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In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Star-gazing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Catholics think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian martyr who was cooked to death by the Romans on an outdoor grill.

But every August, Catholics have the chance to see a meteor shower named in his honor.

The Perseids meteor shower, also called the “tears of St. Lawrence,” is a meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which drops dust and debris in Earth’s orbit on its 133-year trip around the Sun. (The comet poses no immediate threat to Earth, at least not for several thousand years.)

As Earth orbits the Sun, it hits pieces of left-behind debris from the comet, causing them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

This creates a prolific meteor shower that can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere from late July to early August, usually peaking around Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence.  

During its peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

The name “Perseids” comes from the constellation Perseus, named for a character in Greek mythology, and the radiant of the shower or the point from which it appears to originate.

The name “tears of St. Lawrence” came from the association with his feast day and from the legends that built up around the Saint after his death.

Saint Lawrence was martyred on Aug. 10, 258 during the persecution of the emperor Valerian along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

After the pope, Sixtus II, was martyred on Aug. 6, Lawrence became the principal authority of the Roman Church, having been the Church's treasurer.

When he was summoned before the executioners, Lawrence was ordered to bring all the wealth of the Church with him. He showed up with a handful of crippled, poor, and sick men, and when questioned, replied that "These are the true wealth of the Church."

He was immediately sent to his death, being cooked alive on a gridiron. Legend has it that one of his last words was a joke about his method of execution, as he quipped to his killers: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Catholics began calling the meteors the “tears of St. Lawrence,” even though the celestial phenomenon pre-dates the saint.

Some Italian lore also holds that the fiery bits of debris seen during a meteor shower are representative of the coals that killed St. Lawrence.

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to view the “tears of St. Lawrence” best on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12 this year. The meteors will shower from various points in the sky rather than from one particular direction.

For the best viewing, it is recommended to go to a rural area away from light pollution.

Vice President Pence and Cardinal Parolin discuss Nicaragua

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin about the situation in Nicaragua, expressing support for the Church’s efforts in that country.

During the conversation, which took place by phone Aug. 10, Pence recognized that the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been a leading force in efforts at mediation and dialogue over the past year. Pence lauded the Church for its work to protect human rights and religious freedom, and to promote good-faith negotiations to bring peace to the area.

Nicaragua has been in a state of unrest for months following widespread opposition to President Daniel Ortega. There have been series of protests against Ortega since he announced changes to the country’s social security and pension systems. These changes were abandoned after protests turned violent.

Hundreds of people have been killed as police and paramilitary forces attempt to assert control.

In the phone call, both Pence and Parolin condemned the continuing violence, and reaffirmed their support for the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference and its work to support democracy and human rights.

Following expressions of empathy with protesters, the Church in Nicaragua has been accused by Ortega of attempting to subvert his government. In the past few months, churches around the country have been attacked, and a bishops have been assaulted

In late July, the United States pledged $1.5 million to Nicaragua to assist human rights organizations and independent media in the country.

In a speech at the recent Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held by the State Department in July, Vice President Pence spoke out strongly about the situation in Nicaragua and against the government’s actions.

“The government of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church,” said Pence.

“For months, Nicaragua’s bishops have sought to broker a national dialogue following pro-democracy protests that swept through the country earlier this year. But government-backed mobs armed with machetes, and even heavy weapons, have attacked parishes and church properties, and bishops and priests have been physically assaulted by the police.”

According to a statement released by the White House, Cardinal Parolin and Vice President Pence both “condemned the violence which has claimed hundreds of lives and increasingly targeted the Church, and reaffirmed their support for the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference and the entire faith community which has stood firm in support of human rights, democracy, and freedom.”

Cardinal O’Malley orders inquiry into Boston seminary, places rector on ‘sabbatical’

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 15:57

Boston, Mass., Aug 10, 2018 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Séan O’Malley has announced a major investigation into St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston, following allegations made by two former seminarians. The cardinal also announced that the rector of the seminary, Monsignor James Moroney, had been placed on immediate leave to allow for a “fully independent inquiry.”

The announcement was made by Cardinal O’Malley on Friday afternoon, August 10.

In a prepared statement, the cardinal said that he had learned of the allegations earlier that week, after posts by the former seminarians appeared on social media. The Archdiocese has not confirmed the exact nature of the allegations.

"Earlier this week I was informed that two former seminarians of St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston had posted allegations on social media sites including the Archdiocese’s Facebook page that during their time at the seminary they witnessed and experienced activities which are directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood," O'Malley said.

The cardinal, who also serves as the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, stressed that he has not yet been able to either prove or disprove the allegations, but that the matter was being treated with the utmost seriousness.

“As Archbishop of Boston, with responsibility for the integrity of the seminary and its compliance with the Church's Program for Priestly Formation, I am committed to immediate action to address these serious matters.”

In addition to announcing Msgr. Moroney’s “sabbatical,” Cardinal O’Malley said that he has appointed Rev. Stephen E. Salocks to serve as Interim Rector of St. John's. Father Salocks currently serves as a professor at the seminary.

The investigation into the allegations is being led by Bishop Mark O'Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, Dr. Francisco Cesareo, President of Assumption College and President of the USCCB National Review Board, which advises the USCCB on matters of child and youth protection policies and practices, and Ms. Kimberly Jones, CEO of Athena Legal Strategies Group.

Laying out the remit of the inquiry, O’Malley said he had directed them to examine “the allegations made this week, the culture of the seminary regarding the personal standards expected and required of candidates for the priesthood, and any seminary issues of sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination.”

The inquiry will be staffed by Mark Dunderdale, the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Professional Standards and Oversight.

The cardinal said he had instructed the inquiry team to report back to him “as soon as possible” with their findings and a set of recommendations ensuring proper standards of behavior in accord with Church teaching at all levels of seminary life.

“The allegations made this week are a source of serious concern to me as Archbishop of Boston,” O’Malley said. 

“The ministry of the Catholic priesthood requires a foundation of trust with the people of the Church and the wider community in which our priests serve. I am determined that all our seminaries meet that standard of trust and provide the formation necessary for priests to live a demanding vocation of service in our contemporary society.”

Tennessee executes first prisoner since 2009, despite plea by bishops

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 14:00

Memphis, Tenn., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Tennessee carried out its first execution in nearly a decade on Thursday evening. Governor Bill Haslam allowed the lethal injection to proceed at a maximum-security Nashville prison, despite controversy over the drug cocktail used and past pleas from the state’s three Catholic bishops, who argued that the death penalty was contrary to human dignity and respect for life.

Billy Ray Irick, 59, was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. Aug. 9 after an execution that took about 20 minutes. Irick was sentenced to death in 1986 for the rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Kay Dyer, whom he had been babysitting. Irick confessed to her murder and was found guilty after a six-day trial.

After initially declining to say any last words, Irick then apologized for his crimes, saying, "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that, that's it." His lawyer stated his last meal was a burger, onion rings, and a soft drink, and that he was able to meet with prison chaplains before his execution.

In July, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis wrote a letter to Gov. Haslam asking for him to put an end to the death penalty in the state. The bishops urged him “to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned for later this year,” saying that “the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life.”

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote.

Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church last week to say that the death penalty was now “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” due in part to various improvements in modern prison systems and their ability to keep the public safe.

Irick’s supporters argued that his execution should be stayed due to his past mental health issues, and concerns over the drugs used in lethal injections. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the execution on these grounds in a decision by Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from Kagan’s decision, saying that she was concerned the method of execution could cause Irick to experience severe pain, and that this could constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Going forward with the execution, Sotomayor said, would mean the United States has “stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism.”

Significant concerns had been expressed about the drugs to be used in the execution, particularly midazolam, a sedative. Lawyers have argued that the drug does not effectively render the inmate unconscious, and that they are able to feel the effects of the other two drugs in the cocktail.

The drugs previously administered in lethal injections have become increasingly hard for states to acquire, as companies have either stopped producing the drug or refused to sell them for use in executions.

Tennessee currently has 60 inmates on death row. The last execution carried out in the state was in 2009, when Cecil Johnson Jr. was executed for the murder of three people in 1980. Including Irick, seven people have been executed in Tennessee since the year 2000.

A year after Charlottesville, Virginia bishops pray for end to racism

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 13:35

Arlington, Va., Aug 10, 2018 / 11:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Virginia offered prayers for peace and a renewed sense of human dignity ahead of the one-year anniversary of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

“Racism is a sin. As the U.S. Bishops wrote in 1979 – ‘a sin that divides the human family,’” said Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond in a statement.

“Prayer – individually and as a faith community – is a start in addressing racism and to help heal from the effects of racism, but it cannot be an occasional act and it shouldn’t be confined to one day,” the bishop said.

“I pray that during this time when we are challenged by divisions that we commit to praying, listening, learning, thinking and working for peace, justice and an end to racism.”

On August 11-12 last year, a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., was planned to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local park – one of several Confederate monuments removed throughout the country after a 2015 church shooting in Charleston.

The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. A counter-protest, including a diverse coalition of religious leaders and members of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, was formed. At least 30 people were injured in clashes between the protesters and counter-protesters.

On Aug. 12, a man linked to white-supremacist groups drove a car into the counter-protest, injuring 19 and killing one, 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the incident “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” and promised to “protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.”

Catholic bishops denounced the violence but also explicitly condemned the racist ideology amidst the “Unite the Right” gathering.

Shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, the U.S. bishops announced the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism to respond to ongoing social tension. The committee was formed to explore ways the Church can address the root causes of contemporary manifestations of racism, and to hold public conversations about racism and race-related problems.

Unite the Right is planning an anniversary rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend.

Bishop Knestout voiced his hope that the one year anniversary of the events in Charlottesville “will not be approached with provocative rhetoric but provide an opportunity for prayer and dialogue about racism, and the action needed to overcome it.”

“It is my sincere hope that all remain safe in these coming days and throughout the weekend, and may the Holy Spirit be a source of strength and comfort for the families and friends who continue to mourn the loss of a loved one,” he said, encouraging members of the diocese to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, for unity and peace in the country.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington also issued a statement leading up to the Charlottesville anniversary.

“I call upon all Catholics and people of good will to pray for peace in our nation, and for an end to the division that is caused by racism and prejudice,” he said.

“We must shine a light on injustice, be advocates for those who are victims of discrimination, and continue to affirm the dignity of every human person as we are all created in the image and likeness of God,” the bishop continued.

“We pray to our Lady, Queen and Peace, for unity and harmony in our communities, in our nation, and our world, recalling that it is only through her Son, Jesus Christ, that true healing and peace are ours.”

Diocese of Greensburg issues apology for past failings, promises to release names of accused priests

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:00

Greensburg, Pa., Aug 10, 2018 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Greensburg has issued an apology and pledged to release the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct over the last 70 years. The names will be released following the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse allegations in six Catholic dioceses, expected within the next week.

The diocese published a 17-page document on Thursday August 9, apologizing for past failures by the Church to protect children, and explaining the steps the diocese has taken to prevent future abuse.

“Admittedly, there have been occasions where the Church and the Diocese of Greensburg have faltered in their protection of children, young people, and vulnerable adults. For those, the Diocese of Greensburg apologizes to the survivors and their families and continually offers assistance to help them heal,” said the document.

In a letter included in the document, Bishop Edward Malesic wrote that while terrible mistakes had been made, the Church had learned from them.

“The people of the Diocese of Greensburg should know that we have learned from the mistakes made in the past,” he wrote.

The bishop also emphasised that the the Church remained active in its local ministries, and that much good work was being done serving the poor and the sick, and preaching the Gospel.

“I can assure you that the Church in the Diocese of Greensburg today has evolved far beyond the Church described in media reports. One of the safest places to be as a young person today is the Catholic Church.”

Malesic has led the diocese since July of 2015. The Diocese of Greensburg was founded in 1951, four years after the beginning of the period covered by the grand jury investigation.

The diocese also announced it will provide free counseling for all survivors of abuse by church personnel, regardless of where it happened or when it happened, and encourages any survivors to come forward, even if their abuser is not named in the eventual report.

The diocese said that some of the names to be released “may be familiar,” as their cases were made public and were covered by the media. None of the priests listed in the report are serving in public ministry, Bishop Malesic told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Greensburg joins the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Erie in pro-actively releasing a statement or list of names ahead of the official release of the grand jury report.

Harrisburg and Erie have already released the names of men accused of abuse, misconduct, or other inappropriate activity in documents on their websites. Both Pittsburgh and Greensburg said they intend to wait for the report to be released before they make their lists public. 

The grand jury report follows an lengthy investigation of child sexual abuse or the covering up of child sexual abuse by priests, deacons, seminarians, or laypersons within six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses over the last 70 years. The report, which is over 800 pages long, reportedly names approximately 300 priests accused of abuse or of covering up abuse.

The investigation has already resulted in the conviction of one priest from the Diocese of Greensburg, John Sweeney, for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old student during the 1991-92 school year. That priest was removed from ministry in 2016 before his arrest in 2017.

The Diocese of Greensburg said information about this case was not immediately made public at the request of law enforcement, although it was made clear to the priest that he was being removed from ministry due to allegations of child sexual abuse. The diocese stressed that normally such information would be immediately released to the public. The diocese also said it had “fully cooperated” with the grand jury investigation.

“The Diocese of Greensburg is saddened by our past failures — grievous failures — and we are horrified by the conduct that we ourselves would have never condoned and committed by men who, in many cases, many of us never knew,” said the document.

“But, we are also aware that our Diocese has moved forward from this past and evolved in combatting this evil, and we are proud of the work that we have undertaken over the last 30 years to establish a safe environment for our children and our youth in the Diocese of Greensburg.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered that the grand jury report be published no later than August 14.

What's driving the growth of Catholic churches in the Bible Belt?

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 02:27

Charleston, S.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the thick of the Bible Belt, the famously evangelical Protestant region in the southeastern United States, some Catholic Masses are filling to standing-room only.

Meanwhile, many Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran churches are struggling to keep enough people in the pews to justify opening their doors.

It has widely been reported that the U.S. as a whole is losing its religion, with Protestant mainline churches seeing the most decline over the past 15 years. But two key factors are contributing to Catholic growth throughout the south: a boom in the Hispanic population, and the southern migration of Catholic retirees and families from the Northeast.

St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Bluffton, along the southern coast of South Carolina, particularly illustrates this shift along the Bible Belt — the congregation grew by a massive 70 percent in just 10 years, and now claims 10,000 registered members. Even though South Carolina is gaining in population, the growth of this parish outpaces even that of the state, according to local newspapers.

“Sunday Masses are crowded as latecomers squeeze into pews or stand in the back of the church. Twelve Masses are held Friday evening through Sunday — two of which are in Spanish. And work is underway on a new parish life center for community events,” Kasia Kovacs reports in The Island Packet.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

At St. Gregory’s, Masses for major holidays like Christmas and Easter are said in both English and Spanish, and seminarians in the state are required to be fluent in Spanish before their ordination. The parish celebrates Las Posadas and other traditional Hispanic celebrations, and food trucks at parish events now feature empanadas and gorditas.

“Having this summer experience, and seeing how it comes together — seeing how the Hispanic community and English community collaborate — it really is a single entity,” seminarian Tom Drury told The Island Packet.

Parishioner Jenny Bermejo, who moved to the area as a child with her family in 2004, said that St. Gregory’s has provided them with community and the familiarity of home.

“We were still pretty new to South Carolina, so hearing Mass in Spanish really brought us a sense of home,” Bermejo said.

St. Gregory’s pastor Monsignor Ronald Cellini told The Island Packet that his Hispanic parishioners are often more active in church life in the United States than they were back in Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. The rural area of Bluffton reminds them of home, and they are putting down roots — they are not transient migrants who will leave in a few years.

“The Bluffton Hispanic community is here — it’s not a migrant community,” he said. “Kids grow up here. They’ve been here, they’re staying here.”

In response to these shifting demographics and the influx of Hispanic Catholics throughout the United States, the U.S. bishops have called for a meeting called the V Encuentro- Fifth Encounter- a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs.

The first Encuentro was held in 1972, and the most recent was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

This year, the V Encuentro will be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23.

Lawsuit filed against new government asylum rules

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Immigration activists have made a legal challenge to the government’s criteria for migrants seeking asylum on Tuesday, saying that the grounds outlined were too narrow and should be expanded.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed suit on behalf of a dozen individuals who say they left their home countries after experiencing “horrific persecution,” including the murder of family members. These people were denied asylum in the United States.

The lead plaintiff, identified only as “Grace,” is a native of Guatemala who says she came to the United States after two decades of physical and sexual abuse by her husband. “Grace” faces the possibility of deportation back to Guatemala, where her lawyers say her life is at risk.

Previously, a person could claim fear of gang violence or domestic abuse as a reason why they should be granted asylum into the United States. In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a new policy, stating that these factors “generally” do not constitute a suitable reason.

In a June 11 decision by the attorney general relating to a particular case referred to as A-B-, he ruled that “generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

While Sessions said that he did not “minimize the vile abuse” that particular woman had endured, “the mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

Catholics have spoken out strongly against the new policy.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in June, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston condemned the new policy in his opening address to the bishops.

DiNardo said that the policy would risk the lives of women, and that “unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”

The ACLU argues that the updated policy is an “attempt to subvert decades of settled asylum law” and is a “fundamental misunderstanding of domestic violence.” The plaintiffs are arguing that the new policy effectively restricts asylum claims to those fleeing persecution either by the government, or that the government actively condoned the persecution.

This, they argue, goes against the established legal standard that the local government merely be “unwilling or unable” to offer protection.

In May, administration officials said that individuals and people-smuggling organizations were exaggerating the threat of violence they faced in an effort to exploit the system and gain entry to the United States.

Sessions said that the June changes would restore "sound principles of asylum and long-standing principles of immigration law."

Under immigration law, a person seeking asylum must prove that they are subject to persecution in their home country due to their race, nationality, religious beliefs, political views, or membership in a certain social group. Over time, the definition of “certain social group” has been expanded to include women who are fleeing domestic violence in countries where there are few legal avenues for a woman to prosecute or even escape her abuser.

Over the past year, the number of people seeking asylum who fail the first step, known as the “credible fear screening,” has increased. People who fail the credible fear screening are subject deportation back to their country of origin.

The case will be heard by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

NJ bishop: Independent avenue for reporting abuse is needed

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:01

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In light of a scandal involving one of its former bishops, Theodore McCarrick, the Diocese of Metuchen is working to establish an independent avenue for victims to report abuse conducted by Church leaders, including bishops.

"I continue to be saddened and ashamed... by reports of the abhorrent events we have been learning about in regard to Archbishop McCarrick - I know you must be, too. Our efforts to evangelize, and spread the Good News of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities,” Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen said in an Aug. 7 letter.

“I am praying for all those who have been hurt and praying that God’s mercy will bring healing and consolation,” he stated. “I am also working to address how we can ensure that similar abuses, especially of seminarians or young priests, would not happen again, particularly by those in positions of authority over them.”

Archbishop McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen from 1982 to 1986.

The Archdiocese of New York announced in June that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that McCarrick had sexually abused a minor in the early 1970s, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”

Since that announcement, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted, or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. The Metuchen diocese and the Archdiocese of Newark disclosed that they had received three allegations of  sexual misconduct with adults by McCarrick, and had reached settlements in two cases.

McCarrick resigned as a cardinal July 28.

Bishop Checchio said that “The case of Archbishop McCarrick demonstrates that the culture of the Church is changing and that no one is exempt from its censure – regardless of a person’s rank or status, or the number of years that have passed since an incident occurred. As I have done in the past, I continue to urge anyone who has been abused to bring the situation to the attention of law enforcement officials. Also, I want to reiterate that the Diocese stands poised and ready to help any who have been abused.”

The bishop said he is heartbroken “for our faithful people, and the clergy and religious of our Diocese, as we face another tragic situation within the Church that we love. Nonetheless, I am grateful that the processes the Church has in place regarding child sexual abuse have been shown to work.”

To address the abuse of seminarians or young priests “I have begun to bring together a senior team of advisors to examine reporting processes,” he said. “Clearly, the safety of an independent reporting structure that allows for anyone to bring an allegation forward without the fear of retribution of any kind is needed.”

“Accountability on all levels helps to ensure that a healthy, wholesome environment prevails to form and train our future priests. I know that I do not have to reiterate to the people of this Diocese that proper priestly formation is central to renewal in the life of the Church.”

He reflected that the Metuchen diocese is “seeing a new springtime with men studying for the priesthood. We are blessed with the most seminarians we have had in 25 years. They are good men, striving to make over their hearts like the Good Shepherd’s own caring heart.”

While at one time the decision to become a priest would have been lauded by society at large, “that is not the case now,” Bishop Checchio said. “Our young men seek to join in this life of service to God and His people at a time when it would be easy to ignore the call and choose another path. Yet, they choose to listen to the quiet call of the Lord …  I thank God for them, as I thank God as well for you, who support these dedicated young men in their response to God's call in these challenging times.”

The bishop asked for prayer “as the Church faces so many challenges in our world today. We know that the Holy Spirit protects the Church by ensuring the truth of the presence of Christ who is its keystone, its heart and its foundation. The Holy Spirit wraps the Church in this protection in spite of our sinfulness.”

“Despite the failings of the past, however, we remain steadfast in hope. This hope anchors our faith in the credibility of this sinful yet holy Assembly of Believers, a living paradox of unity in diversity, as we endeavor to build the Kingdom of God established through the incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is 'the same yesterday, today and forever.'”

Bishop Checchio concluded, saying, “In the midst of the trials we currently face, I do not want to miss pointing out that Christ is still at work in His Church!”

“This summer, in addition to my weekend visits to parishes for Mass, I have been taking advantage of the lighter weekday schedule to visit some vacation bible schools, religious communities of sisters, nursing homes, prisons and some parishes for daily Mass. It is an honor to be with you, and it is evident that people everywhere are still yearning to see Christ in us – a willingness to place their hope in the many ministries and initiatives through which the Lord Himself uses our humble humanity to touch us with His grace.”

“We must never forget that, in every age, the antidote to the ills that beset the Church is for men and women everywhere to rise up in sanctity. Let us not lose our vision: to 'keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith.' To Him be glory and praise forever.”

New study shows ‘alt-right’ views linked to infrequent church attendance and divorce

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Newly released data shows that those Americans who only occasionally go to Church services are more likely to hold so-called “alt-right” views, compared to those who regularly attend or never go at all.

The Demography of the Alt-Right, a demographic analysis released Aug. 9, breaks down the cultural, social, and economic factors which seem to overlap with a tendency toward white nationalism and “alt-right political views.”

The analysis identified three key attitudes which it says are held by people affiliated with racist and alt-right groups. It then examined what circumstances and characteristics people holding these views tend to have in common. The traits with the highest incidence among those with racist views were found to be infrequent Church attendance, divorce, low income, unemployment, and identification as a political independent - all of which were present in about 18 percent of “alt-right” respondents.

The identifying “alt-right” attitudes used by Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, were a strong sense of “white identity,” a belief in the importance of “white solidarity,” and a sense of “white victimization.”

Hawley gathered data from the 2016 American National Election Survey. Among survey respondents, 28 percent expressed strong feelings of white identity; about 38 percent expressed strong feelings of white solidarity; and about 27 percent felt that whites suffer a meaningful amount of discrimination in American life. A much smaller minority, about 12 percent of respondents, expressed all three opinions.

Of the 12 percent who had all three attitude markers of the “alt-right,” 18.03 percent attended religious services “once or twice a month.” 10.86 percent of those with those attitude markers said they “never attended” services, and 12.28 percent said they attend weekly. 

Hawley noted that the leadership of far-right radical groups “appears to be less religious and socially conservative than earlier far right movements - though parts of the white nationalist movement have always expressed antipathy toward Christianity and other organized religions.”

He also said that while traditional religious beliefs and activities are often associated with “reactionary views” on social issues, “most major religious groups in the United States promote an explicitly egalitarian worldview that stresses the equal dignity of all persons, and all are officially anti-racist.”

There was, he concluded, “not always a clear pattern when it came to frequency of worship and racial attitudes.”

The 12 percent of respondents with alt-right views were also more likely to be divorced than either to be married or have never married at all – 18.24 percent, compared to 10.37 percent who are married and 11.24 who have never been married.

While considering theories that the breakdown of traditional family structures and values had contributed to the rise of far-right identity politics, Hawley said that there was no “compelling evidence that the breakdown of traditional family norms is leading to a new interest in right-wing radicalism.”

“However,” Hawley noted, “the results for divorce are more interesting. On every one of these questions mentioned earlier, for example, divorced respondents were consistently one of the highest scoring groups. This may seem curious, as there is not an obvious connection between being divorced and feelings about race. It is possible that the experience of divorce makes one feel more alienated and negative in general.”

The analysis was presented by the Institute of Family Studies. Its release comes only days before a Unite the Right rally will be held in Washington, D.C., on August 11-12.

The rally will mark the first anniversary of the of the 2017 Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., during which white supremacists marched through the streets, displayed Nazi flags, and shouted racist slogans. Clashes with counter protestors resulted in more than 30 people being injured, and a woman was killed when one man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

In response to last year’s events, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in 2017 that “Charlottesville matters,” calling it a “snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed.” He lamented the rise of far-right and racist attitudes and the “collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.”

The National Park Service has confirmed that a permit has been issued to Unite the Right organizer John Kessler to demonstrate outside of the White House on Sunday night. That rally is expected to draw an estimated 400 people. Meanwhile, several permits have also been issued to counter-protesters at different locations around Washington. Some estimates suggest that several thousand people could arrive to protest what is expected to be an overtly racist and provocative display.

In November 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., issued the the first pastoral letter on race by a senior American bishop in almost thirty years. Entitled “The Challenge of Racism Today,” the letter denounced racism “in whatever form” as “ultimately a denial of human dignity.” 

CNA obtained a statement Wuerl plans to issue in advance of Sunday’s rally, in which the cardinal will remind Washington-area Catholics that “in the face of groups whose message we deplore and even as they exercise their First Amendment right, we must stand firm in our convictions.  We cannot let these messages that we reject somehow change us. Rather, we must continue to stand up for a good and just society, speaking the truth in love.”

The 'nones' – why some Americans are forgoing religious labels

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 14:01

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the growing share of religious “nones” in the U.S., a majority say that questioning religious teachings is one important factor in their lack of religious affiliation.

A Pew Research analysis released Aug. 8 explored the reasons that people give for being “nones.”

As of 2014, roughly 23 percent of U.S. adults said their religion is “nothing in particular,” according to Pew, an increase from 16 percent in 2007.

Pew’s new analysis – based on a survey conducted in late 2017 – asks more than 1,300 religiously unaffiliated adults about why they do not identify with a religion. The vast majority of religious “nones” were raised in a religion, but have since fallen away.

Sixty percent of respondents said questioning “a lot of religious teachings” was an influential factor in their lack of religious affiliation. Nearly half said they dislike positions that religious groups take on social and political issues.

Forty-one percent said they do not like religious organizations, and 34 percent said they do not like religious leaders. Just over one-third said they do not believe in God, and a similar percentage said religion is irrelevant in their lives.

The data indicated some differences among subgroups of unaffiliated individuals. Among atheists, nearly 90 percent said that not believing in God was a significant factor in their lack of religious affiliation. In contrast, just 37 percent of agnostics gave the same answer, and 21 percent of those who are “nothing in particular.”

Sixty-three percent of atheists said religion is irrelevant to them, compared to 40 percent of agnostics and 26 percent of those who are “nothing in particular.”

Other answers saw more consistent responses. About half of all subgroups said they dislike the positions churches take on social or political issues. Between 31 and 42 percent of each subgroup said they dislike religious leaders.

Asked about the single most important reason they are not affiliated with a religion, atheists pointed to their lack of belief in God, while agnostics cited their questioning of many religious teachings. Among those who are “nothing in particular,” no single reason predominated.


Food and Drug Administration signs controversial contract with fetal tissue provider

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 09:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Legislators, pro-life groups, and ethicists have condemned a new government contract to obtain human tissue from aborted children for use in medical research and in the creation of “humanized mice.”

The Food and Drug Administration signed a $15,900 contract to acquire human fetal tissue for use on mice on July 25. The contract was signed with Advanced Bioscience Resources Inc., a California based not-for-profit. It is the eighth contract between the FDA and ABR since 2012, seven of the contracts appear to relate to the same or similar programs.

The fetal tissue used in such research is obtained from elective abortions, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The fetal tissue the FDA intends to purchase would be injected into mice with compromised immune systems in order to create a “chimeric animal” with an immune system like that of a human being.

ABR was mentioned in a series of videos secretly filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, released in 2015, accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue obtained through abortions. At that time, Politico reported that, in one video, a former medical director for Planned Parenthood said that the abortion provider had been “using ABR for over 10 years – a really long time.”

Pro-life groups have condemned the contract. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a statement calling the deal “unconscionable” and said that contracts with organizations like ABR makes the FDA “directly complicit in these abortions.” CMP suggested that the contracts imply that unborn children are “worth more to the U.S. Government dead than alive.”

There are numerous ethical concerns, not only with the purchase of aborted fetuses but with a lack of respect for their dignity, a Catholic ethicist told CNA.

“The FDA contract with Advance Bioscience Resources appears to be problematic on a number of different levels,” Dr. Jozef Zalot, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center said Aug. 8.

“The use of fetal tissue and cells for medical research is ethically very complicated in any situation,” he explained, saying that any research conducted with these tissues is “simply wrong.”

Scientists attempting to make new discoveries through the use of aborted fetal parts are “treating the aborted persons not as ends in themselves, but as a mean to some other end,” said Zalot.

“This violates their dignity and it demonstrates a very dangerous utilitarian perspective on human life.”

Zalot also told CNA that he is concerned that the government, along with American taxpayers, could be complicit in abortion if taxpayer money used to “sustain and grow a market for the remains of aborted children.”

“This creates a serious concern for Catholics, who are effectively funding not just the research but the underlying immoral practices that provide the biological materials necessary for the research.”

The FDA released a statement defending the contract and the research, saying that the agency is “committed to ensuring that its research is conducted responsibly, conforms with all legal requirements, and meets the highest ethical standards,” and noting that this type of research is a “very small fraction” of the agency’s work.

The FDA further defended the use of aborted remains in research, saying the practice “has led to a better understanding of a number of conditions and diseases that affect millions of Americans.”

At least one member of Congress was upset with the new contract. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Co.) tweeted on Tuesday that the FDA was using federal money to create demand for aborted fetal remains, and that “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund this grotesque practice.”

Speaking to CNA, Congressman Lamborn said it was “unconscionable” for a government agency to contract with an organization collecting and selling tissue from aborted children.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the FDA to use federal dollars to procure ‘fresh’ fetal tissue for research. Advanced Bioscience Resources’ unethical practices of fetal tissue harvesting have been well documented in both House and Senate investigations.”

The congressman said that as a state legislator he had authored a law prohibiting the sale of fetal body parts, and had written a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

“I have voted to end taxpayer funding of this grotesque practice, and will continue fighting for the dignity of the unborn. Unborn children are worth more than the sum of their parts.”

'Building the Benedict Option': How skillet cookies can lead to community

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 05:20

New York City, N.Y., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:20 am (CNA).- When Christian author Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option last year, it generated a flurry of debate and comments throughout the Catholic and Christian blogosphere on theories of what authentic Christian community is, and what it is not.

But Leah Libresco would rather get down to brass tacks.

Well, actually, she wants to get down to skillet cookies.

She debuted her new book, Building the Benedict Option - a practical guide for building Christian community based on the ideas formed by Dreher - by taping her phone to the wall of her apartment kitchen and whipping up dessert on her stovetop while answering questions via Facebook live.

Among the first of those questions was - why a skillet cookie?

It was something easy Libresco served during one such community-building event that she hosted herself, when she invited several job-hunting friends over for a resume and cover letter writing event, which opened and closed with prayer and included, yes, the eating of a skillet cookie.

“It’s a cookie the size of a skillet, so I don’t know how much justification it really needs,” Libresco told her audience, “but the actual reason for a skillet cookie is what I want people to do when they’re reading my book is I want them to put down the book. I don’t want you to finish it the first time you read it, I want you to put down the book and invite people over to your house.”

The skillet cookie requires minimal prep work and effort on the part of the host, making community-building seem more achievable and taking the pressure off of being Pinterest-perfect, Libresco said.

In his book, The Benedict Option, Dreher notes that the title was inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict” that would save moral society. This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Critics of the book and the idea have worried the Benedict Option encourages a sort of “head for the hills” mentality among Christians, who see the failings of the present world as irredeemable and therefore flee to the hills surrounding monasteries to prop up what Christian culture they can, leaving the rest of society to rot.  

But as Libresco understands it, what the Benedict Option really means is building what she calls “thick communities” of Christians and friends in any place and circumstance, who can love and pray for each other and can “abbot” each other, in the way that monks are held accountable by their abbots simply because they live with them and are always running into them.

“That’s really my reason for the book,” Libresco told CNA. “There’s a lot of fruitful discussion happening about community but my focus is narrower - it’s not about what you can do when you successfully all manage to move to one neighborhood, or when you set up a school or something like that - it’s wherever you are for the next two weeks or two months, what can you do in that time frame to pray and be with others.”  

It’s about creating opportunities in your life to interact with your faith community more, so that you can love them and pray for them better, she said. It’s about inviting people over and feeding them and praying together even if you think your apartment is too small or your kitchen too messy or your schedule too busy.

“One way Ross Douthat described the Benedict Option is that it’s kind of like a ratchet effect of going one step beyond whatever you’re doing now, and I like that description,” Libresco said. While she would see her Christian friends for coffee after Mass, “we might talk about the sermon, but there we were, friends not praying with each other.”

“So for me some of that ratchet effect is just when I’m with a Christian friend, I ask if there’s anything if I can pray for them for, or ask if they could pray for me, or ask if they’d like to pray together. It’s just like one small notch more in being generous and vulnerable with each other than you’re doing by default,” she said.

In her book, Libresco addresses in practical ways just about every fear or hesitation one could have in event-hosting. House too small? Don’t know what to cook to feed the masses? Don’t want to cook to feed the masses? Don’t know what kinds of things to do or pray together? Libresco has you covered.

“The book is meant to be very detailed,” Libresco said. “For people who think, ‘I just don’t know if it’s possible for me,’ I hope they’ll look at the chapters that are kind of explicitly labeled as a cheat sheet. I think there’s something there that you can adapt no matter what your circumstances are.”

Libresco said she has planned and hosted a variety of Benedict-Option-style events, with some of them being less explicitly Christian, such as a resume and cover letter writing night, and others very explicitly Christian, such as a rosary procession with Marian icons around Central Park to celebrate the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

Asked how the people of Central Park reacted to the unusual procession, Libresco laughed: “I live in New York City, I am never ever the weirdest thing that anyone sees.”

When planning Benedict Option events, Libresco said she just makes sure she is up front with her friends about what will be occurring at the event, such as prayer or a Marian procession, so that no one is surprised and those who are uncomfortable can opt out of any activities in which they would not like to participate.

“I think it makes sense to not limit [these events] to only one category, that you make some broader for all of your friends and you can have some that are more specific,” Libresco said. “We have board game nights, and not all my friends want to come play board games, and that’s fine, and I don’t think that means that I exclude or dislike those friends.”

One of the biggest things Libresco has learned in event-planning is to make events specific. It makes them special, and less skippable, if you’re having dinner for the feast of St. Dominic, rather than having dinner on a Wednesday night, she said.

“It makes it rare so that people aren’t just like, ‘Well I could do dinner, I could not, it’s ultimately replaceable.’ No it's not, it's a feast, it's once a year. If you’re free, come, if not, you’re waiting until next year,” she said.

The biggest mistake one could make reading Libresco’s book is to think of it as a dogmatic, ultimate answer to the problem of community, she said.

“The goal was not to hand you a best event or best practices completely in a box and you just implement it at people,” she said. “The question is how do you leave room for your friends to meet their needs, to leave room for the Holy Spirit, and I think that’s the main thing, there are many ways to love our friends,” she noted.

“The more programmatic it feels... the more any of it feels like it is dogmatism about exactly how to throw a dinner party, the more you’ve gone round the twist a little bit.”

Her hope, Libresco said, is that she provides some concrete and practical tips and encouragement for her readers, who then put down their books and invite people over.

“Set yourself a three-week deadline, and do something with someone, take some small chance that you wouldn’t have otherwise taken during that period of time,” she said.

“And that could be a larger thing like inviting people over to watch ‘Of Gods and Men’, about martyred vowed religious, or maybe it’s that you who feel nervous about being Christian in public and so you pray the rosary [in public]. Do one more thing, take that ratchet step, be generous with your faith and leave room for the Holy Spirit to prompt  you to give what other people need in those three weeks after you start reading the book.”


Former Pennsylvania chief justice backs delay of grand jury report

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 18:30

Harrisburg, Pa., Aug 8, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The former chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has warned that the release of a grand jury report into allegations of sexual abuse and coverups by the Catholic Church in that state could violate the constitutional rights of those named in the report.

In an Aug 6 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ronald D. Castile wrote that the state’s Supreme Court initially halted the report’s release because of “important constitutional issues,” including “questions regarding due process, fairness, and deprivation of personal reputational rights.”

“After reviewing the Supreme Court opinion, I agree that important constitutional rights are at risk of being denied because of issues pertaining to procedural aspects inherent in the Grand Jury Act and the impact on individual reputational rights.”

Article 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution enshrines a person’s right to possess and protect their good reputation, placing it on the same footing as life and liberty.

Several individuals named in the report, including some priests, objected to being included in the document. They argued that the grand jury report links their names to terrible crimes or cover-up efforts, but that they had not been afforded the chance to respond to allegations made against them, or given the benefit of due process of law.

Castile agreed, criticizing “the inability of many of the named clerical members of the Catholic Church to defend themselves against allegations contained in the report.”

A source close to the grand jury investigation told CNA that while named individuals had been allowed to send in written statements during the investigation, they were not given the chance to appear in person, answer questions directly, or question other witnesses.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered on July 27 that a redacted version of the report be published no later than August 14.

Castile, who spent 20 years as a prosecutor in the state of Pennsylvania and served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 2008-2014, said that the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the release and order the redaction of some names had his support.

“I agree with the court's action, and I agree with its decision to assign all the parties concerned immediate hearings on the constitutional issues identified in the process and the substance of the report.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been critical of the objections and pressed for the full report to be released as soon as possible. He even wrote to Pope Francis, asking him to tell intervene and order those appealing against the report’s release to “abandon their destructive efforts to silence the survivors.”

Castile said that the attorney general should have an equal concern for protecting the rights of all Pennsylvania citizens, and that the release of “quasi-official accusations of misconduct against many named but uncharged individuals” who have not had the chance to defend themselves was not appropriate.

The former chief justice stressed that an important function of a grand jury report is to recommend ways to address issues brought up in the course of the investigation, but that the Supreme Court’s decision allowed for any such recommendations to be published in a way that did not infringe constitutional rights.

The 800-page report is expected to name 300 priests accused of sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a period of decades. The dioceses are Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown, Harrisburg, Scranton, and Greensburg.

The Diocese of Harrisburg and Diocese of Erie have already released the names of all clerics credibly accused of abuse, and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has committed to doing the same.

While Castile said it is important that victims of abuse receive justice, and that the recommendations of the grand jury investigation should be made public, he said that justice also requires protecting the rights of individuals and the presumption of innocence.

“What is called for is exactly what the Supreme Court has ordered,” Castile said, “a rational discussion of the issue by all sides in order to address the important constitutional questions that have arisen in the grand jury report.”

Dolan praises St. Dominic at KofC convention

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 17:54

Baltimore, Md., Aug 8, 2018 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York encouraged Catholics to imitate the patient and persistent prayer of St. Dominic, during a homily Aug. 8 at the 2018 Knights of Columbus convention in Baltimore.

“Jesus prefers patient, persistent, persevering, pestering prayer! St. Dominic claims this creates within us a readiness, a space, to receive God’s answer.  We would say such constant prayer exercises our ‘faith muscle,’ which tends to get flabby,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

The cardinal pointed to St. Dominic’s dedication to the rosary and contemplation of the Gospels as daily practices worthy of imitation, comparing St. Dominic’s perseverance with that of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel.

Dolan also commended the amount of prayer that takes place at the Knights of Columbus’ annual convention, which includes daily Masses, a Eucharistic adoration chapel, and invocations before every event.

Aug. 8 is celebrated in the Church as the memorial of St. Dominic, the 13th century founder of the Order of Preachers, known as the Dominicans, who spread devotion to the rosary.

“This towering saint gives us an abundance of attributes to celebrate: his preaching, so renowned that his spiritual sons are called ‘the order of preachers’; his intellect, the spring that gave us scholarly giants such as St. Albert and St. Thomas Aquinas; his zeal, as St. Dominic was non-stop in his teaching, preaching, travel, and work, all for Jesus and His Church,” said Dolan.

However, he reminded the Knights that prayer was “what generated the renowned preaching, scholarship, and evangelical energy of St. Dominic.”

After the Mass, the Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, Jean-Clement Jeanbart spoke briefly about a pilgrim icon of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians, which was then blessed by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

Lori’s blessing was the kickoff to the Knights’ Marian icon prayer program. The archbishop invoked St. Paul’s words, “though we are afflicted in every way, we are not crushed; though perplexed, not driven to despair; though persecuted, not forsaken; though struck down, not destroyed.”

New L.A. STEM school inspired by JPII

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 17:12

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 8, 2018 / 03:12 pm (CNA).- John Paul II taught often that science and religion follow complementary paths toward the same goal- truth.

A new high school in Los Angeles- the St. John Paul II STEM Academy- aims to help students find truth - by teaching faith, and, at the same time, teaching the methods and principles of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The Burbank school, which plans to begin with 60 freshman in August 2019, is an initiative of the Department of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The archdiocese says the school will offer daily prayer and regular Mass to students, while, at the same time, providing science and technology classes, along with internships and apprenticeships at local businesses.

STEM courses- those in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math- will be single-gender, according to the archdiocese, while the rest of the school’s course offerings will be co-educational. The school will focus on preparing students for careers especially in media arts and trade technologies, according to the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles says the creation of the new school is a sign of a growing Catholic population in the region, and increased interest in Catholic education.

“At the Department of Catholic Schools, we have a vision of growth that is based on the demographic reality of an increasing Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Dr. Kevin Baxter, senior director and superintendent of Catholic schools, said in Aug. 7 press release.

St. John Paul II STEM Academy, Baxter added, “it is a great indicator that our vision is one of building and opening and not closure and consolidation.”

The school will open on a campus formerly occupied by Bellarmine-Jefferson High School, a Catholic school that closed in May because of low enrollment and increased operating costs, according to an October 2017 statement from the school. At the time of that statement, the school’s enrollment was 98 students.

“STEM schools” have risen in popularity in recent decades, especially as funding has become available for STEM curricular models through grants from the National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and other organizations. The National Catholic Education Association has promoted the model for Catholic schools, along with the so-called STREAM model, which incorporates religion and arts into the traditional STEM curriculum.

Young Catholics release open letter on McCarrick, call for investigation

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Aug 8, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- A group of young Catholic writers, intellectuals, and activists released an open letter Aug. 8 calling for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The letter also calls Catholic leaders to recommit themselves to the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

The letter was published Wednesday on the website of First Things.

Matthew Schmitz, senior editor at First Things and a signatory of the letter, told CNA that it was written by a “diverse group of Catholics from a whole host of backgrounds.”

The letter’s signatories said their letter was written in part to respond to a Vatican request that young people offer reports on their faith and the role of the Church in their lives, in advance of an upcoming Church synod on young people and vocations. 

The letter noted the the signatories were all children in the decades before the public sexual abuse scandals of 2002, and that they are now faithful adult Catholics.

“We ask you to agree to a thorough, independent investigation into claims of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick, both of minors and of adults. We want to know who in the hierarchy knew about his crimes, when they knew it, and what they did in response. This is the least that would be expected of any secular organization; it should not be more than we can expect from the Church,” the letter said.

In June, the Archdiocese of New York deemed an allegation that McCarrick serially sexually abused a minor to be “credible and substantiated.”

Since that initial allegation became public, additional accusations have surfaced concerning McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with adult seminarians, including confirmation of two out-of-court settlements reached with adult-aged accusers by dioceses previously led by McCarrick. Pope Francis accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals July 28.

Schmitz told CNA that the letter was a call for transparency and accountability by the hierarchy.

“We'd like to see light come in. We want an investigation. We want a new attitude on the part of the bishops.”

Such an investigation would be carried out by people not directly connected to McCarrick, and would report to both the Vatican as well as the Catholic faithful, Schmitz said.

Schmitz said the letter addresses a problem that goes beyond the McCarrick allegations. The signatories called for renewed emphasis on the Church’s teachings on sexuality and chastity, as well as “acts of public penance and reparation” by bishops to begin to restore trust among the Catholic faithful.

“I think over the last 50 years in our culture, with the sexual revolution, there's been a sense that the Church needs to broadly accommodate itself to sexual sins,” said Schmitz.

“McCarrick, I think, shows one of the possible outcomes of that accommodation.”

Schmitz warned of a slippery slope if the Church were to change or ignore her teachings on sexuality, bringing up the example of St. Peter Damian, an eleventh-century Benedicte monk, who confronted sexual sins in his own community. The saint recognized that sexual sins compound on another, explained Schmitz, suggesting there exists such a possibility in the contemporary Church.

"I don't think that this crisis would have happened had the Catholic community not succumbed to various sins and made compromises with the flesh," he said.

The letter emphasized this point: “As Catholics, we believe that the Church’s teaching on human nature and sexuality is life-giving and leads to holiness. We believe that just as there is no room for adultery in marriages, so there is no room for adultery against the Bride of Christ. We need bishops to make clear that any act of sexual abuse or clerical unchastity degrades the priesthood and gravely harms the Church.”

Schmitz also cited the recent accusations of widespread sexual abuse and misconduct in Honduras’ national seminary, as well as claims from former seminarians in the United States.

He said that there is a prevailing attitude among bishops to mitigate or dismiss the severity of abuse against adult men, and that this also must change, and that the laity have a duty to make their objections to this behavior known. 

"I think the laity should make itself heard and let the bishops know that it is an act of abuse for a bishop to molest the seminarians,” said Schmitz.

“Even if any of these acts were perfectly consensual, they are contrary to the Church's teaching and so profoundly scandalize the faithful."

The letter expressed gratitude for “the way good priests and bishops lay down their lives for us day after day. They say the Mass, absolve us from sin, celebrate our weddings, and baptize our children. Through their preaching, teaching, and writing, they remind us that Jesus Christ has conquered evil once and for all. Their daily sacrifices give us blessings of infinite worth. For all of this, we are profoundly thankful.”

However, Schmitz said an investigation should consider those clerics who have been negligent in uncovering sexual sins among the clergy, along with those who know about misconduct and failed to act. An investigation is needed to ensure a focus on individual responsibility, said Schmitz, and it should not simply result collective statements of fault and regret, as that would dilute the failings of those most responsible.

It is not acceptable for a bishop to plead ignorance, he said, as they are part of the Church hierarchy and must be accountable.

"A shepherd is supposed to protect his sheep, and if the wolves come and attack them, he can't simply say, 'well, I was asleep.'"

Kicked off Iowa campus over leadership standards, Christian group sues

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:46

Iowa City, Aug 8, 2018 / 10:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Christian student group is suing the University of Iowa after being kicked off campus because it requires its leaders to be Christians.

“Universities should allow students the space to form their own groups that challenge and grow their sincere beliefs,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, which is representing InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in its lawsuit.

“Banning religious groups from having religious leaders just flattens diversity and impoverishes the campus,” he said in an Aug. 6 statement.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of almost 40 student groups deregistered by the University of Iowa due to its religious leadership standards.

Other groups expelled from campus include the Latter-day Saint Student Association, the Sikh Awareness Club, and the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA works to create Christian communities on college campuses. The organization encourages evangelization, Scriptural study and mission work. It hosts Bible studies, worship services, community discussions, and service projects. While it allows all students to participate as members, it requires leaders to embrace its mission of spreading the message of Christ on campus.

“We’re grateful to have been part of the University community for 25 years, and we think that the University has been a richer place for having Sikh, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, and Christian groups,” said Katrina Schrock, student president of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship.

“Because we love our school, we hope it reconsiders and lets religious groups continue to authentically reflect their religious roots.”

In filing a lawsuit on behalf of InterVarsity, Becket says it hopes to have the group reinstated on campus by the upcoming academic year.

The legal group also noted that although the University of Iowa found InterVarsity to be in violation of its non-discrimination policy, it exempted leadership restrictions set in place by sports clubs, fraternities, and political groups on campus.

“If public universities really want to foster an intellectually diverse environment, this isn’t how to do it,” Blomberg said.

Notre Dame will not rescind McCarrick's honorary degree- for now

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 21:00

South Bend, Ind., Aug 7, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame announced that it will not rescind the honorary degree conferred upon Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, whose resignation from the College of Cardinals was accepted July 28 by Pope Francis.

“While the University finds the alleged actions reprehensible and has no reason to question the review board’s findings, it recognizes that McCarrick maintains his innocence and that a final decision in the case will come only after a canonical trial in Rome,” said Rev. John Jenkins, CSC, president of the university, in an Aug. 2 statement.

The university said that the only honorary degree it had ever rescinded was that of comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby was given an honorary degree in 1990. It was rescinded in April 2018, on the same day Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, charges filed amid allegations that the comedian was accused of numerous acts of sexual assault, rape, and other misconduct over several decades.

 “As in the case of Bill Cosby, we will wait until that trial is concluded to take action regarding McCarrick’s honorary degree. We strongly urge those involved in this trial to reach a conclusion as expeditiously as possible,” the statement read.

McCarrick faces allegations that he has serially sexually abused two minors, and sexually assaulted numerous priests and seminarians. He is expected to face a canonical trial in at least one case of sexual abuse.

“While the allegations in this case are most grave, as they were in the case of Bill Cosby, we believe it respects not only the rights of those involved but also the adjudicatory process itself to allow that process to reach a conclusion before taking action.”

Catholic University of America and Fordham University of New York have both rescinded honorary degrees conferred upon McCarrick.


Knights of Columbus pledge support for persecuted Christians

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 18:00

Baltimore, Md., Aug 7, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson pledged the fraternal organization’s continued efforts to aid and rebuild persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East, during his Aug. 7 address at the 2018 Knights of Columbus convention in Baltimore, Maryland.

Anderson also unveiled a new pilgrim icon, “Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians,” created for the Knights by Italian artist Fabrizio Diomedi. The icon will travel from parish-to-parish across the country to raise awareness, show solidarity, and inspire support for persecuted Christians.

In his opening remarks at the convention, taking place August 7-9, Anderson said that he hopes that this “pilgrim icon program” will “focus the eyes of our Church on the sacrifice of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Anderson’s remarks highlighted the pivotal role that the Knights of Columbus have played in supporting Christians in the Middle East, where they have committed more than $20 million since 2014 to provide “food, shelter, and clothing to our neighbors who lost everything in Iraq and Syria because they refused to give up their love of Christ.”

“It is clear that without the support of the Knights of Columbus, Christianity might have died in Iraq,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, in a video shown during Anderson’s speech. The Chaldean archbishop’s community was driven from their historic home in the Nineveh Plains by repeated attacks from the Islamic State starting in 2014.

Vice President Mike Pence also thanked the Knights of Columbus for their support of minorities in the Middle East in a video message shown at the convention. Anderson said that the Knights are working with the vice president to ensure that these minority communnties are included in U.S. and U.N. assistance in Iraq.

“When the conflict between Kurdistan and the Government of Iraq threatened an ancient Christian town that had just been rebuilt, we alerted the State Department and the White House.  We worked with them to help de-escalate tensions and avoid a bloody conflict that could have ended the Christian presence in Iraq,” said Anderson.

The Supreme Knight also thanked Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, who was in attendance at the Baltimore convention, for his courageous leadership.

Anderson said that he is challenging the Knights of Columbus to raise $1 million this year to finish a project to provide housing for both Syriac and Chaldean Christian families. The 140-unit apartment building will be called the McGivney House, in honor of Father Michael McGivney, the Connecticut priest who founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.

Anderson commended the Knights for meeting last year’s challenge of raising $2 million for the rebuilding of the Iraqi town of Karamles, which he said had been “a Christian town for centuries before ISIS overran it, drove out its inhabitants, destroyed their homes, and desecrated their churches.”

One Knights of Columbus council in Nebraska, St. John the Baptist Council 10-305, raised $163,000 for the families of Karamles at a dinner and auction.The funds will be used to rebuild more than 80 homes of Christians in Iraq.

“If we value only self-interest, we will get discord and division. But if we value charity — if we value unity and fraternity — we will build a society where the common good is protected,” said Anderson.

He highlighted the many other charitable initiatives the Knights have funded throughout the world, including providing for 950 ultrasound machines, 7,649 new wheelchairs, 105,000 new coats for children, and a pilgrimage that brought over 200 wounded veterans and military personnel to Lourdes, France. Last year, the Knights also contributed $4.2 million dollars for disaster relief after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida.

The Knights of Columbus’ total charitable contributions last year exceeded  $185 million dollars with its members providing 75.6 million volunteer hours.

Internationally, Anderson also announced that the Knights of Columbus is expanding, with its newest territory in now in South Korea and a new State Council designation for Ukraine. He also noted that the Knights have experienced a considerable growth in membership both in France and the Philippines.

This year, membership totalled 1,967,585 - a new high, according to Anderson.

Addressing attendees in the Baltimore Convention Center, Anderson quoted a speech delivered by Saint Pope John Paul II at the Baltimore Orioles Park at Camden Yards next to the center:

“Catholics of America,” St. John Paul II proclaimed, “Always be guided by the truth — by the truth about God who created and redeemed us, and by the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God.”