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Updated: 38 min 32 sec ago

US Congress passes bill to relieve Christians, Yazidis in Iraq and Syria

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US House of Representatives passed Tuesday H.R. 390, a bill titled “Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act,” which seeks to assist with the rebuilding of the Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Having also passed the Senate, the bill now will go to President Donald Trump, who has indicated he is willing to sign it.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 47 members of Congress. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) was the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the bill. The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27.

H.R. 390 would provide funding to entities, including those who are faith-based, that are assisting with the humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery efforts in Iraq and Syria to religious and ethnic minorities in the area.

It would also direct the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the area, as well as identify potential warning signs of violence against religious or ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.

Additionally, the bill will support entities that are conducting criminal investigations into members of the Islamic State who committed “crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq,” and will encourage foreign governments to identify suspected Islamic State perpetrators in security databases and security screenings to assist with their capture and prosecution.

The Senate unanimously passed a slightly amended version of the bill Oct. 11.

“The fact that this bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously shows that the American response to genocide transcends partisanship and that there is enormous political will to protect and preserve religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians and Yazidis, who were targeted for extinction,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson upon the bill’s passage. Anderson testified at a congressional hearing about the bill.

“We thank Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill’s author, and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), its lead cosponsor, for their leadership in partnership with Knights of Columbus on this important bill,” he said.

Smith noted that “over-stretched groups on the ground” have been “fill[ing] the gap” in providing aid to survivors of Islamic State. He said that so far, Aid to the Church in Need has contributed more than $60 million, and the Knights of Columbus more than $20 million, to the region's response.

The bill took 17 months to pass, Smith told CNA, and was introduced three separate years. Smith was able to visit Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and he said he found the work the archbishop was doing there to be inspiring. The congressman said that it was important to include faith-based entities among those receiving funding under the bill.

Since Islamic State came to power in the region, the Christian and Yazidi populations have been decimated, Warda explained to CNA. And even though Islamic State is no longer in power and the area has been liberated, the region’s Christians are still struggling due to the conflict.

Many people have not been able to rebuild their homes, and a lack of job prospects cause
people to leave even though the situation is largely safe, said Warda. In order to provide long-term security for the region’s Christians, he said that there needs to be an emphasis on economic opportunities for young people.

“I'm a shepherd there. I have to really speak to my people there and tell them that it's safe. It's safe to be and to prosper at the same time,” he said. “So, providing jobs. Helping and really realizing some of the economical projects for the young people, to help them stay and prosper in the area."

Many of the area’s Christians fled to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. While Warda said that he would love to work on luring them back to Iraq, he conceded that this task is “really difficult.”

Another effort to ensure long-term safety for religious minorities will require a cultural shift, Warda explained. The deaths or displacement of Christians and Yazidis are considered “collateral damage” by the government, said Warda. This mentality resulted in “the majority of the persecution” faced by those groups.

He laid blame on the public school curriculum used in Iraq, which provides no information at all about religious minority groups in the country.

“There’s nothing about Christians,” he explained, noting that non-Muslims are described as infidels, and conspiracy theories about these groups abound.

Warda was particularly pleased with the inclusion of support for the criminal prosecution of Islamic State members who committed genocide. This, he said, will ensure that "history will not be written by people like ISIS. For the first time, the victims of this genocide will be able to tell their story and to provide history from their side."

The ability for these groups to have their stories heard will be a way to ensure that this genocide and displacement does not happen again.

"Unless you tell Muslims that there's something wrong in the way that you teach Islam, the history will repeat itself,” the bishop explained. Even though Islamic State was defeated, “the ideology is still there.”

“Writing the history from the side of the victims; it would help the other (side) to realize 'okay, never again,” he said.


US bishops ask Senate to pass prison reform bill

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a letter last week urging the Senate to pass the bipartisan First Step Act, which aims to “improve the lives of thousands of people impacted by our federal criminal justice system.”

The First Step Act, currently on the Senate calendar, would end the shackling of pregnant prisoners and would reduce and restrict enhanced sentencing for prior drug felonies.

The act would also establish a maximum geographical distance between prisoners and families, and would help those returning from prison to obtain government ID documents.

The Nov. 20 letter of support was signed by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Sister Donna Markham, President & CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and Ralph Middlecamp, President of the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

According to the Congressional Research Office, there has been an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners from 1980 to 2015.

“We work with millions of people on the margins each year, tens of thousands of whom are somehow involved in the criminal justice system, including victims of crime and persons returning from prison,” the letter reads.

“Many of our ministries are focused on helping returning citizens get training and employment so that, once they have served their time, they have the tools they need to make contributions to their families and their community going forward. We know that the system can do better in how it interacts with the root causes of crime, poverty, and lack of community safety.”

The authors praised the revised act, noting that it also allocates additional financial resources for rehabilitative programming when inmates leave prison.

“The criminal justice system has many problems, and this bill will not solve all of them,” the letter reads.

“It has taken many decades for mass incarceration and racial disparities to build up in the system, and it will take a long time for the reform that is needed to achieve a system that is truly just. This bill is a good first step in that direction.”

The letter was sent to Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), who is the sponsor of the First Step Act, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Pro-life students ask Trump to defund Planned Parenthood

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students for Life has urged U.S. President Donald Trump to defund Planned Parenthood, and encouraged pro-life advocates to ask the administration to do so.

The pro-life organization issued a letter to President Trump Nov. 27 signed by the Kristan Hawkins, president for Students for Life of America.

In the message, Hawkins thanks Trump for pro-life measures he has undertaken, and invites him to pursue five steps to defund Planned Parenthood.

The letter challenged the president to keep his “promises and defund Planned Parenthood across the board, redirecting those resources to places and programs that actually serve the medical needs of women and their families.”

The five steps called the administration to refuse to sign any budget that does not defund abortion providers; to formalize the Protect Life rule for Title X regulations; to appoint pro-life judges; to stop funding fetal tissue research that pays for parts of aborted infants; and to sever the abortion providers’ connection to sex education.

The letter highlights the last stance, stating that Planned Parenthood uses sex education to fuel its own marketing schemes, “to instruct teens to buy their products and engage in behaviors they endorse, and then selling abortions to those same students when their advice and products fail.”

Hawkins emphasized Planned Parenthood’s role in providing abortion, noting the organization falsely promotes itself as a major supporter for women’s healthcare. She said the group’s marketing department has publicized that abortion is not its number one seller. This is not true, she said.

Comparing Planned Parenthood to other community health centers, Hawkins said Planned Parenthood provides fewer services, is inefficient in its spending, and serves millions fewer patients.

She said Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million a year from federal funding. This money should be distributed to programs and places which better serve women, she said.

Students for Life gave directions for citizens to help promote this cause as well. The organization urged people to tweet to President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and to call the White House switchboard.

At the end of her letter, Hawkins challenges Trump to focus funding on more pro-life health services, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers and Pregnancy Resource Centers.

“Please support serving the needs of mothers and their children, born and preborn, by ensuring that the places receiving federal dollars treat everyone as a patient deserving of life. Planned Parenthood must be defunded so that we can better service women and their preborn children’s lives.”

Why do Central Americans join ‘migrant caravans?’

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 14:41

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 28, 2018 / 12:41 pm (CNA).- Controversial “caravans” of Central American migrants have made headlines in recent weeks, and a quagmire at the U.S. southern border remains unresolved.

As policymakers and migrants consider their next steps, some have asked why migrants leave Central America to make a dangerous journey with an uncertain outcome.

Rick Jones, senior adviser on Migration and Public Policy for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Latin America, pointed to “three main reasons: violence, climate change and the lack of opportunities” in their countries of origin.

The first “migrant caravan” of 2018 left Oct. 13 from San Pedro Sula in Honduras. By the time they reached Mexico City in early November, they numbered more than 5,600 people. Other caravans followed in their steps.

“El Salvador and Honduras are among the five most violent countries in the world. In San Pedro Sula, for example, the homicide rate is 100 per 100,000 inhabitants,” Jones said.

For comparison, Jones said that in Los Angeles, “the homicide rate is 6 per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The difference in the levels of violence is overwhelming.”

Regarding climate change, Jones noted that “most rural people  in Central America plant corn and beans which require a certain level of rainfall. If there's too much water, they lose [their crop],  if there's no rain they lose [their crop]. And in Honduras, in the last five years they have had four years of drought, and this year 2018 they had drought followed by flooding. The people lost everything.”

“Finally, the people don't have many options for work. Most people in El Salvador, for example, work  ‘off the books’ and make two or three dollars a day. That's not enough to meet basic needs.”

Jones said that the migrants “suffer along the way” to the United States. “They walk between eight and nine hours a day and their feet blister, their shoes have holes in them. At this point, many are sick, with respiratory infections and even pneumonia due to the low temperatures in northern Mexico.”

“We're working with some sisters who are caring for them, but that's not enough,” he said.

Jones said that CRS works in Central America with rural people, business owners, and young people looking for employment. Programs look to improve circumstances before people feel the need to migrate toward an uncertain future.

“We have a program called ‘Young Builders’ where we help young people get jobs. And we've placed about 15,000 young people in jobs throughout the last ten years. But it's a drop in the ocean.  
There's more than a million youths who aren't studying or working.”

They also help rural people “have real alternatives to planting corn and beans.”

“In El Salvador we're supporting the reintroduction of the production of cocoa and that's generating income, and helps to better manage the water and the issue of the land,” he said.

With these kind of projects, he said, people can hope to earn income and an improve the quality of their lives within their native countries.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

District attorney searches Houston archdiocese

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 12:11

Houston, Texas, Nov 28, 2018 / 10:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Investigators have executed a search warrant on the chancery offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. A search warrant obtained by the district attorney’s office for Montgomery County was served Wednesday morning by officers from the Texas Rangers and Conroe Police Department.

According to local media reports, the district attorney’s office is seeking documents related to the case of Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who was arrested by Conroe police in September on four charges of indecency to children.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was unavailable to comment on the search, or to clarify whether it was limited to the case of La Rosa-Lopez.

The district attorney’s office has already conducted searches at two churches where La Rosa-Lopez had been previously assigned – St. John Fisher in Richmond and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe – as well as the Shalom Treatment Center in Splendora, where La Rosa-Lopez was sent for evaluation and treatment in the early 2000s.

While stationed at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez was accused in 2001 of kissing and inappropriately touching a 16 year-old girl. Following consideration of the allegation by both civil authorities and the archdiocesan review board in 2003, La Rosa-Lopez was allowed to return to ministry in 2004.

On Aug. 10, 2018, a 36-year-old man alleged to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused him from 1998-2001, when he was a high school student and La Rosa-Lopez was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish.

The archdiocese said in a statement following La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest Sept. 11 that it had immediately reported the man's allegation to Child Protective Services.

In October, a third individual came forward with allegations that La Rosa-Lopez had sexually abused him on several occasions during the mid-1990s. According to reports, a lawyer for the third accuser said that the family of the alleged victim had reported La Rosa-Lopez at the time.

La Rosa-Lopez is currently released on bail and scheduled to return to court in January.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has found himself at the forefront of the American hierarchy’s response to the sexual abuse crisis. He chaired the U.S. bishops’ conference general assembly in early November, during which he announced that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops had instructed them to delay voting on a proposed code of episcopal conduct or on the creation of an independent commission for investigating allegations of misconduct against bishops.

Last week, DiNardo was the subject of a television report claiming he had knowingly left two priests in active ministry despite “credible accusations” of abuse having been made against them. Cardinal DiNardo denied that either case was “credible.”


CDC report says abortion rates continue to fall

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 11:44

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2018 / 09:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that abortion rates in 2015 reached their lowest level in 10 years, although limitations in data collection make it difficult to assess actual abortion numbers in the U.S.

The CDC has monitored the number of women who seek a legal abortion since 1969, and relies on voluntary reporting of abortion statistics from the areas being studied. The CDC’s analysis covered the years 2006-2015.

The analysis found a range of abortion rates in 2015 across different areas of the U.S. - from 2.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years in South Dakota, to 23.1 abortions per 1,000 women in New York.

A total of 638,169 abortions for 2015 were reported to CDC, leading to a ratio of 188 abortions per 1,000 live births. This is compared to over 1.4 million abortions in 1990.

The data suggested a decrease in the number of abortions among women 15-44 by 26 percent, and an overall decrease in the number of abortions per 1,000 live births by 19 percent, compared to 2006.

The majority of women who had abortions in 2015 were in their 20s. Nearly 60 percent of those who had abortions in 2015 were women who had given birth before, and nearly half had had abortions before.

The analysis notably does not include data on the number of abortions performed during 2006–2015 in the states of California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. The report notes its own limitations, stating that these three states “did not provide CDC data on a consistent annual basis.”  

“During the period covered by this report, the total annual number of abortions reported to CDC was 68%–71% of the number recorded by the [Planned Parenthood-aligned] Guttmacher Institute through a national census of abortion providers,” the report reads.

California is the most populous state in the U.S. and has almost no laws restricting abortion.

Tennessee diocese seeks to exhume remains of pastor on path to sainthood

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 05:37

Knoxville, Tenn., Nov 28, 2018 / 03:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Knoxville is seeking to unearth the remains of a Tennessee pastor whose canonization cause is currently open.

Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan was a diocesan priest who cared for the sick in Chattanooga, Tennessee, passing away at 33 years old from yellow fever.

The diocese is seeking permission to transfer the priest’s remains from Mt. Olivet Cemetery to the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

A petition was filed earlier this month to ask a judge for permission to exhume the remains.

Nell Southerland, assistant attorney for Hamilton County, said the request will likely go unopposed but is unsure if Tennessee law gives judges the power to allow for exhumation without the permission of a known relative, the Times Free Press reported.

The diocese must confirm that Ryan was a real person and not a “pious legend.” However, there is strong evidence pointing to the priest’s existence, like letters between clergymen and newspaper clippings.

In the 1800s, the Ryan family immigrated to New York from County Tipperary, Ireland, where the surname Ryan is popular. According to the Times Free Press, this made it difficult to determine which Patrick Ryan was the priest, noting there are 25 identical names recorded.  

Ryan studied the priesthood at St. Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1869, he was ordained in Nashville. Later, he was sent to Chattanooga, where he opened the town’s oldest private school.

Having passed away in 1878, the priest was originally buried among his flock per his request. In 1886, he was transferred to Olivet Cemetery during a horse and buggy procession.

Fr. David Carter, Knoxville canon lawyer and pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, said Ryan had offered his life to heroically serve people suffering from the yellow fever epidemic during the 19th century.

“Patrick Ryan was the pastor of the Catholic church here, and when the yellow fever came to town, instead of fleeing, he heroically administered to the people knowing its dangers,” he said, according to the Times Free Press.

At the U.S. bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore in 2016, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville highlighted the Servant of God’s work.

“Even though it happened many years ago, Father Ryan’s work administering to the sick exemplifies charity and selflessness and remind us of how we should serve others.”

Free Catholic school tuition offered to kids displaced by Camp Fire

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 20:52

Sacramento, Calif., Nov 27, 2018 / 06:52 pm (CNA).- After 17 days of scorching more than 150,000 acres in northern California, the Camp Fire - one of the states deadliest and most destructive wildfires on record - has finally been contained.

The fire killed at least 88 people, but that number is expected to rise as nearly 300 people are still unaccounted for. It destroyed some 14,000 residencies and left the town of Paradise, in Butte County, essentially non-existent.

Paradise sits in the northern part of the Diocese of Sacramento. Before the fire was even fully contained, the department of schools for the diocese announced that it would be offering free tuition at its Catholic schools for any Butte County students displaced by the wildfire.

“Paradise it not that small of a city. It has - or had - nearly 30,000 inhabitants, so the fire left around 4,000 school kids displaced, without any schools to go back to,” Lincoln Snyder, executive director of schools for the Diocese of Sacramento, told CNA.

About 90 percent of Paradise is completely burned, and “what remains probably isn’t going to be usable for a long time,” he said.

After meeting with the school board and Bishop Jaime Soto, the diocese announced last week that any open spots in diocesan Catholic schools would be offered to displaced Camp Fire students at no cost to the families. Seats are available for students in preschool through high school.

Normally, tuition for a single student for the remainder of this school year would be about $5,000-$6,000. The free tuition is being funded through a diocesan fundraiser for displaced students, and will cover all school expenses including uniforms, backpacks, field trip money, hot lunches, and any other school-related costs.

“We are heartbroken over the devastation the Camp Fire has caused, and the number of families it has left displaced in its wake. We understand that it may be a long time before students can return to their schools and classrooms in the city of Paradise, and we would like to help by opening up our schools to Butte County students, grades Preschool – 12, who have been displaced by the fires,” Snyder said in a press release announcing the offer.

“Many families have lost nearly everything in this fire, and being back in a school can be a major stabilizing force in a child’s life. Some classes in some of our schools could accommodate more students, and we have thus decided to open those seats to affected families who find themselves near those schools,” he said.

“Though our schools are funded by tuition, we will enroll displaced Butte County students at no cost to the family for the remainder of the academic year.”

So far, Snyder told CNA that they have already been able to enroll several displaced students in Catholic schools, and that the diocese can accommodate dozens or even hundreds of displaced students, though the number of open seats per school varies.

“We’ve had several students apply and we’re making good on the offer, and we’re excited to be able to offer these open spots to the students who’ve been displaced,” he said.

Funds are being collected through a page on the diocesan website. The appeal for the campaign states that while the exact need is difficult to predict at the moment, the funds collected will go to helping these new students, as well as the students already in area Catholic schools who have lost their homes in the fire.

Chinese scientists, officials denounce gene-editing of embryos

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 19:21

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 05:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Chinese scientist’s claim to have created a gene-edited baby has been met with an outpouring of condemnation, with critics voicing alarm at what they described as a disregard for biomedical ethics.

Approximately 120 scientists released a letter condemning the research, Reuters reported. The Chinese-language letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” warning, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

Earlier this week, Chinese researcher He Jiankui claimed that he had altered embryos for seven couples, resulting in one twin pregnancy so far. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, the Associated Press noted.

He says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection, by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

Shenzhen's Southern University of Science and Technology of China, where He is an associate professor, said in a statement that the researcher had not made the school aware of the gene editing he was doing.

According to Business Insider, the university said He had been on unpaid leave since this February and was not expected to return until January 2021. It is not clear why he had been placed on unpaid leave.

The university said that the use of genetic editing technology in human embryo research constitutes a serious violation of academic ethics. It announced that it would be conducting an investigation into He’s work.

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

Catholic bioethics experts have warned that while gene editing may sometimes be morally acceptable, it poses numerous ethical challenges that must be addressed in order to ensure its legitimacy.

Chinese officials and scientific organizations also issued harsh condemnations of the reported gene editing.

The Chinese Society for Stem Cell Research and China’s Genetics Society released a joint statement saying He’s experimentation posed “tremendous safety risks for the research subjects” and violated “the consensus reached by the international science community,” Reuters reported.

Xinhua’s official news agency also rejected the experimentation, stressing that ethical standards must not be ignored in scientific research.

The Shenzhen government medical ethics committee is reportedly investigating the matter.

Court motions filed as atheist group sues for churches to file tax returns

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion to intervene after lawyers from the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the IRS, arguing that churches should not be exempt from having to file tax returns and other forms with the IRS.

Currently, churches and religious institutions in the United States are tax exempt and do not have to file these forms.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation lawsuit, Nonbelief Relief v. Kautter, was filed with the District Court for the District of Columbia in October on behalf of Nonbelief Relief, Inc., which describes itself as “a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters.” David Kautter, the acting commissioner of the IRS, was named as respondent to the suit.

The suit argues that allowing churches to be exempt from filing tax returns is a violation of the Establishment Clause, as it “results in obligations imposed on secular non-profits, including [Nonbelief Relief], that are not imposed on churches.”

On Monday, Nov. 26, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion to intervene on behalf of New Macedonia Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. The motion argues that the church would be greatly affected if it were forced to file tax returns, saying such a requirement would be “costly, time-consuming, and intrusive.”

The ADF argues that requiring churches like New Macedonia Baptist Church to file various IRS forms would take time, money, and energy away from other aspects of the church’s ministry in the community, including worship services, a food pantry, and youth outreach programs. Additionally, they argue, the forms would make potentially sensitive information, such as ministerial salaries and church donors, publicly available.

If the lawsuit were to be successful and the church refused to file forms with the IRS, it would lose its tax-exempt status and result in a “devastating” loss of income, the ADF said.

ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley criticized “activist groups with an axe to grind against religion,” and said that suits of this kind would themselves violate the First Amendment by unnecessarily entangling the government with religion.

“Requiring churches to file tax returns with the IRS places too much power—and too much sensitive information about church operations and finances—in the hands of the government. That’s why the First Amendment legitimately blocks any requirement that churches file such returns.”

The Supreme Court has consistently sided with churches on questions of government involvement in their operations. In the 1819 Supreme Court decision McCulloch v. Maryland, the court warned that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Since that ruling, the court has often ruled to keep government interference in religious institutions to a minimum.

Catholics in Tennessee, Virginia pray as their bishops face surgery

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 16:00

Arlington, Va., Nov 27, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Catholics in the Dioceses of Arlington, Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee, are praying for their bishops as they face serious health challenges.


Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, VA, is recovering after a scheduled surgery for prostate cancer on Nov. 27. Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville announced in a press release Monday that he will be undergoing a heart catheterization procedure “sometime in December” that will require him to spend at least one night in the hospital.


Burbidge was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall, the diocese told CNA.


“Those entrusted with his medical care expect a full recovery,” diocesan communications manager Angela Pellerano told CNA, who added that the surgery went “well.” This recovery will include two weeks of no activity, followed by another four to six weeks of limited activity.


Burbidge’s last public appearance prior to his surgery was celebrating Mass on Thanksgiving. On Sunday, news of his surgery was announced throughout the diocese, and the faithful were asked to keep their bishop in their prayers.


Bishop Burbidge became the fourth bishop of the Arlington diocese in 2016. Previously, he was the head of the Diocese of Raleigh.


Bishop Stika’s heart issue was discovered during a routine checkup, the Knoxville diocese said in a statement. After the procedure in December, doctors will then decide what further treatment may be required, but they are “hopeful” that the stent will solve the problem.


“It is best that we found this issue now, rather than later,” Bishop Stika said.


“It’s good to know that my guardian angels are always working out with me.”


In 2004, Stika underwent a multiple bypass surgery. Five years later, in 2009, he suffered a minor heart attack and, though briefly hospitalized, made a full recovery.


Stika said that he intends to be back on the altar before Christmas and that he expects his recovery to be very quick. In the meantime, he has requested prayers for himself and his doctors leading up to his procedure, which will likely happen around Dec. 13.

U.S. Catholics respond to use of tear gas at the border

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic groups have reacted to the use of tear gas at the U.S. - Mexico border Sunday, calling the situation “sad,” and expressing concern about the instability of the situation at the border.


The comments came in response to an incident Nov. 25, in which U.S. Customs and Border Patrol deployed tear gas against a crowd at the San Ysidro border crossing near Tijuana, Mexico.


The incident, which closed the port of entry, involved migrants from the so-called “migrant caravan” from Central America, many of whom have expressed a desire for asylum status in the United States. Some members of the caravan, which has been in Tijuana for the past several days, attempted to enter the U.S. in a large group, resulting in a confrontation with Mexican law enforcement.


U.S. border officials said that officers had rocks and other objects thrown at them from the crowd. In response, the border was closed for several hours and tear gas was used to break up the group.


The use of tear gas is not permitted by international law in situations of war, but is permitted for law-enforcement use.


“We are sad that such force has been used,” said Bill Canny, the executive director of the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services, in a statement provided to EWTN.


“The reports of better cooperation between Mexico and the US are encouraging as this is an important border issue for both countries. We are of course most interested in the well-being of those fleeing violence, persecution, and severe economic deprivation, and expect our laws and international laws vis a vis asylum seekers and migrants will be respected,” he added.


Canny’s sentiment was echoed by Lawrence E. Couch, the director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.


In a statement, Couch said the use of tear gas on the caravan represented a “sharp escalation” of the immigration crisis.


“When we start to tear gas women and children, we know we have gone down the wrong road,” said Couch, calling it “our duty and moral imperative to protect and welcome our brothers and sisters.”


Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, defended on Sunday the agency’s response. In a statement released on Twitter, McAleen said that the situation was “extremely dangerous” and involved over 1,000 members of the caravan.


“(Sunday)’s incident involved large groups of migrants ignoring and overwhelming Mexican law enforcement, then attempting to enter the United States through vehicle lanes at San Ysidro and El Chaparral, and then through breaches in the international border fence between ports of entry,” said McAleenan.


Some members of the group assaulted agents and officers, he said. Four agents were hit with rocks thrown by members of the crowd, but none were seriously injured due to protective gear.


While the use of tear gas Sunday attracted strong media coverage and reaction, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has deployed the measure multiple times in recent years. Between the years 2012 and 2016, tear gas was used 79 times along the border.

Pope names Texas auxiliary to lead Diocese of Monterey

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 10:00

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has chosen Bishop Daniel Elias Garcia as the new Bishop of Monterey, California. The diocese of Monterey has been without a bishop since the death of Bishop Richard Garcia in July.

The announcement was made Tuesday, Nov. 27, and released by both the Vatican press office and the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Daniel Garcia has served as auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Austin since his consecration on March 3, 2015. He was the first auxiliary bishop in the history of the diocese.

A native of Texas, Garcia was born in the city of Cameron in 1960. After earning his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees from St. Mary’s Seminary at the University of St. Thomas, he was ordained to the priesthood for the diocese of Austin in 1988. He received a Master of Arts in Liturgical Studies from the Saint John’s School of Theology in 2007.

Garcia spent several years in parochial ministry in Austin, serving in the parishes of St. Catherine of Siena, Cristo Rey, St. Louis, and St. Vincent de Paul. He also spent three years in the parish of St. Mary Magdalene, in Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

In the Diocese of Austin, Garcia has held numerous administrative assignments including serving as a member of the Priests' Personnel Board, the College of Consultors, and the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. He has also been both a member and later chairman of the Presbyteral Council.

Garcia is a current member of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s committees on communications and divine worship, and is the chairman of the subcommittee on Spanish language worship. He is also a consultant to the USCCB’s subcommittee on Hispanic affairs.

The Diocese of Monterey covers an area of 21,916 square miles and is home to more than 200,000 Catholics, some 20 percent of the total population. Upon his installation, Garcia will become the fifth bishop of Monterey.  

Claim of creating genetically-edited babies prompts ethics dispute

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 05:23

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2018 / 03:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Chinese scientist says he has created the first genetically edited babies, a claim that has led members of the scientific community to raise serious ethical concerns.

Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims that he altered embryos for seven couples, resulting in one twin pregnancy so far. There is no independent confirmation of this claim, the Associated Press noted.

He says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection, by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

The researcher says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

Scientists have been divided in their response to the claims, with some praising the goal of eliminating HIV and others warning that such human experimentation is risky and unethical.

Dr. Kiran Musunuru, an expert on gene editing at the University of Pennsylvania, called the reported procedure “an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” according to the Associated Press.

Musunuru noted that if the procedure successfully disabled the CCR5 gene, it would leave the individual at increased risk of other medical complications, including contracting West Nile virus and dying from the flu.

Critics have also questioned whether participants fully understood what they were agreeing to, and have noted that He did not give official notice of his work until long after he had begun.  

He, however, said he told participants that the procedure was experimental and carried risks. He said he would provide insurance for the children created through the project. The researcher said he believes the technology can help families, and that it is his duty to develop the technology and then let society decide what to do with it.

Early last year, CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, about the ethics surrounding CRISPR technology in general. He stressed that Catholics do not need to automatically consider all gene editing to be problematic, but “need to be attentive to where the dangers are.”

Gene editing may be morally legitimate, DiCamillo said, when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.” He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

In addition, for research on embryos to be ethical, therapies should be ordered to treating and benefitting “that particular embryo, not just for garnering scientific knowledge or seeing what’s going to happen,” DiCamillo said. He condemned policies that see destruction of embryonic persons as a back-up if research does not go as planned, as well as current U.S. policies that require destruction of human embryos as standard procedure.

Another potential problem is editing genes for non-medical reasons, for example to enhance vision or intelligence.

“There’s any number of things that we could do to change the qualities of human beings themselves and make them, in a sense, super-humans … this is something that would also be an ethical problem on the horizon,” he warned.

Since the technology is so new, patients or their descendants could experience a range of “unintended, perhaps harmful, side effects that can now be transmitted, inherited by other individuals down the line,” DiCamillo said. An embryo who experiences gene modification – such as those the Chinese researcher He claims to have altered – could also carry and pass on edited genes.

Last summer, researchers in Oregon announced that they had successfully altered genes in a human embryo for the first time in the United States.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, warned at the time that the experiment was contrary to the dignity of the human person.

“Very young humans have been created in vitro and treated not as ends, but as mere means or research fodder to achieve particular investigative goals,” he said.

Texas diocese says border wall on Church land violates religious freedom

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 02:03

Brownsville, Texas, Nov 27, 2018 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Brownsville, Texas is pushing back against a government effort to use Church property to aid in the construction of the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

David Garza, a lawyer for the diocese in South Texas, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that “it goes against the First Amendment, freedom of religion.”

The federal government has informed the dioceses that it plans to survey an estimated 67 acres of property where La Lomita Mission, is located near the Rio Grande, the Caller-Times reported. Some or all of the land may be confiscated through eminent domain for the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

A statement from the diocese said that Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has already entered into several discussions with government officials regarding two properties owned by the diocese in Hidalgo County.

“While the bishop has the greatest respect for the responsibilities of the men and women involved in border security, in his judgment, church property should not be used for the purposes of building a border wall,” read the statement.

“Such a structure would limit the freedom of the Church to exercise her mission in the Rio Grande Valley, and would in fact be a sign contrary to the Church's mission. Thus, in principle, the bishop does not consent to use church property to construct a border wall.”

Garza argued that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should not be able to confiscate the diocese’s property. He said the land is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a public place of worship.

“La Lomita Chapel is a sacred building destined for divine worship to which the faithful have a right of access for divine worship, especially its public exercise,” he said, according to the Caller-Times.

Originally built in 1865 by Oblate Missionaries, La Lomita was the half-way point between the cities of Roma and Brownsville. A flood destroyed the original chapel building, but it was rebuilt in 1899. According to the National Parks Service, La Lomita was a major contributor to the foundation of Mission, the surrounding town.

CUA social work dean resigns over Kavanaugh tweets

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A professor at The Catholic University of America has resigned as head of the university’s social work department, after a controversy followed his September tweets about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Will Rainford, dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service, a department of the university, will take a sabbatical during the 2019 spring semester, and then return to teaching duties at the university.

Rainford has been dean of the social work program since 2013. He was suspended in October after a series of tweets criticizing women who had accused Kavanaugh, then still a nominee to the Court, of sexual assault. The twitter handle used, @NCSSSDean, referred to Rainford’s role at the university.

“Rainford’s tweets of the past week are unacceptable,” CUA president John Garvey said in Sept. 28 statement.

“We should expect any opinion he expresses about sexual assault to be thoughtful, constructive, and reflective of the values of Catholic University, particularly in communications from the account handle @NCSSSDean.”

In a Nov. 21 statement accepting Rainford’s resignation as dean, Garvey praised “Dr. Rainford’s commitment to the Catholic mission of the school. Early on he made a particularly difficult decision to disassociate from the National Association of Social Workers, which advocates for access to abortion, a position that is contrary to the mission and values of The Catholic University of America.”

Garvey announced that in light of Rainford’s resignation, he “will order an environmental assessment to examine the current operations, direction, and atmosphere of the school and address the challenge of maintaining a distinctly Catholic approach to the field of social work.”

Analysis: On sexual abuse, what will U.S. bishops, and the pope, do next?

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 20:15

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2018 / 06:15 pm (CNA).- Bishop Frank Rodimer and Fr. Peter Osinski were friends.

Osinski was a priest in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. Rodimer was Bishop of Paterson, a nearby diocese, from 1978 until 2004.  

For years the men rented a beach house together each summer on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island, south of Seaside and north of Atlantic City. There, for seven years in the 1980s, Osinski molested a young boy. The first year it happened, the boy was seven.

The priest was arrested in 1997. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

In 1999, the victim settled a lawsuit against the bishop, the priest, and the priest’s diocese. Rodimer was not alleged to have have committed sexual abuse, but the suit charged that the bishop had been negligent in failing to recognize what was going on.

In 2002 Rodimer apologized for failing to prevent the abuse at the beach house. He also acknowledged that he had mishandled other cases of sexual abuse involving priests of his diocese. At the same he defended his decision to allow an admitted child abuser, Fr. William Cramer, to serve as a hospital chaplain from 1991 to 2002.

For much of his tenure in Paterson, Rodimer was the senior suffragan bishop of the ecclesiastical province of Newark.

At the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Baltimore this month, Cardinal Blase Cupich proposed that metropolitans—archbishops—should be responsible for investigating claims of misconduct or negligence against their suffragan bishops. If metropolitans are accused, the plan says, the senior suffragan bishop should investigate.

If that plan had been in place during Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s last years in Newark, Rodimer would have been the one charged with looking into allegations against McCarrick.

__ Of course, Rodimer retired 14 years ago. And the fact that he was McCarrick’s senior suffragan bishop does not suggest that metropolitan and suffragan bishops are universally unqualified to address charges of sexual misconduct or administrative negligence in the life of the Church.

But Rodimer’s situation, as McCarrick’s one-time senior suffragan, is a reminder that addressing the problems of sexual abuse, misconduct, and administrative negligence is not as simple a proposition as many Catholics, and many bishops, would like it to be.

U.S. bishops have learned that lesson in recent weeks, even as responsibility for solving the problem has shifted, apparently by the pope’s design, to Rome.

After several confusing and turbulent weeks in the Church, it is worth asking where reform efforts stand, and where they will be going.

It is now well-known that this month’s meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference was unlike any USCCB meeting that had come before it. The bishops arrived in Baltimore Nov. 12 prepared to pray together, and then to vote on facets of a plan they believed would address the allegations of episcopal sexual misconduct and administrative malfeasance that have plagued the Church in recent months.

They planned to pass a code of conduct for bishops, create a whistleblower hotline, and establish an independent lay-led team of experts charged with investigating allegations made against bishops.

On Monday morning, as the meeting opened, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the conference president, announced that their plans had been iced-- the Vatican had determined they should wait to vote until after a January retreat for U.S. bishops, and a February meeting involving the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world.

DiNardo himself seemed stunned. Bishops and observers were confused. Many bishops felt they had to return to their dioceses with evidence that some action had been taken to address diminishing lay confidence  in their ability to address the ongoing crisis.

Nevertheless, the meeting continued. By the end, at least one official action had been taken: DiNardo announced the formation of a task force, consisting of several former USCCB presidents, to assist him in assessing open questions and possible plans that arose from the meeting, in preparation for the February gathering at the Vatican.

While several open questions are a part of its mandate, the main job of the task force seems to be developing two competing proposals for the investigation of bishops.

The initial plan for investigating bishops, introduced by conference leadership before the November meeting, called for a lay-led commission which could investigate allegations made against bishops who support the funding of the commission and choose to allow themselves to be investigated.

Proponents of this plan say it has the benefit of inscrutability; that leadership by independent lay experts will ensure fair and thorough evaluations of complaints, and assist the Holy See by providing accurate and impartial information. Opponents at the Baltimore meeting raised a variety of objections: that funding the commission will be expensive, that the commission might not have a sufficient number of allegations to justify staffing it, that the plan puts laity into a position of “authority” over bishops, or, conversely, that the plan does not give sufficient authority to investigators because participation is not compulsory.

After voting on that proposal was suspended, a new plan surfaced during the bishops’ meeting, introduced by Cupich. That plan would have metropolitans, or archbishops, along with their archdiocesan review boards, investigate allegations against bishops. If archbishops were accused, the senior diocesan bishop in the ecclesiastical province would investigate the plan, with assistance from his review board.

The proponents of the “metropolitan model” plan say that it appropriately involves laity, is more consistent with Catholic ecclesiology, and is notably less expensive than the alternative proposal. At least one bishop at the recent meeting said it seems more fitting for bishops to be judged by bishops. Critics of the approach say that while the plan might work in theory, it is too late for the Church to impose a policy in which bishops are responsible for overseeing investigations into other bishops; that trust has eroded in the institution, and is more likely to be restored by outside, independent lay involvement. Other critics say that the plan imposes responsibility on the metropolitan he may not be prepared to fulfill, and that could lead, potentially, to legal liabilities.

Disagreement among the bishops over these proposals is not ideological. Both Cupich and Archbishop Charles Chaput support the metropolitan model, though they often have markedly divergent theological viewpoints. Most observers say that both plans have strengths and weaknesses that should be explored before any plan is recommended or implemented. The task force will take up that exploration. Its conclusions will be submitted to DiNardo before the February meeting.

The task force’s work could prove to be for naught, if the pope, Vatican officials, or the meeting’s planning committee already know what they hope to see come from the meeting. Cupich, who was appointed by Pope Francis, said recently that the meeting will work to accomplish some “specific outcomes that reflect the mind of Pope Francis.”

While it is not certain whether the pope supports the metropolitan plan proposed by Cupich, and publicly floated in August by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, but the appointment of Cupich to the meeting’s planning committee seems to suggest that the pope supports at least the cardinal’s basic approach.

Still, of concern to many American Catholics at this point are not the specifics of any initiative undertaken, but that the Vatican does something concrete and direct, and soon, to demonstrate that sexual coercion and abuse is intolerable, as is episcopal administrative negligence.

At the same time, some bishops have said that while the pope’s apparent reticence to commit to a particular plan is concerning, it is also important that such a serious matter be addressed wisely and prudently, so that policies implemented hastily are not subsequently revoked.

For many American Catholics, however, the Vatican’s reticence to allow action seems to reflect a so-called paralysis of analysis. Some worry that episcopal malfeasance will go on unaddressed long after the February meeting-- that while the pope seeks global consensus, reform in the U.S. will remain at a standstill. Some note that while talks are on hiatus, bishops accused of negligence or misconduct, among them Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, do not seem to be the subject of any ecclesiastical inquiries into their status.

This situation, they say, will lead to increasingly diminished confidence in the Church’s capacity to reform itself, and increasingly stronger support for the intervention of civil authorities.

These critics note especially that there has yet been little evidence of a canonical process for McCarrick, a situation to which global media outlets have remained attentive.


It is frustration about McCarrick that seems to have fueled much of the criticism from lay Catholics of the U.S. bishops. While the stalled policy reform can be attributed to the Vatican, many Catholics have expressed discouragement at a perceived lack of commitment from bishops to press for answers on McCarrick. Commentators and some bishops seemed especially frustrated that the USCCB failed to pass a resolution encouraging the Vatican to release all legally permissible documents related to McCarrick’s alleged misconduct.

During debate, some bishops said the resolution was unnecessary because the Vatican had already pledged to release a summary report of its own internal investigation of documents related to McCarrick. One bishop said the resolution could be interpreted as an expression of distrust in the Vatican. Some bishops seemed uneasy about seeming to publicly pressure the Vatican, especially since previous efforts to that effect by conference leadership had been rebuffed.

But one bishop told CNA that debate over the resolution got “lost in the weeds,” and lost sight of the symbolic importance of the resolution to Catholics hoping to see an act of solidarity and leadership from their bishops, a collective affirmation of the importance of the McCarrick investigation. After the Vatican’s suspension of policy votes, the bishop said, Catholics wanted to feel that their bishops continue to press for answers, that they are not afraid of what might be discovered.

The resolution, however, failed by a wide margin.


These are unpredictable times in the life of the Church, shaped by events with little precedent. But a few points seem clear about the months to come.

The first is that the February meeting is unlikely to conclude with the adoption of reform policies. Cupich has said the meeting will be the start of a process- given that the meeting is scheduled to last for only three days, it seems impossible to expect any policies to be adopted or promulgated. This will probably enflame a new round of frustration among U.S. Catholics, and many U.S. bishops, who perceive an urgent need to debate and decide on reform policy.

While ultimately a slower process might indeed lead to better, more well-constructed policies, there will be a price to pay for the pace, and it will be measured in the costs of civil investigations, lawsuits, and possible indictments, and in the number of disaffected Catholics who lose faith in the Church while they wait.

The second is that the episcopal conference now seems unlikely to remain the principal method of communication between the Vatican and the U.S. bishops. The pope has rebuffed several public requests from conference leadership for an apostolic visitation into McCarrick, and publicly rebuffed, at the very last minute, their plan to vote on reform policies. And it is telling that Francis appointed Cupich, who is not a part of the conference’s elected leadership, to help plan a meeting for the elected leaders of conferences around the world, and to represent the U.S. in the planning group.

The pope has previously appointed Cupich to accompany elected U.S. representatives to Vatican meetings, including the 2015 synod on the family and the 2018 synod on the youth. The pope has again affirmed his trust in Chicago’s archbishop, who, in light of that trust, and his appointment to February planning committee, will be more frequently seen as an unofficial but important bridge, and interpreter, between Rome and the U.S.

Next, it seems obvious that Catholics will continue to call for action from the U.S. Church’s leadership, as will civil authorities. Their call is likely to grow more impatient. Calls to withhold financial support from diocesan apostolates are likely to continue, although few observers expect such calls to have a serious impact on the bottom line for most dioceses. Far more likely to have serious financial and operational impact on the Church will be the decisions of the U.S. Attorney and state attorneys general-- indictments or litigation could have both domestic and Vatican consequences.

Finally, there is one positive development worth noting. During the recent bishops’ meeting, DiNardo offered several opportunities for bishops to speak candidly about the sexual abuse crisis and their experiences. Some bishops spoke very personally about their own needs, their concerns, their shortcomings, and their hopes. Cardinal Joseph Tobin spoke earnestly, as did Archbishop George Lucas, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, and several others. Some bishops told CNA they sensed the Holy Spirit prompting a more fraternal exchange, a new openness to more human engagement, and even disagreement, on the floor of the meeting.

It would be a strange development if the sexual abuse crisis ushered in a new era of episcopal candor, and a more discerning mode of operation for the bishops’ conference. But as the past few weeks have demonstrated, “strange developments” are the ordinary course of affairs for the Church. What will come next remains to be seen.

Report: 'Aggressive nationalism' fueling threats to religious minorities

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 14:12

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2018 / 12:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- “Aggressive nationalism” is a principal driver of violence and intimidation targeting religious minorities in certain parts of the world, according to the international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The charity last week accused a “religiously illiterate West” of ignoring the plight of religious minorities primarily in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, saying that “most Western governments” have failed to provide adequate aid to those persecuted and to migrants.  

ACN’s Nov. 22 report, Religious Freedom in the World 2018, is based on a 25-month review of all 196 of the world’s nations. The report highlights 38 nations with significant religious freedom violations, and in more than half of those countries, conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated since 2016.

“Pope Francis, as well as his immediate predecessors, have all stressed that religious freedom is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of man,” Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN, said in a statement.

“It is the purpose of this report to draw worldwide attention to this intrinsic link between religious freedom and human dignity.”

The report states that more than 60 percent of the world’s population lives in a country where “the right to religious freedom is obstructed or denied outright.” This includes nearly 330 million Christians who live in countries where they face religious persecution of some kind.  

Religious freedom violations perpetrated by state actors and authoritarian regimes, the report notes, resulted in more countries showing a decline in religious liberty this year compared to 2016. ACN calls this phenomenon “ultra-nationalism.”

“Violent and systematic intimidation of religious minority groups has led to them being branded as disloyal aliens and threatening to the state,” the report reads.

One such country is China, where the increasingly authoritarian Communist government has recently been cracking down on religious minorities, despite a provisional September deal with the Vatican on the appointment of Catholic bishops.

In other countries, such as Russia and Kyrgyzstan, worsening intolerance toward religious minorities meant the countries were placed in ACN’s “Discrimination” category for the first time.

For other countries, including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Eritrea, “the situation [for religious minorities] was already so bad, it could scarcely get any worse,” the report reads.

Islamic extremism, fueled by conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, accounted for the persecution faced by minorities in 22 of the 38 countries highlighted. Though Islamist violence has lessened in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, the authors of the report assert that media reports have focused mainly on the Islamist threat from ISIS and its affiliates, while ignoring the spread of Islamist groups elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. At the same time, the report argues that Islamophobia in the West has increased, partly because of terrorist attacks and the ongoing migrant crisis.

“There are some like the Rohingya Muslims, whose plight has received due attention in the West, but so many others—such as Christians in Nigeria, Ahmadis in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran—feel abandoned by the West where religious freedom has slipped down the human rights priority rankings,” the report reads.

Sexual abuse of women by extremist groups in Africa, the Middle East and parts of India was an issue of particular importance highlighted by the report.

ACN, founded in 1947, has been a papal charity since 2011 and serves Christians in 150 countries worldwide.

New documentary shows individual, societal threat of pornography

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 18:46

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2018 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- The non-profit group Fight the New Drug has released a three-part documentary to raise a greater awareness of the damage caused by pornography.

The film, “Brain, Heart, World,” was released Nov. 12. Each episode is about 30 minutes long and explores a different realm in which pornography causes harm.

Currently in a soft release, the film is expected to be promoted more starting early next year.

Clay Olsen, president and co-founder of Fight the New Drug, expressed hope that the film would be able to influence a wider audience than the reach of seminars and presentations.

“We started Fight the New Drug 10 years ago and the intention has always been to bring education and awareness to the younger generation, to help them make more educated decisions on the topic, knowing that this was an issue that was impacting a generation like no other generation in human history,” he told CNA.

“We believe that this [movie] format will be able to reach individuals more quickly and in the medium in which they are more accustomed to learning.”

Olsen said the documentary looks at three major areas in which pornography causes harm - the mind, human relationships, and society.

“[Episode] one focuses on the brain, educates individuals on the potential harmful impact of pornography to individuals and neurologically. Episode two is on the heart and impact to relationships, connections, and love. [The last episode,] the world, explores the larger societal impact of pornography and what we can do to combat it collectively.”

He said the movie has been viewed by family members at home, students at universities, parishioners at churches, and members of other organizations. The initial feedback from viewers of different religions, political parties, ages, and cultures, has been “phenomenal,” he said.

So far, various themes from the film have resonated with viewers. Some people, he said, were surprised by to the last episode, which showed the dark reality of pornography’s role in human trafficking. Many people do not realize the extent of pornography’s grip on the modern culture, he explained.

“It really has more to do with where they are at in their life and their interests and maybe personal experiences that have made them more curious about a particular topic. That’s really what we were hoping for – that each episode would be able to connect with different people for different reasons.”

Olsen said the movie – and the organization as a whole – are less about fighting against something and more about fighting to build something. He said the necessary reaction to pornography needs to be a collective push for a healthier life.

“We must engage, we must step in and help raise the collective awareness of our communities and our culture so we can create a groundswell of momentum toward more healthy living, healthy relationships, and healthy society,” he said.

“Rather than fighting against pornography, Fight the New Drug and this documentary is far more about fighting for real love, real connection, and real relationships.”

Bishop Morlino of Madison dies at age 71

Sun, 11/25/2018 - 10:23

Madison, Wis., Nov 25, 2018 / 08:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison died the evening of Saturday, Nov. 24, at St. Mary Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, the diocese has announced. He was 71.

On Friday, the Diocese of Madison issued a statement saying that Morlino had suffered a “cardiac event” while undergoing scheduled medical tests on Wednesday. At the time, he was initially reported to be “resting.” On Saturday, Vicar General, Msgr. James Bartylla released an urgent prayer request saying that things had taken a turn and “it is likely that our hope lays in a miracle at this point.”

Six hours after the Diocese of Madison published Bartylla’s prayer request, the diocesan Facebook page posted that Morlino had died.

“The all-night prayer vigil for Bishop Robert Morlino, at Holy Name Heights (702 S. High Point Rd, Madison) continues, now for the repose of his soul, ending with benediction and Sunday morning Mass, said for his intention, at 8:00 AM,” said the diocese on Facebook.

“Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.”

A more formal statement was released hours later.

Morlino was installed as the fourth bishop of Madison Aug. 1, 2003. Prior to his time in Madison, Morlino was Bishop of Helena.

A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Morlino was initially ordained a Jesuit priest in 1974. During his time as a Jesuit, he taught philosophy at several universities, including Loyola College in Baltimore, Boston College, and the University of Notre Dame. In 1983, he became a priest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. He was consecrated as a bishop in 1999. At the time of his consecration, he was preparing to become a full-time professor of theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

In the statement announcing his death, the Diocese of Madison outlined Morlino’s three priorities as bishop. These were to “increase the number and quality of men ordained to the diocesan priesthood,” to increase a sense of reverence throughout the diocese, and “to challenge Catholic institutions in the diocese to live out their professed faith in Jesus Christ” with their ministry in the secular realm.

“All objective indicators point to the fact that Bishop Morlino accomplished what he set out to do in the diocese,” said the diocese. Morlino ordained 40 men during his 15 years as bishop, and there are another 24 seminarians in formation within the diocese. Additionally, there were “significant inroads toward encouraging the Catholic institutions in his care to live out their mission with greater fidelity.”

In August of this year, Morlino released a pastoral letter saying the “homosexual subculture” within the Church was “wreaking great devastation.” He also called for additional Masses of reparation and fasting, and promised to respond firmly to any allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy or seminarians.

Funeral arrangements for the bishop have not yet been finalized.