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Have you heard of Saint Death? Don’t pray to her.

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 17:02

Brownsville, Texas, Nov 4, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- They call her Santa Muerte (‘Holy Death’ or ‘Saint Death’), but she’s no saint.


The skeletal female figure has a growing devotion in Mexico, Central America, and some places in the United States, but don’t be fooled by the Mary-like veil or the holy-sounding name.

She’s not a recognized saint by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, in 2013, a Vatican official condemned devotion to her, equating it to “the celebration of devastation and of hell.”

“It’s not every day that a folk saint is actually condemned at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Andrew Chesnut, a Santa Muerte expert who has been studying the devotion for more than eight years, told CNA.

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint," the only English academic book to date on the subject.

Despite her condemnation from on high, Santa Muerte remains increasingly popular among criminals, drug lords and those on the fringe of society, as well as cultural Catholics who maybe don’t know (or care) that she is condemned by the Church.

“She’s basically the poster girl of narco-satanic spirituality,” Chesnut said.

According to Chesnut’s estimates, Santa Muerte is the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas - and it’s all happened within the past 10-15 years.

“She was unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans before 2001, when she went public. Now I estimate there’s some 10-12 million devotees, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America,” he said.

The roots of Santa Muerte

Although she has recently exploded in popularity, Santa Muerte has been referenced in Mexican culture since Spanish colonial times, when Catholic colonizers, looking to evangelize the native people of Mexico, brought over female Grim Reaper figures as a representation of death, Chesnut said.

But the Mayan and Aztec cultures already had death deities, and so the female skeletal figure became adopted into the culture as a kind of hybrid death saint.

She’s also mentioned twice in the historical records of the Inquisition, when Spanish Catholic inquisitors found and destroyed a shrine to Santa Muerte in Central Mexico. After that, Santa Muerte disappeared from historical records for more than a century, only to resurface, in a relatively minor way, in the 1940s.

“From the 1940s to 1980s, researchers exclusively report Santa Muerte (being invoked) for love miracles,” Chesnut said, such as women asking the folk saint to bring back their cheating husbands.

She then faded into obscurity for a few more decades, until the drug wars brought her roaring back.

What’s the appeal of a saint of death?

Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgemental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions.

“If somebody is going to be doing something illegal, and they want to be protected from the law enforcement, they feel awkward asking God to protect them,” explained Fr. Andres Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Helen parish in Rio Hondo, Texas.

“So they promise something to Santa Muerte in exchange for being protected from the law.”

Devotees also feel comfortable going to her for favors of vengeance - something they would never ask of God or a canonized saint, Chesnut said.

“I think this non-judgemental saint who’s going to accept me as I am is appealing,” Chesnut said, particularly to criminals or to people who don’t feel completely accepted within the Mexican Catholic or Evangelical churches.

The cultural Catholicism of Mexico and the drug wars of the past decade also made for the perfect storm for Santa Muerte to catch on, Chesnut explained. Even Mexicans who didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday still have a basic idea of what Catholicism entails - Mass and Saints and prayers like the rosary, all things that have been hi-jacked and adapted by the Santa Muerte movement.

“You can almost see some of it as kind of an extreme heretical form of folk Catholicism,” he said. “In fact, I can say Santa Muerte could only have arisen from a Catholic environment.”

This, coupled with the fact that Mexican Catholics are suddenly much more familiar with death, with the recent drug wars having left upwards of 60,000 - 120,000 Mexicans dead - makes a saint of death that much more intriguing.

“Paradoxically, a lot of devotees who feel like death could be just around the corner - maybe they’re narcos, maybe they work in the street, maybe they’re security guards who might be gunned down - they ask Santa Muerte for protection.”

Why she’s no saint

Her familiarity and appeal is actually part of the danger of this devotion, Fr. Gutierrez said.

“(Santa Muerte) is literally a demon with another name,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

In his own ministry, Fr. Gutierrez said he has witnessed people who “suffer greatly” following a devotion to the folk saint.

Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA that he has also prayed with people who have had demonic trouble after praying to Santa Muerte.

“I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe,” he said.

Fr. Gutierrez noted that while Catholics who attend Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis tend to understand this about Santa Muerte, those in danger are the cultural Catholics who aren’t intentionally engaging in something harmful, but could be opening the door to spiritual harm nonetheless.
Elizabeth Beltran is the parish secretary at Cristo Rey Church, a predominantly Latino Catholic parish in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Beltran, who grew up in Mexico and whose family is still in Mexico, said she started noticing Santa Muerte about 15-20 years ago, but she hasn’t yet noticed the presence of the devotion in the United States.

Besides narcos and criminals, the folk saint also appeals to poor, cultural Mexican Catholics or those who are simply looking for something to believe in, Beltran said.

“People who don’t know their faith very well, it’s very easy to convince them” to pray to Santa Muerte, she said. It’s common practice in Mexico for people to mix superstitious practices with Catholic prayers like the Our Father or the Hail Mary, in order to gain trust in the Catholic culture.

Besides her demonic ties, she’s also a perversion of what the practice of praying to saints is all about, said Fr. Ryan Kaup, a priest with Cristo Rey parish.

“What we venerate as saints are real people who have chosen this life to follow the will of our Lord and have done great things with their lives, and now they’re in heaven forever, and so that’s why we ask for their intercession,” Fr. Kaup said.

“So taking this devotion and this practice that we have of asking for this saint’s intercession and twisting it in such a way as to invoke this glorified image of death is really a distortion of what we believe is true intercession and truly the power of the saints.”

Because of her growing popularity in the United States, Fr. Gutierrez said he is hoping that bishops and Catholic leaders in the U.S. become more aware of the danger of the Santa Muerte devotion and start condemning it publically.

“I would love to hear something on a national level, from the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops or from local bishops speaking about it publicly,” he said. “I think that would be one way to really call it to attention.”

Fr. Thomas added that honoring a saint of death is a corruption and distortion of what Christians belief about Jesus, who came to give us eternal life.

“‘Saint Death’ is an oxymoron. God is a God of the living, not the dead.”


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 30, 2016.

Adoption tax credit part of 'preferential policy for life,' Congressman says

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, details of the Republican Party’s proposed tax reform legislation were released, including plans to eliminate an adoption tax credit intended to lighten the financial burden of adoption for families.

“This will make it tougher to adopt. Period,” said Schylar Baber, executive director of Voice for Adoption, according to the Washington Post.

“So, the question is, who is not going to get adopted because of this?” Baber continued.

The tax credit, which was created through a bipartisan effort in 1996, allows families a maximum credit of $13,570 per eligible child. This amount can aid parents significantly, especially when families can spend upwards of $30,000 on the whole adoption process, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The new GOP tax proposal would eliminate these credits and repeal a taxable income exclusion for employee adoption assistance programs. Both of these would go into effect in after 2017.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Ne) told CNA that adoption assistance sends the message that the government willing to help families,.

“The adoption tax credit is a clear and legitimate statement by the government that we have a preferential policy for life,” Fortenberry said. “We are vigorously making the case of its inclusion in the tax package. This is a real time, real life policy that works.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex), the principal author of House Republicans’ tax overhaul plan, argues that eliminating the adoption tax credit would allow Congress to expand the child tax credit available to most taxpayers, which would be increased by about $600 if the tax reform package passes.

“I think this is a better approach for the vast majority of Americans who are left behind,” Brady told the Washington Post, saying that the tax plan would be “giving families more in their paychecks, especially the middle-class families that are crucial for adoption.”

Brady himself has two adopted sons, but did not utilize the tax credit since it is not available for families who make more than $242,000 annually.

On Nov. 2, national pro-life group the Susan B. Anthony List sent a letter to Congress, expressing opposition to the potential provision and highlighting the fact that the adoption tax credit creates stable homes for children.

“SBA List opposes the provision of the bill that repeals the adoption tax credit,” the letter read, saying “it is shocking that Congress would move to eliminate this life-affirming effort to make adoption a possibility for middle income American families.”

“This important tax credit helps tens of thousands of families each year offset the steep costs of adopting children. We urge the pro-life House to remove this provision from their bill immediately,” the letter continued.

On Oct. 25, Bishop Frank Dewane of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement on the tax reform proposal, urging “the U.S. House of Representatives towards prudence, ensuring that they and the nation fully understand the impacts of tax reform proposals before voting on them.”

“A clear understanding and careful consideration of the impacts of these tax proposals is essential for the sake of all people, but particularly the poor,” Dewane continued.

GOP staffers have told CNA that there are efforts underway in Congress to remove the adoption tax credit repeal from the tax reform bill as it moves forward.

Australia's former prime minister: Redefining marriage has big consequences

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 18:09

New York City, N.Y., Nov 3, 2017 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If the people of Australia vote to redefine marriage in the country, the consequences will be dire, warned former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“The idea that you can just change the definition of marriage and nothing else follows is intellectual fraud,” he said.

Abbott spoke to CNA before a Nov. 1 panel discussion on Australia’s ongoing marriage vote. The panel, held in New York City, was hosted by ADF International, an alliance-building human rights group that promotes religious freedom and the sanctity of life, marriage, and family.

Australia is currently in the final days of a plebiscite on marriage. The plebiscite – or voluntary poll to measure public feedback – asks voters to return mail-in ballots on whether to redefine marriage in the country.

The mail-in vote itself is not legally binding. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has promised to introduce legislation in Parliament to redefine marriage if the majority of voters favor it.

Abbott has been vocally opposed to the redefinition of marriage, warning that it will weaken the institution which serves as the foundation of society.

He also voiced concerns that if marriage is redefined, those who oppose it will find themselves marginalized and penalized, since even now, just voicing support for the longstanding view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman “attracts an instant social media storm and reputational death.”

“Especially if unaccompanied by any wider charter of freedoms, we can expect same-sex marriage in Australia to have much the same consequences as in other countries,” Abbott said at the panel. “People will take offense at the traditional teaching and the anti-discrimination laws can be relied upon to do the rest.”

This is already starting to happen, he said, pointing to Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who faced prosecution under anti-discrimination laws for a booklet outlining Christian teaching on marriage.

“People aren’t being argued into changing their minds; they’re being bullied into abandoning their convictions,” Abbott warned.

And these pressures will only increase if marriage is redefined, he told CNA. “The anti-discrimination laws will be deployed, I think oppressively, against people – particularly educators – who put forward the traditional definitions and teachings.”

No matter how the plebiscite turns out, he said, freedom of religion, conscience, and speech need to be reaffirmed, because the current debate has shown how fragile they are in the country today.

Despite opposition, Abbott said he is encouraged by the strong show of support for marriage, especially in large groups of young people. The effort to defend marriage in Australia, he said, has raised millions of dollars and mobilized tens of thousands of donors and volunteers.

“Win, lose, or draw,” he said, “starting from scratch two months ago, the campaign for marriage in my country has mobilized thousands of new activists; and created a network that could be deployed to defend Western civilization more broadly and the Judeo-Christian ethic against all that’s been undermining it.”

These newly activated citizens will be crucial in fighting other challenges to Australian society, such as an effort to legalize assisted suicide in Victoria and a push for gender ideology in schools, he said.

“We need more standard bearers, at every level, because a majority that stays silent soon becomes a minority.”

Ultimately, Abbott sees the push to redefine marriage as part of a broader ailment affecting much of Western society.

“Campaigns for same-sex marriage and the like are a consequence of our civilizational self-doubt and the collapse of cultural self-confidence,” he said, adding that until Western nations address this underlying question, additional challenges to Christian values will continue to arise.

Michael Farris, president of ADF, agreed, warning that a broader process of religious freedom erosion is at work.

In the two years since the Supreme Court unilaterally redefined marriage for the United States, Farris said, “we have seen individuals and institutions increasingly come under fire simply for trying to live their lives, run their businesses, and operate their ministries consistent with the millennia-old belief, shared by millions of people around the world, that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.”

These individuals are not bigots, but “people of sincerely-held religious belief attempting to find their way as entrepreneurs and artists in a new legal landscape,” he continued.

Leading up to the redefinition of marriage in the U.S., “proponents of same-sex marriage quelled fears that redefining marriage would threaten rights of conscience by repeatedly promising that same-sex marriage would not infringe on these fundamental rights,” Farris said.

“Now, Australians are being told the same falsehood.”

In the final days of voting, Abbott warned his fellow Australians to carefully consider the broad consequences of redefining an age-old institution that is so foundational for society.

“This is a decisive vote,” he told CNA, “and it is, one way or another, a watershed moment in the life of our country.”

Georgetown students' commission votes not to sanction pro-marriage group

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:37

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Georgetown University's Student Activities Commission voted Friday to maintain university funding for Love Saxa, a pro-marriage student group that had been accused by fellow students of promoting intolerance and hate.

The activities commission's Nov. 3 vote regarding Love Saxa was in response to a petition filed by a student-senator in the Georgetown University Student Association, and supported by leaders of gay pride student organizations at Georgetown.

They voted 8-4 to reject the argument levied by students Chad Gasman and Jasmin Ouseph that Love Saxa had violated standards that student organizations are ineligible for recognition and benefits “if their purpose or activities … foster hatred or intolerance of others because of their race, nationality, gender, religion, or sexual preferences.”

“Love Saxa is one of many groups operating on campus with positions that affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Georgetown's senior director for strategic communications, Rachel Pugh, told student newspaper The Hoya.

“Through [SAC], the University supports more than 100 co-curricular student organizations with access to benefits, including Love Saxa. We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic tradition and identity.”

Members of the activities commission deliberated for several hours on Thursday night and into Friday morning following a hearing on Monday into the allegations of Love Saxa's intolerance.

The vote is not binding, and is a recommendation to the university's director of student engagement. It can be appealed, and Ouseph and Gasman have said they intend to do so.

As a recognized student group, Love Saxa receives $250 annually in funding from the university and has access to classrooms for events.

In a Sept. 6 column in The Hoya, Love Saxa's president, Amelia Irvine, wrote that “we believe that marriage is a conjugal union on every level – emotional, spiritual, physical and mental – directed toward caring for biological children. To us, marriage is much more than commitment of love between two consenting adults.”

Leaders of gay pride student organizations at Georgetown denounced this language as homophobic, and claimed it violated university standards.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, a prominent advocate of dialogue with and acceptance of LBGT groups by the Church, told CNA last month that he supports the right of Love Saxa to promote its views at Georgetown.

“Why should a student group that espouses Catholic teaching respectfully be defunded by a Catholic university? As long as Love Saxa treats LGBT people (both on campus and off campus) with 'respect, compassion and sensitivity,' as the Catechism requires, then they should be able to have their say on campus,” he said.

Robert George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University, said the effort to defund Love Saxa “ought to be a matter of grave concern for honorable people across the ideological spectrum.”

Georgetown is a Catholic university in Washington, D.C., founded by the Society of Jesus in 1789.


Hope after the Horror: Reflections on a massacre of Baghdadi Christians

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 08:08

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This Halloween marks the seventh anniversary of when my parents' church in Baghdad was held hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq, a little known group at the time.

After a few tense hours, the Iraqi army moved in to try and save the hostages held up in the Syriac Catholic Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral located in the heart of Baghdad. The standoff led to the death of 58 worshipers, including three priests, children, and a baby who was beheaded on the altar. 78 worshipers were severely wounded or maimed, losing legs, arms and requiring months of operations to remove shrapnel or heal other injuries. For many Iraqi Christians, this massacre answered the question that many had asked themselves throughout the almost 10 years of bloody sectarian civil war that engulfed Iraq: “Are we still welcome in this country anymore?” Sadly, many could no longer look at their children and promise them a good future while they remained in Iraq. In the ensuing few months, a mass exodus of Christians from Baghdad started which brought down the population of Christians from 20 percent to only several thousand.

My parents, having witnessed on TV the horror that befell Iraq with the onset of the civil war, lost hope for any future for Christians in Iraq, because while the Shia had Iran and the Sunnis had the Gulf and Turkey, nobody was willing to stick up for the Christians. They watched as their ancestral city of Mosul saw a growth in Salafi activity and mourned as Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks and Mandeans were ethnically cleansed from the city. With the onset of the war in Syria, more reports of Christians being killed, tortured and taken as slaves on account of their faith came to the forefront and painted a dark picture for the future of Christianity in the region.

Exploding out of the Syrian crisis, ISIS burst onto the stage in Iraq and put one-third of the country under its control. During their blitzkrieg in the northern part of the country, ISIS attempted to wipe out all followers of the ancient Yezidi faith historically concentrated in the Sinjar region of the Nineveh Province. However, they did not stop there, and moved to destroy the ancient Christian heartland of Iraq found in the Nineveh Plains region northeast of the city of Mosul. Over 100,000 Christians fled overnight as ISIS swarmed in and killed dozens of people and took many others as sex slaves. The dead included my mother’s elderly nanny, Naeema, who had raised her and her brothers since they were children. Naeema taught my mom how to pray, tucked her in to bed every night and greeted her with coffee and freshly ironed cloths every day. Her death made them feel powerless and numb with pain as she was thrown into an unmarked grave and forgotten.

My parents’ Muslim neighbors mourned the destruction brought upon their Christian brothers and sisters, but despite their goodwill, they were powerless to do anything. The ISIS invasion of Mosul brought more pain to my family, as my grandfather’s grave was likely destroyed along with hundreds of others as ISIS tried to destroy as much of Mosul’s Christian history as they could. The monastery of Saint Behnam and his sister Sarah that my grandfather was named after was blown up and recorded in a spectacular video. My family mourned the destruction of so much of what was near and dear to them and became distressed as depressing updates continued to come out of Iraq. Hundreds of Christian properties in Mosul were ruined or given to ISIS fighters. These homes had belonged to these families for generations, and losing them was tantamount to losing their entire history and several lifetimes of work.

In my current capacity as a Special Assistant for the non-profit In Defense of Christians, I was lucky to be given the opportunity to help an organization prepare for their annual summit. IDC’s summit focuses on a cause I care about deeply: the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East. This year, IDC decided to focus on a five-point policy agenda which works to stabilize Lebanon and Syria, deliver desperately needed aid to victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, correct a historic injustice by recognizing the Armenian genocide, hold American allies who persecute Christians and other minorities accountable and identify individuals or groups who supported ISIS' campaign of terror and genocide against Christians. As the fate of the Christian communities in the Middle East hangs in the balance, this sort of work is imperative to preserve the existence of an ancient community from going extinct.

One of the most exciting aspects of the summit was having the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence come and deliver the keynote address at our annual Solidarity Dinner. In the lead up to the dinner, the air was crackling with excitement as we were all waiting for the Vice President to take to stage and deliver remarks. When he arrived, the dinner attendees clapped then quickly turned quiet as they waited to hear what he would say. It was almost inconceivable that somebody of this stature would be addressing a crowd of people passionate about the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

During his keynote address, the Vice President noted that “In Iraq, the followers of Christ have fallen by 80 percent in the past decade and a half…but tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.” I had to wipe away the tears that last phrase brought to my eyes. It seemed too good to be true that after all of these years of hardship Iraqi Christians have suffered that the Vice President of the United States would stand there and announce that help was coming for a people the international community had done nothing for in the past 14 years. The Vice President held no punches in his speech and cut through over careful dancing around of words to state that “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew.”

In a moving moment for many in the room, Vice President Pence noted that “In the mountains of Syria, the valleys of Lebanon, on the plains of Nineveh, the plateaus of Armenia, on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, the delta of the Nile, the fathers and mothers of our faith planted seeds of belief. They've blossomed and borne fruit ever since.” Acknowledging the ancient roots of Christianity in the region and invoking the names of the areas where they still exist today moved not just me, as almost all Middle Eastern attendees I spoke with afterwards mentioned the use of this imagery.

As somebody who has been tracking and writing about the reconstruction efforts of Christian villages on the Nineveh Plains, my anxiety over the massive reconstruction challenges were eased over almost instantaneously by the Vice President’s announcement that the US would work with faith-based groups and private organizations through USAID to help genocide victims. This one action has the ability to remove the most pressing issue facing Christians who want to return to their homes and not immigrate to Europe: rebuilding their homes targeted for destruction by ISIS.  

Returning home much later that night, I called my mother and woke her up to tell her the news. She could not believe me when I told her that Mike Pence had spoken about our community’s issues and worked to ensure they would be able to rebuild their homes. When I told her that he remarked that “In Iraq, we see monasteries demolished, priests and monks beheaded, the two-millennia-old Christian tradition in Mosul clinging for survival,” neither could she nor my father restrain their tears of joy. The fact that he mentioned the plight of oft-forgotten Mosulawi Christians and alluded to the destruction of the Mar Behnam monastery brought out a happiness in them that they had long contained. That happiness came from regaining a sense of hope again. For the first time, it seemed like somebody had finally responded to our pleas of help at the 11th hour and acknowledged our pain.

For the first time in seven years, my family and I slept peacefully on Halloween.


Yousif Kalian is an analyst who focuses on Iraq, Syria, Kurdish issues and religious minorities. He currently works for In Defense of Christians, and was previously a Research Assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has been published in the American Interest, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and elsewhere.

For opposing gay marriage, she’s facing death threats and million-dollar lawsuits

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 05:04

New York City, N.Y., Nov 3, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Barronelle Stutzman took a stand for her Christian beliefs four-and-a-half years ago, she never imagined that she would eventually be appealing to the US Supreme Court to defend her decision.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“This was never on my bucket list,” Barronelle told CNA.

The 72-year-old grandmother is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and is currently involved in a lawsuit involving a customer of nearly 10 years, Rob Ingersoll.

Barronelle knew Rob was gay from the beginning. “It was never an issue,” she said. She enjoyed working with him, and said he would pick out creative vases and containers, and would come in with flower requests for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

“I loved doing arrangements for Rob, because I got to think outside of the box, and do something special for him.”

But when Rob came in and told Barronelle that he had gotten engaged to his boyfriend, she took him by the hand and explained that she believed marriage to be a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so she could not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Initially, Rob said that he understood and asked if she could recommend another florist, which she did.

Later, however, his partner posted a message on social media about Barronelle declining to take part in the wedding, and it went viral. Soon, she was informed that she was being sued by the Washington State attorney general and the ACLU. Today, more than four years later, Barronelle is waiting to hear whether the US Supreme Court will take her case.

And while the actual damages being sought by the couple are only around $7 – the mileage cost of driving to another florist – Barronelle could be responsible for more than $1 million in legal fees to nearly a dozen ACLU lawyers opposing her in the case.

Barronelle, who is Southern Baptist, spoke at a Nov. 1 panel discussion in New York City, hosted by ADF International, the global branch of the non-profit legal group that is representing her in court.

The panel discussed Australia’s ongoing marriage referendum and the threats to religious freedom that accompany a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

“Because I have a belief that is marriage is between one man and a woman, we could possibly lose everything we own, everything we’ve saved for our kids and grandkids,” Barronelle said.

She explained that while the decision to decline a same-sex wedding was difficult, it was the only way she could stay true to her beliefs. For her, weddings are much more than simply a job – they’re a deeply personal labor of love, and she pours her heart and soul into her work.

“I spend months – sometimes years – with the bride and groom. I get to know them personally, what they want to convey, what the bride wants, what her vision is. There’s so much personal involvement in this.”

At the wedding, Barronelle will often help greet guests and calm nervous parents. “When we get the bride down the aisle, then I know I’ve done my job,” she said.

With floral arrangements for weddings being such a personal endeavor, she knew that she would be betraying her relationship with Christ if she participated in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, Barronelle has received an outpouring of support – customers coming in to offer a kind word or a hug, strangers telling her they are praying for her family, and messages of encouragement from 68 countries.

But she’s also received death threats. She’s had to install a security system and change her route to work.

“Even today, were very aware of people who come in who might do us harm,” she said.

Also hard, she said, has been losing her relationship with Rob. She said she misses him and harbors no anger against him.

“I can tell you that if Rob walked into my store today, I would hug him, catch up on his life, and I would wait on him for another 10 years if he’d let me.”

She also has a message for her fellow Americans: stand up for religious freedom, before it’s too late.

“Don’t think this cannot happen to you,” she said. “I never thought that we would have a government that would come in and tell you what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create – and if you don’t do it, you’ll be totally destroyed.”

“If we don’t stand now, there will be nothing to stand for.”

Death in the modern age – and how to prepare as a Catholic

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 17:03

Washington D.C., Nov 2, 2017 / 03:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Death. It’s a subject seen as sad, morbid and fearful, something that people would rather not think about, and certainly not discuss.

Yet for Catholics, death is an essential part of the faith.

“For those who die in Christ's grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The celebration of the sacraments hearken for a kind of death: death to self, death as a consequence of sin, a remembrance of Christ’s death and entrance into eternal life.

As the 20th century priest Fr. Henri Nouwen remarked, “Dying is the most general human event, something we all have to do.”

The question, he asks, is “Do we do it well?”

Hiding from death

Advances in medicine and technology have drastically increased life expectancies in the past century. In 1915, most people would not expect to live past age 55. A child born in the US in 2017 is expected to see their 85th birthday.

As a result, death has become something distant and even foreign, argues Julie Masters, a professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

“We get lulled into thinking death doesn’t hit us very often, because it waits until people are very old,” she told CNA. “We know that younger people do die, that middle aged people do die, but in this country, the majority of people who die are going to be older people.”

The average American in the 21st century simply doesn’t have the experience with death that previous generations had, she said. And this lack of experience can lend itself to fear and a tendency to ignore the uncomfortable unknown of the future.

“So we’ll put it off until we have to talk about it, and when we do talk about it, then we get in a pickle because we’re not sure what people want,” Masters said.

Hiding from death can have other consequences, as well. Cultural unease and inexperience with death can affect how we approach loved ones as they die.

“If we’re uncomfortable with death, if someone is dying, we may be unwilling to visit them because we don’t know what to say, when in reality we don’t need to say anything,” Masters said. “We may be less available to comfort them.”

Avoidance of death can also impact vulnerable members of society who are not actively dying, Masters warned.

“Our uncomfortableness with dying may be symptomatic of our desire to control dying and death,” she said. When that control or the fear of becoming a “burden” gives way to conversations about physician-assisted suicide, she continued, “we look at the most vulnerable and say ‘are they really worthy of living, think of all the resources they’re taking up?’”

“Each step in that slope, it gets easier to get rid of people who are no longer valuable or are vulnerable. Yet don’t we learn from the vulnerable?” she questioned. “They’re the ones who teach the strong what’s most valuable in life.”

But Masters also sees a desire to move towards a broader discussion of how to die well. She pointed to the spread of Death Cafes and other guided discussion groups that encourage conversations about death, dying and preparation for the end of life.

Churches can offer a similar kinds of programming, she suggested: “People want to talk about it, they just need the place to do that.”

What does it mean to have a ‘happy death’?

While a person may plan for their death, ultimately the circumstances of one’s passing will be out of their control. However, everyone can aspire to a “good” or “happy” death, said Fr. Michael Witczak, an associate professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America.

He told CNA that the essential qualities of a happy death are being in a state of grace and having a good relationship with God.

The idea of a happy death, or at the very least the aspiration of it, gained popular consideration in the Ars Moriendi – a collection of 15th Century Catholic works laying out the “Art of Dying,” he noted.

The texts elaborate on the temptations – such as despair – that face the dying, questions to ask the dying, advice for families and friends, how to imitate Christ’s life, and prayers for the bedside.

Resources such as these, from ages of the Church that had a more daily experience of death, Fr. Witczak suggested, can be a good resource for beginning to live “intentionally” and to think more about death and how to die well.

Masters agreed that intentionality is key in shifting the cultural mindset on death and dying.
“What if people approached death with the same joy that they greet the birth of a new baby?” she asked.

It’s a fitting analogue, she argues. Both processes – birth and death – are the defining markers of human life, and natural processes that all the living will experience. Both processes also open the door to a similar set of unknowns: What comes next? What will it be like afterwards? How will we cope?

She added that the modern tendency to view death with suspicion and trepidation – or to ignore it altogether – reflects something about the culture.

“If we’re so afraid of death and dying, I have to wonder if we’re also afraid of life and living.”

Last wishes

Discussing death is the first step in making practical preparations for it.

Without planning, Masters said, loved ones may not know a person’s preferences for treatment, finances, or funeral preparations, which can lead to sometimes sharp divides between friends and family. “When we get comfortable talking about death,” she noted, “we can let people know what our wishes are, so that hopefully our wishes are followed.”

Thorough planning includes setting advanced directives and establishing a power of attorney who can make medical decisions on one’s behalf if one is unable to do so.

It is also important to be aware of different care options in an individual’s geographic location. These include palliative care, which focuses on improving quality and length of life while decreasing the need for additional hospital visits. Not just limited to end-of-life situations, palliative care is available for a range of long-term illnesses, and seeks to relieve pain rather than cure an underlying condition.

Hospice care is also an option when the end of life approaches. At this point, the goal is no longer to extend the length of life, but to prepare for death, trying to alleviate pain and offer comfort, while also helping mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to prepare for death.

Funeral planning and creating a will are also important steps in the preparation process. Even for the young or those without material possessions, planning for one’s death can be useful for grieving friends and family members, Masters said. She explained that the idea of creating an “ethical will” is a Jewish tradition in which a person writes a letter or spiritual autobiography, leaving behind the values and morals they found important in their life to pass on to the next generation.

The practice, which is growing in popularity, is available to anyone “to put down into words what’s given their life meaning,” and can have special meaning for those who “feel, because they don’t have a lot of wealth or a lot of possessions, that they have nothing to leave their family.”

Masters pointed to a student of hers who wrote an ethical will shortly before passing away in college and the example of her own grandparents instilling the recitation of the Rosary as people who left behind some of their most meaningful gifts to their loved ones.

“It’s a testament to what that person believed in. What a gift that is!”

Paul Malley, president of the non-profit group Aging with Dignity, stressed that planning the more specific details of end-of-life care can help respect a person’s dignity during illness or on the deathbed.

“Those who are at the end of life, whether they may be suffering with a serious illness or disability, tend to have their dignity questioned,” he told CNA.

The sick and dying are often isolated, receiving care from medical professionals, he explained. And while advanced care planning often focuses on decisions regarding feeding tubes, ventilators, and other medical treatment options, that discussion “doesn’t tell your family anything about what dignified care means to you.”

“It’s important not to just talk about caregiving in terms of medical issues,” Malley stressed. “That’s a small fraction of a day – the rest of the day plays out at the bedside.”

Aging with Dignity promotes planning for acts of comfort, spiritual issues and family relationships in order to make the time surrounding death easier and more dignified for all involved.

“These issues were never talked about when it came to end-of-life care or advanced care planning.” Among some of the requests participants make, he elaborated, are small acts of comfort like cool cloths on a forehead, pictures of loved ones in a hospital room, favorite blankets on a bed, or requests for specific family or friends to come visit.

Planning to incorporate what Malley calls “the lost art of caregiving,” was important to his own family when his grandmother died. “One of the most important things for her was that she always wanted to have her feet poking out of the blanket because her feet were hot,” he recalled.

Although nurses and care providers would often bundle her feet up to try to keep her warm, her family was able to untuck her feet afterwards so she could stay comfortable.

“That might be something that sounds very trivial, very small, but for her, for my grandmother, laying in that bed where she couldn’t get up and couldn’t reach down to pull up her own blanket, having her feet stick out at the edge of the blanket was probably the most important thing to her all day long,” Malley said.

The end of the earthly pilgrimage

For Catholics, spiritual preparation for death should always include the sacraments, Fr. Witczak said.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, important for all the faithful throughout their lives, is a particularly important spiritual medicine for those nearing death.

Anointing of the Sick should be sought for those who have begun to be in danger of death due to sickness or old age, and it can be repeated if the sick person recovers and again becomes gravely ill, or if their condition becomes more grave.

“The Church wants people to celebrate the sacrament as often as they need to,” Fr. Witczak said.

The Eucharist can also be received at the end of life as “viaticum,” which means “with you on the way.”

“It’s receiving the Lord who will be with you on the way to the other side,” said Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

He added that the Eucharist can be received as viaticum more than once, should a person recover, and can also be given even if someone has already received the Eucharist earlier during the day.

A good death is a gift

Prayer, reception of the sacraments, and seeking forgiveness from God and one another can mark death as a time of peace, Fr. Petri said. Death can also be a time of surprise, as it “either amplifies the way a person has lived their life or it causes a complete reversal,” with some people undergoing profound conversions or surprising hardenings of the heart during their last days.

“Much of it really does really on the will of God,” he reflected, adding that we should all pray for the grace of a holy death.

Dying a happy death is not only a blessing for the person dying, but can be a gift to others as well, Fr. Petri said, noting that family and friends can be drawn closer to one another and to God as the result of a holy death.

Masters agreed, adding that “the dying can serve as examples or role models,” by teaching others how to die without fear.

Ultimately, Fr. Witczak said, Christians “do” death differently because Christians “do” life differently.

“I think as human beings, death is a topic we’re afraid of and we’re told not to think about, and the Christian tradition keeps trying to bring it before people, not to scare people, but rather to remind people of their ultimate destiny,” he said.

“This is not simple and it’s something people ultimately have to learn for themselves, but it’s the important task of life. I think what the Church tries to do is to help people live their life fully and even live their death as an entryway into the life that is promised to us by Jesus Christ.”

Looking toward death and the vulnerability that surrounds it can be a vital way of encountering death – and overcoming the fear of it, he said.

Masters agreed, noting that those who have had encounters with death or profound suffering often “look at life differently.”

“They understand it is so fleeting. But because they know how close death is they look at life in a different way.”

For many people, this different approach to life includes an increased focus on family, friends and service, she said. “That’s how you’re remembered at the end of the day: what did you do for other people?”

Starting with even the most basic conversations about death, she added, can be beneficial for those wanting to confront mortality.

“When you can acknowledge that you’re going to die, you can begin to live your life.”

Bishop Morlino: don't let funeral controversy overshadow Christ's love

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 14:51

Madison, Wis., Nov 2, 2017 / 12:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, misconceptions and negativity are dominating the reaction to his diocese’s private message to priests about funeral rites for people in a same-sex union.

The reaction includes a well-publicized internet petition asking Pope Francis to remove him from office.

“The observations and reactions that have been made simply do not account for the total context,” Bishop Morlino said in his Oct. 30 column. “And what has grown from there is a flurry of opportunity for people to jump to every sort of negative conclusion and to air those negative judgements freely and widely. All of this has occurred very much absent the reality of the situation.”

His column for the Madison diocese’s Catholic Herald newspaper was titled “Church invites all to encounter Jesus Christ”.

The bishop said news coverage of an internal message to priests have confirmed some people in their long-held judgements, but have left others “sad and scratching your heads.”

“In truth, I find myself in that latter group,” he said. Bishop Morlino said he prayed and reflected on the controversy and thought there were “misconceptions at the most basic level.” The Church loves everyone and invites them to encounter Jesus Christ, he said, adding: “so long as we live and breathe we are being called by the Risen Lord to know Him, to follow Him, and to be changed by Him.”

The Diocese of Madison was more critical of the negative reaction.

“It is lamentable that some who have willfully and flippantly spread gossip, rumor, and sadly even calumny, in recent days on this subject, have done so without asking the diocese for any clarification whatsoever,” the diocese said Oct. 24. “Likewise, those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls ‘a work of darkness’.”

Vicar general Msgr. James Bartylla, in the message to priests, addressed funeral rites for a person in a same-sex union. The communication concerned various topics like whether the deceased or his or her partner was a promoter of the gay lifestyle and whether the deceased gave signs of repentance.

The memo discussed ways to avoid causing scandal and confusion to the faithful, which could lead others into sin or confuse or weaken people regarding Catholic teachings, and reflected existing canon law. One way to avoid scandal would be to avoid giving a partner a prominent role in a church rite or service, the memo said.

Local media and the Associated Press have reported on an online petition at that has attracted more than 6,600 signatures calling on Pope Francis to remove Bishop Morlino.

The petition may be signed from anyone in the world, not simply those in the Madison diocese. It was addressed to Pope Francis as well as apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, but the petition misspelled “apostolic.” Others addressed in the petition were Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland; and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

CNA sought comment from the apostolic nunciature and several canon law experts but did not receive a response by deadline.

The petition claimed the instruction encouraged priests to “invasively inquire” about a deceased’s lifestyle and about whether he or she had repented prior to death. It claimed that the bishop is “an open and practicing bigot whose attitudes and opinions about the LGBTQI members of his Diocese (and our beloved families) are nothing short of inhumane.” It also claimed he has a “corrosive and corrupt influence over the diocese” in ways like trying to influence voters. Characterizing the statement as “threats to priests,” it charged that these amount to “a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.”

Amelia Royko Maurer, a self-described human rights advocate from Madison, Wis., launched the petition. In a message at the petition site, Maurer charged the bishop and his vicar general have a “hateful, bigoted agenda,” harmful to those who identify as LGBTI, that “does not belong anywhere much less here in Madison.

She said she grew up attending several Catholic parishes in the diocese and currently had family at several parishes. It was not clear whether she was still a practicing Catholic.

The Madison diocese that the message to priests was not an official policy, but it conforms to the thinking of Bishop Morlino. It was delivered in a weekly email to priests from the diocese’s vicar general, in response to pastoral questions from priests themselves. It aimed to address these questions in “a confidential setting.”

No policy could adequately cover any case, the diocese said, and pastors are responsible for addressing particular situations of their people “whom they ideally know well and whom they have accompanied, even until their death.” Priests are advised to think through the questions “thoroughly and prudently.”

Bishop Morlino said that the rites and sacraments of the Church have been given by Christ “to be dispensed liberally by the Church upon all those who seek to live that life of discipleship.”

“Ideally, the expression of a desire to follow Jesus does not occur at the last moment of life, but is lived joyfully each day,” he said. “But even for those who make the slightest turn to follow Him with their very last breath, Jesus Christ and His Church welcome them with tremendous rejoicing.”

Those who have the impression the Church is closed to them should speak to a priest and learn the truth, “and the truth will set you free,” the bishop said.

He said that individuals who attempt to follow Christ while experiencing same-sex desires are “laboring under a tremendously heavy cross.” He stressed all Christians’ duty to support them. He encouraged those who want to know Christ to use “every means that the Church offers and to which you are disposed.” He encouraged them to speak to their local priest or if they feel they cannot, to ask God to help them.

Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of America Magazine, was critical of Bishop Morlino’s vicar general in an Oct. 23 Facebook post, claiming Catholic teaching is almost always applied selectively in such cases and would not be applied to a heterosexual who is in an irregular situation, such as an illicit union.

Also critical of the vicar general was New Ways Ministry, a group whose claim to be Catholic was rejected by the U.S. bishops in 2010. The group has taken funding from wealthy groups like the Arcus Foundation that aim to change religious groups that do not support LGBT causes. New Ways Ministry linked to Fr. Martin’s post.

The last major advocacy campaign seeking the removal of a U.S. bishop took place in early 2015.

San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone was targeted by a public relations campaign due to a controversy over a Catholic K-8 school and its connected parish, Star of the Sea. Alumni, schoolchildren’s parents and other allies objected to several policies, including priests’ decision to have only boys, and not girls, as altar servers.

“Everyone is praying that the Pope will remove the San Francisco Archbishop and these priests,” Sam Singer, the head of the San Francisco-based Singer Associates, Inc., had said in a February 2015 Google Plus post.

That campaign then fed into controversies surrounding the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s proposed morality clauses in its handbook for teachers at its Catholic high schools.

Archbishop Cordileone still heads the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

What society can learn from the Catholic Church regarding child protection

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 02:02

Denver, Colo., Nov 2, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One month after an avalanche of sexual assault accusations were lobbed against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, another Hollywood scandal broke.

This week, actor Anthony Rapp accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexually assaulting him as a minor. Spacey apologized, but said he didn’t remember the encounter, and also took the opportunity to come out as gay.

In the early 2000s, the Catholic Church in the United States was also reeling from a sex abuse crisis when the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting 130 minors, mostly young boys, over the course of more than 30 years. This led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has put into place numerous policies and practices to protect children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Charter for Child and Youth Protection.

The charter, implemented in 2002, obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive annual report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Heidt Kozisek is a psychologist and the director of the Child Protection Office for the Diocese of Grand Island, which is in compliance with the charter.

Her diocese, like most throughout the country, has an abuse prevention program called Safe Environment training that is required for all adult employees and volunteers within the diocese, which trains them in preventing abuse, recognizing warning signs, and reporting incidents of abuse.

They also provide children in the diocese with education on appropriate relationships, Kozisek said.

“We educate children and youth in the qualities of right relationships and what to do when a relationship isn’t right; and provide continuing education for youth and adults with a goal of helping all experience right relationships throughout their lifespan,” she said.

“We strive to create a culture of healing and protection, where fostering right relationships, building resilience, and promoting healing are an integral part of who and how we are with children and youth, rather than merely a series of programs.”

Kozisek added that the USCCB charter provides the basic guidelines and principles for child protection in the U.S. dioceses, which then implement them with some specific considerations for their individual communities and the resources available within them.

When abuse allegations are reported, Kozisek said the protocol is first to report the abuse to local law enforcement authorities and to Child Protective Services. The accused person is immediately suspended from ministry pending a legal and internal investigation.

If someone is legally charged, they are immediately barred from ministry. Even if an accused individual is not legally charged, but the internal investigation still finds them “unfit for ministry”, they are removed from their employment or volunteer position, Kozisek said.

The Archdiocese of New York is also compliant with the USCCB charter, and has trained more than 100,000 people in providing a safe environment for children.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy for the New York archdiocese, told CNA that the local Church has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sexual abuse of minors, and that they also follow the protocol of having both legal and internal investigations of each allegation of abuse.

“At the conclusion of our investigation, if the accused is a cleric we submit the case to the Advisory Review Board for evaluation,” he said.

“If they determine that the allegation is substantiated, then a recommendation is made to the cardinal that the cleric be permanently removed from ministry. If the accused is a layperson, and we determine that the allegation is substantiated, then they are discharged from employment or volunteer service and permanently barred from any ministry. As a result, we have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity.”

Last year, the USCCB found widespread compliance throughout the country in their annual report on the implementation of the charter.

The report, carried out by the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board, found that 189 dioceses and eparchies were compliant with the charter and one diocese was partially compliant, specifically with Articles 12 and 13, which require proof that training programs are in place and that background checks are conducted on employees, clerics, and volunteers.

The one diocese not fully compliant is that of Lincoln, though according to the report the diocese plans to fully participate in the audit next year.

According to the 2016 report, 386 out of the 838 people who reported past abuse as minors accepted diocesan outreach and healing, and continued support was provided to 1,646 victims.

Mechmann said the key to combating abuse is combating a culture of abuse, which the Church has worked hard to do since the scandal of the early 2000s. The Church continuously reviews and updates recommended abuse prevention and reporting procedures and strives for full disclosure and a zero-tolerance policy of abuse.

“In the area of child protection, the corporate culture is the most important element. In the Church, we have successfully made child protection a key part of our regular course of business and we have made it unequivocally clear that any kind of sexual sin against minors is utterly unacceptable,” he said.

“We have put into place strong policies that are aimed to prevent any abuse. These policies are taken very seriously by the leadership of the Church (laity and clergy alike) who have all demonstrated repeatedly that they are committed to the program. We have demonstrated over and over again that we are open to receiving complaints, we take all allegations seriously, we vigorously investigate them, and we are firm in correcting any problem,” he said.

Hollywood, he noted, could learn from the Church’s work in combating a culture of abuse.
“The contrast with the entertainment industry couldn’t be more stark - there is clearly a corporate culture of sexual vice, there is no commitment to cleaning out the bad elements, and they are doing little or nothing to prevent further abuse.”

The USCCB declined to comment on this story.