March for Life, said that finding out Trump was coming heightened her anticipation. 

After it was announced on Wednesday that Trump would be attending the rally, Fawks told CNA, her bus leader made the announcement, and “everyone was really excited. We were surprised and happy.” 

This was Fawks’ second time attending the March for Life, and she said that she made the choice to embark on the long journey because “We’re here to save the babies.” 

One rally attendee who was not excited to see Trump was Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Richard was dressed as Uncle Sam, and his hat read “U.S. Army Veteran” and “Remove the GOP.” 

Richard was most upset by Trump’s policies at the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents. He carried two dolls, which he said were meant to “represent the young children at the border.” 

While this was Richard’s first March for Life, he said he had been a longtime supporter of the pro-life cause. 

“This is bananas,” said Richard. “We shouldn’t be allowing [Trump] to speak. 

Each year the March for Life winds its way past the Canadian embassy, where a small contingent of Canadians come out to show their support. Valerie Luetke of Oakville, Ontario, was one of the people there this year. 

This said this was her first trip to the March for Life in the United States, but she had attended the Canadian March for Life in Ottawa several times. 

“We just kind of wanted to see how big it is, how passionate [everyone] is, and of course, Trump is speaking,” Luetke said. She told CNA that she found Trump’s speech to be “amazing,” especially since Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is publicly against the pro-life cause. 

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I know not everyone supports him for all of his policies, but I think the fact that he’s here is really amazing.”

States announce pro-life, pro-choice initiatives ahead of March for Life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- On the eve of the 2020 March for Life in Washington DC, lawmakers in several states announced the introduction of potentially significant pro-life legislation, while others announced efforts to preserve legal protection for abortion.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that the state’s Republican lawmakers would pursue several measures aimed at restrcting abortion including a bill which would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which can be around six weeks gestation.

The legislation, which is still under development, would also require a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her baby, and would ban abortions based on race, sex, a Down syndrome diagnosis or the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality.

“We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” Lee said during the Jan. 23 announcement.

The legislative strategy, the Tennessee Lieutenant Governor says, will be modeled after a bill passed in Missouri which includes abortion bans at various stages of gestation and is designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The proposed Tennessee law includes bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as well as at eight, 10, and 12 weeks gestation. The hope is that if one of these bans is struck down in court, the others will stand.

Lee’s office confirmed to The Tennesseean newspaper that the proposed legislation would include an exception allowing for abortions in the case of a mother's life being in danger.

Tennessee lawmakers have pursued a heartbeat bill before, in 2019, but that legislation failed to garner enough support in the Tennessee Senate to advance.

At the time, the Catholic bishops of Tennessee voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges, stating last February that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge. They instead voiced support for “trigger ban” legislation that would ban abortion in the state in the case of the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

Georgia’s governor signed a similar heartbeat bill into law during May 2019, but in October 2019 a federal judge blocked the law from coming into force.

In Kentucky, a Senate panel on Thursday approved a bill that would require doctors and other health workers to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born after a failed abortion. Violating the bill would be a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.

Nearly half of the Kentucky Senate's members have signed on as cosponsors of SB 9, the AP reports.

“Who can dispute that that's a human life?" Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, told the AP.

“It's outside the womb. It's alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?...We want to make sure the law's there to punish those that are trying to do it and get away with it.”

Kentucky law already bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and other pro-life proposals are already under consideration in the state. One such proposal would amend the state Constitution to specify it includes no protection for abortion rights. Another proposal would ban public funds for any agency that performs or counsels patients about abortion, the AP reports.

On the other side of the abortion debate, a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this week said they want to make the state a “safe haven” for abortion rights.

A Virginia Senate committee passed a bill Jan. 23 to undo the state’s 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling, the AP reported.

HB 980 would also roll back state requirements that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them; and would undo building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed, the AP reported.

The Virginia Catholic Conference released information on the House bill and its companion Senate bills Jan. 22, urging voters to oppose the measures and encouraging them to attend the Virginia March for Life in Richmond on February 13, 2020.

Governor Ralph Northam, who is supportive of the measures to relax abortion restrictions this year, in 2019 supported the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.

When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.

 

California abortion mandate violates federal law, Trump administration says

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 16:23

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has said that California state policies violate federal law for requiring abortion coverage in religious groups’ health insurance plans – a mandate that Catholic leaders had charged “directly targeted” Catholic universities that had stopped paying for employees’ elective abortions.

California has 30 days to comply with federal law, and failure to comply could threaten its federal funding, Roger Severino, director of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, said in a Jan. 24 conference call with reporters.

Catholic leaders welcomed the Trump administration’s move, which coincided with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. where President Donald Trump became the first president to address the event in person.

“Today’s announcement is extraordinarily good news for the right to life, conscientious objection, religious freedom and the rule of law,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Jan. 24. “For nearly six years, employers in California – including churches – have been forced to fund and facilitate abortions in their health insurance plans in direct violation of a federal conscience protection law known as the Weldon Amendment. This coercive California policy is abhorrent, unjust and illegal.”

The bishops’ statement came from Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

Severino told reporters the HHS action was a response to complaints from a Catholic mission, Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, and the California-based Skyline Wesleyan Church, the Washington Post reports.

“There is a process, if we do not reach accord, that could lead to revocation of streams of federal funding,” Severino said. “California is a big consumer of HHS funds. We’re giving them 30 days so that we don’t have to cross that bridge.”

The California Catholic Conference filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, but the Obama administration rejected the complaint in June 2016.

“We strongly commend the Trump Administration for taking this critical action to enforce federal law and correct this supreme injustice to the people and employers of California,” the U.S. bishops said. “Sadly, violations of federal conscience laws are on the rise. We hope that this enforcement action, and subsequent actions by the Administration, will stop further unlawful discrimination against people who reject abortion as a violation of the most basic human and civil rights.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was dismissive of the action.

“The Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” Newsom said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The Trump administration’s move could have ramifications for at least five other U.S. states with similar mandates, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Oregon Right to Life has filed suit against the 2017 Oregon law requiring health plans to cover abortion. In October 2019, the Thomas More Society challenged a similar Illinois mandate. New York and Washington also require abortion coverage in private health plans.

The California rule was so broad that churches and other religious groups could not secure abortion-free California health plans for their employees. Its history, however, was rooted in an effort of Catholic universities to reform their health plans to become more consistent with their Catholic identity.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

The action came after the autumn 2013 announcements from two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which said that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions. They said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had secured approval from state officials.

In an October 2013 letter, Santa Clara University president Father Michael E. Engh, S.J., said that the university’s “core commitments” are incompatible with abortion coverage. Before the policy was revised, Santa Clara’s health plan also provided abortion coverage to dependents of faculty and staff.

The universities’ move against abortion coverage drew praise from Catholic and pro-life groups. However, the policy changes drew strong opposition from pro-abortion politicians and advocacy groups, as well as from many faculty and staff at the historically Jesuit Catholic schools. In December 2013, Santa Clara University faculty rejected the anti-abortion changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions. Emails showing this effort were contained in 2017 court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group but date to the time of the controversy.

The emails specifically named the two Catholic universities.

The insurers and the universities agreed to comply with the state’s new pro-abortion requirements. However, the state rules drew strong opposition from the California Catholic Conference, which charged that the state government “directly targeted” the two Catholic universities and violated federally guaranteed civil rights by ordering their health insurance plans to cover abortions.

“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the State of California,” said Bishop Robert McElroy, then an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and chairman of the state Catholic conference’s Institutional Concerns Committee.

McElroy, who became Bishop of San Diego in 2015, characterized the decision as a demand “directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens.”

“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind,” McElroy said Oct. 1, 2014.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

“Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in June 2016. They objected that the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law” and called for Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the Trump administration’s move against the California policy.

“Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life,” said Dannenfelser, who also co-chairs the Pro-Life Voices for Trump National Advisory Board ahead of the 2020 election.

'Pro-Life is Pro-Woman': The 2020 March for Life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A crowd estimated in at least the tens of thousands flooded the National Mall for the March for Life on Friday.

The annual gathering draws pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and foreign countries to Washington, D.C., marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

The march was kicked off by a rally on the National Mall attended by thousands, where President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life. He did so while Democratic House trial managers were making the case for his impeachment in the U.S. Senate.

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump said. “Every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting."

The president highlighted recent state-level efforts to expand abortion to include all nine months of pregnancy, singling out legislation passed in New York last year as well as controversial comments by Virginia Governor Ralf Northam (D).

Trump was joined on stage by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), March for Life president Jeanne Mancini, Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and others.

Other speakers at the rally included political figures from both Republican and Democratic parties: the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Bel Edwards; House Minority WHIP Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.); Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D); U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition.

“Today, as President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said at the rally, noting that the March was “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

“Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” he said.

Following the speeches from the rally’s main stage, the march proper began, progressing up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court.

Carrying the giant March for Life banner at the front of the crowd is regarded as a privilege, bestowed on a different group each year.

For 2020, students at Oakcrest School in McLean, Virginia—a Catholic all-girls middle and high school—led the march. Oakcrest administrators said that the school had a long history of supporting life and participating in the march each year, with classes suspended for the day to allow students and teachers to attend. The banner was carried by members of the school’s student-run Respect Life Club.

Behind Oakcrest, students at Colorado Christian University carried flags ahead of the main body of the march. The estimated tens of thousands of marchers moved up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill were a few hundred pro-abortion demonstrators had gathered earlier in the day.

Now in its forty-seveth year, the theme of the 2020 march,“Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” was chosen to mark the centennial anniversay of women’s right to vote in the United States with the passage of the 19th Ammendment in 1910. The march’s theme was chosen to counter the narrative put forward by abortion supporters that the practice “empowers” women. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told CNA when the theme was announced that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial” and to show that real “empowerment” meant valuing the lives of mothers and their unborn children.

In an op-ed published Friday morning, Mancini said that “abortion does not improve the lives of women and, unlike many who claim to be part of the women’s movement today, the suffragists wanted no part of it.”

“Abortion not only destroys women’s offspring, it can also cause lasting physical harm and psychological trauma. It’s a violent step backward that disproportionately affects women,” Mancini said.

“It has been 100 years since the suffragists won women the right to vote. They did so over time with single-minded focus and perseverance, and, in the end, gave voice to their voiceless sisters."

"We should not take for granted the progress they made. This November, we should use their victory to give voice to the voiceless unborn. They too deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” said Mancini.

Trump at March for Life: 'I am truly proud to stand with you'

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 14:07

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 12:07 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump addressed the annual March for Life Friday, telling pro-life demonstrators that he is an advocate for the right to life of unborn children, and calling for a federal prohibition on late-term abortion.

The president spoke about his commitment to the unborn, his administration’s record on abortion policy, while criticizing Democrats at the state and federal level for their positions on human.

He is the first president to attend in person the March for Life, which began in 1974 and has become one of the largest annual political events in the country.  

“All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” Trump told the crowd, which spanned across a large section of the National Mall and which the president described as a “tremendous turnout.”

“We’re here for a very simple reason, to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential,” the president said.

As President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said.

“Together we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life.”

“You embrace mothers with care and compassion, you are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love,” the president told the crowd.

Trump especially praised the college and high school students in attendance at the March for Life.

“Young people are the heart of the March for Life, and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation. The life movement is led by strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students, who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us, who fought to raise the conscience of our nation and uphold the rights of our citizens,” Trump said.

The president’s attendance at the March for Life was announced earlier this week. In 2019 Vice President Mike Pence attended the march, and in 2018 Trump welcomed pro-life leaders to the White House Rose Garden on the same day as the event.

The president’s unexpected attendance at the event led to heightened security. Initial security announcements said that no strollers would be permitted at the event, leading to criticism from attendees who had brought children to the event. Security organizers eventually relented on the stroller policy, saying the initial prohibition was the result of a miscommunication

Trump took the stage shortly after noon to chants of “four more years” from some, but not all, in the crowd. Some attendees held signs distributed by the president’s campaign team, some of which read “Most Pro-Life President Ever.”

Before he spoke, Trump greeted leaders on the stage while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A played. Before he had taken the stage, songs from the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner played, as well as The Animals’ 1964 “House of the Rising Sun,” had played for the crowd. The songs are frequently played at Trump events.

The president’s attendance was welcomed enthusiastically by March organizers. As she introduced Trump, March for Life president Jeanne Mancini thanked the president for coming.

Describing the March for Life as a “pro-life and pro-woman” event, and the “largest human rights demonstration in the entire world,” Mancini told Trump that “your presence here today makes a very powerful statement.”

“You are leader of the free world and you stand for life. Thank you for being here. Thank you for everything you’ve done for life. And thank you for everything you will be doing for life in the years ahead,” Mancini said, seeming to make reference to the president’s upcoming election.

The welcome marked a stark contrast to a March 2016 statement from Mancini, who responded to remarks from Trump calling for the imprisonment of women who undergo abortions as “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”

“Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," Mancini added in 2016.

But Trump has made efforts since his 2016 election to respond to the policy proposals of pro-lfe leaders, administration officials say.

On Friday, he touted some of those efforts, mentioning his expansion of the Mexico City policy that bars federal funding from supporting abortions in foreign countries, along with his 187 appointments to the federal bench, among them two justices of the Supreme Court. The president also mentioned new regulations on Title X policies that block abortion providers from some federal funds.

Trump said that his administration is concerned about protecting religious liberty, and is “taking care of doctors, teachers, nurses, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” the president said, to applause from the crowd.

Trump has faced fierce criticism from the U.S. bishops’ conference and other faith leaders for his immigration and social welfare policies, and did not make mention of those issues during his speech. Nor did he mention his recent drone strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which has also drawn criticism from faith leaders who have raised concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could enter another war in the Middle East.

The president also did not mention directly his reelection, but he did tell the crowd that “Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades, and you can even say, for centuries. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortions all the way up until the moment of birth.”

Trump mentioned the 2019 passage of New York state’s Reproductive Health Act, which ushered in a wave of legislation in several states aimed at expanding legal protection for abortion. He also mentioned Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, who in 2019 made public comments that seemed to support allowing a child who survived a botched abortion to die without medical treatment.

The president did not mention Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat scheduled to speak at the March for Life shortly after Trump. Jackson sponsored a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius. That law, now under judicial review at the Supreme Court, is expected to pose a challenge to the binding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Trump is currently subject to impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, which he did not mention directly in his speech. He did, however, aim to connect his political challenges to his pro-life advocacy.

“Sadly the far left is actively working to erase our God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square, and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

“They are coming after me, because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win, because we know how to win.”

“We all know how to win. You’ve been winning for a long time. You’ve been winning for a long time,” Trump told the crowd.

As he closed his remarks, the president told the crowd his attendance was a “very special moment.”

“It is so great to represent you. I love you all...God bless America.”

As Trump left the stage, the Rolling Stones 1969 classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played over the speakers.

 

Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

 

 

HHS Secretary says he is proud to lead 'Department of Life'

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department is committed to protecting life “from conception to natural death,” as he prepares to attend Friday’s national March for Life.

“We are proud to be ‘the Department of Life’ and will continue protecting life and lives while upholding the fundamental freedoms and inherent dignity of all Americans,” said Azar in a statement released on Jan. 23.

Azar said that “it is an honor to lead a department that has demonstrated our full commitment to protecting the dignity of life from conception to natural death.”

HHS released the statement the evening before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., an annual pro-life gathering that is attended by tens of thousands from all over the U.S. and foreign countries.

The theme of the 2020 March for Life is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”

A spokeswoman from HHS’ Office of Public Affairs confirmed to CNA that Secretary Azar will be attending the March for Life.

The secretary also noted the department’s efforts over the past year to oppose “an international right to abortion” at the United Nations and at other international meetings. In September he read a joint statement of the U.S. and other countries against finding an “international right to abortion,” at a meeting on universal health coverage on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

He also noted the department’s efforts to uphold conscience rights. In May, HHS issued a final rule based on various federal laws protecting conscience in health care, allowing health care workers and providers to opt out of participating in or paying for procedures such as abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide.

Azar will join President Donald Trump at the March for Life, who this week announced he would be addressing attendees of the march at a rally on the National Mall. 

Trump will be the first president to speak at the March for Life. He will do so while his impeachment trial, on two counts of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, is underway in the U.S. Senate.

“Jeanne Mancini, President, March for Life: ‘We have never had a President of the United States actually come in person to the March for Life.’ But now you do! See you later Jeanne,” the President tweeted early Friday morning.

Youth Mass for Life told to 'give back our life to the One to whom it belongs'

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 11:05

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Living the “Gospel of Life” requires sacrifice but God is infinitely generous in return, the secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. told youth at the Mass for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

“To be a witness to the Gospel of Life, we have to give back our life to the One to Whom it belongs,” said Father Daniele Rebeggiani, a Washington archdiocesan priest and secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. and the homilist for the Mass for Life celebrated at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The Mass preceded the 47th annual March for Life, expected to attract nearly 100,000 people from across the U.S. and foreign countries.

Fr. Rebeggiani preached on the Gospel for the Mass, the story of the rich young man who left Christ sad because his “heart was divided.”

“This Mass is an invitation to all of us to leave everything, to abandon our life totally to the Lord,” Rebeggiani said, inviting those present to ask a priest if they “ever regretted living a life of celibacy” or their parents if “they’ve ever regretted their sleepless hours.”

In order to be a witness to the gift of life, “we should be willing to undergo some persecution,” he said. Yet, he said, “the Lord will never, ever disappoint you,” and “I have never, ever regretted giving my life to the Lord.”

The Mass, preceded by a youth rally, was attended by an estimated 18,000 teenagers and young adults from more than 50 dioceses around the country just hours before the March for Life was set to begin on the National Mall.

The March for Life is held each year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that overturned state abortion bans and legalized abortion nationwide in cases before the unborn baby is “viable.”

On Friday morning, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. celebrated the Mass for Life, with the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, concelebrating along with more than 180  bishops and priests.

Archbishop Pierre greeted those present at the beginning of the Mass and thanked them on behalf of Pope Francis for “showing your solidarity with the unborn in the ‘throwaway culture’.”

“We don’t fight for an idea. We fight for the future of the human being,” Pierre said.

The nuncio cited Pope Francis’ comparison of abortion to hiring a hitman to kill someone, saying “never, never eliminate a human life or hire a killer to solve a problem. Abortion is never the answer that women and families are looking for.”

“The Holy Father is close to you, and believes in you, and with his spirit he marches with you,” he said.

The Youth Rally and Mass for Life is the largest annual event of the Archdiocese of Washington. It precedes the March for Life, attended annually by tens of thousands of pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and internationally.

Friday’s rally and Mass carried the theme of “Living the Gospel of Life,” taken from the “life in abundance” promised by Christ in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, in answer to the culture of death which promotes abortion.

At the rally preceding Friday’s Mass, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden told her story to the audience. Two religious sisters—Sister Josephine Garrett of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and Sister Maria Juan Anderson of the Religious Sisters of Mercy—addressed the youth, and Catholic singer Sarah Kroger performed.

Archbishop Gregory hails youth for life: ‘They have the energy to pull it off’

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 08:40

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:40 am (CNA).- An estimated 18,000 young Catholics from around the country filled the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, DC, Friday morning for the annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life.

Organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, the early morning rally opens a day of events for the March for Life each year. Doors opened just after 6am, but busloads of pilgrims and marchers had already arrived in the early hours of Jan. 24.

Many of the attendees had been up late at the previous evening’s Mass and Vigil for Life at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the campus of The Catholic University of America.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told media that the annual rally and Mass was the largest event hosted by the archdiocese every year.

“This is about our protest, our positive witness to the gift of life, on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This is what we do. We gather so that we can pray and we take action.”

Speaking to reporters during the rally, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory talked about the significance of the event, his first since succeeding Cardinal Donald Wuerl last year.

CNA asked Gregory about the use of abortion as a political wedge issue by, and how the Church could help build unified culture of life, Gregory said the event showed the breadth and youth of the pro-life movement.

“First of all, [abortion] can be used in a very isolating way,” Gregory acknowledged.

“But part of the rally, part of our Catholic witness, is that while life within the womb is certainly threatened, on so many levels, it is the first step of the significance of life in all of its manifestations. So what we try to do, especially with our young people, is to say ‘it is the beginning,’ its not the end of our respect for human life and its dignity.”

“I think one of the things that this event does, and I am new to it, is it makes a promise that our witness to the dignity of life is youthful and it has a future,” Gregory said.

Gregory was also asked about the announced address by President Trump later in the day at the main rally for life on the National Mall, his closeness to the anti-abortion politically, but his divergence from the Church on other issues such as immigration and social welfare.

“The bishops of the United States have consistently, and for a long time, spoken about the integrity of our teaching on the dignity of human life. While the focus today in many respects will be on protecting life in the womb – that is not the end. Because of that, individuals from whatever political persuasion might decide to focus on one dimension, but we as Catholics have to say ‘we are grateful for that focus on that one dimension, but there is more to come.’”

The rally portion of the morning was led by Sr. Maria Juan of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, who opened the event calling out pilgrims from across the country and inviting young people, priests and religious to share their own experiences of this and past events.

The rally program also included an address from Melissa Ohden, founder of The Abortion Survivors Network, and herself an abortion survivor, while Christian rock bands and the choir of John Carroll High School kept energy levels high in the early morning.

Gregory greeted pilgrims and marchers on the arena floor before preparing for the 9am Mass, at which he was scheduled to be the principle celebrant, together with Archbishop Christoph Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.   

The Washington archbishop pointed to the enthusiasm of the crowd as a clear sign that they were undeterred in the fight against abortion, even though the vast majority had never known a time when it was not legal.

“The fact that they have taken such an enthusiastic position is an indication that our future in our young people is bright. They have the right focus, they have the right intention, they have the energy to pull it off,” Gregory said.

Ten thousand pilgrims pack National Shrine for Mass for Life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 00:15

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2020 / 10:15 pm (CNA).- An estimated 10,000 pilgrims traveled from both near and far to attend Mass at the opening of the National Prayer Vigil for Life celebrated on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The pilgrims joined 46 deacons, 303 priests, 39 bishops, and three cardinals participating in the Mass, held the evening before the annual March for Life. The principal celebrant and homilist was Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the US bishops’ pro-life committee, together with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. 

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann said he was cheered at the sight of so many you pilgrims for life, a powerful witness against an abortion culture which he compared to an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ in which “beautiful is ugly and hideous is gorgeous.” 

The archbishop also spoke of his ad limina visit with Pope Francis. During his recent trip to Rome, said Naumann, he mentioned the controversy that erupted at the USCCB Fall General Assembly over whether or not abortion was the “preeminent” social issue of our time. Naumann said that the pope appeared confused at why this would be controversial, and re-affirmed that abortion is the most important social issue.

“The Pope is with you. He is praying for you. He supports you,” said Naumann. “My friends, the successor of Peter has our backs.”

Each of the pilgrims had their own reasons and motivations for why they found themselves in the Basilica on Thursday evening. CNA spoke to a few of them to find out their stories. 

Jenna Perrey and Grace Fender are two first-time marchers. They traveled on a bus together for 22 hours with the Diocese of Jefferson City (MO).

“We hope to see all the crowds and see all the wonderful supporters of life,” Perrey told CNA. The Diocese of Jefferson City sent six busses to Washington for the March. 

Fender told CNA she was looking forward to the experience of her first March, and to see everyone “marching together for the same cause.”

“Life’s good,” added, smiling. 

As in past years, attendees of the Vigil Mass and the March for Life are able to receive a plenary indulgence, provided they fulfill the other requirements of an indulgence of confession, total detachment from sin, and prayer for the Pope’s intention. This year, permission was granted relatively later than usual, but it was authorized on January 9 by Cardinal Marcus Piacenza of the Apostolic Penitentiary.  

Other marchers told CNA they returned to Washington after being inspired by past marches. 

“I went last year, and I felt like I actually made an impact,” Emma Galles, an 18-year-old pilgrim attending her second March for Life told CNA. Galles flew in from Iowa. 

“You could see how many people were with you. It lets you know that you’re not alone in this fight and that you’re getting somewhere,” she said.

Galles told CNA that she is pro-life, because “Without the right to life, all other rights are pointless. That’s the number one right that every person should have.” 

Carlos Rueda, a senior at Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL, flew up with some of his classmates to attend the March for Life. Rueda is the communications officer of his school’s pro-life club, and has attended the March for Life each year of high school. He told CNA that he is “passionate” about his involvement with the club. 

Rueda said the March was “inspiring,” which is why he keeps coming back.

“You see so many people with the same goal in mind, even [from] different backgrounds,” said Rueda. 

He said that in Tampa, he often faced pushback for his pro-life beliefs, but took solace in being surrounded by people who agreed with him in DC, “joining together, fighting for the same idea.” 

Jayla Johnson, 15, and Tanina Sentementas, 16, had similar sentiments. The two traveled from Connecticut to Washington with their school, St. Paul Catholic High School. 

Despite going to Catholic schools her entire life, Johnson said she was never taught about the reality of abortion until she was in the eighth grade. 

“It really made me realize that it’s wrong, and I should stand up against it,” said Johnson.  

Sentementas said that her group bonded during the eight-hour bus journey, and relished the chance to be with her peers and to better interact with them.

She told CNA that she is pro-life because she wants to “hav(e) a voice for children who don’t have them.” 

One of the 39 bishops present, Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, had by far the longest journey to Washington. Umbers attended the March for Life last year with a group of Australian students en route to World Youth Day in Panama. 

The experience made such an impression that he returned in 2020, again with a group of students. He told CNA that the coming decriminalization of abortion in the Australian state of New South Wales in October last year inspired him to come back to help jump start the pro-life movement in his country.

“The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 that was passed in the State of New South Wales on the 2nd of October is our own Roe v Wade,” Umbers told CNA. 

“I’m bringing people to Washington with a view to promoting something similar in Sydney.”

Australia does not have any sort of annual March for Life demonstration. Umbers hopes to change that.  

“At the Vigil Mass this evening, packed with youth and clergy, mention was made of its humble beginnings. A generation later it’s huge,” he said.

“In Sydney we have already amassed in our thousands outside Parliament. I believe that the Pro-Life cause, which is the preeminent issue of our day, deserves our very best efforts.”

Chaput looks back: 'I’m proud of the things that we have done together'

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 19:30

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Four months after submitting his mandatory letter of resignation to Pope Francis, Archbishop Charles Chaput officially stood down as leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese on Thursday.  

With his successor, Bishop Nelson Perez, set to be installed on Feb.18, Chaput enters retirement after 32 years as a bishop -- much of it spent on the national stage, and widely recognized as a spiritual and intellectual leader in the Church in the United States.

Chaput reflected on his vocation as bishop to CNA on Thursday, citing St. Augustine as the model of service he has sought to emulate in his ministry.

“Augustine lived simply, never abandoned his people, and never avoided difficult decisions or issues,” Chaput told CNA.

“That didn't always make him popular. But he served his people sacrificially, as a good father, in a spirit of love. That's the gold standard for a bishop's ministry.”

During his episcopal ministry, and especially as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Chaput faced criticism from secular outlets and within the Church for taking “conservative” stands on leading debates in the Church, including statements discouraging Catholic politicians who support abortion from presenting themselves for Communion and opposing efforts to redefine marriage.

His stances led to him being branded as a “culture warrior” and “political.” Yet, he explained to CNA on Thursday, his pubic stances were required of him as a responsible Catholic leader in the public square.

“Was Augustine ‘political’ for writing City of God? Or for criticizing Roman state corruption and bad officials? Of course not,” Chaput said.

“Politics is a subset of Christian discipleship, and sometimes bishops need to speak and act with conviction in the public square in an unpopular way. That's always been the case.”

“Politics is important, but it's not what the Gospel is about,” he said.

The terms “conservative” and “liberal” when applied to bishops only serves as a way of dividing Catholics within the Church, he said.

“The conservative vs. pastoral narrative is just another tactic to divide the Church against herself. And people who think they're getting a clear sense of Catholic thought and teaching from reading the New York Times are simply feeding their confusion, not healing it.​”

Chaput has served as Archbishop of Philadelphia for more than eight years, overseeing almost 1.3 million Catholics and more than 200 parishes.

Before that, he served for 14 years as Archbishop of Denver, helping start evangelization initiatives like the Augustine Institute, founding the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, as well launching the Centro San Juan Diego to serve the local Hispanic community.

Born in Kansas in 1944, Chaput entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1965 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. He eventually rose to the rank of chief executive and provincial minister of the Capuchin Province of Mid-America.

In 1988, he was ordained bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, and in 1997, he was appointed by Pope St. John Paul II as the archbishop of Denver. Chaput became the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the U.S., and the first as archbishop, as he is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Chaput as Archbishop of Philadelphia. His episcopal motto is “As Christ Loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25).

Chaput also served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2003 to 2006, and has served on the board of EWTN since 1996. He was appointed the Apostolic Visitor to the Legion of Christ for Canada and the United States in 2009-10.

When appointed to Philadelphia, the archdiocese was reeling from financial problems in the fallout of the sexual abuse crisis, facing an operating deficit of at least $6 million in 2012-13, leaving Chaput with a series of difficult and controversial decisions.

The archdiocese considered closing dozens of its elementary and high schools and partnered with the Faith in the Future foundation for 17 high schools and four special education schools. Chaput also sold off the archbishop’s residence and the summer home for retired priests, as well as other archdiocesan properties.

“Complacency is the enemy of faith. To whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local Church, events in the coming year will burn them out,” Chaput wrote in a pastoral letter during Advent of 2011.

“The process will be painful. But going through it is the only way to renew the witness of the Church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of God’s word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship.”

At a Jan. 23 press conference announcing the appointment, Chaput’s successor Archbishop-elect Perez paid tribute to him, saying that he “made calls that, today, have placed the archdiocese in a way better place.”

“Watching him from afar, I saw him make tough decisions. Many times, like a father has to do in a family,” Perez said.

Asked by CNA what he is most proud of in his 32 years as a diocesan bishop, Chaput responded “I don’t think that way.”

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I’ve accomplished. I’m just grateful to have been the archbishop for eight-and-a-half years,” he said.

He did, however, thank his staff and auxiliary bishops for assisting him with tough decisions, particularly the archdiocese’s pressing financial and sexual abuse problems when he arrived.

He also mentioned the decision to sell the property of St. Charles Borromeo seminary and relocating it to nearby Neumann University. Chaput called that “an extraordinary accomplishment.”

“I’m proud of the things that we have done together,” he said.

Chaput said on Thursday that he will eventually resume responsibilities as archbishop emeritus, including giving talks and retreats, but will spend the next three months on a quieter schedule without regular commitments.

“I am going to continue to be a part of the life of the archdiocese,” he said.

“It’s also important for me to understand that he [Perez] is my archbishop, and I owe him my respect and my obedience, and I do that gladly because I think he’s going to accomplish great things for us, but also with us because the Church is all of us working together,” Chaput said.

“The history of the Church is not the history of bishops, it’s the history of all of us together working for the glory of God.”

Federal money to go to Texas women's health program without abortion providers

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 17:01

Austin, Texas, Jan 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Texas women’s health program that bars funding for health care providers that perform abortions has been approved for federal funding by the Trump administration, making it the first program to receive federal Medicaid funding while excluding abortion providers.

The Department of Health and Human Services approved the Medicaid waiver for the Healthy Texas Women program, which helps provide health care and family planning services to tens of thousands of women, the Dallas Morning News reports. The waiver is an administrative procedure that allows federal money for states that experiment in new ways to provide health care to the poor and disabled.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott welcomed the waiver, saying, “The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life.”

“This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women,” Abbott said Jan. 22.

The Healthy Texas Women program was launched in 2007 under the name the Women’s Health Program. It served about 173,000 low-income women in 2018. The waiver, approved through December 2024, will fund services for over 200,000 clients a year, the governor’s office said. Federal funds will total about $350 million over five years, while the state will contribute about $100 million over that time.

The Obama administration refused to renew federal funding for the program because Texas would not fund abortion providers or affiliates. The funds did not go to abortions.

Before Planned Parenthood was dropped from funding, the organization served about 40 percent of the women in the program, providing birth control, cancer screenings, and other services. The funds did not go to abortions.

As the largest abortion provider in the U.S., however, any funding of Planned Parenthood has drawn critical attention from foes of abortion.

The Trump administration’s action drew praise from pro-life groups.

"Texas is a state that values life, and we are proud to see President Trump stand with us on this issue. Texas is proving it is possible to both care for women and protect life," Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, commented Jan. 23.

“President Trump has repeatedly kept his promise to stop taxpayer funding of the big abortion industry including Planned Parenthood. Abortion is not health care,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “When Texas lawmakers exercised their right to fund women’s health care without underwriting abortion businesses, they were punished by the Obama administration and smeared by abortion activists and their media allies.”

Dannenfelser said that Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report shows “massive increases in both abortions and taxpayer funding at the same time they have seen steep declines in their number of patients, cancer screening and prevention services, breast exams, pap tests, and even contraceptive services.”

“Restoring Texas’s decision regarding use of federal funds is an acknowledgement that the Lone Star State was right all along,” said Dannenfelser, calling on President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar “to immediately free all states to act on the will of their citizens to support women’s health care without encouraging abortion.”

Planned Parenthood Texas Votes said the waiver upends “longstanding federal policy.”

“Reproductive health care has been under constant attack for more than a decade in Texas and extreme politicians in the state have only been emboldened by support from the Trump administration,” the group said.

The Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning group, said in 2017 that fewer women were being served than before Planned Parenthood was removed from the program. Enrollment dropped by 24% and 39% fewer of those enrolled accessed health centers.

In 2016, the state contracted with the evangelical Heidi Group to help provide services. The group failed to fulfill its promise to serve 50,000 women and the state ended its contract in 2018, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Aiming for pastoral presence in Philadelphia, Perez says he learned from Chaput

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 15:35

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 01:35 pm (CNA).- The next Archbishop of Philadelphia said Thursday that he is glad for a homecoming to his native archdiocese, that he is inspired by the example of his predecessor, and that he aims to make pastoral presence the hallmark of his spiritual leadership.

Archbishop-elect Nelson Perez of Philadelphia said at a press conference Jan. 23 he is inspired by the “steadfastness” and “profound faith” of Archbishop Charles Chaput, his predecessor.

“I watched it from afar, learned from him—just watching him—how steadfast he was, and with profound faith, that while things were tough that God would make a way,” Perez said of Chaput who served as Philadelphia’s archbishop since 2011, “that somehow, someway, all things happen for the good of those who love God, as St. Paul said.”

“And he did that many times even in the midst of criticism,” he added, “but he was steadfast in his love for you and his love for the Church.”

On Thursday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput—submitted, according to Church practice, on his 75th birthday in September—and selected one of Philadelphia’ former priests, Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, as Chaput’s replacement.

Archbishop-elect Perez’s installation Mass will be Feb. 18 at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Perez served as Cleveland’s bishop since 2017, after serving five years as auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, New York.

When he is installed as archbishop, Perez will oversee almost 1.3 million Catholics and 214 parishes in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia archdiocese will likely face parish and school closures in the months to come. Perez acknowledged he will need to make decisions about those matters soon.

When asked by CNA on Thursday about his pastoral ministry, Perez began with one word: “presence.”

“I’m certainly not going to sit behind a desk. The role of the bishop is to be out and about,” he said, noting that in Cleveland he estimated he spent around 60% of his time visiting parishes and meeting with young people.

Outgoing Archbishop Chaput was often characterized in the press as a “culture warrior” who took “conservative” positions on controversial issues. The New York Times on Thursday suggested Chaput’s successor would embody a different vision for the Church in Philadelphia.

Perez balked at any notion that he and Chaput are at odds as bishops.

“We both definitely walk with the Church,” he told CNA.

During Thursday’s press conference announcing the appointment, Chaput heaped praise on the former Philadelphia priest. Perez, 58 years old, was born in Miami and raised in New Jersey but attended seminary at Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1989 and served for more than 20 years before moving to Rockville Centre in 2012.

Chaput told the press that he described his ideal successor last year to the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

“I asked for a successor who would care for and guide our people, speak the truth with conviction and charity, and live a faithful witness to Jesus Christ,” Chaput recalled.

“He [Perez] was enthusiastically supported and very well loved by the people he served as pastor. And for good reason,” Chaput said.

“He’s a good man, a man of deep Catholic faith, with the skills, character, and warmth that will make him an exceptional leader here in Philadelphia. He is exactly the man with exactly the abilities our Church needs.”

Perez admitted he is grateful to come back to the place of his ordination.

“Once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest,” he said on Thursday. “You carry it kind of inside you.”

Regarding his predecessor, “I am concerned of the shoes I have to fill,” Perez said. He noted that even after he left Philadelphia, he and Chaput would text and email each other, and that the archbishop had been a “mentor and brother bishop” to him.
 
When he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre in 2012, Perez said he visited Chaput at his residence. The archbishop disappeared into another room and came back to Perez with a pectoral cross.

“He put it around my neck and he said ‘you are now my brother bishop,’” Perez reflected on Thursday. “And ever since then, he’s been such a great support.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Perez wore the pectoral cross Chaput gave him.

Chaput had to make tough decisions for the good of the archdiocese and the Church, Perez said, “many times like a father has to do in a family.”

“He made calls that today, have placed the archdiocese in a way better place,” he said. “In particular we need to thank God and praise God for this man.”

As the son of Cuban immigrants, Perez has had a longtime focus on Hispanic ministry, leading Hispanic ministry efforts in Philadelphia, Rockville Centre, and on the national stage, as the former chair of the U.S. bishops’ sub-Committee for Hispanic Affairs.

Perez also helped lead the V Encuentro process for the USCCB, a national gathering of more than 3,000 Hispanic Catholic leaders that outlined evangelization priorities for the U.S. Church.

The most pressing issue for the Hispanic Church in the U.S., he told CNA, is reaching second- and third-generation immigrants who are culturally but not linguistically Hispanic. Studies have shown a decline in religious practice with each succeeding generation of immigrant Catholic families.

“We have to create a pastoral style that is Hispanic in culture and nature, but in the English language,” he told CNA.

 

School choice law rooted in anti-Catholicism, Supreme Court hears

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 10:30

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court considered arguments on Wednesday on whether a state bar on public funding for religious groups is discriminatory, or protects them from state interference. At issue during the arguments was the anti-Catholic bigotry which informed the Montana law’s passage

Oral arguments were heard Jan. 22 on the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which involves the 1972 Montana state constitution’s prohibition on public funding of religious institutions.

At issue is a clause in Montana’s 1972 state constitution that goes back to its original constitution of 1889—forbidding public funding “for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

In 2015, the Montana state legislature approved a scholarship program for low-income students where tax credits could be claimed for donations to a scholarship fund. The fund would help students attend private schools, including religious schools.

The state’s revenue department blocked the program, saying the state’s constitution barred public funding of schools of a “church, sect, or denomination” and ruling that the scholarships could only be used for secular schools.

In response, several parents sued the state to use the scholarships for religious schools and a Montana trial court ruled in their favor. The state supreme court reversed that decision in 2018, and struck down the program altogether. The case will be decided by the Supreme Court this term.

Opponents of the law say it violates the “Free Exercise” clause of the U.S. Constitution, unlawfully shutting religious groups out of neutral public benefits. They also say the original 1889 clause was passed during a time of anti-Catholic bigotry, to bar Catholic schools from funding that the largely Protestant public school system benefitted from. 

During oral arguments on Wednesday, multiple exchanges focused on the Montana law’s roots in the anti-religious bigotry of the 1800s, and whether its inclusion in Montana’s 1972 constitution was a continuation of that bigotry.

“I mean, I think that in the 1880s, there was undoubtedly grotesque religious bigotry against -- against Catholics,” said Adam Unikowsky, arguing on behalf of the Montana Department of Revenue.

“That was the clear motivation for this,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh replied.

“In the 1972 Constitution, which is where this provision was enacted, I don't think there's any evidence whatsoever of any anti-religious bigotry,” Unikowsky said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor had earlier noted a “long history” of people opposing public funding of religious groups. She implied that Montana in 1972 no longer exercised the anti-Catholic bigotry of the 1800s but still chose to bar public funding of religion in line with the U.S. Constitution’s “Establishment Clause.”

Justice Samuel Alito asked how it wasn’t merely coincidental that laws such as Montana’s occurred in a time of anti-Catholic bigotry.

“I'm not going to get into an argument with you about what happened in 1972, but do you really want to argue that the reason why a lot of this popped up beginning, coincidentally, in the 1840s, at the time of the Irish potato famine, that had nothing to do with discrimination based on religion?” Alito asked.

The brief of the parents before the Supreme Court argued that three separate clauses of the U.S. Constitution—“[t]he Free Exercise, Establishment, and Equal Protection Clauses—all provide that government should be neutral, not hostile, toward religion.

“Prohibiting all religious options in otherwise generally available student-aid programs rejects that neutrality and shows inherent hostility toward religion,” the brief states.

On Wednesday, two leading U.S. bishops said the Espinoza case could decide the legitimacy of anti-religious discrimination in the U.S., and continue historic anti-Catholic bigotry.

Amendments such as Montana’s “were the product of nativism,” read a joint statement of Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, and Bishop Michael Barber, S.J. of Oakland, California, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ education committee.

“They were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to bring an end to this shameful legacy,” the bishops said.

After Wednesday’s oral arguments, Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, tweeted that “the justices seemed to agree that excluding students just because they are religious is a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause.”

Montana’s clause is one of 37 “Blaine Amendments” passed by states in the late 19th century. They are named for James Blaine, a former Speaker of the House (1869-1875), Senator (1876-1881) and Secretary of State (1889-1892) from Maine who pushed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring funding of “sectarian” causes and organizations.

At that time, opponents of the law say, Blaine’s effort mainly targeted Catholic schools and institutions. His amendment failed at the federal level but many states including Montana inserted similar language in their constitutions.  

In a 2017 case, the Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer ruled that Missouri’s Blaine Amendment could not block a church-owned playground from applying for state renovation grants, simply on account of its religious status.

However, a concurring opinion from Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch warned that the Court’s language implied a very narrow ruling on “playground resurfacing” cases, and not on general cases of religious groups accessing public funds.

On Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan distinguished between the Court’s Trinity Lutheran case—regarding access to a “completely secular public benefit” like playground resurfacing grants—and Montana’s case where the scholarship program could be considered by the state to “subsidize religious activity.” 

Justice Stephen Breyer asked if government could provide police protection for all schools but not religious schools, to which Unikowsky answered that it would be unconstitutional to do so, under the Trinity Lutheran decision. However, he said, there was a difference between government “distinguishing among religions”—such as allowing access to benefits for Catholic schools but not Jewish schools—and simply removing itself “out of religion altogether.”

In 1972, religious leaders were some of the supporters of the “no-aid” clause, Unikowsky said, because they warned about “using government leverage to influence religious education.”

Kavanaugh replied that “a religious school that doesn't want to be part of a neutral program doesn't have to be.”

Cleveland's Bishop Nelson Perez to lead Philadelphia archdiocese

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 06:25

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 04:25 am (CNA).- Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland was appointed Archbishop of Philadelphia Thursday, returning to the local Church of his priestly ordination.

He succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, 75, who had led the Philadelphia archdiocese since 2011. Ordained a priest of the Capuchin Franciscans in 1970, Archbishop Chaput served as Bishop of Rapid City and Archbishop of Denver before his transfer to Philadelphia.

"Bishop Perez is a man who already knows and loves the Church in Philadelphia, and is already known and loved by our priests and people. I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese," Chaput wrote online following the announcement.

Bishop Perez, 58, was born in Miami to Cuban parents, and grew up in New Jersey. He is the first Hispanic bishop to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for this appointment and his confidence in me," Perez said Jan. 23.

"It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment -- joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood, where I served as the pastor of two parishes and where I held several leadership positions within the archdiocese, and sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply,” he said.

After pastoral and Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Perez was named in 2012 an auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, and was consecrated a bishop that July.

As auxiliary bishop he was episcopal vicar of Long Island’s eastern vicariate and oversaw the Hispanic apostolates of the diocese.

In 2017 he was appointed Bishop of Cleveland.

When a 'heartbeat bill' was signed into law in Ohio last year, he said it represented “a major step forward in efforts to protect the sanctity of life.”

“Pope Francis reminds us that all life has inestimable value – even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor – are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” he said. “Always remembering that God is the creator and we are not, I encourage everyone to pray that the world grows in its respect for life, from conception to natural death, and to build awareness to reaffirm the Gospel teaching about the gift of life.”

Perez was part of the delegation that presented the conclusion of the National V Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry to Pope Francis in September 2019.

Bishop Perez, who chairs the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, told CNA at the time that some of the fruit of Encuentro has been the “emerging leadership, in so many ways, of the next generation of leaders and pastoral lay leaders in the church in the United States,” which he called “really promising and very hopeful.”

“The V Encuentro is really in so many ways the implementation of the joy of the Gospel. So the whole process, the spirit, the mysticism of the spirituality revolves all around the joy of the Gospel,” Bishop Perez said.

Noting that deportations have taken place in the Cleveland diocese, Bishop Perez said one of the blessings of the V Encuentro was that “it comes at a time of that uncertainty and fear and became, in so many ways, a soothing balm where people would come together and support each other, accompany each other and strengthen each other in a very tumultuous time.”

After a June 2018 immigration raid in the diocese, the bishop said the event “makes clear that our current immigration system contributes to the human suffering of migrants and the separation of families.”

While recognizing “the role of our government in enforcing current immigration law,” Bishop Perez also voiced “great sadness for the families whose lives have been disrupted following the large-scale immigration action.”

“The Church is advocating for comprehensive and compassionate reform of our immigration system so that persons are able to obtain legal status in our country and enter the United States legally to work and support their families. Since this is a responsibility of our Congress, I would encourage you to speak with your legislators advocating for reform of our present system.”

Perez will be installed as the Archbishop of Philadelphia on Feb. 18.

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