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Virginia bishops welcome commutation of prisoner's death sentence

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 17:13

Richmond, Va., Apr 22, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Virginia welcomed a decision by the governor to commute a prisoner’s death sentence on the grounds that false information was presented during his sentencing.

“We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life,” the bishops said April 20.

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington said they welcomed the decision to commute the death sentence “because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, 38, to life without parole. He was scheduled to be executed April 25.

The governor had denied his petition for a pardon, but said that the sentencing phase was “terribly flawed and unfair.” He said false information about Teleguz was presented during sentencing, including another alleged murder and mob ties.

“In this case, we now know that the jury acted on false information, and that it was driven by passions and fears raised – not from actual evidence introduced at trial – but from inference,” McAuliffe said.

Teleguz was convicted for the 2001 murder of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, who was the mother of their 23-month-old son. She was stabbed to death in her apartment.

Prosecutors said that Teleguz was angered by an order to pay child support, hired two men to kill the woman for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania to her Harrisonburg, Va. Apartment.

Teleguz’s lawyers have contended that he is innocent. DNA evidence implicated Michael Hetrick as the murderer. He and two others then implicated Teleguz, Richmond’s CBS 6 reports.

The Catholic bishops voiced their “deep sorrow” and prayers for all victims of violence and their loved ones.

“Likewise, we continue to pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence,” they said.

The bishops prayed that God would give the grace “to work together for justice, peace and respect for all life in our communities and our Commonwealth.”


Feminists and pro-lifers can join forces – and why they should

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 08:12

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2017 / 06:12 am (CNA).- On a Monday evening in Washington, D.C., well over a hundred women – and a few men too – gathered together to take up some of the most intense questions from earlier in 2017: Can feminists be pro-life? Can pro-life activists be feminists?

Self-described feminists from both sides of the abortion debate opened a panel discussion this month, continuing a conversation that started when pro-life participants were barred from formal co-sponsorship of the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year.

While there were no easy answers from any of the participants, the women discussed what it means to be a feminist, what it truly means to be pro-life, and how pro-life activists and feminists can work together – even when they may not see eye-to-eye on abortion.

For Aimee Murphy, a pro-life activist and feminist, abortion is directly opposed to the stated aims of feminism.

“It is the ultimate in ‘might makes right’ mentality. It is contrary to nondiscrimination,” she said, arguing that abortion discriminates on the basis of age, sex and ability. “If feminism is truly the support of the equality of human beings, then my question is actually: Is it possible to be pro-choice and feminist?”

Murphy is the founder and executive director of Rehumanize International – formerly known as Life Matters Journal – in Pittsburgh. The organization is an education and advocacy group dedicated to promoting a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.

Murphy and other panelists discussed whether one can be both pro-life and feminist during an April 10 event at The Catholic University of America. The panel was hosted by The Institute for Human Ecology and was formulated partially in response to backlash earlier this year on pro-life participation in the Women’s March on Washington.

Also speaking were Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists; Megan Klein-Hattori, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts; Robin Marty, pro-choice speaker, activist, and author; Pamela Merritt, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a pro-choice activist organization; and Cessilye Smith, from Doulas for Life.

Murphy told the crowd that her pro-life activism and her feminist upbringing in California were intrinsically linked. “I was a feminist before I was pro-life, and I’m honestly pro-life because I’m a feminist.”

Her feminist views were challenged and evolved when she was 16: after being raped by an on-again, off-again boyfriend, she was afraid she was pregnant. Initially, she considered abortion, but then her assailant cornered her and told her she must have an abortion – and if she didn’t, he might kill her and then himself.

After that conversation, Murphy said, “everything changed. I decided that I couldn’t perpetuate the cycle of violence and oppression. I had to be better, I had to choose nonviolence.”  She realized she had to oppose violent forms of oppression – including abortion.

“I realized that if all humans truly are equal, regardless of sex or race or any other circumstance, then that equality must be something inherent in us: part of our essence, not a consequence of circumstances,” she commented.

The realization made her think more deeply about other aspects of feminism, such as the relationship between society’s views of menstruation, pregnancy or childbirth and the marginalization of some groups of people, such as both women and the unborn.

“If the male body is seen as the norm, pregnancy is seen as a disease condition. If the male body is seen as the norm, those of us with wombs will continue to be marginalized.”

These understandings, she said, have further influenced other, more stereotypically feminist positions such as paid family leave and empowering nonviolent birth choices.

Cessilye Smith of Doulas for Life emphasized that there are different varieties of feminism and voiced concern that by making the “barbaric procedure” of abortion “a pillar of feminism,” there is a risk of forgetting the core tenet of feminism: equality.

“As pro-life feminists, we simply extend that equality to the fetus which is just at a different stage of human development,” Smith said.

She added that a feminist perspective can also bring greater focus to the pro-life movement. “In order to be pro-life we need to be consistent, and with that consistency comes a genuine interest in all of humanity,” she said, arguing that cuts to programs that support women facing unplanned pregnancies call into question “how ‘pro-life’ we really are.”

Pro-choice activist Robin Marty said that while she supports the ability to choose abortion, she also wants to help remove obstacles for women who want to parent.

Marty added that she is willing to work with anyone – regardless of their position on abortion – to help create solutions like day care programs, housing for parents on campus, and improved welfare support so that women don’t feel forced into having abortions.

Not all panelists agreed, however, that it was possible to be both a feminist and against abortion. Abortion advocate Pamela Merritt charged that the pro-life movement “seeks to deny women access to abortion, birth control, fertility treatments, give employers the right to deny coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health care, and defund reproductive health care providers.”

To her, these pro-life actions are contrary to the goals of feminism. “Feminism is an action agenda to secure the social, economic and political equality of women,” Merritt argued. “It is possible to support, find comfort, and feel empowered by parts of feminism without being feminist. It is not possible to support the pro-life movement and be a feminist.”

But Merritt still acknowledged that pro-life activists and feminists can find common ground. “We can still work together,” she said, noting that she works with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in Missouri to help provide aid to women in need.

For other members of the panel, the question was not whether feminism can include pro-life voices, but whether abortion is distracting from the work women can do together.

“We can allow abortion to be the issue that polarizes and divides women, or not,” said Professor Megan Klein-Hattori. While she believes that abortion is “central to mainstream feminist politics,” she also granted that “feminists have always come from amazingly different standpoints.”

Klein-Hattori lamented how polarization over abortion has overshadowed the “common roots” of feminists in seeking to address “the problematic conditions faced by women living in a system in which wage labor and individual achievement are placed in conflict with reproduction, motherhood, and nurturance.”  

“There are many feminist politics that pro-choice and anti-abortion feminists share, ones that move us closer to having control over all elements of our lives, to being respected by loved ones and community, and to not being second-class citizens.”

“Allowing abortion to polarize hurts these broader feminist politics,” she stressed.

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists agreed. “Labels are killing us, labels are dividing us, labels are polarizing us,” she said.

“It’s not pro-choice when we feel we don’t have a choice,” she commented. “That a woman ever has to choose violence for her child is awful.”

Instead, she hopes that women of all beliefs can work together to “make abortion unthinkable” and remove the economic and social obstacles to parenthood faced by many women with unplanned pregnancies. “There are so many places where we can work together,” she said.



Catholic leaders urge extreme caution for new Netflix series

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 19:23

Denver, Colo., Apr 21, 2017 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- It’s only been out for a few weeks, but that’s enough time for “13 Reasons Why” to have become the latest teenage Netflix binge craze.

Based on the 2007 young adult novel by the same name, “13 Reasons Why” follows the story of Hannah Baker, a troubled 17 year old who took her own life.

But 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 creators of the Netflix original series insisted in a follow-up video that 13 Reasons was meant to be helpful - to bring up important conversations about serious topics like suicide, bullying and assault, and to get viewers talking about solutions to suicidal thoughts.

However, suicide prevention groups and youth leaders have raised concerns because the show is particularly popular among a teenage audience, and teenagers are a vulnerable population.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. Studies show that publicized suicides may also trigger a ripple effect of additional suicides within communities.

The show has also faced backlash from mental health experts, who say it fails to follow several of the “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” a list of guidelines for media outlets developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists. Experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a U.S. non-profit suicide prevention group, has also said that the show may do “more harm than good.”

Life Teen, an international youth ministry program, released a video and a written message to young people, warning them of possible triggers in the show and of the inadequate ways it addresses suicide and mental health.

In her message to young people before they watch the show, Life Teen’s Leah Murphy warned against the way the show portrays Hannah’s suicide as simply the fault of those around her.

“Nowhere in the series is mental illness explicitly discussed or dealt with and the audience is left having been told that the people around Hannah Baker are responsible for her death because of their actions or lack thereof,” she wrote.

“While bullying, not saying anything when you see depressive or suicidal signs, and sexual assault are serious issues and can drive people to suicide, the reality is that suicide is rarely something avoided by good sentiments alone. It’s been reported that 90% of all suicides are committed by people who experience diagnosable mental illnesses. The vast majority of suicides can be traced to actual health issues, not just bullying or traumatic events. These health issues, actual, mental illnesses require a lot more than the presence of a good friend or the absence of any serious issues or struggles - they require serious, professional help.”

The fact that these aren’t addressed in any straightforward manner in the series is a problem, Murphy said, because Hannah ends up being portrayed as a kind of “heroic martyr” who leaves a lesson and a legacy behind.

Murphy urged anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts to reach out and seek help.

Someone who commits suicide “doesn’t become a hero, gain control, and acquire any power by identifying the people around them as reasons for their suicide,” Murphy wrote.

“Suicide will always be incredibly hurtful to countless individuals, but most tragically hurtful to the person who takes his or her own life - a life that was mean to continue, that was full of meaning, purpose, and infinite worth.”

Chelsea Voboril, the director of religious education at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Smithville, Missouri, told CNA that she watched the show and addressed it with her youth group. She was troubled that most of her teens thought the 13 reasons Hannah gave were legitimate reasons to end her life.

Voboril said they were able to discuss how Hannah never approached her parents or a doctor or psychologist about the loneliness and hurt she was experiencing. Voboril was also able to discuss mental health and culpability for sins with her youth group, who asked if everyone who commits suicide goes to hell.

When watching these kinds of shows, Voboril said she tries to take the approach of finding the “wheat in the weeds” or finding the good among the bad - something she’s borrowed from Catholic speaker Christopher West.

The show attempted to have a moral compass, Voboril said, and its “wheat” includes good messages: “Rape is wrong, suicide causes pain, everybody is bearing a cross,” she noted.

“But the weeds are dangerous. And subtle. Sex outside of marriage, turning to substance abuse, free will being limited by others actions or circumstances, let alone the huge issue around how to talk about suicide in a safe yet poignant manner.”

At the end of the discussion, Voboril said she begged her students to watch it with a parent or other adult, if they were going to continue watching.

But “(for) persons whose consciences may not be well formed or who can be triggered by any of the big issues, I would hope that they avoid it.”

Owen Stockden, a spokesman for Living Works, which specializes in suicide intervention trainings, told CNA that one of his biggest concerns with “13 Reasons” was the portrayal of inadequate and unhelpful responses from the adults in the show, particularly the school counselor and teachers.

“In the show, Hannah’s guidance counsellor has a very ineffective response to her thoughts of suicide,” Stockden told CNA.

“As an organization, we train many guidance counsellors and teachers around the world to respond compassionately and effectively to thoughts of suicide. There is always more to be done, and a recent study...suggests that schools would benefit from increased suicide intervention training for staff, but in the vast majority of cases, teachers and counsellors are alert and sensitive to the needs of their students,” he said.

“It would be tragic if 13 Reasons Why led young people to believe that their concerns would be ignored if they approached a responsible adult.”

Having a popular show discussing the issue of suicide provides the potential for helpful conversations and the addressing of important issues, “but only if it is discussed in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Stockden added.

For Catholic screenwriter and associate professor Barbara Nicolosi, another issue with the show is that none of the characters have a sense of or ever mention a transcendent or loving God, something that she says her own students lack.

“The show wants to attribute all the problems of youth to social media and bullying, but refuses to consider that those things are just symptoms themselves.  The loss of faith, the (loss of the) conviction of a loving personal God, the loss of a sense of eternity, all of these things make suicide a logical response to suffering. Our kids are not dumb,” she told CNA.

Nicolosi said she saw the value in the anti-bullying messages of the show, but she also worries it could lend power to suicide.

“...I am worried that the character of Hannah does seem to have some power in wreaking revenge on her persecutors through her suicide. In the end, I think the show is close to a wash in terms of whether it will do good or harm,” she said.    

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic psychologist with St. Raphael Counseling in Denver, has read the book and seen several episodes of “13 Reasons Why.”

Because of the mature content on several levels - language, sexuality, topics of suicide and rape - he said he would be hesitant to recommend either the show or the book to anyone other than mentally healthy adults.

He also said that there were several things that the story gets right - namely, that people you may not expect in your life could be at risk for suicide, and the devastating impact suicide can have on the people in your life.

However, where the story goes wrong is that it tends to romanticize the idea of suicide and fails to adequately address the impact mental health played in Hannah’s decision to end her life.

Dr. Langley said he also worried that the show went too far in suggesting that the people in Hannah’s life were at fault for her suicide. Bullying, rape and assault are terrible things to have happen to someone, and there is some benefit to showing that your actions “can harm and influence other people.”

“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.”

“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.

Warning signs for suicide include severe, ongoing depression and social isolation. A suicidal person may mention something about wanting to end their life, or start giving away their belongings as sentimental gifts. Another warning sign includes a deeply depressed person who is all of a sudden very happy, brought about by a sudden sense of freedom if they have decided on suicide.

The show’s ultimate message is that the solution to teen suicide is that everyone needs to treat the people in their lives better, which is a positive message but does not go far enough in addressing mental health issues, Dr. Langley said.

One of the most important things adults can do, Dr. Langley said, it to talk to the children in their lives about this show and about suicide and other issues.

“I think that especially with teenagers, they are exposed to so much in today’s culture, that it’s our job as parents and educators about those things and to provide real, accurate information and to provide them with the truth,” he said.

Often adults can worry that they will over-expose their children to heavy issues by having these conversations, but for the most part, the internet and social media and the culture at large have already done that, Dr. Langley noted.

“So as parents and educators, we’re not overexposing them by talking about the issues, we’re going to help them process it and discern the truth in it. And I think it is really valuable to talk with teenagers about mental health issues.”

One thing that was “starkly missing” from the book and the T.V. show, Dr. Langley said, was Hannah’s parents, who seemed loving but at the same time were largely unaware of Hannah’s experiences at school and her interior experiences.  

“So it’s so important for parents to play a really active role in their kids’ lives, even though a teenager’s number one priority is to individuate from mom and dad, which is healthy, you still have to be involved and talk with them and let them know that you care and that you’re invested in them. Don’t be those absent parents that Hannah’s parents appeared to be in the show.”

If you think you or a friend is 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.

In Missouri, a court decision means lower health standards for abortion clinics

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 10:04

Jefferson City, Mo., Apr 21, 2017 / 08:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Stronger medical standards for abortion clinics were thrown out in Missouri by a federal judge who cited a Supreme Court decision on a similar law in Texas.

The Missouri law required abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers. The clinics’ doctors were also required to have hospital privileges.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs of the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City said April 19 that “relief should be prompt, given the needs of women seeking abortions and the need for available clinics to serve their needs.” He cited the 5-3 ruling of the 2016 Supreme Court decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said he would appeal the decision, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

“Today a federal court struck down large portions of Missouri law that protect the health and safety of women who seek to obtain an abortion,” he said. “Missouri has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of women undergoing medical procedures in state-licensed medical facilities.”

The surgical center standards, implemented for abortion clinics in 2007, include wide halls and doorways that can accommodate emergency personnel and equipment; separate male and female changing rooms for personnel; and a recovery room with space for at least four beds with sufficient clearance around each bed.

The law was credited for closing some abortion clinics in the state that could not meet the surgical standards.

There had been only one abortion provider in the state before the judge’s decision.

Now, Planned Parenthood has said it would start to restore abortion services in Columbia and Kansas City. It plans to begin performing the procedures in Joplin and Springfield.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling said that the Texas law under consideration placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion and posed a “substantial obstacle” to that right without showing the benefit of regulation.

At the time of the decision, Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the court “rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety.”

Cardinal Cupich praises governor's pledge to veto abortion funding

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 08:13

Chicago, Ill., Apr 21, 2017 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A promise from the governor of Illinois to veto an abortion funding bill drew the gratitude of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who called it a “principled stand.”

“Abortion is a controversial issue in this country, but using public money to provide abortions should not be,” the cardinal said April 19. “The federal government prohibits the practice, and polls show a substantial segment of the American public reject it.”

Governor Bruce Rauner had pledged to veto Illinois House Bill 40. The legislation would fund elective abortions throughout pregnancy for any reason through the Medicaid and employee health insurance programs. It would also make a symbolic commitment to maintain legal abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the decisions mandating legal abortion nationwide.

A spokesperson said last week the governor is committed to protecting current abortion law but recognizes the “sharp divisions of opinion” on taxpayer funding of abortion, the Associated Press reports.

“I thank him for this principled stand,” Cardinal Cupich said of the governor. “I pray that this divisive issue will be put behind us and our government officials will now concentrate on the many difficult challenges facing Illinois.”

He stressed the importance of unity in seeking a budget “that serves all our people” and pledged help for this effort.

Gov. Rauner, a Republican, actively campaigned as a supporter of legal abortion. He and his wife are listed as $50,000 sponsors of a Planned Parenthood of Illinois fundraiser next week marking the abortion organization’s 100th anniversary, the Chicago Tribune reports.


After court ruling, Tennessee to stop enforcing two pro-life laws

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 15:44

Nashville, Tenn., Apr 20, 2017 / 01:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The state of Tennessee has agreed to stop enforcing two abortion restrictions which are similar to those in Texas that were struck down by the Supreme Court last year.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, said the laws’ enforcement will cease immediately “in light of the Supreme Court's current case law and to avoid the expense and utilization of resources on continued litigation.”

One of the Tennessee laws, introduced to the state in 2012, required doctors who perform abortions to receive admitting privileges at a local hospital in case there were any serious complications during or after the procedure. According to The Tennessean, two abortion clinics were forced to close after physicians failed to receive clearance.

Another restriction was added in 2014, which required clinics performing over 50 surgical abortions a year to meet the same safety requirements as ambulatory surgical care centers.

Supporters of the laws say they help ensure that women’s health and safety are protected.

In striking down the similar Texas legislation, the Supreme Court said that the laws were not medically necessary and were an unconstitutional limit on woman’s “right to an abortion.”

Three Tennessee clinics challenged the laws in 2015, but a district court agreed to halt the proceedings until the Supreme Court resolved a similar case in Texas last summer. That case led to the abortion regulations being struck down.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office says it will continue to defend a separate law requiring a 48-hour waiting period and counseling for those seeking an abortion. That regulation was also challenged in the lawsuits, which will proceed in the court system.

Tennessee is currently debating another pro-life measure. Entitled the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act,” the proposed legislation would bar abortions of babies who would be able to live outside the womb, except in cases of medical emergency.


Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Chicago receives new bishop

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 13:24

Chicago, Ill., Apr 20, 2017 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on April 20 appointed Bishop Venedykt (Valery) Aleksiychuk as Bishop of the Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy of Chicago.

Bishop Venedykt, 49, was born in Borshchivka, Ukraine in January 1968. He graduated from Rivne medical college in 1987, and worked as a physician’s assistant for several years. He also served in the Ukrainian military for two years.

He attended the seminary of Drohobych and was ordained a priest of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Lviv in 1992, at the age of 24. Until 1994 he was responsible for organizing missionary work in eastern Ukraine, and he also served in Belarus.

He was professed as a member of the Ukrainian Studite Monks in 1995, and earned a master's degree in theology at Lublin Catholic University the following year.

Bishop Venedykt was transferred to St. Catharines, Canada in 1996 to found a monastery, and while there he served at several parishes of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Toronto.

In 1999 he returned to Ukraine after being elected hegumen of the  Holy Dormition Univ Lavra religious community, serving three terms in this position.

Continuing his theology studies in Lublin, he received a licentiate and a doctorate in 2006 and 2008, respectively. He has written on St. John of Kronstadt, a Russian Orthodox priest of the 19th century, and St. Theodore the Studite, a Byzantine monk of the 9th century who was a defender of icons.

Bishop Venedykt also completed courses in psychology and mental disorders at three institutions in eastern Europe.

In 2010 he was consecrated a bishop, and appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Lviv. He has served as chief of staff of the archeparchial curia, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's liturgical commission, and is chair of the synodal committee on liturgy.

Since 2014 Bishop Venedykt has been a member of the Saint Sophia charitable religious community in Rome.

In June 2016 he received a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Ukrainian Catholic University.

Bishop Venedykt was preceeded as Bishop of Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy by Bishop Richard Stephen Seminack, who died Aug. 16, 2016.

The eparchy is responsible for all Ukrainian Catholics in the United States west of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. There are currently around 70 priests and deacons working in the eparchy in 46 parishes and mission stations.

Since the death of Bishop Richard, Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy had been served by Fr.  Richard Janowicz as administrator.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite which is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

Marijuana scores badly in 'entirely predictable' report

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA).- A recent report shows that traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in the state of Colorado.

Released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in September, the report compared marijuana-related statistics from previous years in Colorado to data from 2013-2015, the first years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state in November 2012.

The results aren’t promising.

Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 62 percent in 2013, the first year of legalization of recreational marijuana. About one in five more youth are now reporting having used marijuana in the past month since its legalization. Marijuana-related hospitalizations in the state nearly doubled from 6,305 in 2011 to 11,439 in 2014.

“Perhaps there is not much value in saying to my beloved state of Colorado that ‘I told you so,’ but these results were entirely predictable,” said Dr. E. Christian Brugger, professor of Moral Theology at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

Dr. Brugger has spoken and written about the moral questions surrounding the legalization of marijuana several times over the years, as his home state of Colorado has been central to the debate over the drug that has now spread to many other states.

“If there had been any sincere effort on the part of Colorado citizens and legislators to gauge in advance the harms that would arise from legalization, they would have foreseen precisely (these results),” he told CNA in e-mail comments.

The biggest health concern for young people using marijuana is its harmful effect on the brain, which continues its development well into a person’s 20s.

The main active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to receptors in the brain and can cause a significant decrease in IQ over time. A 2012 study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that adolescent exposure to marijuana can lead to an 8-point drop in IQ, on par with the drop seen in children exposed to lead.

Another concerning impact is the relationship between adolescent marijuana use and schizophrenia. A study repeated by multiple research groups has found that adolescent marijuana use can quadruple a teen’s risk of developing schizophrenia.

Marijuana can also be addictive, with one in six adolescent users developing a dependence over time.

A secondary health concern is traffic accidents, which make up the leading cause of death in 15-20 year-olds.

According to the report, in 2009, marijuana-related traffic deaths involving operators testing positive for marijuana represented 10 percent of all traffic fatalities in Colorado. By 2015, that number doubled to 21 percent. The amount of youth reporting marijuana use after legalization, compared to before, increased by about 20 percent. College-age Coloradans now rank first in the nation for marijuana use.

Crime has also increased in Denver and Colorado as a whole in the post-legalization years.

“Since 2014, there has been a notable increase in organized networks of sophisticated residential grows in Colorado that are orchestrated and operated by drug trafficking organizations. These organizations currently operate hundreds of large-scale home grows throughout Colorado. Harvested marijuana is shipped or transported out of Colorado to markets in the Midwest and East Coast. Home grows have significantly increased illicit production of marijuana in Colorado,” the report states.

And while marijuana has often been touted as an economy booster, the report shows that Colorado may be losing business from conventions that are no longer hosted in the state due to concerns about marijuana.

According to the report, 49 percent of meeting planners expressed concerns about marijuana when considering holding an event in Denver. VISIT DENVER, the marketing organization for the city,  found that Denver’s reputation as a clean and safe city where organizations can host events and conventions has decreased since the legalization of marijuana.

“The legalization initiative was never based upon a rational assessment of whether legalization would be good for our communities, it was driven by money and rotten politics,” Dr. Brugger said.

“And mark my word, those numbers will go up, not down, in the next years.” What's the solution?  “Re-criminalization of the possession and smoking of marijuana in Colorado,” he says.

Tom Gorman, Director of Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which released the report, also believes that the negative impact will only increase overtime.

“Any time you legalize a substance, you’re going to have more people using. The more people you have using, the more adverse (effects) you’re going to have on society, as well as the individual,” he told CNA.

“Alcohol is a perfect example of that, because so many people use and abuse alcohol. We almost have as many people addicted to alcohol as all the illegal drugs combined. We can expect the same thing from marijuana, although with alcohol you don’t necessarily drink and get drunk. With marijuana, you smoke to get (high).”

The report is also a good reference point for other states considering legalization of marijuana. Until now, there hasn’t been enough data available.

“Basically what it does is give you a look at actual data versus rhetoric.”

“If you look at it overall and you look at the trends, which are all negative, whether it’s emergency room visits or hospitalization or fatalities or drug use among our kids, the other states now have some data to make an informed decision.”


This article was originally published Sept. 9, 2016.

Mexican nuns of new order open first US convent in Denver

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 02:11

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2017 / 12:11 am (Denver Catholic).- It seems providential that a new order of Discalced Carmelite nuns, whose charism is to know and to make known the glory of the Holy Trinity, has arrived to Denver to care for the archdiocese’s Holy Trinity Center.

The six Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity are the first nuns of their order, which was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to open a convent in the United States.

“It is by the grace of God,” Mother Martha Patricia Malacara, superior of the community, told the Denver Catholic. “He is making history (here).

“We want to thank Archbishop Samuel Aquila for welcoming us,” she added, “we are very grateful.”

Founded by Sister Martha Maria Ramirez-Mora on July 16, 1986, the order has 200-plus nuns serving in various apostolates – ranging from assisting at nursing homes to retreat centers – in Mexico, Italy, Rome, Argentina and Chile.

The semi-cloistered nuns are active contemplatives.

“We have the Carmelite essence of contemplative prayer but we also have an apostolate,” Mother Malacara said.

Residing in the convent at the St. John Paul II Center campus, which includes the chancery offices and the archdiocese’s two seminaries, the nuns will help run the day-to-day functions of the Holy Trinity Center, which includes the archbishop’s residence and rooms for large-scale meetings, conferences and events. The nuns will also help maintain the various sacristies on the campus.

The nuns’ primary task, however, is prayer – particularly the Divine Office and daily Eucharistic adoration. They pray especially for the sanctification of priests and seminarians, for the conversion of sinners and for the needs of the Church. They also welcome prayer requests.

“We want to let people know that we are praying for them,” Mother Malacara said. “Prayer is our main charism.”

Ranging in age from 35 to 46, the nuns are all Spanish-speaking natives of Mexico. They arrived to Denver March 14. Serving under Mother Malacara are Sister Imelda Cardona, Sister Lidia Cortez, Sister Elvira Esparza, Sister Maria Patricia Mireles and Sister Laura Martinez-Silvestre.

Clad in sandals, black veils and brown habits, the nuns’ habits are emblazoned with a triangular emblem that represents the Holy Trinity: one God comprised of three persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Inside the triangle, a cloud signifies the Father’s providence, which floats over his son Jesus’ cross, upon which the Holy Spirit, as a dove, issues tongues of fire for the Spirit’s seven gifts, which descend on a globe.

The nuns’ first impressions of their new land have been of warm hospitality.

“The United States is very beautiful,” Mother Malacara said. “People have welcomed us well. We do not speak English but people have tried to speak to us in Spanish.”

The nuns are learning English, but when language fails, the nuns said laughing, those involved have resorted to friendly gesturing.

“From the first moment we stepped on the land of the United States, very friendly people have helped us and guided us,” said Sister Mireles.

Not only do the nuns welcome prayer requests, but women interested in their order are invited to contact them.

“If you feel that call, answer it!” Sister Cardona said, adding that there is no need to be afraid. “God loves you, so you should answer.”

Prayer requests may be emailed to or mailed to Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO 80210.


This article originally appeared in the Denver Catholic. Reprinted with permission.


Catholic scientists converge in Chicago to ask big questions

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 22:02

Chicago, Ill., Apr 19, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists will focus on beginnings: the origin of consciousness, the origin of human language, the origin of the cosmos, and the origin of living things.

“Might there be other planets that harbor life – perhaps one of the recently discovered earth-like 'exoplanets'? Might there even be other universes?” reads an April 18 announcement of the event.

Almost 100 attendees are expected at the society's inaugural conference will be held April 21-23 at Chicago's Knickerbocker Hotel.

The society, founded in mid-2016, aims “to witness to the harmony between the vocation of the scientist and the life of faith.” It works to help foster fellowship among Catholic scientists and to provide a resource and discussion forum for those with questions about science and faith, while also adhering to Catholic teaching.

Marissa March, a physicist and researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, will speak to the conference on the topic “The Catholic Scientist in the Secular World: What is the meaning of our vocation and how does it distinguish us?”

For his part, Father Joachim Ostermann, O.F.M., a Canadian Franciscan who has served as a biochemistry professor, will speak about science in light of the Christian view of the human person.

Other conference speakers include Catholics like Vatican Observatory director Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J.; Karin Öberg, an astronomy professor at Harvard University; and Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University.

Non-Catholic speakers include Robert C. Berwick, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and John D. Barrow, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Barrow will discuss his views on the origin and evolution of universes, while Berwick will speak on the ideas he and Prof. Noam Chomsky have developed on the beginnings of human language and why they think no other animals have anything like human language.

Besides lectures, there will be meals, social occasions, and a membership meeting at the conference.

The Society of Catholic Scientists has several hundred members. These include top researchers in such astrobiology, evolutionary theory and super-string theory.

Members include American Catholic scientists as well as undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral students pursuing research in a natural science. The society's president is Stephen M. Barr, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware. Its episcopal adviser is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

The society held its first-ever Gold Mass at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s chapel on Nov. 15. It chose the term “Gold Mass” because it is the color of the hoods worn by those graduating with a doctorate in science and because St. Albert the Great, a medieval philosopher with a strong interest in natural sciences, was an alchemist who worked to turn base metals into gold.

That Mass followed the tradition of Masses for other professions, such as Red Masses for lawyers, White Masses for medical professionals, and Blue Masses for police officers.

The Society of Catholic Scientists website is

Georgetown begins to make amends for 1838 sale of enslaved persons

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 17:24

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One hundred and seventy-nine years ago, two Jesuit priests sold 272 persons at a slave auction. Their families were torn apart: many of them were shipped over a thousand miles to Louisiana, and many more were barred from practicing their Catholic faith by new slave masters.

Meanwhile, the Jesuit priests used the money they received from the sale to pay off debts for Georgetown University – the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

On April 18, Georgetown University and the Maryland Jesuits apologized for their roles in the slave sale and started their ongoing efforts to make amends for their actions.

“As a Catholic, the whole concept of reconciliation and forgiveness is so important to us,” Jeremy Alexander said to CNA. Alexander is a descendant of one of the slaves sold by the Jesuit order for the benefit of Georgetown University, as well as an employee of the institution in its Office of Technology Commercialization.

“To hear the Jesuits say they are sorry for the sins of their brothers, of what happened in 1838, it is – I am very grateful for that.”

“The priest who went up to say the apology – it really brought me to tears,” he said, adding that he was also deeply moved to hear in person that the school is sorry “for the acts of slavery, for that horrible time in America.”

“Through this and through prayer, the family has survived,” Alexander mused.

The morning opened with a Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope, presided by Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout of Washington and Fr. Robert Hussey, S.J., Provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

Afterwards, the school dedicated two campus buildings to Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft. Hawkins was the first enslaved person listed in the documents outlining the 1838 sale. He was 65 years old at the time. Becraft, later known as Sr. Mary Aloysius, OSP, was a free black woman who lived in Georgetown and founded a school for black girls in the neighborhood in 1827. She later became a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first successful Catholic religious order established by women of African descent.

Prior to 2016, the halls had been named for the two Jesuit priests who orchestrated the sale: Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J. and Fr. William McSherry, S.J., both former presidents of Georgetown University. The 272 persons sold at the slave sale were sold for $115,000 – approximately $3.3 million in today’s value.

At the time, the Vatican did approve the sale, but placed many conditions upon it, mandating that families not be separated, that the money not be used to pay off the school’s debt, and that the new owners respect the religious practice of the slaves – many of whom were baptized as Catholics.

Fr. Mulledy and Fr. McSherry met none of these conditions: families were separated, money was used to pay off the school’s debts, and investigators from the Holy See found that many of the slaves were barred from attending Catholic churches and receiving the sacraments once they arrived in Louisiana.

Fr. Mulledy was later called to Rome to defend his actions surrounding the slave sale to the superior of the Jesuit order and asked to resign from his post at the time as head of the order in the United States. Later he was allowed to return to the United States, was given a second term as president of Georgetown University, and founded the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Previously, the Maryland Jesuits had held slaves on its plantations in the state since the turn of the 18th century, and had sold slaves in 1817 and in 1835 and afterwards. After the 1838 slave sale, the order continued to own slaves on its plantations and continued to house slaves on the Georgetown University campus.

In September 2015, Georgetown University formed a working group to research the conditions surrounding the 1838 sale and the fate of the slaves owned and sold by the Maryland Province of the Jesuit order. Since then, the group has also held discussions within the Georgetown community and has started to reach out to the tens of thousands of descendants of slaves sold by the Jesuit order.

The group has also recommended, in addition to holding a reconciliation service and rededicating several of its buildings, that the university extend preferential admission status and additional financial support to descendants of the 272 persons sold in 1838. Additionally, the working group has suggested the establishment of a public monument to honor the memory of the 272 persons sold in order to benefit the university.

On Thursday the university’s president, John DeGioia, apologized for the school’s historical involvement in the slave trade. Fr. Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, also made a heartfelt apology to God and the descendants of the 272 slaves sold by the Maryland Jesuits.

“We cannot hide from this truth, bury this truth, ignore this truth. Slavery remains the original evil of our republic, an evil that our university was complicit in, a sin that tore apart families, that through great violence denied and rejected the dignity and humanity of our fellow sisters and brothers,” DeGioia said. “We lay this truth bare, in sorrowful apology, in communal reckoning.”

“We betrayed the very name of Jesus, for whom our least society was named,” Fr. Kesicki recalled of the 1838 sale at the liturgy of contrition.

“Now, nearly 200 years later, we know that we cannot heal from this tragic history alone,” he continued. “We have no right to [forgiveness]. It is yours to restore,” he said to the descendants present at the liturgy.

One descendant, Sandra Green Thomas, explained how the university’s involvement in the slave trade was part of a societal injustice perpetrated against an entire race, the effects of which are present today.

“All African-Americans have hungered and thirsted for the bounty of the promise that is America, the promise of the equality of man, the pursuit of happiness, those God-given and unalienable rights,” she said at Tuesday’s liturgy, “but for so many of us,” they only saw “the meagre scraps” of that bounty.

“To be denied those things that rightfully come from the labor of our bodies, to have our minds deprived of the tools to develop to their potential, to live under soul-crushing injustice, stress, and deprivation, surely these are sins against the word of God and therefore God Himself,” she continued.

“These people, the 272 men, women and children we remember today, endured all of these. Their descendants are still experiencing them today.”

Both university officials and descendants of the 272 slaves acknowledged that the school’s actions –  financial aid and granting priority admission to descendants of the slaves – and the liturgy and dedication mark only the beginning of a reconciliation process that must continue forward.

“We do not seek to move on with this apology, but to move forward with open hearts to respond to the urgent demands of justice still present in our time,” DeGioia said, citing Fr. Kesicki’s call to “move forward” and not “move on.”

Dr. Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history and African American Studies at Georgetown and a member of the working group, was blunt about the challenge facing the parties to reconcile and redress past wrongs: “How do you make repairs for something that’s irreparable?”

Nevertheless, she hoped that other universities and institutions involved in the slave trade would follow Georgetown’s example and start addressing their past. “American Catholics have a long history of ignoring their faith in order to conform with the demands of the culture,” she said.

“I think that when we think about race and racial justice we see that the Church has really failed in its responsibility of really benefitting from the institution of slavery and reproducing the systems of racial injustice.” Catholics should ask themselves if they see “churches as a place where justice is done or as a place that obstructs justice,” she added.

The university’s road to reconciliation, however, has been challenging in itself. Some of the descendants of the slave sale, like Delores Williams Johnson, noted their hurt and frustration with Georgetown for initially moving forward with reconciliation plans without contacting the descendants themselves. In response, Johnson, a descendant of Isaac Hawkins with roots in Louisiana, helped to co-found the Legacy of GU272 Alliance, a nonprofit group that helps locate and identify each descendant of the slave sale.

The goal of the organization, Johnson told CNA, is to “get everyone involved” and help the descendants come to a “mutual” view of how to proceed, not only with the university, but also with the other descendants. She stressed that Georgetown “can’t make demands for us” but instead has to work alongside the descendants, and the descendants with one another, to decide how to move forward.

Johnson pointed to the naming of Isaac Hawkins Hall as an example of this kind of misstep where Georgetown was initially “talking about us and not with us.” Initially, she said, the university was only going to call the building Isaac Hall, hearkening back to historical practices where slaveholders “didn’t have to call people by their first and last names.” The descendants, she said, pushed for Hawkins’ last name to be included, and eventually the university listened to this input and included Hawkins’ first and last names on the newly dedicated buildings.

These adjustments aside, Johnson said she was “hopeful” in the steps Georgetown was taking. “It gives us an opportunity as descendants,” she said, to learn what their ancestors had experienced, as well as to “continue dialogue with Georgetown.” Johnson stressed, however, that this dialogue will be “an ongoing, long-term process.”

While many of the descendants of the 272 slaves sold in the sale are just now forming a relationship with Georgetown University, others have rediscovered this connection long after forging a new tie with the university.

Jeremy Alexander was working for Georgetown University in its Office of Technology Commercialization when a distant cousin emailed him to let him know of connection to the Jesuit slave sale. Genealogical testing confirmed that he was a descendant of Anna Mahoney Jones, one of the persons sold by the Jesuits.

“It was an amazing find, I never expected that I would learn the names of my ancestors like Anna Mahoney Jones. And to know about this connection, it’s special to me,” he told CNA.

Like many other descendants of the sale, Alexander and his family are Catholic. He said this connection not only of history but of faith has been an important part to him in the reconciliation process.

“We never expected to hear anything, that we would get an apology. But to actually hear ‘we’re sorry,’ that means a lot to us. And hearing it from Georgetown University as well, it’s a step in the right direction. And knowing that – it just doesn’t end here, and they want to do more to help and show how sorry they are, and we’re looking forward to all the healing process.”

Alexander said he was also encouraged, not only by the apology, but also by the university’s plans to continue making amends and helping the descendants of those harmed by the sale.

“All we know is that my ancestors could only hope for the better for the next generation. That’s all that I can hope for my son, is that he can do better than what I am doing right now,” he explained. “And that’s what I look forward, to see the progress that Georgetown is going to make, that whole commitment to this healing process with the descendants. “

Supreme Court appears skeptical of state denying benefits to churches

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 16:42

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether a state benefit program could exclude churches because of their religious status.

Several justices appeared skeptical of Missouri’s rationale for denying a church preschool access to a reimbursement program intended to encourage safety updates to playground surfaces.

Justices also debated the extent to which public services – including firefighting and security services – can constitutionally be offered to religious organizations.

Justice Elena Kagan stated that “there’s a constitutional principle” for religious institutions to be eligible for certain public programs.

“As long as you're using the money for playground services, you're not disentitled from that program because you're a religious institution doing religious things,” she said of the case at hand. “And I would have thought that that's a pretty strong principle in our constitutional law.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the most significant religious freedom case of this term so far.

At issue is whether a playground owned by a church and operated by its preschool can be denied access to a state benefit program simply because of the church’s religious status. Other properties of non-profits and secular institutions are eligible for the program.

Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, applied for the Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant program within the state’s department of natural resources, which would have provided reimbursements for making safety upgrades to its playground surfaces with material from used tires.

The state ultimately denied Trinity Lutheran participation in the program because it is run by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, after the church was initially ranked fifth out of 44 applicants to receive reimbursements. On the state’s list of eligible recipients, the church originally scored higher than the ultimate recipient of the grants, the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has said.

Missouri’s state constitution forbids taxpayer funding or preferential treatment of churches, an amendment passed at the same time as the federal Blaine Amendment was proposed.

The Blaine Amendment forbade federal funds from going to churches or their schools, and was seen by many as a ban on taxpayer funding of Catholic schools, as the public school system at the time, in the 1870s, was largely Protestant. Other states have similar amendments.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that the amendment is a protection against the unconstitutional government establishment of religion, although the Eighth Circuit said in its ruling that Trinity Lutheran being reimbursed by the state would not be a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The state’s new governor, Eric Greitens (R), recently announced that religious groups will be eligible for grant programs from the natural resources department in the future, although Trinity Lutheran might not be retroactively eligible for its playground grant.

On Wednesday, David Cortman of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom argued on behalf Trinity Lutheran. He said that the state had conceded its denial of funding was “not facially neutral” and was “based on their religious character,” thus making it “discrimination against religion.”

Inside the Court on Wednesday, the justices pressed Cortman on whether the playground would be used for religious purposes and if that effectively constituted state funding of religious ministry.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg promptly brought up the Court’s 1947 Eberson decision, which said public funding for maintenance of churches or church property was unconstitutional. Cortman replied that the decision also said that churches shouldn’t be deprived of all public benefits.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she believes “that this program is part of the religious ministry of this church.” She then asked if the playground surface reimbursement was an establishment of religion if play time at the preschool began with prayer, or if religious ministries took place on the playground.

The church’s case is for a “safe surface,” Cortman replied, and just because the playground might be used for religious purposes does not mean that it should be ineligible for the funds. If a church school receives public funding, that does not mean that it has to “just stop all religion in school,” he said.

The Supreme Court in Locke v. Davey drew a “narrow distinction,” he said, as that case focused on taxpayer funding of education of religious ministers.

Justice Sotomayor pressed Cortman to explain how the church’s free exercise of religion was being unconstitutionally violated, as it would not close its doors just because it had not received a reimbursement for the playground surface.

James Layton represented the state’s natural resources department, arguing in place of the new Missouri attorney general who recused himself in the case. Layton said that the state amendment is rooted in the 1820 Constitution, which was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Statute on Religious Freedom from 1786. It was “reenacted” in the latest version of the state’s constitution in 1945.

The state has “concerns” about the church’s eligibility for the program, he said, as a playground resurfacing funded by the state would be a “visible physical improvement on church property.” The church, he added later, admits it “uses the preschool to bring the Gospel to non-members.”

Justice Alito asked him if a Jewish synagogue or a mosque, threatened by vandals, asked for a public security detail, would that be a violation of the state’s constitution. Layton said it would, according to a traditional reading of the constitution.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Kagan followed up, asking him if emergency responses by fire departments or police officers to the school, or public health programs, would be allowed under the state’s constitution.

Layton admitted that wouldn’t be denied, and Breyer then followed up, asking, “If it does not permit a law that pays money out of the treasury for the health of the children in the church, school, or even going to church, how does it permit Missouri to deny money to the same place for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus, break a leg, et cetera? What's the difference?”

Layton countered that the safety reason, and other health reasons, would not meet exceptions for public benefits for churches.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest addition to the Supreme Court, did not ask many questions save for an exchange with Layton over government discrimination against religious groups in “selective” and “general” public programs.

After the arguments, Cortman was optimistic about the reception from the justices.

“I think the theme that came out was what we emphasized in our briefs, and that is if the government is going to open up some sort of a neutral benefit program, then it can’t discriminate against religious organizations simply because of their religious status,” he insisted.

“The government should be religion-blind just like it’s race-blind,” he added. “When the government’s engaging in safety benefit programs, it should want all kids to be safe. It shouldn’t matter what their status is, it shouldn’t matter where they decide to attend school, and I think that’s a principle here that the state violated.”


Costly weddings could be crippling for new marriages

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 05:27

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2017 / 03:27 am (CNA).- Noting the sharply increasing costs of weddings, marriage advocates have begun to urge couples to be less extravagant in their nuptial celebrations for the good of their relationships.

“We ran a survey [in early 2013] with a law firm that looked at reasons for not marrying, and the top reason for men was the cost of the wedding,” said Harry Benson, an official with the U.K.-based think tank The Marriage Foundation.

Benson said that the average price for the event in the United Kingdom is around $30,000, according to wedding magazines. Such expenses, he told CNA, are “definitely a barrier” to getting married.

“I think the celebrities have set the bar very, very high with all these hyped-up, high profile, highly photographed weddings, very extravagant events.” When couples want the “big, dream wedding,” he added, “often it’s very unrealistic.”

The Marriage Foundation was established by British judge Paul Coleridge, an expert in family law. Having seen a “stream of human misery pass through his doors,” Coleridge decided to launch the charity to promote strong marriages, Benson said.

Part of the promotion of strong marriages, he believes, is focusing more on the marriage than on the wedding.

Melissa Naasko, a Michigan-based wife, mother, and blogger at Dyno-mom, agrees. “If I was going to give a bride advice, it would be to focus more on the marriage and less on the wedding,” she told CNA.

Naasko advocates celebrations that won't break the budget and put burdensome financial stress on the married couple. She recalled planning the wedding of one of her friends a year ago, helping keep the cost reasonable.

When her friend got engaged, the first piece of advice she gave her was “never ever, ever buy a bridal magazine...because they’re all geared just to sell stuff.”

“Anytime you pick up a bridal magazine, they’re at least 60 percent ads. You’ll look and see that all the articles in it are sponsored articles.”

Avoiding wedding magazines – and shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress” – helps brides to “pay attention more to what their friends and their family are saying, and it becomes more about the people and less about the stuff.”

“There’s nothing wrong with having smaller weddings,” Naasko urged. “And the marriage obviously is the most important part of a wedding.”

“But one of the reasons it’s a social event, is because it’s the public aspect of our lives. Making the wedding itself about people always makes it less expensive.”

Not being influenced “by all the propaganda that surrounds the wedding mystique,” will ultimately benefit the couple, Naasko reflected.

Catholic commentator Matt Archbold added to the discussion in a blog post for the National Catholic Register in May 2013, noting that “big weddings…might just be causing heartbreak, damaging society, and hurting people's faith.”

Being engaged for more than a year, saving up the money to splurge on the big day, can put couples in a precarious moral situation, often involving cohabitation, which in turn is linked to higher rates of divorce.

“The dream of the lavish Hollywood style wedding is not only ridiculous but harmful to one's faith and society in general,” Archbold wrote.

Another factor that can put stress on couples is the societal pressure put on a fiancé to spend, on average, two months of his salary – $3500 to $5000 – purchasing an engagement ring for his beloved.

The two-month figure was first promoted decades ago by advertisers from the De Beers diamond and mining business, according to Business Insider writer Robin Dhar.

De Beers has effectively held a monopoly on the global diamond market for some 100 years.

Dhar wrote in March 2013 that “Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to.”

The marketing campaign of the company that year pushed the idea that diamonds are a sign of love and affluence, and was massively successful in doing so.

Diamond rings are now given to 80 percent of American fiancées on their engagement – mostly because the company which has effectively monopolized the market for diamonds told men they should.

Adding to the financial strain of many couples in the U.S. is student loan debt. A May 2013 survey for the American Institute of CPAs showed that 15 percent of student loan borrowers have postponed getting married because of debt incurred from going to university.

Student loan debt in 2012 averaged nearly $25,000, a figure 70 percent greater than in 2004.

In his comments to CNA, Benson of The Marriage Foundation also touched on the rise in cohabitation, linked to the delay in getting married.

“The fundamental issue is that we’ve normalized cohabitation, which is much more unstable than marriage.”

He added that “deferring marriage is because we’ve effectively broken the link between marriage and childbirth.”

The Marriage Foundation is focusing its mission on educating couples about the benefits of getting married and having children, and helping them to realize they can have a wedding reception focused on what’s important, rather than on extravagant spending.

This article was originally published on CNA June 15, 2013.

Man in custody after Calif. shooting near Catholic Charities

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 18:00

Fresno, Calif., Apr 18, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A 39-year-old man is in custody following a shooting spree that left three people dead in Fresno, California on Tuesday, including one person who was killed in the parking lot of a Catholic Charities building.

The suspect, Kori Ali Muhammad, went by the nickname “Black Jesus,” according to NBC, and reportedly told police that he hated white people. The three people killed were all white men, police said.

Police said that Muhammad shot and killed a passenger in a Pacific Gas and Electric Company truck, before gunning down a man walking along a neighborhood street and another man in the parking lot of a local Catholic Charities building.

A Catholic Charities spokesperson said there does not appear to be any connection between the shooter and Catholic Charities, the Fresno Bee reported.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting was unprovoked and appeared to be random. He added that Muhammad has a significant criminal history including drug offenses, weapons violations and making terrorist threats.

Police said that it is too early to determine whether to label the shooting an act of terrorism.

Muhammad was wanted in connection with the murder of a security guard at a Motel 6 last week. Police authorities said he yelled “Allahu Akbar” as he was being detained on Tuesday, ABC reported.

According to officials, Muhammad’s Facebook account showed animosity towards white people and government officials.


Family of Facebook murder victim: We forgive the killer

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:28

Cleveland, Ohio, Apr 18, 2017 / 03:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Mourning family members of a Cleveland man whose murder on Easter Sunday was posted online in a Facebook video said that despite their grief, they forgive their father’s killer.

“Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him,” said Tonya Godwin Baines in a CNN interview.

She said that it was her slain father who taught her, through the example of his life, how to forgive.

“The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive.”

On Sunday afternoon, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was shot and killed in Cleveland while walking home from Easter dinner with his family. Police said that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, apparently chose his victim at random, and then uploaded a video of the murder to Facebook. The social media network later removed the video.

Following a nationwide manhunt, authorities were notified that Stephens’ car had been seen in a McDonald’s parking lot near Erie, Pennsylvania on Tuesday morning. Stephens shot and killed himself after a brief pursuit, police said.

The daughter of the Facebook murder victim has a message for the killer: I want him to know that "he's loved by God"

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) April 18, 2017 On Monday night, Anderson Cooper spoke with Godwin Sr.’s children in a CNN interview, asking them if there was anything they would like to tell the suspect, who at the time was still at-large.

In addition to encouraging Stephens to turn himself in, Debbie Godwin voiced her forgiveness, saying, “(Y)ou know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him.”

“It’s just the way my heart is, it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved...that God loves him, even in the bad stuff that he did to my dad...even though he’s going to have to go through many things to get better, there’s worth in him. And as long as there’s life in him, there is hope for him too.”

Though shocked and deeply pained by their father’s brutal murder, the children said they felt sorry for his killer.

“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie said.

She added that she is able to forgive him because of her faith in God.

“I could not do that if I did not know God, if I didn't know him as my God and my savior, I could not forgive that man,” she said.


Two Arkansas executions called off, but five remain planned

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:24

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 18, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Arkansas and around the country continue to pray for death row inmates in the state, after courts on Monday blocked two executions in an eight inmate, 10 day flurry of executions planned by the governor.

“#SCOTUS upheld stays of execution last night in #Arkansas. But other 5 scheduled this week could still happen,” the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end capital punishment, tweeted April 18.

Several courts handed down multiple decisions on Monday and early Tuesday morning, in a complex drama playing out as Arkansas seeks to execute eight men before its supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal injection process, expires at the end of the month.

One inmate, Jason McGehee, had already been granted a temporary stay last week after a parole board recommended clemency. McGehee was convicted of the 1996 killing of John Melbourne, Jr.

Don Davis and Bruce Ward were both scheduled to be executed April 17, but the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed their executions.

Davis was convicted of the 1992 killing of Jane Daniel, and Ward of the 1989 killing of Rebecca Doss.

The men are claimed to have mental health problems, and the United States Supreme Court is due to hear oral arguments next week in a case involving a defendant's right to access independent mental health experts during their tiral. The state supreme court granted the stays in light of the pending federal case.

Arkansas appealed the stay on Davis, but did not pursue Ward's case.

In the early hours of April 18, the US Supreme Court denied Arkansas' application to vacate the stay on Davis' execution.

Neither of the men were put to death.

On Monday the Arkansas Supreme Court also made two decisions relating to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin and his decisions.

Griffin had on April 14 ruled that the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, an anesthetic which induces paralysis and which is the second of the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol, could not be used in the process.

The drug supplier, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., had stated that the drug manufacturer prohibits vecuronium for use in executions, and that Arkansas had purchased it under false pretenses. McKesson discovered that the drug was to be used for executions and demanded the state return the drug, promising a refund. The supplier said it refunded the state, which never returned the drug.

However, Griffin also attended a protest against capital punishment outside the governor's mansion on Friday.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court forbade Griffin from hearing death penalty-related cases, and referred him to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to discover if he violated a state code of judicial conduct.

It also vacated Griffin's restraining order against the state's use of vecuronium bromide.

Meanwhile, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated April 17 a federal judge's preliminary stay of executions which had been handed down April 15.

Federal judge Kristine G. Baker had ruled that the use of midazolam, a sedative, may violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

The sedative has been used in botched executions, and some medical experts have claimed it is not proven to be effective, thus exposing an inmate to the risk of severe pain as the other drugs are administered.

The eighth circuit appeals court rejected Baker's determination that the executions should be delayed to give courts time to consider whether the use of midazolam is a breach of the Eighth Amendment. The appellate judges wrote that “the equivocal evidence recited by the district court falls short of demonstrating a significant possibility that the prisoners will show that the Arkansas protocol is 'sure or very likely' to cause severe pain and needless suffering.”

One appellate judge dissented from the eighth circuit's decision.

After the US Supreme Court declined to reverse the stay on Davis' execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, stated: “I am disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family. While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

McKesson filed a complaint April 18 in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order and injunction to prevent the vecuronium it supplied from being used “for something other than a legitimate medical purpose.” The case has been assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray.

In another case, Baker cancelled an April 18 hearing in which the lawyers for Marcel Williams, who is scheduled to be executed April 24, intended to argue that because of his obesity, Arkansas' lethal injection protocol is not likely to kill him and could cause organ damage. Williams was convicted of the 1994 killing of Stacy Errickson.

Baker cited the Eighth Circuit's reversal of her earlier stay in her decision to cancel the hearing.

Both Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, the chair of the US bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, have spoken out against the planned executions.

Arkansas' next executions are scheduled to be held the evening of April 20.

Supreme Court won't hear case of Central American asylum seekers

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 08:37

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2017 / 06:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of women and children from Central America who have been prioritized for deportation lost a legal battle Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal of a lower court’s ruling that prevented a federal judge from reviewing their expedited deportation orders.

The families were detained in Texas soon after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. They claimed asylum, but immigration judges ruled they lacked “credible fear” of persecution. They were placed in expedited removal proceedings and detained at a residential center in Pennsylvania, Reuters reports.

Expedited removal applies to non-citizens without valid documents for entry to the U.S.

The legal challenge claimed violation of the women and children’s right to due process under the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court let stand a ruling from the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The families are composed of 28 women and 33 children ages 2-17 come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The lead plaintiff in the case, Rosa Castro, fled El Salvador to escape rape, beatings and emotional abuse by her son’s father. Her son was six years old when they arrived in the U.S. In 2015. Another plaintiff, Lesly Cruz, fled Honduras to protect her daughter from sexual assault from gang members, court papers said.

Other families said they had fled to the U.S. to escape threats, violence and situations where police authorities were unable or unwilling to help them.

Twelve women and their children remain detained in Pennsylvania, while the others have been released under supervision.

Tens of thousands of Central American refugees and migrants enter the U.S. each year. Their numbers included a 2014 surge of nearly 70,000 unaccompanied minors.

Immigration enforcement has been ongoing in the U.S., but it has taken on more prominence under the Trump administration, which has planned to target more people for expedited removal.

In May 2016, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, then-chair of the U.S. bishops’ immigration committee, criticized immigration raids.

“Sending women and children back to Central America will not serve as an effective deterrent to migration because this is a humanitarian crisis and individuals from the region are being forced to flee for their lives,” he said.

In February 2017, the U.S. and Mexican bishops issued a joint statement on the right to migrate.

“We reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life. If these are not given, they have a right to migrate,” they said, citing Pope Pius XII’s 1952 apostolic constitution “Exsul Familia Nazarethana.”  


Lent is over. Now what?

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 05:18

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2017 / 03:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps have graced the shelves of U.S. stores for weeks in anticipation of Easter, but now that the actual Easter Season has begun, how should Catholics observe it?

“We cannot, as Christians, walk out of Easter liturgy and wash our hands of the business. Our life is forever changed, and it can never be what it was, if we believe that a man has walked out of the tomb,” said Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, director of the Institute of Catholic Culture.

Easter Sunday begins the liturgical season of Easter, which continues through the celebration of the Ascension to Pentecost Sunday, 50 days in all. Each day of the Octave of Easter, the first eight days of the season, is a solemnity and ends on the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Easter Triduum follows the 40-day penitential season of Lent, which is marked by penance, prayer, and almsgiving.

However, once the Triduum is over and Catholics cast off their Lenten penances, what comes next? Was Lent just one big detox program, and is the Easter Season a marathon of steak dinners, chocolate eggs, Netflix binges and bigger bar tabs, while practices of daily Mass and prayer are neglected?

Not so, said liturgical experts, who stressed that Catholics can both celebrate Easter and also grow in their spiritual life.

How do we do that? First, Catholics must remember the spiritual focus of the season, which is on Christ’s Resurrection and the evangelization that immediately follows from it, Fr. Chrysostom Baer of the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, Calif., told CNA.

“The apostles were trying to convert the world because Jesus rose from the dead. And they really got the impulse to go at Pentecost, but the message is ‘Jesus died and rose’,” he said.

This evangelization was powered by a type of “evangelical poverty,” he said, pointing to the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.”

While Easter is not a time for hairshirts and fasting, he clarified, Catholics shouldn't feel like they must abandon good Lenten practices during Easter, if those practices help them be better Catholics – especially if they gave up things that were occasions of sin for them.

The Resurrection should change everything about our lives, Fr. Hezekias insisted, because in the words of St. Paul, since Jesus rose from the dead, “death no longer has dominion over Him.”

“It’s no great mystery that God is not able to be controlled by death. The great mystery is that a man walked out of the tomb that day. He was filled with Divine life. He’s the God-man. His divinity destroyed the power of death, but destroyed the power of death over us,” he said.

“We can say now, we who have been baptized in Him, death no longer has dominion over us,” he said. “Easter, Pascha, is the Christian life. Death no longer has dominion over us.”

This means that the created world has been brought back “into communion with God,” he said, and that realization should change how we see everything.

“I would think the first best way to celebrate the season is to go to daily Mass. That is bar none, the best,” Fr. Chrysostom said. “Because it really puts you in the mind of the Church, with regard to the season. The prayers change every day, but they’re all focused on the Resurrection.”

Catholics should also continue any good practices they fostered during Lent like prayer or almsgiving, he insisted, and should give attention to virtues they cultivated from Lenten penance.

“The Easter Season is for fostering those virtues that you’ve planted during Lent, and allowing them to grow,” he said. This requires taking “concrete steps” and not just vague promises to ensure that good habits are maintained, he added.

For instance, if someone gave alms during Lent, they could resolve to give money to the poor a certain number of times per week, he said.

However, Easter shouldn’t just be lived at church, but “it’s got to live out in our everyday lives,” Fr. Hezekias told CNA. There must be a “more intense realization that every aspect of my life has come into communion with God.”

“What about reading the Gospel in our homes or singing the Gospel in our homes before we bless the food at the dinner of that Sunday?” he suggested.

Another way to do this is for Catholics throw a party, he said, which we can enjoy in a new way having first fasted during Lent.

“The reason the Church has us set aside meat [during Lent] is because we’ve become dependent on those things,” Fr. Hezekias explained. “The key to the celebration of Easter and Pascha is the re-ordering in our life, that now I eat meat as a gift from God,” he said.

If someone has given up meat for 40 days, he explained, they will appreciate its goodness all the more: “Suddenly they take a bite of meat, and what do you say? ‘Thank you, God!’”

And Catholics should party together.

“I think what makes a feast really a feast is that it’s shared, with friends,” Fr. Chrysostom said, and where drinks served “heightens the conviviality and the joy.”

“Everyone should be asking themselves right now, who should I invite to my home [during the Easter Season]?” Fr. Hezekias said. They should also consider inviting the newly baptized at their parish over to their homes.

“We’ve forgotten our ability as Christians to go out and really have a party,” he said. “Our society is starving because of that. We’re the ones who are supposed to be showing everyone else what true joy is, but unfortunately we’ve forgotten it ourselves.”

“We’ve got to re-discover that for the sake of society.”

US bishops: This Easter season, let yourself be filled with joy

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 22:31

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2017 / 08:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).-

Easter is a joyous reminder that Jesus’ Resurrection overcomes fear and doubt, the U.S. bishops said in their 2017 Easter message.

“Through Christ's passion, His burial in the tomb and His glorious resurrection, we come to realize the enormity of the Lord's sacrifice for us,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said April 17.

While we may feel unworthy of this love, he said, “Let us not be afraid. Let's allow ourselves to be taken – even seized – with Easter joy.”

Cardinal DiNardo, who heads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, reflected on Mary Magdalene’s fear and doubt as she stood by the Tomb of Jesus Christ.

“There, it was Jesus who rescued Mary from her fears and darkness by calling her name,” the cardinal said. “Jesus calls out to each of us by name today as He did the very first Easter Sunday. His promise fulfilled. His word brings life, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine’.”

“Jesus waits for you and me, embracing us in our moments of greatest need and desire,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Welcome the love of God into your life. Share it those around you, especially the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.”

Cardinal DiNardo’s message was recorded in a video posted to the Facebook page of the U.S. bishops’ conference.


Kansas project helps clients escape the predatory loan cycle

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:10

Salina, Kan., Apr 17, 2017 / 04:10 pm (The Register).- In 2015, Shannon found herself swimming in debt from a title loan. She faithfully made the $200 monthly payments. Unfortunately, the entire $200 went to interest.

“I kept paying the interest on it and wasn’t getting anywhere,” she said.

None of it went to pay down the original $900 loan.

“The first time I took a loan out, I was behind on rent,” Shannon said. “Then something else came up and it got out of control. I could never see getting myself out of the hole. I thought the loan would be a burden that would be over me forever.”

The Kansas Loan Pool Project, which began in 2013, has assisted 127 people get out of predatory debt. The program is a collaboration with Sunflower Bank in which the predatory debt is refinanced into a traditional loan. In all, more than $80,000 worth of debt has been refinanced through the program.

Shannon came to Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas because she heard about the predatory debt relief program via word of mouth.

Her loan ballooned from the original $900 title loan to nearly $1,300 from the interest and service charges.

It was April 2015 when Shannon first sat in the office of Claudette Humphrey, Director of Stabilization Services at Catholic Charities. Humphrey oversees the KLPP, which helps those like Shannon who are trapped in a cycle of payday lending.

“Most people who go to a predatory lender go to pay a necessity such as rent, mortgage, a car payment or to repair a vehicle so they can continue to work,” Humphrey said.

She said payday or title loans are marketed as a one time ‘quick fix’ for people facing a cash crunch. When the client cannot pay the loan back, they ‘re-loan’ with an additional service fee. Payday loans are balloon notes, with up to 391 percent APR. Title loans are secured with the vehicle’s title, with an average interest rate of 260 percent.

Once a client completes the appropriate paperwork and is approved to participate in the Kansas Loan Pool Project, the client begins monthly coaching with KLPP staff. Each office of Catholic Charities: Hays, Salina and Manhattan, has staff to assist with predatory debt relief. The first order of business is a budget.

“For people who live paycheck to paycheck, budgeting isn’t something they’ve used previously,” Humphrey said. “They often pay the bills they can. We look at a budget to see where exactly the money is going.”

Shannon said grasping her budget was difficult in the beginning.

“When we started, I couldn’t even go out to eat with a friend, my money was so messed up,” Shannon said.

“If she went out to eat, she’d have extreme guilt,” Humphrey added. “She knew she used the money she alloted for the water bill, and now there was no way to pay the utility bill.”

Shannon filled out paperwork, including a budget, as Humphrey assisted her in paying off her original loan. The monthly payment went from $200 per month, which covered only the interest, to $88 per month. The loan was paid off in 18 months.

The process hasn’t always been easy. Figuring out her household budget took some time.

“I would come in and could only account for some of my money,” Shannon said. “(The budget) made me more aware of how much I spent on pop at the quick shop.”

With guidance from Humphrey, Shannon said she learned how to adapt her spending habits.

“She asked if I could buy a 12-pack (of pop) and keep it at my house,” Shannon said. “Before, when I would go grocery shopping, I would try to stock up for the month. Now I go once a week, and I spend less overall on groceries.”

She’s also learned to decipher between a need and a want, especially in a social situation when friends are spending money.

“I’ve learned I can go out and enjoy myself and have a glass of water, not have to have a few beers,” Shannon said.

During their monthly meeting, Shannon and Humphrey review the budget, update her employment status, and also review future goals.

“I want to get a savings account started,” Shannon said. “I would never have thought about saving because I like to spend money.”

But the meetings with Humphrey have helped her to see how saving will help prevent returning to a predatory lender.

In addition to helping Shannon get out of her predatory loan, Catholic Charities has a pilot program that grants small loans up to $1,000.

“Rather than go to a payday loan to get a battery or alternator fixed, we have started to give loans to prior clients to prevent them from getting another predatory loan,” Humphrey said. “It’s the same terms as our other loans. This is to keep people from going (to get a payday loan) in the first place.”

Shanon is one of three people in the pilot program.

“You can’t go to the bank for a $130 loan,” she said.

Shannon said the $24 monthly payment to cover the cost of a new car battery is manageable, especially since she paid off the previous payday loan.

“Because she’d been a great client and had paid her loan payments on time, came to all of her meetings and did everything we asked, she was a perfect candidate for the pilot program,” Humphrey said.

Shannon hopes she can start saving the amount she pays for the loan.

“If I save it, when the battery goes out, I’ll have (the money I need),” she said. “The (KLPP) payment was $88; that’s $1,000 a year I’d have in a savings account. That’s a lot to have in case something happens.

“Before, I would think ‘I have this extra $88, I can go out to eat or get a new pair of pants.’ I’m now more conscious about wanting to have money saved up to do things.”

Shannon has her daughter and granddaughters living with her. She said the information she learned during her sessions with Humphrey are lessons she is passing along to her family.

“My daughter is now trying to look where she wants to spend her money and thinking about saving money,” Shannon said.

Humphrey said financial acumen is something that is often learned in one’s family.

“What we know is what we pass down,” she said. “I have two of the greatest parents in the world, but we were extremely poor. They didn’t mean to not teach us, but they were too busy trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. When we went into the world, we didn’t know how to manage money.”

Seeing Shannon improve her personal situation, and help her family, is rewarding.

“She has done a wonderful job,” Humphrey said. “With the program, Shannon has developed a different way of looking at money. It’s difficult to understand how to make money work for them instead of just working for the money.”

“I tell my clients, ‘You can’t do better until you know better.’ This program is about helping people know better.”


This article first appeared in The Register of the Catholic Diocese of Salina and is re-printed at CNA with permission.