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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 43 min ago

'Remember Me' - Should Catholics talk to their dead loved ones? 

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 06:57

Denver, Colo., Aug 18, 2019 / 04:57 am (CNA).- In the 2017 Disney-Pixar movie “Coco,” the main character, Miguel, accidentally passes over into the land of the dead on Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) while trying to reconcile his love of music with his family’s ban on it.

There, he learns that the dead can only visit their loved ones on that holiday if they can prove there is a photo of them on their family’s “ofrenda”, an altar with photos of loved ones, colorful decorations, and the favorite foods, drinks and mementos of the deceased.

“We've put their photos on the ofrenda so their spirits can cross over. That is very important! If we don't put them up, they can't come!” Miguel’s abuelita explains.

While in the land of the dead, Miguel bumps into his own deceased family members, and learns his true family history.

Though Miguel’s experience is fictional, it is not uncommon for grieving loved ones to experience what psychologists call “After Death Communication,” in which the bereaved believe that they see, hear the voices of, or even smell their dead loved ones.

These experiences, sometimes called “bereavement hallucinations,” can be healing and comforting for those who grieve, multiple studies have found.

But Catholics should proceed with caution when “communicating” with the dead, two Catholic psychologists told CNA, and they should ground their communications in prayer.

Dana Nygaard is a Catholic and a licensed professional counselor who speaks to grief groups and counsels clients through loss. Nygaard told CNA that because many Catholics misunderstand what happens to souls after death, she urges caution when talking about what it means to talk to dead loved ones.

“If they're speaking to a loved one, how are they doing that? Is it through saying, ‘Hey grandma, I think you're up there in heaven with God. I really hope you pray and look over me.’ Okay, well that sounds fine,” she said.

“Or...are they going to a psychic or a medium? Is this necromancy? How were they doing this?  I think that's an important question,” Nygaard said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “all forms of divination are to be rejected” which includes the “conjuring up the dead.”

However, the Church encourages Catholics to pray for the dead as one of the spiritual works of mercy.

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead,” the Catechism states.

“Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

“Prayer, prayer, prayer,” Nygaard said, noting that because Catholics do not know the state of the souls of their loved ones when they die, it is important to pray for them after their death, as prayers can help the souls in purgatory get to heaven faster.

The Liturgy of the Hours, a set of prayers said periodically throughout the day by priests, religious and some lay Catholics, includes a special Office of the Dead, a set of prayers said specifically for those who have died.

Nygaard told CNA that she often encourages Catholics who are grieving a loss to ask for the intercessory prayers of saints already canonized by the Church, which means that they are assured to be with God in heaven.

“Maybe it was that my great-grandmother was really close to St. Anne. I'm going to ask St. Anne, ‘Would you please look after my sweet great grandmother? I pray she's there with you in heaven.’ I've known people also to pray, ‘God, I'm asking you, do I need to keep praying for my father?’” she said.

Nygaard said that those she counsels through grief will sometimes, after a period of prayer, feel a deep sense of peace that their loved one is in heaven.

Dr. Chris Stravitsch is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist, as well as the president and founder of Rejoice Counseling Apostolate, a group of Catholic counselors. Stravitsch told CNA that in addition to prayer, he counsels his clients to prepare for their first year of grief, which can often be the most difficult.

“There are a lot of ‘firsts’ to pass through: the first Christmas without him or her; their first birthday without them present; the first wedding anniversary alone; etc. I counsel people to prepare for these occasions in advance because we know it will be painful and difficult,” he said.

He said he tells his clients to plan in advance how and with whom they will spend these difficult days, and how they will remember their loved ones at those times.

“It’s helpful to surround yourself with other loved ones who understand your loss, while also setting aside a little time to be alone in prayer and reminiscing,” he said.

“These are meaningful days to attend Mass, so that you can cling to Christ and receive His consolation. Visiting the gravesite or a place where you have a special memory can also be meaningful, whether that is done alone or with the support of others,” he said.

“Furthermore, be sure to tell stories and talk about your deceased loved ones,” he added. “We need to continue coming together at various times to remember them in a spirit of love and prayer. This is a balm for the brokenhearted.”

Stravitsch said it is important for Catholics to remember that death and grief are painful things to experience, and that Jesus himself wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.

“(Jesus) wants to be with us and share our grief,” he said. This means Catholics should be sensitive towards those who are grieving, and avoid well-intentioned but unhelpful comments such as: “It was God’s will”; “It was their time to go”; “They’re in a better place now”; or “There’s a reason for everything”; Stravitsch said.

“Simply saying, ‘I’m sorry’, giving a warm embrace, sharing a tear, and remaining at their side as long as needed can be far more consoling,” he said.

Checking back in after the funeral has passed, and continuing to talk about the deceased with those who are grieving are other ways Catholics can show compassion, he said.

Both Nygaard and Stravitsch said that they have found that clients are usually deeply comforted by the Church’s teaching on the communion of saints and the promise of everlasting life for all souls who are united with God.

“In the Catholic Church, like we have the mystical body of Christ. And we know that the souls in heaven are surrounding the altar during communion,” she said.

“What I have found is that normally brings a great sense of peace,” to the bereaved, she said. “It's not just me sitting there when I go up for communion...we're mystically connected and that we can ask for the intercession of the saints,” which means any soul that is in heaven with God.

In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul recalls those already in heaven, and says that the faithful are surrounded “by so great a cloud of witnesses.”

“When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.’ All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together,’” the Catechism states.

These teachings are a “great consolation for the bereaved,” Stravitsch said. 

“Not only is there the hope of being reunited with our loved ones after death, but there is the reality of remaining mysteriously connected with them even today. Whether we are interceding for them as we pray for the repose of their soul or we are asking for their prayers, there is a sense that we are within reach of one another,” he added.

“The bonds of true love are not destroyed in death but are made ever stronger. The Church recognizes this in a unique way when we celebrate All Souls Day and we call to mind our deceased loved ones. We are united in Christ.”

 

Catholic aid agency to US government: Don't cut foreign aid funding

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 18:07

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services is speaking out against a potential reassignment of U.S. funds that Congress appropriated for foreign assistance programs, which aid agencies say could mean a loss of between $2 billion and $4 billion they would otherwise use for humanitarian efforts.

The Office of Management and Budget requested the temporary hold on the funding last week, asking for an “accounting” of all funding that has not yet been officially designated for specific purposes.

The letter identified 10 areas of aid to which the funding hold would apply, including development assistance, global health, contributions to international organizations, international narcotics control and peacekeeping activities, the New York Times reported.

Though the funding freeze was lifted Aug. 9, aid groups still worry that the administration may send Congress a budget that pulls billions of dollars in foreign assistance, Politico reports.

“Local churches and Catholic Relief Services partner with the U.S. government to reduce poverty, alleviate suffering, and foster peace around the world,” CRS said.

“Rescinding some of these and other international poverty-reducing funds will limit the United States’ ability to support poor and vulnerable communities, respond to global health challenges, address root causes of forced migration, and advance international religious freedom, global security, and peacekeeping.”

A cut of $4 billion from the aid budget represents 0.08% of the expected federal budget of $4.5 trillion. Still, CRS says, the funding makes a significant difference to their operations abroad.

“We urge the Administration not to rescind foreign assistance funds. We urge Congress to reject any rescissions that target poverty-reducing and peacebuilding accounts and require the Administration to obligate previously appropriated funds. The conflicts and crises today are dire. U.S. moral and financial leadership is necessary,” CRS concluded.

'Overwhelmed with graces': Walking across America for life

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 10:00

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A three-month journey from California to Washington, DC, came to an end August 13, as 23 walkers of this summer’s Crossroads Pro-Life Walks made it to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Crossroads Pro-Life Walks began in 1995, and have expanded from the United States to Spain, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. This summer, there were two walks crossing the United States--the “Southern” walk, which started in Santa Monica, and the “Central” walk, which began in San Francisco. Both walks ended in DC.

Victoria Bliss, a 19-year-old from Virginia, was one of the participants on this year’s Central walk. Bliss said the experience, while full of challenges, was one that strengthened her faith and inspired her to continue doing pro-life work.

“I’ve always been passionately pro-life, and attended the Marches and 40 Days for Life, but I really wanted to do something bigger and commit my whole summer to the pro-life mission, truly going out into the streets and spreading the gospel of life.” 

She told CNA that participating in Crossroads this summer was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. As a child, past Crossroads walkers spoke regularly at her church following their arrival in DC. 

According to Crossroads Pro-Life Walks VP Martha Nolan, about 1,500 walkers worldwide have completed their journeys, averaging 40 to 60 miles per day, while visiting churches, pregnancy centers, and convents along the way.

Nolan told CNA that they drive “a little bit” when they fall behind. Previously, walkers would carry on by day and night, but after a tragic accidental death in 2012, the day’s walk now stops at sunset. 

Bliss told CNA that, in addition to the spiritual battles one sometimes faces on a pilgrimage, her group experienced logistical and physical struggles as well. One walker fell very ill and had to leave after three weeks, and their RV broke down numerous times.

Despite this, Bliss said “the Holy Spirit brought good out of every situation, and there was never a time when our team even thought about giving up. We were overwhelmed with graces, every second of every day.”

“There were a few threatening times when we got screamed at or chased,” she told CNA. “A couple of times cars swerved into the shoulder and we had to leap out of the way, but our guardian angels were clearly with us.”

There were also many joys that came along the 12-week journey. For Bliss, the biggest was encountering people each day along the route, many of whom broke down in tears when they saw their pro-life teeshirts. 

“We saw Jesus in so many people,” she said. “I came to realize how beautiful people are, no matter how broken, and how much they need us to radiate God’s joy and peace to them.” 

The route was dotted with what Bliss described as “Divine Providence instances,” such as abortion clinics being unexpectedly closed following the group’s prayer vigil. 

“One time, we had been praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and as we did the final Sign of the Cross, the lights in the clinic turned off,” she recounted.

Each day on Crossroads, the walkers attended Mass, offered “constant rosaries” when they as they went, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. 

Bliss said that the experience helped her to fall in love with Christ “more than ever before,” and that she witnessed the power of the rosary. 

Now that her walk has ended, Bliss said that she hopes to continue mission work, including becoming a trained sidewalk counselor outside of abortion clinics. But most of all, she hopes to continue the momentum she started this summer.

“Standing up for the unborn is the thing I have always been the most passionate about and I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the evil of abortion, and change hearts by portraying the truth with love.”

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 16:31

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 12:15

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

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

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

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

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

After Epstein death, theologians discuss suicide, salvation, and the obligations of the state

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 19:03

Denver, Colo., Aug 15, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- On August 10, investment banker and multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, in what officials have called an apparent suicide.

Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges, including one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. He had pled not guilty to both.

Following his death, theories about how Epstein died abound.

The well-connected Epstein, who counted princes and presidents and other elites among his associates, may exposed the crimes of powerful friends at trial, and the risk of that exposure, some speculate, could have prompted an assasination.

Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch just 12 days prior to his death. According to a report in the New York Times, two guards who were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes fell asleep for three hours and fudged the records of their rounds in an attempt to cover their mistake. They have since been removed from their posts at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where Epstein was being held.

An autopsy of Epstein has so far raised more questions than answers.

Whether or not Epstein committed suicide remains to be confirmed. But federal data shows that suicide rates in the U.S. are at the highest they’ve been since World War II, and even higher than they were during the Great Depression, according to a report from TIME magazine.

The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is a violation of the 5th commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” and a mortal sin.

CNA spoke with three moral theologians about suicide, on the hope for salvation that the Church holds for those who take their lives, and the obligations of the state to protect prisoners from themselves.

Grave matter and mortal sin

David Cloutier is a moral theologian and associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Cloutier told CNA that when considering suicide, it is important to remember that it is taught taught by the Church to be a grave sin.

“(That) means all things considered, this is a serious matter, and to make a choice against life is to choose against God, who gives everyone the gift of life, and to also choose against your obligations to others,” Cloutier told CNA.

In a section on suicide, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is the master of life, and that human beings “are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life.”

The Catechism adds that suicide “unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

While suicide is grave matter, the Catechism also notes that in order for a person to commit a mortal sin, three conditions must be a met: that the sin is grave matter, and that the person commits the sin with “full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

There could be mitigating factors, such as mental illness or some other kind of great distress, that might relieve a person of at least some culpability in committing suicide, Cloutier said.


The hope for salvation

Even given the gravity of suicide, Christians should always hope in the love and mercy of God in cases of suicide, Scott Hefelfinger, a moral theologian and assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, told CNA.

“If we lose all hope with respect to this person's salvation, we could in fact be sort of repeating the same emotional disposition of despair that afflicted the person who did commit suicide. So we're counseled to hope rather than despair,” he said.

“We put our trust in God's mercy.”

Furthermore, Cloutier said, the Catechism itself is “pretty straightforward” in saying that those who commit suicide are not necessarily denied eternal salvatinon, because the state of their mind and soul at the time of committing the act is a factor.

If the person was in “some kind of emotional stress, or depression, or other various ways in which a person’s emotions get in the way of fully knowing what they’re doing,” their responsibility is at least somewhat mitigated, he said.

Fr. Edward Krasevac, OP, is a professor of theology, and the theology department chair at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California.

Krasevac said that because the will to live is such a basic human instinct, it seems possible that many cases of suicide are committed by people who are influenced by serious clinical depression or other mental illnesses or psychological factors that would impair their judgment and mitigate to at least some degree the consent of their will.

“People who are clinically depressed don’t think straight, they can’t think straight,” Krasevac said.

He added there could be other mitigating factors in a person’s life, such as fear of the pain of death, or the fear of what is going to happen to them if they stay alive, such as a person “facing the rest of their life in not a good prison situation, losing everything they ever had, not being able to deal with life in prison...these are what we call modifiers of responsibility.”

“So in many cases of suicide, a person's responsibility is seriously diminished,” he said. “[In such a case] it's not subjectively mortal sin even though it may look like it from the outside and it is objectively a mortal sin.”

Another reason to hope is that a person could have repented of their actions in the moments before their death, Hefelfinger noted.

“In the case of someone who, let's say is culpable of the act of suicide, and they begin this process. Well, usually there's some suffering involved, and usually death doesn't come about instantaneously,” he said.

“And so, God's mercy doesn't need a very wide crack to get through. I think there are always these opportunities prior to death, in the split second before death, where we certainly do not want to rule out the possibility of God's mercy,” he said. 

“And again, we say this without in any way diminishing the gravity of the act. It's the gravity of the act that makes us lean on God's mercy so much, so we turn our attention to that and pray for that so greatly.”

The state and the suicidal person

The Catholic Church teaches that states have a duty to uphold the common good of society, and although the Catechism does not specifically express what a state should do in the case of a suicidal person, Cloutier said the state has several interests in preventing the suicide of people in prison.

“The reason the state wants to avoid suicide is because it wants to allow the prisoner a fair, public trial, which is in the public interest,” he said.

“It’s in the interest of the prisoner, because then he might be found innocent, and it’s in the interest of the public, because if the prisoner is found guilty through this, then the prisoner is subjected to appropriate punishment,” he added.

“So the state...has an interest in the person going through the justice system.”

In upholding the common good, the state also has an interest in keeping prisoners alive, Cloutier said. “This is why we have suicide watch. It is also the case that in our society, we generally believe that anyone who is suicidal should be prevented from taking their own life,” he said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in prison. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 372 suicides occurred in 3,000 federal prisons in 2014. This number is 2.5 times higher than suicide rates in state prisons and 3.5 times higher than in general society.

In the case of someone like Epstein, who was at one point known to be suicidal, the state assumes the responsibility for that person’s mental health while they are in prison, and therefore cut off from other communities of support, Hefelfinger added.

“(Prisoners) typically don't have access to those more closely knit communities,” he said. “And so there is a moral responsibility, it would seem, for the state and for those running these facilities to attend to the mental health of those folks who are in these institutions.”

The investigation of Epstein’s death is ongoing.

If you are feeling suicidal, contact the National suicide preention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor in the United States.

Labor Department rule aims to widen religious freedom protection for employers

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it is considering a new rule that would allow federal contractors who identify as religious to hire employees based on faith and religious practice.

The new policy would expand a Johnson-era executive order protecting the rights of religious employers with federal government contracts to hire from within their religious group. 

The new proposal was announced Aug. 14. The Department of Labor said the new policy “clarifies the scope and applications of the religious exemption contained in section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246.”  

Executive Order 11246 forbids federal contractors from engaging in discriminatory hiring on the basis “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” An exemption for religious-based employers allowed them legally to hire only people of a certain faith if they so choose, but the executive order did not fully define as to what “religious-based” meant. 

The proposed new rule takes steps to better define the term, saying that the “religious exemption covers not just churches but employers that are organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.” 

The new definition also includes companies that claim to be religious “in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.” 

Additionally, the new rule states that “employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” meaning that a federal contractor can make hiring decisions based upon how devoutly an employee practices a certain religious faith. 

All companies are still barred from discriminating on other grounds. 

The Department of Labor cited recent Supreme Court cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Hobby Lobby v. Burwell as having underscored constitutional religious freedom protections.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said in a released statement that “As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve [a] clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law.” 

About a quarter of workers in the United States are employed by a company that is contracted with the federal government. 

LGBT-rights activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign, who called the change a “license to discriminate,” came out strongly against the policy shift.

Louise Melling, acting deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union told a press call that the rule was “just the most recent in an ever-lengthening list of actions by this administration to authorize discrimination in name of religion.”

The White House responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday, saying “In no way does today’s announcement by the Department of Labor undermine the President’s promise and commitment to the LGBTQ community.” 

“The proposed rule will continue to responsibly protect religious freedom and members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination,” the statement said.

While some activist groups have criticized the new rule as a license for widespread discrimination, Luke Goodrich, senior counsel and vice president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he believes the policy is a far from controversial. 

"When a religious group hires people of the same religion to carry out their mission, it's not 'discrimination,' it's common sense,” Goodrich told CNA. 

“And when the government refuses to work with religious groups that do the best job of caring for the needy, it's not 'equality,' it's nonsense,” he added. 

The new rule is open for comment in the Federal Register until September 16.

After Philadelphia police shootings, Chaput calls for 'sensible solutions' to violence

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 17:25

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 15, 2019 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- After a standoff between police and a gunman in Philadelphia yesterday, in which six officers were shot, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has praised the work of the responding officers and called for solutions to root causes of violence.

“The terror that filled yesterday serves as a stark reminder not only of the fragility of life but also of the clear and present danger that illegal drugs and illegally obtained firearms pose to our community,” Chaput said in a statement.

“In addition to our prayers, let’s work together toward sensible solutions that address the root causes of continued violence and seek to lift up those struggling with addictions.”

According to NBC News, police were attempting to serve an arrest warrant at a house in northern Philadelphia on Wednesday when the suspect, who had prior arrests for undisclosed infractions, opened fire.

Hours later, shortly after midnight on Thursday, the suspect surrendered and was taken into custody. All the officers that had been shot were released from the hospital late Wednesday night, including an officer and father who suffered a graze wound to the head, NBC reported.

“We should all be grateful for the daily self-sacrifice of our law enforcement community as well as the perseverance and professionalism of those who worked to bring yesterday’s standoff to an end without loss of life or further violence,” Chaput noted.

The standoff came less than two weeks after mass shootings left 31 people dead in an El Paso Walmart and Dayton, Ohio bar the weekend of August 3-4.

“In reflecting on violent acts in our country a short time ago, I remarked that we’d soon be on to the next crisis—and it unfolded right here in our city,” Chaput said, who added that he watched the news of the standoff unfold with “growing anxiety and sadness” on Wednesday afternoon. 

“In the aftermath, let’s pray that God will aid the swift recovery of the injured officers, that He will guide the hand of the medical professionals treating them, and that He will pour His comforting grace upon all those suffering burdens of fear and grief,” Chaput noted.

“Let us resolve each day to treat our brothers and sisters with dignity, charity, and respect. May we all embrace that which is good so that the light of Christ will prevail in a world where evil often rears its head.

Hundreds of lawsuits filed on first day of NY litigation window

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 14:30

Albany, N.Y., Aug 15, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Over 400 lawsuits were filed in New York state on the first day of a one-year window in the statute of limitations, allowing abuse survivors to file suit against their abuser or the institution where the abuse occurred. 

The lawsuits include an allegation against a sitting bishop and a RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo and the Northeast Province of the Jesuits. Other suits were filed against laicized former archbishop Theodore McCarrick, and against retired Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany. Hubbard has denied the allegations.

The one-year window was created through the Child Victims Act, which altered New York’s statute of limitations for filing criminal claims and civil claims for survivors of child sexual abuse. Previously, a survivor had until they reached the age of 23 to file either claim. This has now been changed to 28 for criminal charges, and 55 for civil cases. 

The one-year window began six months after the passage of the law. The Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, and the state’s public schools all stated they were prepared for a potentially large number of abuse survivors to file lawsuits.  

It is unclear how many of the 427 suits concerned the Catholic Church or a member of the clergy, and some lawsuits contained multiple plaintiffs making a claim against the same person. 

Over 45 patients filed a lawsuit accusing an endocrinologist at Rockefeller University Hospital of sexual abuse. An additional suit was filed by a woman who says she was raped by recently-deceased convicted sex offender/financier Jeffrey Epstein and three of his associates. 

The most high-profile Catholic accused in a suit is Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina. Guglielmone is accused of misconduct dating back 40 years ago, when he was a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which comprises most of Long Island.

The suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville.

Previously, the accusation had been determined by Church authorities to not be credible, according to a statement released to local media in Charleston, though the diocese stressed that civil law enforcement had been informed. 

A new, Vatican-ordered investigation is now underway, though it is unclear who is undertaking the investigation.

In a statement, Guglielmone denied all the accusations and said that he was looking forward to establishing his innocence.

“I offer my prayers daily for those whose lives have been hurt or devastated by the actions of a member of the clergy or by any other persons, especially all abused children and other vulnerable persons,” Guglielmone said.

“It is particularly tragic when the abuse is at the hands of a priest in whom their spiritual care and well-being has been entrusted.”

RICO suit against Buffalo diocese alleges conspiracy in sexual abuse cases 

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 13:55

Buffalo, N.Y., Aug 15, 2019 / 11:55 am (CNA).- Twenty-two plaintiffs filed August 14 a lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo, a province of the Society of Jesus, multiple priests, eight parishes, three high school, a seminary, among others, alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that enabled and covered up clerical sexual abuse.

The lawsuit was filed on the first day of a legal “window” allowing for sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed in New York even after their civil statute of limitations had expired.

Among the plaintiffs, who are not named, are several alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges specific instances of sexual abuse by priests, and claims that the diocese failed in its duty of care towards children by allowing abusive priests to have contact with minors through parishes and schools.

The suit says that priests named in the lawsuit, “used their positions of authority and trust over Plaintiff(s) to sexually abuse and injure them.”

“All the Defendant(s) knew and/or reasonably should have known, and/or knowingly condoned, and/or covered up, the inappropriate and unlawful criminal conduct activities” of sexually abusing priests, the lawsuit says.

Calling the diocese and affiliated organizations an “association in fact” for the purposes of federal racketeering laws, the suit alleged “common purpose” in “harassing, threatening, extorting, and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media” to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct.

The suit claims that the various diocesan persons and agencies are legal “alter egos” for the diocese, completely under diocesan control, and were used to “transfer, assign, commingle and conceal assets” totally $90 million dollars, and that the diocese violated federal racketeering laws by using the internet and mail to “deceive the public about the illicit sexual conduct rampant within the Diocese of Buffalo.”

“Within the Diocese of Buffalo there was a common communication network by which co-conspirators shared information on a regular basis. The Diocese of Buffalo used the common communication network for the purpose of enabling the criminal sexual activities of the priests within the Diocese of Buffalo,” the lawsuit says.

Two of the plaintiffs claim to be whistleblowers against the diocese. Described as former employees or volunteers, the suit alleges that they became aware of “wrongful contact” by some priests in the diocese and were terminated by the diocese after reporting it to Church authorities.

On that front, the diocese is alleged to have engaged in “interstate commerce,” and did so “concerning the investigation, slander, blacklisting, of victims and/or employees (whistleblowers) who sought to thwart, hinder or stop the illicit activity carried out by the Diocese of Buffalo, and its employees and priests.”

Federal racketeering laws, called RICO statutes, have been used in lawsuits against dioceses previously. In 1993, a New Jersey lawyer won a seven-figure settlement in a RICO-based lawsuit against the Diocese of Camden under the RICO act. Other lawyers followed, and RICO provisions have become used, to varying degrees of success, in lawsuits filed against other dioceses.

Offices of the Diocese of Buffalo were closed Aug. 15 for the Solemnity of the Assumption; diocesan spokespersons could not be reached for comment.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Northeast Province of the Jesuits said that it was “fully cooperating with all civil authorities and legal counsel on all matters regarding allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”

“Any instance of abuse by a religious person is a profound violation of trust that causes pain and damage for the abused and their families, local communities and the Church at large. The Jesuits stand by all victims and encourage them to come forward to report any instance of abuse in their efforts to seek justice and healing.”

Legal experts have discussed in the last year, since the sexual abuse scandal stemming from allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick began, whether federal RICO statutes could be used to bring criminal charges against diocesan leaders, or to allege a criminal network of conspiracy involving mutliple dioceses.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania reportedly considered the possibility of bringing a RICO case against dioceses in that state after the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report last August, but no such charges have been filed.

Malone has come under fire in the last year, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.

The bishop has faced persistent calls for his resignation.

In April, Malone issued a statement defending himself against allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups.

The bishop said that he had not been part of any cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, and that he intended to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.

Acknowledging that he had made mistakes, especially with his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors, the bishop offered an apology.

“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said April 11.

“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse.”

South Carolina bishop named in New York abuse lawsuit

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 09:38

Charleston, S.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 07:38 am (CNA).- Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, SC, has been named in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in New York. The accusations contained in the suit concern the bishop’s time as a pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre forty years ago.

The suit was filed after new legislation in New York came into force Wednesday, adjusting the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal charges and filing civil suits against sexual abusers or institutions.

According to a report carried by the Charleston Post and Courier, the suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville.

In a statement released by the diocese to local media, Guglielmone denied all the accusations and said that he was looking forward to establishing his innocence.

“I offer my prayers daily for those whose lives have been hurt or devastated by the actions of a member of the clergy or by any other persons, especially all abused children and other vulnerable persons,” Guglielmone said.

“It is particularly tragic when the abuse is at the hands of a priest in whom their spiritual care and well-being has been entrusted.”

According to the Charleston diocese, when first made, the accusation was initially determined not to be credible though civil law enforcement was notified of the claims. Following the re-presentation of the allegation, the Vatican was informed and had initiated a full investigation, with which Guglielmone is said to be “cooperating fully.”

It is not clear when the allegations were first made, and the diocese has not confirmed who is conducting the investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a boy for several years, beginning in 1978, when the boy was eight years old. The suit, filed by the now adult man, is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for “catastrophic and lifelong injuries.”

Guglielmone has served as Bishop of Charleston since his installation in March, 2009. Prior to that, he was assigned as rector of the cathedral in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

 

Following recent clerical sexual abuse scandals throughout the Church in the United States, Guglielmone released a list of 42 clerics “credibly accused” of sexual abuse over a period of decades. The diocese also said the bishop had held several “town hall” style meetings to meet with members of the faithful to hear their concerns and work towards healing.

Both the vicars general of the Diocese of Charleston released a statement of support for the bishop, calling him “a trusted leader of our diocese for more than ten years.”

Msgr. Richard Harris and Msgr. Anthony Droze both said that they had “utmost faith in [Guglielmone’s] truthfulness and in his innocence.”

The suit was filed after the passage of the Child Victims Act by the New York state government in January of this year.

The legislation opened a one-year window allowing adults in the state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers. The window opened six months after the passage of the law, coming into force on Wednesday, August 14.

Those who were sexually abused now have a one-year break in the state’s statute of limitations to pursue claims against their abusers and the institutions where the abuse took place.

Previously, a survivor of child sexual abuse had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim. Now, with the passage of the law, survivors have up until the age of 28 to file criminal charges, and age 55 to file a lawsuit.

The Catholic dioceses of the state, Boy Scouts of America, and the state’s public schools have all said they are preparing for a potentially large number of abuse survivors to file lawsuits. 

San Diego bishop announces compensation fund, changes to social media policy

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:19

San Diego, Calif., Aug 14, 2019 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego announced Aug. 13 an Independent Compensation Program for victims of sexual abuse, set to begin in September.

He also called on all diocesan employees— not just those who are mandated reporters under the law— to contact the appropriate authorities if they “come to a strongly founded belief that a minor is being victimized sexually."

“I would suggest that if you are not a mandated reporter, but come across evidence which points in your mind to the existence of the sexual abuse of a minor either within the life of the Church or in their family or social lives, and you are unsure how to proceed, you consult with one of the experienced mandated reporters at your school, parish or agency to come to clarity on what you should do,” the bishop said.

“I would ask those of you here today who are not mandated reporters to keep in mind that both the moral law and the civil law urge you to report known or suspected instances of the sexual abuse of a current minor to child welfare services.”

The bishop announced the program and the new policies in front of 2,500-plus employees of the parishes, schools, and organizations in the San Diego diocese. Currently, under a change in California law passed last December, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse is 10 years after the last act or attempted act of sexual assault.

Kevin Eckery, Vice Chancellor of the San Diego diocese, told CNA that the bishop’s call to diocesan employees to alert authorities encompassed all forms of abuse.

“It includes all forms of physical or sexual abuse that might be encountered by church workers at school, in the parish or in the community,” he told CNA.

Eckery also clarified that the bishop was encouraging those who suspect abuse to go directly to law enforcement, but also to alert the diocese.

"Mandated reporters under California law are supposed to go directly to law enforcement," he said.

"So it's not a matter of waiting for approval or running it up the chain...for the non-mandated reporters, he was giving them complete license to do the same, to go directly to law enforcement or whatever the proper civil authority is. But in all cases we are anticipating that people will alert us so that we can track these reports at the diocese to make sure everything is followed up on."

Money for the victim compensation fund will come from diocesan funds and insurance; no parish funds will be used, nor money raised through the diocese’ annual appeal, the diocese said.

“Victim/survivors of abuse by a priest of the San Diego diocese will be invited to apply for compensation regardless of when the abuse occurred. Undocumented immigrants may also apply. There will be no statute of limitations,” the diocese said in a release announcing the program.

In addition to announcing the compensation program, McElroy also promulgated two new diocesan policies related to social media.

“It will be forbidden for any employee or clergy in the diocese to communicate privately with a specific minor whom he/she has come to know through ministry without copying that minor’s parent or guardian. Moreover, it will be forbidden for any cleric or employee to have any direct interaction on any personal media account with any individual minor whom they have met through their work in the Church,” McElroy said.

Eckery said the new social media policy was not a response to any specific incident of inappropriate communication between a diocesan employee and a minor.

"It's more based on a feeling of what's right," he said. "It's really meant to avoid problems, rather than address problems that exist."

"We'll promulgate [the new rules] in written form as soon as we have everybody informed on the software changes, the updates, just so that we don't tell people not to do something before we give them a solution."

The bishop also announced the creation of a Task Force, headed by diocesan Chancellor Marioly Galván and Director of Schools John Galvan to “focus upon designing pathways for our local Church to bring to our parents and families a deeper understanding of the pervasiveness, patterns and damaging effects of the sexual abuse of minors.”

Calif. bishop: Be society's conscience in face of campus abortion pill mandate

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 20:01

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 14, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- At a Mass marking Sunday's conclusion of a novena for the defeat of a California bill that would require public universities to provide free access to abortion pills for students, the Archbishop of San Francisco challenged parishioners to grow in charity by embracing works of mercy to the most vulnerable - those in the womb.

Confidence in God “gives us the courage to put our identity into action by imbuing our minds and values with the truth of the Gospel so that we may live our faith with integrity and so be vigilant to the Lord’s coming by serving as a moral conscious of our society,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in his homily at an Aug. 11 Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco.

“And we do so above all, by bearing witness to God by a life of charity, seeking the good of those who are most disadvantaged and defenseless and so fulfill our human vocation of eternal happiness with God in heaven.”

Catholics in California held a novena Aug. 3-11 for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe in order to defeat Senate Bill 24. The state legislature returned from summer recess Aug. 12.

SB 24 is a slightly-amended version of a bill introduced in California’s state legislature last year that was ultimately vetoed.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a public supporter of abortion, vetoed the similar bill last September, saying it was was “not necessary,” as abortion services are already “widely available” off campus.

California’s current governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said before his election that he would have supported the abortion pill mandate, but has not commented on the new version of the bill since he took office.

The bill would also create a fund to provide a $200,000 grant to each public university student health center to pay for the cost of offering abortion pills, with money coming from nonstate sources such as private sector entities and local and federal government agencies.

The bill would only take effect if at least $10.29 million in private funds are made available by Jan. 1, 2020, which funding has already been secured according to an Aug. 12 analysis of the bill by the State Assembly's appropriations committee.

Besides requiring college health centers to provide abortion pills free of charge, SB 24 would also require abortion counseling services to students, but it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling,” according to the California Catholic Conference.

In his homily Archbishop Cordileone said the US “is a country that tolerates the destruction of human beings in their mothers’ wombs, and it exalts it by calling it choice while actually doing nothing to help a woman in a crisis situation to have the support that she needs to make a truly happy choice, a choice for life.”

The archbishop expanded on three lessons: identity, vigilance, and charity.

He said fathers of the Old Testament understood their identity as children of God and took courage in his providence. He said these people were rewarded for their trust, even if the answer to their prayers was not seen for generations to come.

“As the people of God, we are rooted in the certainty of a past historical saving event, which gives us the certainty of hope for God’s deliverance in his own time and in his own way,” he said.

“The fathers of the chosen people did not see this liberation. This was for a future generation, but they had confidence that God would fulfill his promise so they had the courage to do God’s will in the face of great hardship and uncertainty.”

Secondly, he said, Catholics must rise above worldly concerns and be vigilant in their identity in the faith.

“We are not to be duped by popular fashions, by political convention, or by the cultural pressure of the time,” he said. “Our values and our whole way of thinking is not to be conditioned by popular trends or pressure, but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He said parishioners cannot act as the gluttonous and violent man in the Gospel’s parable of the unfaithful steward. He said adopting the values of society condones a culture of death.

Lastly, he pointed to Christ’s words on true wealth.

In order to store up riches in heaven, he said, Catholics should give alms to the poor and the most vulnerable. He said, under the Catholic faith, the action of giving alms can be demonstrated in numerous ways, such as participating in the pro-life movement.

“What can be a greater act of charity than to defend those who have no voice with which to defend themselves? It is precisely by such acts of charity on behalf of the poor, defenseless, and marginalized that we prepare ourselves for the life of heaven.”

Diocese of Scranton launches investigation into national shrine rector Rossi

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 18:14

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2019 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Scranton has begun an investigation into allegations of misconduct on the part of the rector of the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washingon, D.C.

“Bishop Joseph Bambera, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, has commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation into the concerns that have been raised,” about Msgr. Walter Rossi, the diocese told CNA Aug. 14.

“Approximately one year ago, concerns were raised in the public sector regarding Monsignor Walter Rossi, a priest who was incardinated in the Diocese of Scranton but who has served more than 20 years at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.”

“The Diocese of Scranton referred those initial concerns to the Archdiocese of Washington, which investigated certain specific allegations and determined them to be unfounded,” the diocese added.

“Additional concerns have now surfaced, however, requiring a broadened investigation.”

“Bishop Bambera has spoken with Archbishop Wilton Gregory and they have agreed that the Diocese of Scranton and Archdiocese of Washington will work jointly and cooperatively on undertaking a comprehensive investigation,” the statement concluded.

Concerns were raised about Rossi to Archbishop Gregory Tuesday night, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington. The event was broadcast live on Facebook.

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

In the first question from the floor at the Aug. 13 event, Gregory was asked about Rossi, who has been the subject of media reports and public speculation in the last year.

“My question calls for accountability, which in the past you have committed to,” a young man asked, before bringing up recent media reports alleging abuse or the cover-up of abuse on the part of Rossi.

“I am not claiming that these allegations have been technically proven,” the questioner said, “but I am wondering why in that sort of situation he hasn’t been removed from active ministry until an investigation can be completed?”

Gregory responded “In our society, people can be ‘proven guilty’ by innuendo or by common conversation.”

“As far as I know, no one who has been a victim [of Rossi] has come forward and identified themselves and said specifically ‘I was harmed.’”

A follow-up question noted that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with the allegation.
 
“That’s news to me. And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [this situation].”
 
“I suspect – I hope – that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that, I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”

Gregory was then asked why Rossi remained in ministry at the Washington shrine; as the local archbishop, Gregory is the chairman of the board of trustees.
 
“It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop, he’s a priest of Scranton.”

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

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

The announcement from the Diocese of Scranton came in response to questions from CNA about whether Bambera would initiate the kind of investigation called for by Gregory.

The Archdiocese of Washington did not return CNA's calls for comment.

Attempts were also made to contact Rossi through the communications office at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. A spokesperson for the shrine directed all enquiries to the Diocese of Scranton.
 
Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations have also been leveled against Rossi.

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

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

When he began his remarks, Gregory told the crowd of around 200 young adults that he understood and shared the disaffection of local Catholics with the Church hierarchy in the wake of recent scandals which had left him “embarrassed.”

“I too am let down by the leadership in the Church. I’ve been embarrassed. I’ve been embarrassed as a Catholic, as a priest, as a bishop, because of the behavior of some of my fellow clerics.”

“I know that this past year has been an extraordinarily painful year for Washington because of the revelation of behavior of two former archbishops.”

“[Regarding] Theodore McCarrick, there are no words to explain the awful events that visited this local Church because of his behavior. And also Cardinal Wuerl, who while he was Bishop of Pittsburgh did many good things, but obviously there were things that he didn’t do that I suspect now he is regretful of.”

“I know [Wuerl’s] regretful, but they too add to the sorrow that we experienced, and the embarrassment,” Gregory said.

“There are no easy answers or simple solutions. All I can do as archbishop is to try to the best of my ability some sense of trust.”

Earlier in the evening, Gregory introduced himself to the crowd by noting that he preferred to be up front in his dealings: “Disclosure is always better than discovery,” he said.

Responding to a series of questions throughout the evening on the subject of the abuse crisis, Gregory praised the courage and witness of abuse survivors, pledging to stand with and behind them with “whatever resources we have.”

The Diocese of Scranton has not indicated a timeline for its investigation of Rossi, or stated whether the priest’s ministry will be limited while an investigation is underway.

 

Portland parish protests new priest’s policies

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 18:00

Portland, Ore., Aug 14, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in the Archdiocese of Portland staged a protest against their pastor during a June 30 Mass.

The Oregonian uploaded a video of the protests Aug. 11. The video shows elderly parishioners dressed in white, carrying signs into the assembly during the Eucharistic consecration, and attempting to shout down the pastor, Fr. George Kuforiji, during the Mass. Other parishioners are shown looking visibly uncomfortable at the disturbance.

The protests reportedly concern Fr. Kuforiji’s decision to remove unauthorised changes to the liturgy which had become common in the parish over previous years, and to take down a sign at the entrance to the church saying “Immigrants & Refugees welcome.” 

Fr. Kuforiji, himself a Nigerian immigrant who was ordained in 2015, was installed as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in 2018. 

Prior to his arrival, The Oregonian reported, St. Francis was known for “progressive liturgy” that “embraced folk music” during Mass.

After arriving at the parish, Kuforiji reportedly insisted on using only Church-approved liturgical texts during the Mass. The texts refer to God as “He,” “Lord,” or “King,” instead of the gender neutral terms “God,” and “Creator” that had become customary replacements during parish liturgies.

Kuforiji also stopped the practice of reading a “community commitment” after the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

The video shows protesters shouting their own intercessory prayers over the pastor’s voice, and reciting the community commitment during Mass as a form of protest against Fr. Kuforiji’s changes. Some parishioners have also reportedly refused to refuse to kneel during the Eucharistic consecration, in defiance of a recent instruction from Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample.

The protests began in late June, when some of the parish’s handmade vestments were found in a trailer slated for the dump. According to The Oregonian, Fr. Kuforiji insisted that he had not intended to throw away the rainbow-bordered chasuble and other liturgical garb, but had intended that the vestments be placed in a storage box. 

A parishioner, Albert Alter, found the vestments and accused Kuforiji of “trying to destroy the parish.” 

“I don’t know anyone that would come to a parish and go to the vestment closet and take all the vestments, still on hangers, and throw them into a trailer without somebody of authority having instructed them to do so,” Alter told The Oregonian. 

“We have been wanting real dialogue. I said that we are being abused. We are being abused in the Catholic Church by this priest, and by this archbishop,” said Melinda Pittman, a 30-year parishioner of St. Francis, filmed speaking at the lectern after Mass on June 30.

In the video, cries of “yes,” along with the sound of shaking maracas, are heard from the pews after Pittman states the parish is being “abused” by the priest. 

At the end of the speeches following Mass on June 30, a group of parishioners confronted the priest, who can be heard saying “we are reverencing God.” 

The demonstrators then linked arms and sang “We Shall Overcome,” a Gospel song typically associated with the civil rights movement in the U.S., in protest of the African-born priest. 

Another attendee supporting Fr. Kuforiji as a “holy priest,” was told “you don’t belong here” by others in the assembly. 

Tom Hogan, a 76-year-old parishioner of St. Francis and one of the few remaining parishioners who attended its grade school, told The Oregonian that many of the liturgical deviations at the parish were instituted by former pastor Fr. Donald Durand. 

Durand’s priestly faculties were withdrawn shortly after his retirement from active ministry in 2001. He has been accused of molesting more than a dozen preteen and teenage boys, some of whom were students at St. Francis Assisi School, and numerous lawsuits against him have reportedly been settled. 

Durand was pastor at St. Francis from 1970 until 1983. He has denied all allegations of misconduct. 

A statement from the Archdiocese of Portland said that the archdiocese is “happy to be working with Fr. George Kuforiji, Pastor of St. Francis Parish, to revitalize the parish so that it is able to better serve the growing population in the area as well as future generations of Catholics in Portland.” 

The Oregonian also reported that since late June, Mass attendance at St. Francis has dropped, and the entire choir quit and that Catholic Charities of Oregon took control of the parish’s St. Francis Dining Hall, which feeds local homeless people, in early August for a temporary, three-month period. 

“The Archdiocese of Portland is excited to work with the City of Portland, Catholic Charities of Oregon and the local community to re-establish St. Francis Dining Hall as a beacon of light and mercy serving those most in need,” the archdiocesan statement said.

Cheyenne police recommend charging two unnamed clerics for alleged child sex abuse

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 16:30

Cheyenne, Wyo., Aug 14, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Police in Wyoming have recommended that two clerics accused of sexually abusing male juveniles in the 1970s and '80s be criminally charged, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Wednesday.

A press release from the police said its investigation “stems from a case initiated in 2002 that was reopened in 2018,” the Casper daily reported Aug. 14.

The clerics whom the police have recommended charging were unnamed in the release.

In July 2018 the Diocese of Cheyenne announced that Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became Bishop of Cheyenne in 1976, following an investigation of charges ordered by its current bishop.

In 2002, a Wyoming man accused the bishop of sexually abusing him as a boy, both during sacramental confession and on outings. The alleged abuse took place after Hart had become a bishop.

The Natrona County district attorney in 2002 had put forward a report saying there was no evidence to support the allegations that originated in Wyoming.

The Cheyenne diocese said in July 2018 that it “now questions that conclusion.”

According to the diocese, Bishop Steven Biegler, the present ordinary, had ordered a “fresh, thorough investigation” because the claims against Hart had not been resolved.

In December 2017, the bishop retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.

The diocesan review board, after reviewing the report, concurred with the investigator, finding the allegations “credible and substantiated.” The diocese reported the alleged abuse to the Cheyenne district attorney in March 2018, and Cheyenne police opened an investigation.

The diocese said it reported the allegations of abuse as required by its own policy, the national Catholic Church policy, and Wyoming law.

In August 2018, the diocese announced it had found credible a third allegation of child sexual abuse committed by Bishop Hart.

“A third individual reported that he, too, was sexually abused by Bishop Hart in 1980,” the diocese said. This third person reported the abuse after the diocese's announcement there was “credible and substantiated” evidence that Bishop Hart had abused two Wyoming boys.

This third allegation was also reported to the Cheyenne Police Department.

Bishop Hart has denied accusations of abusing minors.

His first accusers came forward in 1989, when he was alleged to have abused boys while serving as a priest in Kansas City. Ten individuals named Hart in lawsuits related to child sexual abuse claims dating from the 1970s. These accusations were part of settlements the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph reached in 2008 and 2014, though Bishop Hart denied the accusations, the Missouri diocese said July 2.

Bishop Hart was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976, and appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70.

In June the Cheyenne diocese released a list of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against minors or vulnerable adults. The release listed allegations against 11 clerics who had served in the diocese.

 

What's the Assumption, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- On Aug. 15, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven.

But while the feast day is a relatively new one, the history of the holiday – and the mystery behind it – has its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian belief.

The Catholic Church teaches that when Mary ended her earthly life, God assumed her, body and soul into heaven.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – has its roots in the early centuries of the Church.

While a site outside of Jerusalem was recognized as the tomb of Mary, the earliest Christians maintained that “no one was there,” theologian and EWTN senior contributor Matthew Bunson told CNA.

According to St. John of Damascus, the Roman emperor Marcian requested the body of Mary, Mother of God at the Council of Chalcedon, in 451.

St. Juvenal, who was Bishop of Jerusalem told the emperor “that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven,” the saint recorded.

By the 8th century, around the time of Pope Adrian, the Church began to change its terminology, renaming the feast day of the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary, Bunson noted.  

The belief in the Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition, and a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However it was not defined officially until the past century.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII made an infallible, ex-cathedra statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus deus officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory,” the pope wrote.

The decree was seen as the formalizing of long-held Christian teaching.

“We have throughout the history of the Church an almost universal attestation of this,” Bunson said of the Assumption.

“We have this thread that runs throughout the whole of the history of the Church in support of the dogma. That’s significant because it supports the tradition of the Church, but it also supports a coming to a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church of how we rely upon the reflections of some of the greatest minds of our Church.”

What’s also notable about the dogma, he added, is that it “uses the passive tense,” emphasizing that Mary did not ascend into heaven on her own power, as Christ did, but was raised into heaven by God’s grace.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption is marked as a major feast day and a public holiday in many countries. In most countries, including the United States, it is a Holy Day of Obligation, and Catholics are required to attend Mass.

Bunson explained that on major feast days, it’s important to mark the significance of the feast as especially vital by emphasizing the necessity of celebrating the Eucharist that day.

“What is more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother to, once again, focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he asked.

 

A version of this article was originally published on CNA Aug. 15, 2017.

Why the 'fact-checking' of Christian satire worries this Catholic writer

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 05:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 14, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Did you know that Veggie Tales, the beloved Christian cartoon for kids, recently introduced a new character named Cannabis Carl in celebration of recreational marijuana?

They didn’t, actually. That was just a funny article from satirical Christian website The Babylon Bee.

Nevertheless, the story got fact-checked by the website Snopes, which assured parents: “For the time being, at least, 'VeggieTales' characters remain based on things mothers would approve of their kids consuming.”

That was the kind of fact-checking that did not bother the leadership of The Babylon Bee.

“...it was almost like we’d wear it like a badge of honor. It was like, ‘Oh, we got Snoped!’ and we would share it and kind of laugh it off,” Seth Dillon, CEO of Babylon Bee, told Fox News.

“But lately it’s taken a darker turn where they’re questioning what our motivation is for putting out, you know, misinformation, which is kind of silly and ridiculous,” he added.

The most recent fact check of the Babylon Bee by Snopes was of a satirical article that riffed off of a real-life story (as good satire often does) involving Georgia state representative Erica Thomas.

Last month, Thomas shared a story in a tweet and an emotional video, in which she claimed that a fellow customer in a Publix store had yelled at her to “go back to where I came from” after she was in the express lane with too many items. The alleged remark is similar to a controversial tweet from President Donald Trump aimed at four women of color in Congress.

Eric Sparkes, the accused customer who said he is also a Democrat, has admitted to calling Thomas “lazy” and an expletive word, but has denied making any comments suggesting she “go back” to anywhere.

The Babylon Bee’s satirical take on the story was headlined: “Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her To Go Back to Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said ‘My Pleasure.’”

In their original fact-check of the piece, Snopes said: “we’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire.’” Snopes called the story an “apparent attempt to maximize the online indignation" surrounding the real-world incident, and labeled it as “false.”

In a newsletter about the incident posted to Twitter, The Babylon Bee said that the fact-check went too far in questioning “whether our work qualifies as satire” and insinuating that the publication was “fake news.”

The Babylon Bee noted that the last time a story of theirs was labeled as “false” by Snopes, the Bee was threatened with “limitations and demonetization” by Facebook. After “making a stink” about the incident, Facebook relented, but Bee leadership said that the recent Chick-Fil-A article incident was “dishonest and disconcerting.”

“By lumping us in with fake news and questioning whether we really qualify as satire, Snopes appears to be actively engaged in an effort to discredit and deplatform us. While we wish it wasn’t necessary, we have retained a law firm to represent us in this matter.”

“The reason we have to take it seriously is because social networks, which we depend on for our traffic, have relied upon fact-checking sources in the past to determine what’s fake news and what isn’t,” Seth Dillon, CEO of the Babylon Bee, told Shannon Bream of Fox News, in an interview reported on by the New York Times.

“In cases where they’re calling us fake news and lumping us in with them rather than saying this is satire, that could actually damage us,” Dillon added. “It could put our business in jeopardy.”

The subheading on the Chick-Fil-A story fact-check has since been revised on Snopes, and now reads: “Many readers were confused by an article that altered some details of a controversial news story.” It labeled the story as “satire” and included an editorial note, saying that the fact-check had been revised for “tone and clarity.”

S.C. Naoum is behind the “Eye of the Tiber”, a Catholic satirical website that is “Breaking Catholic news so you don’t have to.” Naoum told CNA that he was concerned by the classification of The Babylon Bee’s satire as “fake news” by Snopes, because he worried it could lead to censorship of other satirical websites.

“It’s very concerning to me as a Christian satirist. In fact, it should also be a concern to all satirists, whether Christian or not. It should be a concern to anyone who enjoys reading satire,” he added.

“Once you allow an organization to cross the line of lumping satire in with fake news, I’m afraid that it’s not much of a leap to believe that censorship will soon follow,” he added.

“Fake news” became a buzzword in media and politics around the 2016 presidential election, when President Donald Trump used it against media brands that appeared to be unfavorable to him. The term has also been used to describe organizations that “published falsified or heavily biased stories...to capitalise on Facebook advertising revenue,” according to the New Daily.

Concerns about fake news prompted social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube to crack down on accounts that were renowned for sharing “misinformation.” In 2016, Snopes entered into a fact-checking arrangement with Facebook following the presidential election, an agreement that ended in February of this year, according to Snopes.

Still, Naoum said satirical sites should worry if they are beginning to be viewed as “fake news” instead of as comedic websites.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most satire websites today depend heavily on social media to help build their brands. If sites like Facebook begin to take down articles they deem to be fake news because another site said it’s fake, as opposed to satire, that could have an big impact on sites like Eye of the Tiber, Babylon Bee, and others to continue to operate,” he said.

Fake news and satire differ a lot in form and intent, Naoum added. While fake news intends to mislead people into thinking that falsities are true, satire uses humor as a tool to point to inform people.

“A lot of people think that fake news and satire are closely related, but they’re actually very different things,” Naoum said.

“Fake news is the intentional and deliberate use of deception to mislead its readers. Satire is the opposite—its purpose is to inform, not deceive, the readers of topics in the news by using a veil of humor.”

Kyle Mann, editor in chief of The Babylon Bee, said on Twitter Aug. 12 that Snopes’ new label of “satire”, rather than “true” or “false” labels, did not seem to be much of a step in the right direction, as it still appears to make a judgement on the articles labeled as such.

“This rating indicates that a claim is derived from content described by its creator and/or the wider audience as satire. Not all content described by its creator or audience as ‘satire’ necessarily constitutes satire, and this rating does not make a distinction between 'real' satire and content that may not be effectively recognized or understood as satire despite being labeled as such,” Snope’s description of its new “satire” label reads.

“...it's still pretty bad, insinuating that the content may still fall under some kind of nebulous ‘satire but not really’ category,” Mann said on Twitter.

Mann said he did not think the label was a bad idea for “fake news” sites that hide behind satire labels to avoid litigation, “but they're now using it for Babylon Bee stories, so we're back to where we were with the CFA piece: Snopes labeling us supposed satire wink wink.”

At fertility clinics, abandoned human embryos could number in the millions

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Aug 13, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The number of “abandoned” human embryos in the United States could number in the millions, and many fertility specialists are reticent to discuss the dilemma of what to do with frozen embryos, according to a recent NBC News report.

According to Christine Allen, a fertility doctor who runs a consultant business called Elite IVF, most fertility clinics fertilize far more eggs than they plan to use when performing in vitro fertilization, leading to the practice of indefinitely freezing surplus embryos— far more even than the process of IVF, which has a high failure rate, attempts to implant into a woman’s uterus.

“You see [some women] having 40, 50 or 60 eggs retrieved in a cycle and the embryologist gets the orders from her doctor to inseminate all of them — and the question isn’t asked if the patient even wants that many inseminated. Nobody’s going to have 30 kids,” Allen told NBC News.

Several fertility doctors told NBC News that many clinics consider embryos abandoned after patients stop paying storage fees and fail to respond to the clinic’s attempts to contact them.

Approximately one-third of all the frozen embryos at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers have been discarded or abandoned, NBC News reported. Storage fees for frozen embryos typically run from $500 to $1,000 a year depending on the clinic.

Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology require fertility clinics to report how many embryos have been abandoned at their clinics, NBC News says.

Though the embryos themselves take up very little space, the nitrogen tanks used to store them do. With modern techniques, frozen embryos could last as long as 100 years, doctors say.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told NBC News that couples who have previously IVF undergone should consider setting up trust funds for their embryos in order to ensure that the storage fees will be paid indefinitely.

Pacholczyk has said in the past that for embryos already created and frozen, no other obvious moral options seem to exist other than keeping them that way.

“Creating a trust fund for the frozen embryo shows a couple is taking responsibility for what they created,” Pacholczyk told NBC News.

“To me, the complexity of the situation about what to do with these excess embryos is a powerful reminder that when you cross moral lines, there’s a price to be paid.”

Although organizations have been set up to collect abandoned embryos for research purposes, Pacholczyk told CNA earlier this month that any research done with stem cells— even for commendable purposes, such as efforts to cure diseases— cannot involve the destruction of embryos, or the creation of embryos specifically for research.

[R]esearchers must use induced pluripotent stem cells, or other types of stem cells such as adult stem cells, rather than embryonic stem cells that have been destructively procured from human embryos,” he explained.

Moreover, embryos whose parents do not sign the necessary paperwork to allow the embryos to be used for research remain “stuck.”

The Catholic Church stresses that all human persons – including those in the embryonic state – have an invaluable human dignity.

In 1998, the U.S. bishops’ conference published a document explaining that “the Church has clearly and unequivocally judged [IVF] to be immoral.”
 
In the 2008 instruction Dignitatis personae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that the typical uses for already frozen embryos— the treatment of diseases, treatment for infertility, and even “prenatal adoption”— all present ethical challenges and leave the embryos “susceptible to further offense and manipulation.”

“The practice of multiple embryo transfer implies a purely utilitarian treatment of embryos,” the congregation wrote.

“One is struck by the fact that, in any other area of medicine, ordinary professional ethics and the healthcare authorities themselves would never allow a medical procedure which involved such a high number of failures and fatalities...The desire for a child cannot justify the “production” of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”

The Congregation also quoted a 1996 address by Pope St. John Paul II in which he made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.”

Pope Francis has said that there is no outcome that can justify the use or destruction of embryos for scientific purposes – including research aimed at curing diseases.

“Some branches of research, in fact, utilize human embryos, inevitably causing their destruction. But we know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos,” he said during his general audience May 18.

 

 

 

These are the six US states with one remaining abortion clinic

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 19:15

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2019 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Amid efforts in many states to pass pro-life legislation and challenge the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, six states— Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia— have reached the point of having just one abortion clinic remaining active.

Despite this, federal judges have blocked several states’ most recent efforts to restrict abortion, a number of which were set to go into effect this summer.

Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Federal District Court in Jackson, Mississippi on May 24 temporarily blocked a Mississippi law that prohibited abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which would have effectively banned abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. The law was set to go into effect July 1.

Mississippi still has just one abortion clinic remaining— Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

North Dakota’s governor signed into law in April a bill that outlaws the common abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation,” also known as “dismemberment abortion,” but the law is not currently being enforced sue to legal challenges.

The state also passed a law requiring physicians to tell women that they may reverse a medication abortion, a requirement which is also facing legal challenges. The state’s lone abortion clinic, Red River Women’s Clinic, is suing to block the new laws.

In Missouri, an eight-week abortion ban, which Gov. Mike Parson signed in May and was set to take effect Aug. 28, is being challenged in court.

The state’s lone abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood located in St. Louis, failed to meet the state requirements for relicensing, but the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is allowing the clinic to continue performing abortions until Oct. 28, when the next hearing to determine the clinic’s final status is scheduled.

Federal Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky in March blocked a law that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat in Kentucky. EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville is the last abortion clinic in that state.

Other states’ attempts to pass “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion following the detection of a fetal heartbeat have run into similar judicial hurdles. Due to the existing legal precedent of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, legislation that restricts abortion prior to fetal viability is generally found to be unconstitutional.

Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston is that state’s last clinic. South Dakota’s last clinic is Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls.

District Court Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas 6 blocked new abortion regulations Aug. 6 in that state while legal challenges play out in court, saying that women would “suffer irreparable harm” if the laws were to be enforced.

The laws in question would ban abortions in Arkansas after 18 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergency. They would require doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology, and they would prohibit abortions based solely on a Down syndrome diagnosis for the baby,

Arkansas’ laws had been set to go into effect July 24. In the meantime, the state only has one surgical abortion clinic— Little Rock Family Planning Services— but Planned Parenthood Little Rock still performs medical abortions.

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