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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: 2 hours 51 min ago

Planned Parenthood eschews federal funding to continue abortion referrals

4 hours 5 min ago

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2019 / 12:31 am (CNA).- As a new regulation takes effect, barring Title X recipients from making abortion referrals, Planned Parenthood has reportedly decided to forego the federal funds in order to continue directing women to abortion.

“We are not going to comply with a regulation that would require health care providers to not give full information to their patients,” Jacqueline Ayers, the group's top lobbyist, said Tuesday as reported by ABC News.

The Trump administration announced July 15 that parts of the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits recipients of Title X family planning funds from referring or performing abortions, will go into effect immediately. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds.

Pro-life advocates have praised the regulations as a commonsense way to ensure enforcement of already-existing rules against taxpayer money being used for abortions.

“A strong majority of Americans have consistently voiced their opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion – it is even unpopular among Democrats and self-described pro-choice Americans,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List last week.

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.”

The Protect Life Rule will strip about $60 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, whose clinics both refer for abortion services and are co-located with abortion facilities. Planned Parenthood presently receives about one-fifth of the total amount of Title X funds distributed and serves about 40 percent of all clients who benefit from Title X.

Title X does not pay for abortions, but recipients have in the past been able to refer patients for abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services informed Title X fund recipients on July 15 that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortions, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood described the court’s decision as “devastating” and “crushing news,” though the organization remains eligible to receive $500 million in other federal funding.

As of March next year, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X money.

HHS received $4.1 million in Title X funds in April to disburse to almost 70 service sites, many of which are Planned Parenthood affiliates, The Hill reports.

The rule is being challenged in federal court, but the administration says there is currently no legal obstacle to enforcing it, ABC News reports.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

An independent family planning provider in Maine announced that it too would continue to refer for abortions and eschew federal funding.

Planned Parenthood’s president Dr. Leana Wen parted ways with the organization earlier this week, saying her employment had been ended due to “philosophical differences” with the board “over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

Wen noted that when she was interviewed for the role of president, she asked the search committee whether they viewed the organization primarily as an advocacy organization “with medical services that are necessary to strengthen its impact” or as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.”

Wen said that she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be fundamentally about health care, and has spent her eight months as president focusing on patient care and the promotion of reproductive rights as health care.

The board, however, wanted to move in a different direction, emphasizing abortion advocacy as their fundamental mission, she said.

Wen was appointed head of Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards. Political organizer Alexis McGill Johnson has been named as acting president.

 

Villanova historian says Chaput, Cordileone, and Strickland are ‘devout schismatics’

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 20:35

Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 18, 2019 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- A Church historian at Philadelphia’s Villanova University has said three U.S. bishops are “devout schismatics” who try to diminish the authority of Pope Francis.

“They are devout in the sense that they publicly display their preference for a traditionalist Church and its devotions, such as the rosary. They are schismatics because they openly promote the undermining of the bishop of Rome among the Catholic faithful,” Massimo Faggioli wrote in a July 16 essay for La Croix magazine.

Faggioli made specific mention of three U.S. bishops: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.

The historian said the “schismatic instincts” of those bishops were manifested when in August 2018, when they “sided with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to Washington who called on Francis to resign.”

Viganò released on Aug. 25, 2018 a “testimony,” which, among other things, accused Pope Francis of ignoring warnings about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual deviancy, and then raising McCarrick’s status within the Vatican.

After the testimony was released, Strickland issued a statement calling Vigano’s allegations “credible,” and Cordileone said he could confirm that some of Vigano’s statements were true.

Contrary to Faggioli’s claim, however, Chaput did not endorse Vigano’s allegations. While a spokesman told reporters in August that Chaput “enjoyed working with Archbishop Vigano during his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio,” he declined to comment on the former nuncio’s allegations.

The spokesman said that the Chaput could not comment “on Archbishop Vigano’s recent testimonial as it is beyond his personal experience."

In 2013, Chaput told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that the election of Pope Francis had made him “extraordinarily happy, because quite honestly, he is the man I was hoping would be Pope eight years ago.”

Two years later, Chaput hosted Pope Francis in Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Reflecting in 2018 on that meeting, Chaput wrote that the pope’s “time with us was filled with powerful public moments and deeply grace filled intimate gatherings hallmarked by an overarching spirit of mercy, compassion, and charity.”

“[Pope Francis] has repeatedly challenged us to bear witness to Christ through concrete action—by serving the poor, by helping immigrants, by preserving families, and by protecting the sanctity of life. It’s the kind of challenge we can and should answer with a hearty yes each day,” Chaput added.

In his essay criticizing “devout schismatics,” Faggioli wrote that “dissent against this pope has become radicalized with schismatic instincts because this kind of political devotion is more about a partisan ideology than about the Church. Catholicism was exposed to ideological manipulation by those who do not really care for the Gospel, but who are more interested in a particular conservative political culture.”

Chaput, among those identified as a “devout schismatic,” has frequently emphasized his unwillingness to align with a political party.

In 2016 he criticized Catholics, especially politicians, who accept “the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new ‘Church’ of our ambitions and appetites,’ in order to achieve political or personal goals. he group of those who do so “cuts across...both major political parties,” Chaput said.

The Church's canon law defines schism, the charge Faggioli makes against the three bishops, as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Faggioli could not be reached for comment.

 

Religious persecution is a global problem, Pence and Pompeo tell Ministerial

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Religious persecution is a concern for the entire global community, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a religious freedom gathering on Thursday.

“We’re gathered here, 106 nations strong, because we believe in the freedom of conscience—the right of all people to live out their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs,” Vice President Pence told religious and civic leaders from around the world at the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.

The Ministerial was hosted by the U.S. State Department from July 15-19. Religious and civic leaders from all over the world, as well as over 100 foreign delegations, gathered to bring attention to global religious persecution and discuss strategies to promote and defend religious freedom.

Survivors of religious persecution were present and shared their stories; these victims have endured prison sentences, mob violence and state-sanctioned terror,” Pence stated on Thursday, the last day of the Ministerial. For some others, they have been killed for their beliefs, he said.

Pence noted that “on a personal level, my faith in Jesus Christ has brought meaning and purpose to me and my family every day of my life.”

The Vice President was baptized Catholic, but said has said that while in college, his faith became “real” when he “made a personal decision for Christ”; in a 1994 interview he identified as an “Evangelical-Catholic,” began attending an Evangelical megachurch with his family and calls himself a “Christian.”

Also on Thursday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his keynote remarks at the Ministerial. He stated that “religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern.”

In their remarks, Pompeo and Pence mentioned persecution of religious minorities in the Western Hemisphere in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, as well as anti-Semitism in Europe, genocide against Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, and the persecution of religious minorities in Iran, China, and North Korea, as well as the “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

“In Nicaragua,” Pence said, the regime “condones thugs who repress and intimidate Catholic Church leaders for defending democracy and religious freedom.” Meanwhile, in Venezuela, “dictator Nicolas Maduro is using so-called ‘anti-hate’ laws to prosecute Catholic clergy who speak out against his brutal regime,” he added.

 Pence drew attention to the mass detention of more than one million Chinese Muslims and ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China; they have endured brainwashing by Chinese authorities in what survivors have described as “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith,” Pence said.

The Chinese Communist Party has targeted Uighur Muslims as well as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners in its brutal campaign of “sinicizaition” to forcibly bring religion under its control, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stated in his remarks at the Ministerial on Wednesday.

“Under sinicization, all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology—or else,” Smith said. The government has harassed, surveilled, detained and tortured believers, burning Bibles and crosses, destroying churches, and rewriting Bibles and religious texts, he said.

“Muslim-majority countries must protest these abuses even at the risk of endangering the benefits from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure projects,” Smith said.

Pence reaffirmed U.S. support for “people of faith in China” regardless of the outcome of U.S.-China trade negotiations. He also stated the administration’s support for religious freedom in North Korea while talks continue on the country’s denuclearization.

Certain countries actively suppressed or tried to intimidate attendees of the Ministerial, Pompeo said. Cuba prevented four Evangelical pastors from attending the Ministerial, and China tried to intimidate delegations from other countries into not attending.

“If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you,” Pompeo said.

The Secretary of State urged those in attendance to attend regional roundtables and conferences on religious freedom to be held in Albania, Columbia, Morocco, and the Vatican.

August 22 will be the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly and “thanks to Poland’s efforts,” Pompeo said.

Both Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence announced funding for victims of religious persecution and actions the U.S. has taken to punish human rights abusers.

This week, the U.S. sanctioned four military officials in Burma, including two high-ranking leaders, and also placed additional sanctions on two leaders of Iranian-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, Pence said. Iranian-backed militias are harassing Christians in the Ninewa Plain as they return home from the ISIS genocide, and have posed some of the greatest security threats in the region to Christian minorities.

Meanwhile, the State Department “trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world,” Pompeo said. a 2016 law authored by Rep. Smith, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, required training on international religious freedom for all foreign service officers.

In addition, the agency established an International Religious Freedom Fund for victims of persecution; the fund has helped with the medical bills of some of the survivors of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which targeted churches and hotels on the holiest weekend of the year for Christians, Pompeo said.

In addition, over $340 million in U.S. assistance has supported “vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq, particularly those that ISIS had targeted for genocide,” he said.

Priests and sisters arrested with protestors at immigration demonstration on Capitol Hill

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A group of Catholics were arrested at the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a peaceful protest organized as a “Catholic Day of Action.” The group, including priests, religious sisters, and lay people, sought to draw attention to the situation at the southern border of the United States and the detention of children in particular. 

“We felt like it was time for something more significant, and needing to take more of a risk to raise the consciousness of Catholics across the country,” demonstrator Maggie Conley told CNA during the demonstration, held July 18. 

Conley, who works with the justice team of the Sisters of Mercy explained that she would like to see immigration reform presented as a pro-life issue, and expressed hope that Catholic members of Congress and the Trump administration will offer a more public witness on Catholic teaching and immigration.

“It’s challenging when we don’t hear [a call for action] coming from the pulpit as often as we want, and as integrated as some of the rituals of our faith,” said Conley. 

Religious orders present included the Sisters of Mercy, the Bon Secours Sisters, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Jesuits, and Franciscan friars. There were also several men at the protest wearing clerical collars, who did not appear to be part of any order.

Members of the group who intended to provoke arrest wore yellow bracelets, and many wore signs with pictures of migrant children who had passed away in U.S. custody and the date of their deaths. Five people laid in the center of the Russell Senate Building rotunda, forming the shape of a cross. 

Among those arrested included Sr. Pat Murphy, age 90, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Pat has worked in immigration and migrant advocacy in the past, and has held a weekly prayer vigil outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Chicago for over a decade. 

Sr. Judith Frikker, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, was not one of the people who got arrested, but was still present at the protest “to stand in solidarity with my sisters, and more importantly, with immigrants.” This was not Sr. Judith’s first time participating in demonstrations of this kind, and she told CNA that she believes that “immigrants, detainees, their families--especially children--are being treated in a way that violates their human rights.” 

Sr. Judith told CNA that she believes the crisis at the southern border is not about immigration itself but about how immigrants are received into the country as they try to enter. 

“The crisis isn’t the people coming in, the crisis is what is happening to the people when they try to enter,” she said. “They’re seeking to live with dignity. Many people are seeking asylum and their rights are being denied. We have to act against that.” 

Frikker said that she advocates for policy options to address immigration, asylum processing, and detention at the border which do not require changes to infrastructure.

“Instead of building a wall, I would increase our judicial system [in a way] that would allow the processing of immigrants and their asylum cases so they could enter here,” she said.  

Katie Murphy, a local resident and Catholic, said she was attending the event out of “concern for the children, and also for the character of our nation, the soul of our nation.” 

“I feel that the way we treat the most vulnerable is who we are, is like our character. I am deeply saddened and distraught over what our nation is doing. We have a crisis on the border, and we need to address that crisis in a way that dignifies the values that we stand for.” 

The demonstration occurred just days after the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference publicly denounced action by the Trump administration to tighten rules on asylum seeking at the southern border, and to enforce court-ordered removals against thousands of people who had exhausted their legal appeals to remain in the country. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issued a statement condemning a newly-announced rule which requires that those seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border first apply for asylum in any country they may pass through along the way.

“The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection,” DiNardo said.

The cardinal also spoke out against a recent series carried out by ICE in cities across the United States. 

“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities,” said DiNardo.

“I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action.”

Wheeling-Charleston Diocese launches new financial accountability plan

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 17:22

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:22 pm (CNA).- In the wake of reports of financial and sexual misconduct on the part of former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia announced several new financial policies and procedures for increased transparency.

These new policies include the use of a new third-party auditing firm which will audit the diocese and publish the findings annually, the expansion and strengthening of the diocesan finance council, and the dissolution of the discretionary “Bishop’s Fund,” among other changes.

In a July 17 letter, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who serves as Apostolic Administrator of Wheeling-Charleston, announced the financial policy changes, which were decided at a meeting with the diocese’s finance council.

“From my visits and communications with people from throughout the Diocese I clearly understand that the Church has a long way to go to regain your confidence and trust,” he said.

The reports about Bransfield’s “excessive spending and extravagant lifestyle,” as well as sexual misconduct, Lori said, have caused “great pain and caused many to rightly ask: How could such behavior go unchecked for so long a time? Is there a process in place to check a bishop’s behavior when he takes advantage of his co-workers or when he misuses diocesan funds that should be dedicated to the Church’s mission?”

“These are questions that must be addressed not only in West Virginia but also in the wider Church,” Lori added.

Lori was named apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston in September 2018 by Pope Francis, following a series of allegations made against Bransfield including sexual and financial misconduct.

According to reports made public by the Washington Post, Bransfield used diocesan money to fund an extravagant lifestyle, including luxurious personal travel, a multi-million dollar home renovation, large monthly amounts spent on alcohol and fresh flowers, and large financial “gifts” to other members of the clergy.

The gifts of money he conferred on fellow clergy in the years leading up to his retirement totaled $350,000, the Washington Post reported.

An investigation into Bransfield also found that while there was not conclusive evidence that he sexually abused minors, there was credible evidence of Bransfield’s sexual misconduct with adults.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Lori subsequently barred him from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

In his July 17 letter, Lori also announced that a third-party reporting system was being put in place in the diocese, “to make it easier to report abuse, harassment and malfeasance by bishops.”

Other policy changes include rebalancing the distribution of resources in the diocese so that greater resources will remain with parishes, restructuring the diocesan school board, enhancing the training of advisory bodies, reviewing the administration of Wheeling Hospital and Wheeling Jesuit University, and entering into a Contract of Sale for the former bishop’s home.

Lori added that a review of best financial practices for the diocese is still underway, and that additional details or updates will be announced “in a spirit of openness and with the goal of restoring your confidence and trust” as they are made.

“When a bishop is entrusted to care for a diocese, he is expected to be a wise and honest steward of its resources. He has responsibility to ensure that these resources are for the Church’s mission of faith, worship and service. The Church has also put into place structures to help ensure that funds are used well and wisely,” Lori said.

Several such checks and balances existed under Bransfield, though he managed to circumvent them. Lori said he hopes the new policies will strengthen the measures in place and prevent such financial abuse by bishops in the diocese in the future.

Lori added that although bishops, like priests, do not take a vow of poverty, “they are expected to lead a simple lifestyle and to manage their own finances.”

“Excessive financial expenditures and the personal use of diocesan funds by any bishop stands in contrast to those bishops who engage in responsible stewardship of the resources entrusted to them and who abide by the fiscal policies and controls in place to ensure a fiscally healthy Church,” he said.

Lori concluded his letter by calling for prayer for the appointment of a new bishop to the diocese, and urged Catholics to entrust the future of their diocese to God.

“In the darkest days of exile, Jeremiah told the Chosen People that God had plans for them, plans for ‘a future full of hope,’” Lori said. “As a diocesan church rooted in Christ’s saving love, how much more confident we should be as we look to the future? Together, as the People of God, let us walk together, undaunted.”

According to diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop, Lori’s letter was sent directly to approximately 40,000 Catholics in the diocese, and it was published on the diocesan website and through its social media channels as well.

A 'wealth' of resources available to St Louis women with unexpected pregnancies

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 05:01

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- With a law banning abortions after roughly eight weeks of pregnancy and one remaining abortion clinic whose licensure is being debated in court, Missouri has been described as a state “hostile” to abortion.

“The state makes it extremely hostile for an abortion facility to remain open,” Ushma Upadhyay, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California San Francisco, told Vox for a story on the last abortion clinic in the state.

While the state may be increasingly restricting abortions, it has numerous programs that provide a wealth of resources and support to thousands of women in need each year who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, pro-life advocates told CNA.

“Our aim is for those moms who want to give life to their baby, we provide them with all sorts of alternatives (to abortion),” Michael Meehan, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Children and Family Services in St. Louis, told CNA.

Good Shepherd is one of eight agencies operated through Catholic Charities in St. Louis that are available to pregnant women in need, and provide them with a variety of resources and support, including housing, education classes and scholarships, counseling, and substance abuse recovery.

Good Shepherd itself has a maternity shelter and transitional living program for teen and young adult moms, who may otherwise be homeless, that can accommodate 14 mom and 20 babies, for just a few days or up to a year or longer, depending on the needs of the moms and children, Meehan said.

Besides group and individual counseling, on-staff nurses, and classes on life skills, parenting, and child development, completing a high school education is a requirement for moms in the program, Meehan told CNA.

“That’s a mandatory part of being here is re-engaging in your education. It opens and closes the single biggest bunch of doors for independence,” Meehan said. Thus, Good Shepherd has a full-time education advocate who is a certified teacher, and helps any mom who has not yet completed high school or gotten her GED.

There is also a home visitation program for women who have housing but need other kinds of support throughout their pregnancy, Meehan said. Good Shepherd provides those women with case management, crisis management for problems such as domestic violence, connection to good health care, and referrals to additional needed resources.

And because abuse and neglect prevention is a core part of Good Shepherd’s program, they can continue providing support through home visits until the youngest child in the home is three years old, he added.

“We want to ensure that moms and babies get the best possible start in life,” Meehan said.

They also have foster care and adoption services for women who feel that they are unable to parent their child but still want to provide a better life for them, Meehan said.

“We’re hopeful that we can get the word out that adoption is an option for women who might otherwise consider abortion,” he said.

When asked if he had noticed an increase in women seeking services from Good Shepherd in light of there being one remaining abortion clinic in the state, Meehan said that they have noticed an increase, but that they are unsure whether it is directly connected to the closing abortion clinics.

According to data from 2005 from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization, the top three reasons that women seek abortions are: having a child would interfere with education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).

Knowing these statistics, Meehand said that it is Good Shepherd’s goal to help women remove as many of these obstacles as possible so that they can keep their babies.

“We are about removing perceived obstacles,” he said, “which typically isn’t a baby. It’s a violent relationship, it’s pending homelessness, it’s deep and desperate poverty, it’s a perception that this is impossible, I’m just not going to be able to do it, the baby would be better off not being brought into the world.”

In recent years, Meehan said, Good Shepherd has done even more work to “get the word out” about their services so that women know what resources are available to them.

“The message is that the Church wants to control women, the Church doesn’t care about women, the Church only cares about women until they’re born and then couldn’t care less,” Meehan said. Those messages are easily proved false, he said, “if anybody bothered to look a smidge more deeply.”

And it’s not just the Catholic Church, or even religious organizations, that are providing life-affirming help to women and children in the St. Louis area.

Birthright of St. Louis is a secular non-profit that does not accept state or federal government funding. The goal of the agency is to provide women with the care and support that they need to be able to handle unexpected pregnancies, and to offer life-affirming alternatives to abortion.

“We just focus on the woman one-on-one,” Maureen Zink, the executive director of Birthright in St. Louis, told CNA.

“Our focus is that you have to be a quiet place where women can come where they don't feel like you have an agenda and just talk about why this pregnancy is so hard for them,” she said.

Birthright provides a variety of services to women free of charge, Zink said, including professional counseling, pregnancy testing, and financial aid and scholarships for women who are still in school.

They also have a program called Melissa Smiles, which supports mothers whose children are disabled and connects them to the resources that they need, she said.

“Pretty much anything a woman needs, we'll work with her,” Zink said. “We love to be able to take care of the women, so that they can take care of their babies. The goal is that they'll be able to provide a loving, safe, and nurturing healthy home for their babies.”

Every service provided by Birthright is free, Zink said, but women do not necessarily have to demonstrate a financial need to seek out help from the agency.

“There's college women that find out that they're pregnant and they're overwhelmed and they need help sorting it out,” Zink said.

Zink said that she has not noticed an uptick in women seeking services from Birthright in light of the closure of all but one abortion clinic; things have remained “pretty steady.”

“I think our services will always be needed no matter what the laws are,” she added.

Mary Varni, program manager with the Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, sent CNA a list of resources, both Catholic and secular, that they use to help connect women facing unexpected pregnancies with the resources that they need.

Varni noted that while many women in crisis pregnancies are poor, financial stability is often not the only thing they need.

“Based on our experience, if a woman is pregnant and concerned about her financial situation, she may also be concerned about the safety of the residence or neighborhood in which the child will grow up, the education the child will be able to receive, the child’s health care, or even basic needs like food and shelter,” she said.

“There is help to address all of these concerns, and by sharing the resources we know can help with the women we serve, we hope they will see that life is the right choice.”

Besides Good Shepherd, Catholic Charities in St. Louis also operates three additional shelters, Varni said: the Queen of Peace Center, which offers family-centered behavioral health care for women (and their children) who are overcoming substance use disorders; the St. Patrick Center, which helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; and Marygrove, which offers an independent housing program that provides shelter and services to pregnant teens and young adults.

Furthermore, the Respect Life Apostolate offers the Blessed Theresa of Calcutta fund, which offers financial aid to expectant or recent parents within the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

There is also Our Lady’s Inn, which shelters and supports homeless women and their babies, and Thrive St. Louis, a women’s clinic that provides pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, parenting and life-skills classes, and referrals for housing, medical care, counseling, utility assistance, food and more.

The Society of St Vincent DePaul in St. Louis also provides food and financial resources, such as assistance with housing and transportation, to those in need, Varni said. They are also currently considering a closer partnership with Good Shepherd to more directly assist pregnant women and families in need.

Varni said that when a woman comes to the apostolate or the archdiocese for help, their first job is to listen to what those women are struggling with.

“We let them know they are not alone in their struggles, which is why there are so many resources available to assist with their needs, and alternatives to abortion that can help support a healthy life for their baby,” she said.

“We remind them that their pregnancy is a gift from God, and that He chose them to carry their baby for a reason He knows better than all of us—and that because He loves them, there is always hope. They will be able to overcome the challenges they are facing.”

The licensure of Missouri’s last operating abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, is still being debated in court. The next hearing over the clinic’s license is not until October, and a judge has ruled that the clinic can still offer abortions through that hearing.

But despite some of the hand-wringing over what could be the closure of the last abortion clinic in the state, Meehan said it would be a good thing - and that women will still get the help that they need, through the many services available in the state.

“People lose track of the fact that...we’re talking about well over 600,000 babies dying every year (from abortion),” he said. “That’s a lot.”

“If Planned Parenthood disappeared today, the need of our population could be met, that’s not an issue. They’re not nearly as indispensable as they would have us believe.”

DC priest: celibacy allows a priest to give himself for others

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 19:20

Denver, Colo., Jul 17, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Commentators and critics, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have in recent months called for an end to the discipline of priestly celibacy, especially in the wake of revelations of widespread historical sexual abuse in the United States, and in response to a perceived dearth of priests in some parts of the world. 

“We cannot bring about real reform of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless we do away with mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests in the Latin rite,” Washington D.C. priest Peter Daly wrote in a July 15 op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter.

Father Carter Griffin of the Archdiocese of Washington, author of “Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest,” told CNA in an interview that celibacy has been intrinsically linked to the Catholic priesthood from the very beginning, when Jesus, who was himself celibate, ordained the apostles as the first priests.

Christ enjoined celibacy on some of his disciples, Griffin said, and others who were already married practiced marital continence— abstaining within marriage— after becoming priests.

“Celibacy allows for a certain openness of heart, kind of wideness of heart, which facilitates a man's capacity to live his priesthood, and to give himself to others,’ Griffin said. 

“[Jesus] really had to be available to everyone...if his heart had a privileged share [of love] going to his wife or children, he simply couldn't do what he intended to do. And I think that sense of being ordered to love as a priest, priestly love, and really spiritual fatherhood...is in my opinion one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for celibacy.”

Celibacy also points to the existence of God and supernatural realities, Griffin said, by reminding others that “our highest goods are not earthly pleasures, but in fact even greater and higher.”

Daly argued in his op-ed that priests who are allowed to marry and have children will better understand their role as spiritual fathers.

“With real parents in the priesthood, it would make us more aware of the vulnerability of children and more outraged at their abuse,” Daly wrote.

Griffin admitted there could be some truth to that claim, and said that a seminarian’s natural father has an important and often overlooked factor in the formation of new priests. But the benefits of understanding different forms of fatherhood also could work in the other direction, he said.

“There are many things I've learned as a spiritual father that have proven to be very helpful to the many natural and biological fathers that I am close to and get to know,” he said.

“The question comes, at what cost?” he cautioned, however.

“There is going to be this sort of challenge of living these two vocations [marriage and the priesthood] in the way that they're really both demand to be lived.”

Daly also argued that celibacy restricts the pool of eligible candidates for priesthood and “diminishes its quality,” while fostering “a culture of mendacity and secrecy, which contributes to sexual cover-ups,” as well as being physically unhealthy for men.

Responding to the objection that allowing married priests would cause an uptick in vocations, Griffin said this could be true— at first— but presented some major caveats.

“There are plenty of mainstream denominations which just have not married clergy, but women clergy, and all these other restrictions lowered, and they still can't find enough,” he pointed out.

“So the idea of this being some kind of magical cure, 'just let them get married and suddenly the seminaries will burgeoning and everyone will be back to 1955,’ is a little bit false.”

In addition, Griffin said that in his opinion the vocations crisis would not be solved by lowering the requirements of the priesthood, because although the numbers may tick up slightly, the overall quality and holiness of the priests will likely not improve.

“If the right thing for us is celibate priests, then let's figure out how to build the Catholic culture as it's been done every time that this question has come up from century after century...I think we need to change what is causing the dearth in vocations, rather than simply change the standards for entering seminary,” he said.

On the question of whether a celibate life leads to dangerous sexual repression, which in turn leads to abuse, Griffin pointed out the many healthy and well-adjusted celibate people— both Catholic and non-Catholic— who throughout the centuries have sacrificed sexual relations for some sort of a higher good.

“An objection like that could only be made in a culture that is suffering from the aftershock of the ‘Sexual Revolution,’ which has tried to convince us that we really cannot control ourselves sexually, that the sexual urge is something that simply has to be indulged, and any restrictions on it are necessarily unhealthy,” he commented.

“All of us know people who are not married who are wonderfully balanced and good people. And the vast majority of priests are happy in their vocation and are doing good work and faithful. So to take some examples from the headlines and to draw universal conclusions from them seems to be not the right move.”

Griffin pointed out that being married does not abolish the possibility of a person abusing children, any more than it abolishes the possibility of a person committing adultery against their spouse.

“It's precisely not living marriage well that is adultery. It's precisely not living celibacy well that is any kind of infidelity. And yes, there are unfaithful celibate priests, and the problem is that they're unfaithful. The problem is not that they're celibate,” he explained. 

“I think here the problem is a lack of priestly zeal, or a lack of justice, or a lack of a sense of the purpose of the priesthood. Because the purpose of the priest is not to garner power for himself, in this kind of clerical mindset, but it's to pour himself out for others. His whole purpose in life is to serve...and so if we're not doing that, if we're not setting an example, or we're not pouring ourselves out in that way, let's focus on that problem, instead of saying 'it's a boy's club' or something like that.”

Specifically on the “boy’s club” objection, that a married priesthood would foster greater respect for women among a mostly male culture in places like seminaries, Griffin said an attitude of “clerical arrogance” does exist in some places, but not a majority.

“I think in good formation and good seminary culture, I don't see any of that,” he said. 

“I see brothers growing together and really thriving and striving for holiness in their Christian lives and encouraging each other, and that kind of building of a fraternal and paternal bond among these men I think will bear tremendous fruit.”

In terms of helping to build a Catholic culture in which priestly celibacy can truly work, Griffin said it’s important for young men to see celibacy, and chastity in general, modeled for them in a joyful way, whether they plan to enter the priesthood or not. He also mentioned the importance of fostering a family culture where vocational discernment is taught and valued.

Finally, he said an emphasis on chastity, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture, should help to counterbalance the deadening and dulling effects of such things as internet pornography, which he said make “seeing the beauty of chastity, let alone the beauty if celibacy, more difficult.”

“I think having parents who really take seriously the healthy and integral formation of their children to really grow up to become holy men and women, really authentically Christian, living chaste, holy, purity...I think the vocations crisis would frankly disappear, if we really could redouble our efforts as Catholic families in those three ways.”

Griffin concluded by relating his own experience as a celibate priest.

“My experience has been similar to many other priests, which is that celibacy has in fact been a gift,” he said.

“I planned to get married, I would have loved to have gotten married and had a family in many respects, but the Lord has used those desires and kind of transformed them, and I'm the happiest guy alive. And I think that a lot of priests would say the same thing. I hope that people are able to, in sorting through all the stuff being thrown at them, are able to still see that— that many priests are joyfully and beautifully living out their vocations.”

 

Facing dire financial situation, Pittsburgh diocese looks to make changes

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 17:53

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 17, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is evaluating options to respond to severe financial strains, exacerbated in the last year by the sex abuse crisis, a diocesan official said Wednesday.

“The challenges that we’re facing are similar to that of many other churches, I think, throughout the country,” said Msgr. Ronald Lengwin, Vicar for Church Relations for the diocese.

He told CNA that already-existing financial struggles had been greatly compounded by the sex abuse crisis that broke last summer.

In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, identifying more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state, including 99 from Pittsburgh. It also found a pattern of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations – either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Since that report was released, Mass attendance has dropped 9% and offertory donations have declined 11%, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Lengwin told CNA that the decline in Mass attendance and collection money had been going on before the sex abuse scandal was unveiled. Ten years ago, he said, some 187,000 people attended Mass in the diocese each Sunday. By 2018, that number had dropped to about 120,000 – a decline of more than 30%.

The abuse scandal has intensified problems that were already present for the local Church, including parishes that had been borrowing from the diocese to pay insurance premiums, creating an unstable financial situation.

When the diocese set up a survivors’ compensation program to aid the healing of abuse victims, it expected to receive about 250 claims, based on the number of allegations that had already been received, and estimates constructed from talking to other dioceses.

“But now we’re looking at 350-400 claims,” Lengwin said. “We don’t know what that final number will be, but we have reason to believe it will be significant.”

The decline in offertory money, combined with the unexpectedly high number of victims’ compensation filings, means that the diocese could be millions of dollars short in addressing survivors’ claims and other diocesan expenses.

With limited resources, Catholic leaders are looking for solutions. Thirty-two employee positions have been eliminated. Bishop David Zubik has emphasized that responding to abuse victims remains a top priority.

“We’re trying to identify additional money that exists,” Lengwin said. The diocese has sold most of its parcels of property already, and a small building that previously served as a headquarters for the local Catholic newspaper is expected to be sold soon.

In addition, a court hearing will be held in coming weeks, as the diocese seeks permission to use money from an already-established foundation to fund payments of abuse claims.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is working toward consolidating and merging a number of parishes, a process that was already underway before last summer.

CBS Pittsburgh reported that Bishop Zubik has also warned that “more than a few” diocesan schools could close, saying that each school must prove its financial stability in order to stay open.

“Even before abuse crisis last summer, we had engaged in a program to consolidate our schools,” Lengwin said. “Now it’s clear that won’t be enough.”

Embattled Crookston diocese reaches $5m abuse settlements, will release depositions and files

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 16:55

Crookston, Minn., Jul 17, 2019 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota announced Wednesday that a $5 million settlement has been reached in 15 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it, bringing to conclusion all open sexual abuse litigation against the diocese. The diocese says it will be the only one in Minnesota to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection. Crookston's bishop, however, is still accused personally of covering-up abuse.

“To all victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as the Bishop of Crookston I apologize for the harm done to you by those entrusted with your spiritual care. Although you can never be fully compensated for your suffering, we are thankful this litigation has now come to a good end and are hopeful this settlement offers you justice and will be helpful for healing,” Crookston’s Bishop Michael Hoeppner said in a July 17 statement.

“To you, the faithful of this local Church, I say thank you for your continued prayer: for victims of sexual abuse; for a fair resolve to these cases. Let us all now, humbly, offer prayers of thanksgiving.”

The statement said that insurance carriers will cover most of the settlement amount, while the diocese will be responsible for $1,550,000 in payments. The diocese said that money would come from the sale of a camp and a Newman Center, and from estate gifts. Hoeppner said that some funds would also come from diocesan cash reserves. He emphasized that no funds from the annual diocesan appeal would be used.

The settled lawsuits were filed in 2016 and 2017, during a three-year “window” which allowed alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse to file civil suits even after the state’s statute of limitations for abuse litigation had expired. The diocese said that its settlement agreement had been reached “after years of negotiation and mediation."

“Because of this settlement, the Diocese of Crookston can avoid filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection,” Hoeppner said.

“All other dioceses in Minnesota have filed or announced their intent to file for financial reorganization. We will not have to lay off staff. We can joyfully and steadfastly continue our mission of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to this time and place. We pledge our continued efforts to rid the Church and world of sexual abuse and provide a safe environment for all.”

In addition to funds, the settlement will require the diocese to make public the names and files of priests accused of sexually abusing children, and depositions from clergy sex abuse lawsuits in the diocese will also be made public.

While the settlement resolves abuse litigation against the diocese, it is likely not the end of difficulties for Hoeppner. The bishop has been accused of pressuring a diaconal candidate in the diocese, the father of a diocesan priest, into recanting his own allegation of abuse against a Crookston priest.

Several sources have told CNA that Hoeppner is likely to face a canonical investigation of those charges by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, through a process devised by Pope Francis in May, which came into effect June 1.

It is expected that the soon-to-be released depositions could factor heavily into any investigation into the allegations against Hoeppner. If the bishop is found to have interfered with a legal or canonical investigation into a claim of sexual abuse, he could be removed from his office in the diocese.

 

Sri Lankan Christians 'have no hate in their hearts,' Ministerial hears

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Survivors of deadly Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka have forgiven their perpetrators, but distrust between religious groups threatens a tenuous peace in the country, one survivor said on Tuesday.

Survivors “are on the path to recovery,” Yamini Ravidran told a global religious freedom gathering July 16 in Washington, D.C.  “They have no hate in their hearts,” she said.

Tuesday marked the first day of meetings and discussions at the U.S. State Department of the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Ministerial is a gathering of religious and civic leaders from all over the world, as well as leaders of non-governmental organizations and over 100 foreign delegations.

On Tuesday, attendees heard testimonies of survivors of religious persecution and terror attacks targeting churches, mosques, and synagogues.

Ravidran was joined on a panel by Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 were killed in a shooting in October, and Dr. Farid Ahmed, a survivor of a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday targeted three Christian churches—two Catholic churches and a Protestant church—and three resort hotels in Sri Lanka, as well as a residence and a zoo, killing over 250 people and injuring around 500.

“Easter Sunday is supposed to be a day of celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Ravidran said, but in 2019 that day “was going to permanently change the lives of many.”

Outside one church targeted in the attacks, children were asked by their Sunday school teacher how many were willing to die for Christ, she said. Most raised their hands, and “only a few minutes later, this became a reality for many of them.” Out of the 32 victims of the bombing of that church, 14 were children, she said.

Before the bombings, these children “could be called the first generation” in the country that “did not experience war, division, or brutality,” Ravidran said. A decades-long civil war ravaged the country and religious communities are still healing from the division of the conflict—division that could once again be fanned into flames. As a result, emergency restrictions, recently lifted after the decades-long conflict, have returned, Ravidran said.

The attack “has empowered some of the extremist elements” in the country, she said, and has “left us with a fear psychosis like never before.”

Catholic and Christian churches were closed for weeks after the attack, with the first public masses at Catholic churches held three weeks after Easter on May 12; attendees had to pass through strict security checks, the Guardian reported.

“There has been an increase in the distrust between communities,” Ravidran said, with instances of hate speech targeting Muslim communities.  

However, “the people of Sri Lanka are deeply resilient and compassionate,” she said, having survived previous disasters including the deadly 2004 tsunami and the civil war. Survivors of the bombings are forgiving the perpetrators, and “that is what we see in Sri Lanka,” she said.

U.S. withholds funding from UN population fund for third year

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:00

New York City, N.Y., Jul 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The United States has said it will not support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the third year in a row, the UN agency announced on Tuesday morning. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will not contribute the expected $32.5 million to the agency. The funding instead will be transferred to the US Agency for International Development, where it will be used for family planning programs in line with the Mexico City policy, as well as maternal and reproductive health activities. 

Pompeo said the United States would not support the UNFPA because of its partnership with the Chinese government through its office in that country. 

"China's family planning policies still involve the use of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization practices," a state department spokeswoman said.

The State Department said that, according to the fund’s own materials, the agency “partners on family planning with the Chinese government agency responsible for these coercive policies."

The UNFPA denies that its work in the country is related to sterilization or abortion. Sarah Craven, the chief of the UNFPA’s office in Washington, DC, told CNN that the agency is “trying to end (China’s) sex-selective abortion and coercive birth limits,” and that they are in no way assisting the Chinese government with these goals. 

“It’s literally the opposite,” said Craven to CNN. 

The UNFPA also denies that their work is contributing to abortion or sterilization, and was critical of the United States’ decision to once again forego funding the agency. 

“UNFPA has not yet seen the evidence to justify the serious claims made against its work,” said the organization in a statement published to its website. “UNFPA does not perform, promote or fund abortion, and we accord the highest priority to universal access to voluntary family planning, which helps prevent abortions from occurring.”

Additionally, the UNFPA said it “opposes coercive practices, such as forced sterilization and coerced abortions,” and considers them to be human rights abuses. 

While the agency maintains its separation from coercive use of abortion and sterilization, the use of both practices as tools of population control have been closely contested.

The Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission to the United Nations has long warned of the use of coercive policies in matters of population. In a major address to the International Conference on Population and Development in September 1994, the then Vatican diplomat to the UN Archbishop Renato Martino told the conference that women are often the “primary victims” of population policies which “often tended towards coercion and pressure, especially through the setting of targets for providers.”

Martino specifically cited the practice of promoting sterilization to women as a “family planning” option, often without the women understanding the permanence of the procedure. He also noted the increasing campaign to recognize abortion as a “human right.”

In April of this year, the Holy See’s current Permanent Observer to the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, spoke at a conference held to evaluate the progress made since the 1994 summit. 

In his speech, Auza underscored the Church’s opposition to ongoing attempts at the UN to legitimize and promote abortion as a human right and to see it as a legitimate tool in population control. 

“Suggesting that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the [1994] International Conference on Population and Development, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations, and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially those yet unborn,” he said.

Colorado petition seeks to bring late-term abortion ban to the ballot

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 18:53

Denver, Colo., Jul 16, 2019 / 04:53 pm (CNA).- A pro-life group in Colorado is leading a signature drive in the hopes of asking voters in 2020 whether to ban abortion after 22 weeks.

Last month, the Coalition for Women and Children filed an initiative to end late-term abortions with the Colorado Secretary of State. The organization must now collect nearly 125,000 signatures within a six-month time limit in order to have the question appear on the ballot in November 2020.

The ballot initiative filing cites “substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by 22 weeks gestation,” noting that a child of this age will react to painful stimuli by recoiling or swimming away.

It also notes that with the help of modern science, babies born at 22 weeks gestation have been able to survive. “The state of Colorado and the people of Colorado have a compelling state interest in protecting the lives of children who feel pain and who can survive outside the womb,” it says.

Colorado currently has no laws regulating late-term abortion, either restricting the procedure or explicating protecting it. As a result, abortions can take place up until birth.

This is more extreme than the New York Reproductive Health Act that drew widespread attention earlier this year, Erin Behrens of the Coalition for Women and Children told CNA.

That law, passed in January 2019, declares abortion to be a “fundamental right,“ but only allows for the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy is the baby is not deemed viable or a doctor believes the mother’s life or health are at risk.

Organizers of the Colorado initiative, which they’ve dubbed “Due Date Too Late,” say they believe 22 weeks to be a reasonable limit on abortion, and that after this point, the procedure should be reserved to “to the rare case where a woman’s life is at risk.”

Keri Ebel, a member of the Coalition for Women and Children, told CNA that organizers would actually like to see abortion restricted far before 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“We feel it should be illegal from conception,” she told CNA.

But Colorado does not have a good history of passing pro-life legislation, she said, and the 22-week ban seemed like a more realistic starting point than a broader restriction.

Earlier this year, the “Colorado Protect Human Life at Conception Act” was postponed indefinitely, just a month after being introduced to the Colorado House and assigned to the Health and Insurance committee.

Personhood amendments, which would define human personhood as beginning at conception and ban all abortions, have gone before voters in the state three times, failing by significant margins each time.

Amid internal dispute over mission, Planned Parenthood president resigns

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 17:52

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2019 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- Citing disagreements with board leaders over whether Planned Parenthood should focus on health care or abortion advocacy, the organization’s president is stepping down.

Dr. Leana Wen took the reins at Planned Parenthood eight months ago. On Tuesday, she announced that she was resigning.

Wen’s statements about her departure suggested internal turbulence within the organization.

She initially posted on Twitter, “I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting. We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

A few minutes later, she posted an official statement.

“As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national health care organization that provides essential primary and preventative care to millions of underserved women and families, and to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients’ health,” she said.

“I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.”

Wen said that she is stepping down due to philosophical differences with the new board chairs over the direction that the organization should be moving.

In a memo to Planned Parenthood employees, Wen elaborated on her dispute with board leaders.

She noted that when she was interviewed for the role of president, she asked the search committee whether they viewed the organization primarily as an advocacy organization “with medical services that are necessary to strengthen its impact” or as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.”

Wen said that she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be fundamentally about health care, and has spent her eight months as president focusing on patient care and the promotion of reproductive rights as health care.

“I came to Planned Parenthood to run a national health care organization and to advocate for the broad range of public health policies that affect our patients’ health,” she said.

But the new board chairs of Planned Parenthood Federation of American and Planned Parenthood Action Fund disagree with that emphasis.

“The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Wen said.

Planned Parenthood announced on Tuesday that former board member Alexis McGill Johnson has been named acting president, adding that the organization hopes to appoint a new president by the end of 2019.

Wen was appointed head of Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards.

Wen moved to the United States from China at age eight. Before taking on her role with Planned Parenthood, she worked as an emergency room doctor and as the health commissioner of Baltimore. She was the first physician to lead Planned Parenthood in five decades.

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

Abortions, however, have increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

The debate about Planned Parenthood’s public image as a health care provider or abortion advocacy group comes as cuts in funding and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive.

The appointments of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have brought the issue of abortion into the spotlight, amid speculation that the court could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

In addition, a new rule under the Trump administration prevents Title X fund recipients from performing or referring for abortions, and bars abortion clinics from sharing facilities with entities that receive Title X money. Planned Parenthood stands to lose about $60 million in federal funding as a result of the rule, which was upheld by a federal court of appeals last month.

Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in 2015 in which executives at the organization appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.

 

Amid continued controversy, Netflix edits suicide scene in 13 Reasons Why

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 15:23

Denver, Colo., Jul 16, 2019 / 01:23 pm (CNA).- Shortly before launching the third season of 13 Reasons Why, Netflix has announced that it is removing a scene depicting a graphic teen suicide from the show’s first season.

“We’ve heard from many young people that 13 Reasons Why encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help - often for the first time,” Netflix said in a July 16 statement.

“As we prepare to launch Season 3 later this summer, we’ve been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we’ve decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers of 13 Reasons Why to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from Season 1.”

The move comes more than two years after the release of the show’s first season, which concludes with a controversial explicit scene showing the suicide of the main character. While the suicide still takes places in the show’s final episode, it is no longer shown.

Mental health experts had warned when the show initially launched that the graphic suicide depiction could result in suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides.

According to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there was a 28.9% increase in suicide rates in U.S. males ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the debut of the show, although it was not possible to determine to what extent, if any, the increase was due to the show.

“The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers,” the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported. Increases in suicide rates among youth were also found in the month leading up to the shows release, and through December 2017, nine months after its release.

“The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media,” NIMH stated in a press release on the study.

John Ackerman, PhD, a member of the American Association of Suicidology’s communications committee, praised Netflix for its decision to edit the controversial scene.

“Partnering with the media to help them portray suicide accurately and in a way that provides hope and resources for those impacted by experiences related to suicide can make a positive difference,” he said in a July 16 statement.

“There is more work to be done throughout the entertainment industry, but it is an encouraging step to see a high profile show making changes for the safety of viewers. We hope even more research and more media collaboration results from this decision.”

Released on Netflix in 2017, 13 Reasons Why became an instant hit. Based on the 2007 young adult novel by the same name, the show follows the story of Hannah Baker, a troubled 17-year-old who takes her own life.

Instead of leaving the typical note, Hannah leaves 13 cassette tapes, explaining the 13 reasons why she took her life - and each of these “reasons” is a person, who either did something to Hannah, or didn’t do enough, according to her.

The show quickly drew a mixed response - praise for opening up discussions on subjects like bullying, sexual assault, and suicide, as well as criticism for its failure to explicitly address mental illness and its role in suicide.

Creators of the show insisted that it was intended to be helpful in starting important discussions and helping teen viewers realize the silent suffering that their friends and acquaintances may be undergoing, as well as portraying the devastating impact of suicide on those around them.

But mental health experts warned when the show launched that the graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide violated several of the “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” a list of guidelines for media outlets developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists.

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic psychologist with St. Raphael Counseling in Denver, warned that Hannah’s suicide in the show is romanticized in a way that could leave the wrong impression on vulnerable teens.

At the same time, he cautioned, the story fails to adequately address the impact mental health played in Hannah’s decision to end her life.

“To some degree we all have responsibility to other people, but in some ways the show goes too far, and makes it sound like we have responsibility for the other person. We’re responsible to the people in our lives, to treat them well. But the people who hurt (Hannah) were not responsible for her choosing to commit suicide,” Langley told CNA shortly after the first season of 13 Reasons Why aired.

“Most people who commit suicide - almost everyone has a severe mental health problem. And the show does not portray this girl as having severe mental health problems in the way that somebody who is contemplating suicide almost always has,” he said.

Critics also noted that the adults in the show are mostly portrayed as responding to Hannah’s struggles in an inadequate and unhelpful manner. Hannah’s parents, while loving, are largely absent and unaware of their daughter’s suffering and negative experiences at school. The school counselor does not effectively respond to Hannah’s thoughts of suicide.

These depictions could prevent young people from approaching adults with their concerns, believing that they will only be ignored, experts warned.

The second season of 13 Reasons Why, released last year, met with a less enthusiastic response by viewers. It follows the students at Hannah’s school in the aftermath of her suicide, exploring issues including sexual assault, teen violence, and drug use. The third season of 13 Reasons Why is due out this summer.

Catholic psychologists and youth ministers have urged caution in watching the show, particularly for vulnerable teens or those who may not be well-formed.

If you think you or a friend are struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours everyday). For Catholic counseling, contact your local priest, diocese or your local branch of Catholic Charities.
 

Bishops condemn new asylum policy for U.S.-Mexico border

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 15:05

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2019 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- The president of U.S. bishops’ conference issued a statement on Tuesday condemning a newly-announced rule on asylum eligibility at the southern border, suggesting that countries like Mexico are not a safe final destination for asylum seekers, and encouraging the Trump administration to change the policy. 

“The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, in a statement released July 16. 

Cardinal DiNardo also said that “initial analysis raises serious questions” about the new rule’s legal soundness. 

The new policy establishes that claimants are ineligible to apply for asylum in the United States if they failed to first apply for asylum in any third country they passed through after departing their country of origin. 

Practically, the new rule requires that asylum seekers traveling through Mexico from Central or South American countries must first apply for asylum in Mexico before being eligible to claim asylum in the U.S. The rule contains a number of exceptions.

Those who arrive at an American port of entry having passed through a country that has not signed up to certain refugee agreements are exempt, as are survivors of human trafficking.  Those who apply for asylum in a pass-through country and are denied there my still claim asylum in the United States. 

Similar asylum policies are already in force along the northern border of the United States, as well as in the European Union. 

The Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement, enacted in 2004, requires a person to claim asylum in either the U.S. or Canada, depending on which country they arrived in first. The Dublin Regulation in the European Union requires asylum seekers to register their claim in the first European country in which they arrive. 

Speaking to CNA about the new rule, Bill Canny, the executive director for the USCCB’s Migration Relief Services, told CNA that he does not believe that Mexico, or other Central American countries, can safely care for migrants or asylees.  

“We do not have an agreement with Mexico in the same capacity in which we do with Canada, and while some of the countries that Central American migrants are traveling through may have some protections, we do not believe they are adequate enough to provide the type of protection that is necessary to assure their safety,” Canny told CNA. “It would be immoral for us to keep those who seek asylum in harm’s way.”

The number of asylum claims has dramatically increased over the last decade, with very few asylees being allowed to stay. In 2009, there were 35,811 people who applied for asylum in the United States, and 8,384 were granted. In 2018, that number had more than quadrupled to 162,060 claims, with 13,168 actually granted. 

DiNardo also used his statement, issued through the USCCB, to denounce the “climate of fear” created by ICE enforcement raids which began over the weekend. The raids were announced by the administration as targeting more than 2,000 people who had exhausted all legal options to remain in the country. 

“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities,” said DiNardo.

“I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action.”

Bring down 'Iron curtain' of persecution, Religious Freedom Ministerial told

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 11:15

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- U.S. leaders called for a worldwide “grassroots” movement to fight religious persecution at a global religious freedom gathering on Tuesday.

The “iron curtain” of religious persecution must “come down now,” U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback stated on Tuesday at the opening of the State Department’s Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. “Let this be the beginning of a global grassroots movement for religious freedom,” he said.

The Ministerial, held in Washington, D.C. from July 15-19. features over 1,000 religious and civil society leaders from around the world, along with over 100 foreign delegations and leaders of non-governmental organizations.

Over 20 survivors of religious persecution are also in attendance at the Ministerial, which will feature discussions of global religious persecution and on forming policies and partnerships to advance and promote religious freedom around the world. 

Eighty percent of the world’s population lives in an area with religious restrictions, the State Department estimates. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday emphasized that freedom of religion is a fundamental, and public, right.

“All people must be permitted to practice their faith openly” whether at home, in public, or at a house of worship, Pompeo stated in his remarks opening the Ministerial.

The right to practice and live out one’s own religion is fundamental and is already found in a “common foundation,” Brownback said, in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “also in the constitutions of most countries.”

He called on those in attendance to begin forming “religious freedom roundtables” in their own communities and hosting discussions between religious leaders on ways to protect freedom of religion for everyone.

“We need your activism. We need your passion. We need you to boldly fight for religious freedom,” Brownback urged those in attendance. “As united we do stand, divided we fall - and often we fall in catastrophic, and sometimes even genocidal, ways.”

Tuesday morning’s panel began a multi-day session at the State Department. Additionally, several organizations in Washington, D.C. are hosting dozens of side events, highlighting religious persecution or promoting freedom of religion, including events at the U.S. Capitol with members of Congress.

The very fact that the U.S. is hosting such a comprehensive religious freedom event speaks volumes about how the issue has grown in importance at the State Department in U.S. foreign policy, Dr. Tom Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA on Monday.

“If this is just the effort of one office in the huge bureaucracy of the Department of State—which, by and large, it has been up until now—then its ripples are very narrow,” Farr said.

There is still a long way to go to build a broad “consensus” in the U.S. around the importance of religious freedom, Farr acknowledged. While some have prioritized the promotion of other human rights or have introduced new ones based on “personal liberation,” others—including the current administration—have overlooked religious freedom when dealing with bad actors.

“It doesn’t mean that we have to act as if there’s nothing else going on in North Korea that we’re interested in. Or China. Or Saudi Arabia,” Farr said.

“It doesn’t mean that we cannot cooperate with these governments, because we have other fundamental interests,” he said, “but simply to pretend that these terrible abuses are not taking place is a huge mistake from our strategic point of view.

Promoting religious freedom can help victims of religious persecution, but “we can’t make that case if we don’t believe in it ourselves,” he said. “And right now, we don’t.”

Pro-life women deliver semi-truck full of supplies, $72,000 to the border

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 05:34

Brownsville, Texas, Jul 16, 2019 / 03:34 am (CNA).- The heat index in McAllen, Texas was 125 degrees on Saturday, but that did not stop members of the pro-life movement from delivering a semi-truck full of supplies and thousands of dollars in aid to respite centers at the border of the United States and Mexico.

The #BottlestotheBorder campaign, launched by New Wave Feminists in partnership with And Then There Were None (ATTWN), collected more than $120,000 worth of supplies and donated more than $70,000 in aid funding to multiple respite centers, where migrants who are legally in the U.S. are temporarily housed and cared for while they connect with family members and figure out their next steps.

“We were unloading what feels like a million cases of water, and it’s heavy and it’s hot and it’s exhausting, but you look at these families, and especially the children in this center, and you just realize that it’s worth it,” Johnson told CNA, “and you can’t even complain about how hot it is or how tired you are or how sore your arms are going to be, because these children, they need this food, they need these diapers, they need these wipes.”

According to numbers from New Wave Feminists, led by Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the groups were able to deliver 121,072 diapers, 30,700 pairs of shoelaces, 13,230 bottles of water, 6,660 pull-ups, 3,100 backpacks, 16,172 ounces of formula, 9,720 maxi pads, 750 rosaries, and $72,000 of funds to respite centers in Texas over the weekend.

Johnson said that the material items were donated to Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas, which has a warehouse large enough to store the donated items. The monetary donations went to other respite centers in the area that are in need but do not have the storage space to handle large amounts of items at one time.

A fellow church-goer of one of ATTWN staff members had heard about the initiative and, as the owner of a trucking company, offered to drive an 18-wheeler to the border for the group, Johnson said. The catch: the truck had to be full.

“We did the first registry and filled that up in a couple of days, like in 48 hours it was full,” Johnson said. The first registry filled about half of the truck, so New Wave Feminists and ATTWN launched another registry.

“By the end it was completely packed full of supplies,” Johnson said.

While Johnson could not complain about the hard work that it took to unload thousands of boxes of supplies in the searing Texas heat, there was one frustrating part of the day, before the unloading even got started, she added. A press conference of about a dozen members of Congress had closed down the streets around the center, delaying the unloading of supplies.

“And it was really infuriating for me because here we are with no cameras, we weren’t like, ‘Hey media, come watch us unload this truck,’ because it wasn’t about us. It was about getting these supplies to these people,” Johnson said.

Johnson “busted up” the press conference and invited the members of Congress to help unload the truck instead of just doing a photo-op at the center.

“I said, ‘You know we’ve got an 18-wheeler full of supplies that will be here in 20 minutes, and if you really want to help these migrants and their families, you’ll stick around and help us unload this truck.’”

“And they smirked at me and rolled their eyes and said, ‘Well we only have 10 minutes, we can only give you 10 minutes, because we have another press opportunity that we need to get to.”

“So you just see how these people (migrants) are being used by our government, by these Congress people,” Johnson said.

The politics behind the border crisis are frustrating to Johnson, she said, because they often dehumanize migrants and distract people from doing something concrete to help the situation.

She said people have asked her if her efforts to bring supplies to migrants means that she supports an open-border policy. She doesn’t.

“No I don’t support lawlessness, I don’t support an open border, I support legal immigration, doing it the right way, but the bottom line is I don’t have the answer, I don’t know the answer,” she said, “but I can deliver these wipes so that babies’ butts are clean and they’re not getting infections. And I know how to make sure that a baby can get fed, and that’s really what this is about. And that’s what it is to be the Church, to meet the needs that are right in front of us.”

Johnson converted to Catholicism several years after leaving the abortion industry in 2009.

Another frustrating aspect of the weekend was that on the same day that Johnson, Herndon-De La Rosa and their team were unloading their supplies, TruthOut.org published an opinion piece entitled: “The ‘Pro-Life’ Movement Is Silent About Children Dying at the Border.”

“It came out the same day that we were in McAllen, and I was like really? Pro-life people don’t care about people at the border? Tell me more about that, you know, as I’m sweating and disgusting and hot and gross,” Johnson said.

The author has since reached out to Johnson and Herndon-De La Rosa for follow-up interviews, and admitted on Twitter that she had not heard of the #Bottles2TheBorder campaign when she wrote the piece.

But Johnson said that the pro-life movement, at least in some circles, still has a problem with the way they speak about the issue of immigration. She said that sometimes on social media, she will get comments from people in ultra-conservative groups who use “dehumanizing language” when discussing migrants.

“I don’t know if they identify strongly as pro-life, but they are conservative, and they’re coming on my page saying, ‘Well we need to help Americans first, and Americans need to take priority,’” she recalled.

“And I’m thinking, well why can’t we just work to help everybody? Why do we have to pick and choose? Because when God creates all of us, he doesn’t create Americans with more dignity and worth than he does Mexicans,” she said. “We’re all created in the likeness of Christ, we’re all created with that same inherent dignity and worth at the moment of conception.”

Johnson said the border crisis presents an opportunity to the pro-life movement to step up and prove that they are supportive of life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

“This is an opportunity to make that known and to show it, and to actually be that pro-life. There are respite centers all along the border that are providing respite to immigrants who have come through a port of entry legally, and they need support, they need rest, they need a shower, they need clean diapers, they need food, and this is an opportunity for us to provide that,” she said.

While the current #Bottles2TheBorder campaign has ended, the campaign’s website includes a link to a list of respite centers along the border to which people can donate directly.

 

Appeals court upholds injunction against contraception mandate exemption

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 02:23

Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 16, 2019 / 12:23 am (CNA).- A federal appeals court on Friday unanimously blocked Department of Health and Human Services rules that would have exempted employers who want to opt out of coverage for artificial contraception for moral or religious reasons.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld a district court’s January decision to block the planned rules, which the Trump administration first announced in October 2017.

“The State’s financial injury outweighs any purported injury to religious exercise...A nationwide injunction is necessary to provide the States complete relief,” Circuit Judge Patty Schwartz wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Judge Haywood Gilliam of the U.S. District Court for Northern California had issued a preliminary injunction January 13 that affects 13 states plus the District of Columbia in the case State of California v. HHS.

However, Gillam declined to issue the nationwide injunction requested by the plaintiffs, the attorneys general of several states led by California.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone then issued a nationwide injunction blocking the same rule in her decision for the case Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump.

HHS is expected to appeal Friday’s decision to the Supreme Court.

The original contraception mandate, introduced during the Obama administration, had drawn lawsuits from hundreds of plaintiffs who argued that it failed to allow for their free exercise of religion. In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government must allow exceptions to the mandate in some cases. Last year, hundreds of employers won an injunction against the mandate.

In a separate effort by HHS, the “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority rule”, announced May 2 and published May 21 in the Federal Register, is intended to strengthen a series of laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses.

The Department of Health and Human Services had announced earlier this month that the rule’s implementation would be delayed until November, due to the amount of litigation surrounding the rule.

The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified for compliance with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights.

The court estimated that between 70,500 and 124,400 women nationwide would lose access to contraception under the new rules, and that it could lead to higher expenditures at the state level.

Under existing law, medical providers may opt out of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform procedures to which they object, such as abortion and sterilization.

New York had led a suit against the rule unveiled in May, with co-plaintiffs Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, Chicago, New York City, and Cook County, Ill.

California filed a separate lawsuit May 21 against the rule, saying it “impedes access to basic care” and “encourages discrimination against vulnerable patients.” Planned Parenthood has also filed a lawsuit.

The plaintiffs had argued that the rule would force some healthcare facilities to hire more staff in case there are too many conscientious objectors to provide requested procedures.

HHS had responded to concerned comments that the new rule would prevent some patients from being treated in an emergency, replying in the Federal Register that federal law mandating that “certain hospitals treat and stabilize patients who present in an emergency does not conflict with Federal conscience and anti-discrimination laws.”

In addition, HHS contended that religiously affiliated hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, “play a major role in the delivery of health care to residents of the United States, including to underserved or underprivileged communities in particular, and are motivated by their beliefs to serve such communities.”

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said May 2.

HHS brings Protect Life Rule into effect

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 19:56

Washington D.C., Jul 15, 2019 / 05:56 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration announced Monday evening that parts of the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits recipients of Title X family planning funds to refer or provide abortion services, will go into effect immediately. 

As of July 15, the Department of Health and Human Services informed Title X fund recipients that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortion services, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions. 

As of March next year, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X moneys. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds. 

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The Protect Life Rule will strip about $60 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, whose clinics both refer for abortion services and are co-located with abortion facilities. Planned Parenthood presently receives about one-fifth of the total amount of Title X funds distributed and serves about 40 percent of all clients who benefit from Title X. 

Previously, abortion providers were ineligable to receive Title X funds, and the Supreme Court upheld this restriction in 1991. When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, his administration changed the program to include abortion providers. 

No money has been cut from Title X as a result of this change, and funds will still be available for eligible clinics. 

The Protect Life Rule was formally announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in June 2018. Immediately after it was announced, the administration was sued by several states opposed to the changes. On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a stay that would have blocked the rule from going into effect. 

Planned Parenthood described the court’s decision as “devastating” and “crushing news,” though the organization remains eligible to receive $500 million in federal funding.

Last week, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, described the Protect Life Rule coming into force as “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Orange diocese to dedicate Christ Cathedral

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 19:01

Orange, Calif., Jul 15, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Orange will dedicate its Christ Cathedral July 17 after a seven-year, $77-million renovation process.

“I would pray and hope that it (the Christ Cathedral) will build on the heritage we have and help bring new life and commitment and joy in the age we live and that through here the diocese will have a focal point of unity where God will be known and loved,” Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange told CNA.

Christ Cathedral was formerly named the Crystal Cathedral. The property was purchased by the Orange diocese in February 2012 for $57.5 million from the Protestant community which founded it. The building with its campus was sold after the community, founded by Robert Schuller, filed for bankruptcy in October 2010 when some of its creditors sued for payment.

The architectural landmark is made from over 10,000 panes of glass, and its interior had to be renovated to make it suitable for Catholic worship. CNA reported in September 2014 that the cathedral's dedication was scheduled for 2017.

The Christ Cathedral campus consists of seven buildings on 34 acres.

EWTN opened a studio on the campus in May 2015. CNA was acquired by EWTN in 2014.

An architect who was in the office of the Crystal Cathedral’s original designer told CNA in 2013 that Schuller “wanted a building that was both a building and not a building, so that in a sense he could be in an enclosure, but it would be as if he were out of doors, which is where he began his ministry: so this building was an entire shell of glass.”

Under the purchase agreement, the diocese agreed to maintain the exterior of all the buildings, including the then-Crystal Cathedral.

But Tony Jennison, Vice President of Philanthropy for the Diocese of Orange, said the interior of the cathedral is now completely different.

“We took what was basically a used cathedral, that wasn’t a Catholic cathedral...it was really a television studio for his [Schuller’s] Hour of Power...and we turned it into a Catholic cathedral,” Jennison said. “It’s completely different other than the outside facade.”

Bishop Vann inherited the renovation of the Crystal Cathedral when he was appointed Bishop of Orange in September 2012.

The bishop remembers the first time he stepped foot inside the church.

“I guess I thought, ‘How are we going to do this? How are we going to make it a Catholic space?” he told CNA.

Now, seven years later, Bishop Vann believes they’ve succeeded.

“We’ve actually made a Catholic space out of all this, with a lot of good will, a lot of study, a lot of prayer, a lot of work, a lot of discussions, a lot of meetings.”

Weekly meetings, to be exact. And Bishop Vann attended each of them.

“The bottom line was, I have to sign off on all these things,” he said. “It’s my responsibility before God to make sure we’re good stewards of what God has given us for the people of the diocese. So I really had to be vigilant and to really be involved in it.”

One of the most noticeable changes is the addition of an altar, crafted from stone and marble Bishop Vann selected in Italy.

Bishop Vann and the architects wanted the altar to be the major focal point of the space. Previously, the focal point was a massive, brown, wooden organ.

“We painted it (the organ) white so it would blend in,” Jennison said. “Your attention is drawn to the altar, which as Catholics that’s where it’s supposed to be.”



Underneath the altar is a bronze reliquary, designed by Brother William Woeger of the Archdiocese of Omaha. Bishop Vann will install relics of St. John Paul II and St. Junipero Serra, along with several Mexican, North American, Vietnamese, and Korean martyrs.

The relics will be available for veneration the evening before the cathedral’s dedication.

Another noticeable change is the addition of 11,000 “quatrefoils” to the glass panes that make up the walls and ceiling of the cathedral. Each quatrefoil is made of four triangles, situated at various angles to deflect UV rays and heat, help with acoustics, and disperse better the light from outside.

“From the inside, it filters the light. From the outside, it makes the structure look like a box of stars at night,” Jennison said.

The quatrefoils are a favorite feature of Christ Cathedral’s rector, Fr. Christopher Smith.

“I really think it’s kind of ethereal, I think it’s comforting, I think it’s peaceful, I think it lends itself to worship,” Fr. Smith said.

The quatrefoils cost the diocese about $6 million to install.

The diocese also permanently sealed two 90-foot glass doors Shuller would open to preach to people outside the church, and installed air conditioning.

Bishop Vann and the architects removed a fountain that ran down the middle of the original space, and installed a baptismal font in a baptistry connected to the main space, and near the campus’ nearly 1-acre ecumenical cemetery.

A 24-hour Adoration chapel sits on the opposite side of the baptistry. At the center of the round chapel is a tabernacle designed by the 20th-century German enamelist Egino Weinert and positioned on a pedestal of bronze that depicts images from the Gospels.

The interior of the Christ Cathedral is largely monochromatic, save for two pieces of artwork: a tapestry of the Pantocrator, and a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The mosaic includes a crown that is removable for May crowning or other Marian celebrations.

There are also Stations of the Cross, designed by Bolivian-born sculptor Pablo Eduardo. The sculptor is currently working on artistic renditions of the manifestations of Christ’s divinity, which will be installed at a later date.

Also in the works is a shrine to Our Lady of La Vang, a Marian devotion from Vietnam. The shrine is located in the campus’ two-acre Marian Court, which will also include a rosary arden and space for other Marian shrines.

“It’s really a pilgrimage destination for all to come and really worship [sic] her [Mary],” said Michelle Dao, a major gift officer with the Orange Catholic Foundation.

The diocese added festal doors, which will open only on special occasions, including the July 17 dedication of the cathedral. The doors are made of blackened steel, and a bronze band depicting the creation spreads across the middle of the doors.

The narthex also has a bronze bar depicting the end of time, and portraits of saints.



When the property was purchased, a local parish and school, located eight blocks from the campus, were relocated.

“What that meant was that a parish community that had been there for 50 years, that had built the current parish church, was now going to have to leave...and not even have a real church for some years,” said Fr. Smith, who has served as pastor of St. Callistus on the Christ Cathedral campus.

The parish gathered for Mass in the Arboretum while the Christ Cathedral was under renovation.

They had 12 Masses in four languages, serving nearly 12,000 local Catholics, Fr. Smith said.

“We’ll literally see people from all over the world coming here,” he said. “They already do, but they’re really going to be coming here when the cathedral opens.”

Fr. Smith told CNA he’s excited for the dedication of the cathedral, because he’ll once again be able to focus on being a pastor.

He said he hopes the cathedral will help unite the diverse diocese.

“We want to build unity,” Fr. Smith said. “That’s a challenge, but it’s also beautiful when that unity takes place.”

“Cathedrals traditionally are like the downtown of the community,” he said. “Somebody once said Christ Cathedral is like the ‘downtown’ of the Diocese of Orange.”

“So if we can be a place like that, that not only offers worship, but also offers a place where the poor are cared for, where the arts are celebrated, where people are invited to pray together...I hope we can provide all that.”

Christ Cathedral will be open to the public every Sunday following the dedication. It will be open daily by early 2020.

In-text photos credit: Kate Veik / CNA.

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