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Mural of first Memphis bishop removed after abuse allegations

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 19:07

Memphis, Tenn., Sep 9, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- After being included several months ago on a Virginia list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, the first Catholic bishop of Memphis was removed from a mural in the city over the weekend.

On Saturday, a painting of former Bishop Carroll Dozier was removed from the “Upstanders Mural,” across from the National Civil Rights Museum. It was replaced by an image of Jose Guerrero, co-founder of the social service organization Latino Memphis.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Memphis&#39; first Catholic bishop has been replaced on a mural downtown months after he was included in a list of clergymen accused of molesting children. <a href="https://t.co/ljuNZGQMRJ">https://t.co/ljuNZGQMRJ</a></p>&mdash; WREG News Channel 3 (@3onyourside) <a href="https://twitter.com/3onyourside/status/1171024435807215616?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 9, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Last February, the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, where Dozier was ordained, released a list of clergymen with “a credible and substantiated claim of sexual abuse against a minor.” Dozier is on the list.

The original 2016 mural and the new addition were created by Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit organization which provides educational material to counteract racial prejudice. The purpose of the mural is to commemorate the efforts of Memphis’s social activists, including Lucy Tibbs, T.O. Jones, and Sheldon Korones.

“When we conceived of creating a mural on the outside of our building, our aim was to celebrate Memphis’ leading historical figures who have made invaluable contributions to bringing our communities together and moving forward across racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious boundaries. It was in that spirit that we included Bishop Dozier,” reads a statement from Facing History and Ourselves.

“Given the allegations against Bishop Dozier, we have decided that in the best interests of our students, schools, and communities, to replace Bishop Dozier with another Memphis historical figure,” the statement reads, according to WREG.

After serving as the first bishop of Memphis from 1971 to 1972, when he resigned due to poor health, Dozier passed away in 1985. According to KAIT 8, the bishop was known for supporting the poor and opposing racism, which had earned his place on the mural.

Along with the release of the list of those accused, Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond issued a statement denouncing sex abuse. He apologized on behalf of the Church and called for an “an independent and comprehensive review” of the files of those facing allegations, the Diocesan Safe Environment Office, and the Diocesan Review Board.

“To those who experienced abuse from clergy, I am truly, deeply sorry. I regret that you have to bear the burden of the damage you suffered at the hands of those you trusted,” he said.

“Together, let our prayers guide us with God’s grace. I ask you to pray for the healing of the victims and their families. I ask you to pray for the Church. Be assured I will do all in my power to restore your trust and to make our Church an authentic witness to the Gospel now and throughout our journey to eternal life.”

 

'If we are spiritually sterile, we will have no future,' bishop tells Ruthenian eparchy

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 18:23

Parma, Ohio, Sep 9, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- In many ways the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma, a local Church of the Byzantine rite in the midwestern United States, faces the same problems as the Church throughout the world: shrinking and aging parishes, fallout from scandals, financial strain.

But they feel them perhaps all the more deeply, as a community of 2,000 faithful attending liturgies at 29 parishes spread out over 12 states.

In a pastoral letter to the faithful marking the beginning of the Byzantine ecclesial year, Bishop Milan Lach, SJ, does not shy away from these problems, though he maintains optimism that the future of his eparchy is bright.

“(H)ow do we want to move forward? Growing and advancing is not about starting from scratch, but about taking our cues from who we are and what we have at our disposal, and having the courage to see the future with hope,” Lach said in his Sept. 1 letter to the Parma eparchy.

An eparchy is the Byzantine rite’s equivalent of a diocese in the Latin rite. The Ruthenian Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church which uses the Byzantine rite.

Bishop Lach said, “The most precious treasure that we have in our Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma is you, our faithful, from our youngest children to our eldest believers. For you, we toil in the vineyard of the Lord by proclaiming the crucified and resurrected Christ.”

“You are that pearl of great price, for which we are investing in our future by the building up of the Kingdom of God, irrespective of the fatigue, energy or finances that it may entail, because every human life is a gift of God. Other material things or finances, even if they are important in life, are secondary to me.”

While Lach treasures the faithful of his eparchy, they are increasingly scarce in number. Of the 2,000 Ruthenians who regulargly attend Sunday liturgies in the eparchy that stretches from Ohio to Nebraska, 300 are children under the age of 12. Numbers of adult parishioners have declined in recent years due to the aging or illness of parishioners, or those who move south to retire, or those who have left the Church because of recent sexual scandals, Lach noted.

This decrease in the number of faithful will likely lead to difficult decisions about the merging or closures of some parishes throughout the eparchy, Lach said.

While the southwest area of the eparchy has seen some growth and may need additional priests or parishes in the future, “the unsustainability of some parishes in other parts of the eparchy, which are not able to maintain themselves and their priest, will lead me to make the difficult decision for merger or closure.”

“I have always been and remain open to dialogue. However, at the same time, I am forced to act in order to stop the severe financial bleeding we are experiencing,” Lach said. “In this type of situation, it is not wise to attempt to save a building for the sake of the building; we need to stabilize ourselves as a community first.”

In light of these issues, Lach implored his eparchy to increase their outreach efforts.

“The future of our parishes resides in the Spirit of the Gospel that expresses itself in hospitality and openness to life. Therefore, every new visitor at our liturgies should be welcomed warmly. It is my hope and prayer that this spirit of hospitality and openness to new believers will reign in our parishes,” he said.

He encouraged outreach to students on college campuses and a “vigorous presence” on social media. He also encouraged outreach to families with children, and to Hispanic communities through the offering of Spanish liturgies.

“We must not lock ourselves in our own world, with our own problems. That won’t help us. I strongly encourage you to reach out. We cannot do without outreach … Let us not be afraid to be open to the diversity of the faithful and of cultures, for only this is the way to a flourishing future.”

Additionally, Lach noted that successful and fruitful outreach is not possible if it is not born out of a deep faith, fostered through prayer and the Word of God.

“God’s Word must become for everyone in our eparchy a daily meal, as something without which we cannot live,” he said.

“If we depart from the Logos, the Word of God, we will run the risk of our churches becoming social clubs where people enjoy being together, but do not need anyone else in their company. The Church is not a club; the Church is a community of baptized brothers and sisters.”

He also encouraged the people of his eparchy to frequent the sacraments, including monthly confession, and to pray, fast, and help the poor and needy.

“Let us not neglect our traditional liturgical prayers in our churches, whether it be vespers, morning prayers, canonical hours, or molebens and akathists. I encourage my brother priests and deacons to be an example for the faithful with their liturgical prayers and in their personal life. May God’s temple be a place of prayer where sacred silence is kept and appreciated. This is a matter close to my heart,” he said.

There are currently 23 active priests in the eparchy. In the next eight years, Lach estimates that the region will need 17 additional new priests. That is why he wants to focus the resources of the eparchy on fostering vocations and supporting priests and deacons, rather than on propping up parish buildings for the sake of an attachment to the building, he said.

“(I) want to invest funds in high-quality priestly preparation and formation of young men from the United States, who want to serve Christ in our eparchy, as well as in priests from Europe who will come to help us,” he said.

These funds will also go toward the support of currently active priests, as well as for those in retirement or those who will retire soon.

At the end of his letter, Lach described the financial situation of the eparchy, and noted that the chancery of the eparchy will no longer be able to offset the debts of parishes and “pay the required amount to the priests’ pension fund or health insurance plan.”

At one time the eparchy had enough funds to provide this, Lach said, but those funds have run out, and indebted parishes will be expected to gradually repay their debts to the chancery “in the near future,” he noted.

Finally, Lach urged the people of the eparchy to work together in implementing his vision for the future of the eparchy.

“I am firmly convinced that our Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States has a future, because it offers the Gospel, the joyful message of the living Jesus Christ, through a millennia-old authentic experience. We must let others know about it,” he said.

“While I am willing to lead and to serve, all of us need to embrace our future together,” he added.

“I hope that you will share my optimism that our future is bright, but we must together embark on the right path. Please pray for me that I may receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of discernment. I pray for you constantly that, by being united in Christ, in the end we will all meet in His heavenly home.”

Archbishop Gomez at Mass for immigrants: 'We can heal what is broken in America'

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 18:18

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 9, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- At a Sept. 7 Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called migrants to witness to America the healing love of Christ, which has the power to restore unity to a divided nation.

“My brothers and sisters, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a mission in this moment, in this challenging time in our country,” the archbishop said. “We need to show our neighbors a better way. The way of Jesus, the way of love.”

In this critical moment in America, Jesus is offering an invitation “to love those who make themselves our enemies, and to pray for those who would try to cause division in our country,” he said.

“We can heal what is broken in America. We can restore the sense of mutual trust and empathy; the shared belief in our common humanity; in the dignity of those who are different from us,” Gomez stressed. “Love is the only way forward for America. And we are the ones who must show our nation the way.”

The Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, united Catholics from the diocese of Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of San Bernardino, Orange, and San Diego.

Archbishop Gomez presided over the Mass, which was concelebrated by Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishops David G. O’Connell, Robert E. Barron, and Marc V. Trudeau, Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Roger Mahony, and Retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sartoris, as well as Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange and Orange Auxiliary Bishops Timothy Freyer and Thanh Thai Nguyen.

The Mass concluded a novena in parishes across Southern California, as well as a three-day walking pilgrimage from Orange County to the cathedral in Los Angeles. The 60-mile pilgrimage was a gesture of solidarity with immigrants.

Relics of St. Junípero Serra, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, and St. Toribio Romo were available for veneration following Mass.

In his homily, Archbishop Gomez stressed that “[h]atred can never change the one who hates. Only love can.”

“Christian love is not weak or soft,” he said. “Christian love means working for the good of the other. It means talking to those who disagree with us, treating them with kindness and respect, trying to see things through their eyes.”

Each person present at Mass has their own story, the archbishop noted, with their own fears, hopes and dreams, converging at this moment in Southern California.

While the United States has always been an “exceptional” country, welcoming migrants as a “beacon of hope,” he said, the nation is today seeing exceptional polarization, perhaps the worst since the Civil War.

“But as we stand at this altar today, we know there are no divisions, no ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ No matter who we are, or where we come from, we are one family. And we are sinners, all of us in need of God’s mercy and redemption.”

The death of Christ unites all the faithful in a story of redemption and a call to conversion, Gomez said.

“In Jesus Christ, every barrier, every wall falls down,” he said. “There is no Mexican no Vietnamese, Korean or Filipino; no Russian or Venezuelan, no migrant or native-born. In Jesus Christ, we are all children of God, made in his image.”

When viewed through this lens, it is clear that immigration is not merely a political issue, but a spiritual one as well, Gomez said.

“Immigration is not only about borders between nations. It is about barriers in the human heart — barriers that make us fearful of people who do not look like us; barriers that make us see others as less than human, not worth caring about.”

The archbishop pointed to Mary as a special advocate for America. He encouraged all those present to pray a daily Rosary for the conversion of hearts and the healing of the nation.

When circumstances appear bleak, we can remember that Christ “is the Lord of Creation and history,” he said. “That means this world belongs to him. And we belong to him. And he wants each of us to have a place we can call home.”

Court approves religious accommodation for Texas students with long hair

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 11:02

San Antonio, Texas, Sep 9, 2019 / 09:02 am (CNA).- A court ruled Thursday against a Texas high school that was barring two Catholic students from extracurricular activities due to their refusal to cut their hair, which they had grown out for religious reasons.

The ruling from the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas in the case Gonzales v. Mathis Independent School District granted Cesar and Diego Gonzales a religious accommodation that will allow them to once again participate in school activities while the case continues its way through the court system.

The Gonzales brothers had been banned from participating in interscholastic sports and clubs at Mathis Middle School since 2017, because they have a long, braided strand of hair, which the school says is a violation of the district’s dress code, which forbids long hair for males.

When Cesar Gonzales was an infant, he contracted meningitis and became very ill. While he was sick, his parents promised to God that should he recover, they would allow a piece of his hair to grow forever uncut. They made a similar promise to God when they were expecting Diego, and grew out a portion of his hair as well. This practice, associated with Mexican Catholicism, is known as a “promesa.”

The Mathis Independent School District allowed the Gonzales brothers to wear their hair with the braid through the sixth grade. When the boys entered the seventh grade, they were told to cut it, or else they could not join the football team or clubs like the science club or student council. The school board rejected the family’s explanation that their longer hair was part of their religious beliefs. The Gonzales brothers would only be allowed to rejoin their teams and clubs if they cut their hair.

The family sued in 2018, alleging that this was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The school district has refused to budge on its insistence that the boys cut their hair.

Religious freedom advocates cheered Thursday’s ruling.

“No student should be bullied or punished at school because of his faith,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA. “This is a very easy request to accommodate, and the law requires the school district to do so.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sent a letter to the Mathis ISD in July, requesting that the boys be allowed to play in sports and join clubs.

Suit challenges religious liberty of Catholic hospitals over assisted suicide

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 19:09

Denver, Colo., Sep 6, 2019 / 05:09 pm (CNA).- A Colorado man with cancer and his doctor filed a suit last month against a health system run by the Catholic Church that alleges its policy barring its doctors from participating in assisted suicide violates state law.

Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney, 64, was told July 16 that his cancer was incurable and he would be expected to die within 4-14 months, depending on his treatment, according to a suit filed Aug. 21 in the Arapahoe County District Court by Mahoney and his doctor.

Mahoney quickly inquired about assisted suicide, having anxiety about facing death from cancer and wanting to control the place and time of his death.

According to the AP Mahoney is childless, “and does not want his siblings to have to take care of him.”

He first asked about assisted suicide at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers the day he was told his cancer was uncurable; his physician there said neither he nor anyone else at RMCC would provide assisted suicide.

Mahoney spoke the same day to a nurse practitioner at Centura Health Physician Group about his desire for assisted suicide, who referred his request to his primary physician, Dr. Barbara Morris.

He asked a social worker assigned to his case at RMCC about assisted suicide July 24, who also told him he would be unable to access it through RMCC.

Morris, Mahoney's primary physician, was employed at CHPG, which is jointly run by the Catholic Church and the Seventh-day Adventists through Centura Health Corporation.

Abiding by the U.S. bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives, Centura Health does not permit its employees to participate in assisted suicide.

Morris “would provide [aid-in-dying] to qualified patients but for Centura's Policy,” the suit says. She told him July 22 that Centura bars its physicians from providing assiste suicide, and she suggested that Mahoney transfer his care to a provider who would be permitted to provide assisted suicide.

Mahoney then inquired with another provider, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who said that to obtain assisted suicide he would have to tranfer his care and have his condition re-evaluated.

“Neil does not want to transfer his care to a different facility and endure additional testing,” and likes the convenience of CHPG, which is close to his home.

Mahoney began chemotherapy treatment in July “in the hopes that he responds favorably and can handle the side effects,” and is uncertain whether he wants to receive additional chemotherapy.

Colorado voters legalized assisted suicide in a 2016 ballot measure. The law allows an adult with a terminal illness to request a lethal prescription from their physician. The person must be deemed mentally competent, and two physicians must diagnosis the person as having six months or fewer to live. The measure requires self-administration of secobarbital.

The AP reported Sept. 4 that Jason Spitalnick, who is among the attorneys for Mahoney and Morris, “pointed out that that the law says helping a patient get life-ending drugs does not constitute euthanasia or assisted suicide under the state's criminal code.”

The law requires the official cause of death to be listed as a patient’s underlying condition, not as an assisted suicide.

A facility may not subject its physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to disciplinary action, suspension, or recovation of privileges or licenses related to conduct taken in good faith reliance on the assisted suicide law.

The law allows health care facilities to prohibit its physicians from prescribing assisted suicide when the patient intends to use the medication on the facility's premises; the facilities must notify its physicians and patients in advance of its policy.

Centura issued a policy in February 2017 noting that it prohibits its employees from prescribing or dispensing medication for assisted suicides, or engaging in qualifying a patient for assisted suicide.

The policy does allow Centura physicians or providers to assist patients who request assisted suicide in transferring their care to a non-Centura facility.

The suit seeks a declaration that Centura may not prohibit Morris from providing assisted suicide, nor penalize her should she do so.

Morris' employment was terminated by Centura Aug. 26.

Kaiser Health News reported Aug. 30 that Morris “had planned to help her patient … end his life at his home.”

Centura Health filed a request Aug. 30 that the suit be removed from the Arapahoe district court to the US District Court for the District of Colorado.

Centura requested the transfer to federal court because the suit raises federal questions involving the First Amendment and federal statutes.

It noted that it is a religious organization, and that the doctrines of is sponsors, the Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist healthcare ministries, “govern, direct and inform” its activities.

The group added that when Morris signed an employment agreement with Centura Health-St. Anthony Hospital in 2017, “she expressly agreed that she would not provide any services 'that are in violation of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.'”

Morris told Kaiser Health News she was “shellshocked” at being fired, saying, “it seemed so obvious that they can't do it.”

JoNel Aleccia wrote at KHN that “Morris said she understood that Centura was religiously affiliated when she was hired but didn’t anticipate a problem.”

Morris said that “I didn’t think it was going to affect my general family practice. Until these conversations about medical aid-in-dying, I hadn’t felt any interference.”

Centura Health's request for removal stated that “rather than encouraging patient Cornelius Mahoney to receive care consistent with … Catholic doctrine or transferring care to other providers, Dr. Morris has, within her employment, encouraged an option that she knew was morally unacceptable to her employer. It was her employer's religious judgment that her conduct in relation to Mr. Mahoney violated the religious principles upon which the Hospital operates and warranted the termination of her employment.”

Centura said Aug. 29 that it “expects all our caregivers to act in a manner consistent with our Mission and Core Values,” Kaiser Health News reported.

Wendy Forbes, a Centura spokeswoman, told Kaiser Health News: “We believe the freedom of religion doctrine at the heart of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution supports our policies as a Christian health-care ministry. We will vigorously defend our Constitutional rights.”

Archdiocese of Denver spokesman Mark Haas said that “asking a Christian hospital to play any role in violating the dignity of human life is asking the Christian hospital to compromise its values and core mission. This is not the hospital forcing its beliefs upon others, but rather having outside views forced upon it.”

Second Buffalo whistleblower says he was abused as seminarian

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 18:40

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 6, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- New allegations have surfaced that the second whistleblower reporting a cover-up of clerical sexual abuse by the Diocese of Buffalo, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, was sexually abused as a seminarian in the diocese by a priest who was later removed from ministry for other credible accusations of abuse.

A new report by the Buffalo-area news station WKBW reveals allegations by Fr. Biernat that when Biernat was a seminarian he was assaulted by a Buffalo priest at St. Thomas Aquinas parish.

Biernat said in an interview with WKBW that he was assaulted by Fr. Art Smith, a diocesan priest whom Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo asked to be kept in ministry in 2015 in a letter to Vatican officials, despite the bishop admitting in that same letter that Smith had groomed a young boy, had been accused of inappropriate touching of at least four young men, had faced boundary problems, and refused to stay in a treatment center.

Fr. Smith was suspended in 2018, after the diocese received a new substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. He denied the accusation that he assaulted Biernat, but told WKBW that he simply told Biernat that he “liked him more than he would ever know.”

WKBW reported that a letter sent by Bishop Malone to the Vatican included Biernat’s allegations.

After Biernat told Bishop Edward Grosz, then-auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, his allegations of assault by Fr. Smith, Grosz allegedly responded by threatening Biernat’s vocation if he kept talking about it.

“He said [it] was my fault because I [didn't] lock the door,” Biernat quoted Bishop Grosz, as reported by WKBW. “And then he said, ‘and Ryszard, if you don't stop talking about this, you will not become a priest. You understand me? You understand me?’” Biernat said.

The Diocese of Buffalo did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Biernat—currently on a personal leave of absence—eventually became the vice chancellor of the diocese and Bishop Malone’s secretary. On Sept. 4, WKBW reported conversations of Biernat with Malone and others that the priest secretly taped.

The conversations from Aug. 2, 2019 and March 2019 appeared to show that Malone not only knew of allegations made against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, then-pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Cheektowaga, but that Malone believed the allegations—months before Fr. Nowak was reportedly removed from ministry.

The allegations were raised by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski; the seminarian sent a letter to Bishop Malone detailing his allegations against Fr. Nowak that was dated Jan. 24; Bishop Malone reported on Wednesday that the diocese’s receipt of the letter was on Jan. 28, 2019.

WKBW reported Aug. 7 that the Diocese of Buffalo had removed Fr. Nowak from ministry. At a Wednesday press conference, Bishop Malone said Nowak “was removed from ministry until he would go for that assessment,” but did not say when. On Aug. 28, the diocese announced that Fr. Nowak had been placed on “administrative leave.”

In the conversations, Malone appears to instruct Biernat not to say anything about Nowak, telling him, “[y]ou're an American citizen you're free to do what you want. I think we're gonna blow this story up into something like an atom bomb if we start talking about that.”

Biernat’s lawyer told WKBW that Malone’s comments constituted blackmail, “directly or at a minimum indirectly.” His lawyer Barry Covert did not respond to CNA’s interview request by the time of publication.

Back in March, Malone considered sending Fr. Nowak to an institute for mental health treatment, but acknowledged the difficulty of doing so, saying he could “go ballistic” at the request.

In the recorded conversation on Aug. 2, Malone appeared to acknowledge that it was a “crisis” for the diocese, and that if the news was made public it could spell the end of his tenure as bishop.

“We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop,” Malone said in the recorded conversation.

Malone held a press conference Sept. 4 for local reporters selected by the diocese. The bishop said the scandal is a “convoluted matter,” according to WIVB4.

“I’m not a masochist—I’m here because I feel an obligation…to carry on,” the bishop told reporters.

In the press conference, Bishop Malone said that Fr. Nowak first agreed in July to go to St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland for an assessment, but “did not comply.”

In the beginning of August, Nowak again said he would go for an assessment, according to Malone, but again did not go; after the diocese gave Nowak a third opportunity on Aug. 25, he “did not go,” Malone said, “and that is when I put him on administrative leave.”

In the taped Aug. 2 conversation, Malone allegedly said that Fr. Nowak “has agreed by the way to go to Southdown,” an institute for religious and clergy that specializes in mental health and addiction problems. “Cause I told him it’s that or leave of absence,” Malone said according to abridged transcripts of the conversation reported by WKBW.

“I think if we bring Jeff [Nowak] in, that gets very, who knows what he’s gonna do,” Malone said. “Even I know he’s a loose cannon.”

Bishop Malone has been the center of controversy in the diocese for almost a year; in November 2018, his former executive assistant Siobahn O’Connor leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

Last month, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

In the Aug. 2 conversation, Malone also referenced his fear of Biernat going public with the news because of the existence of a letter between Biernat and Bojanowski. Nowak, he said in the taped conversations, was jealous of a supposed relationship between Biernat and Bojanowski. Malone called it “a very complex, convoluted matter,” in his Wednesday press conference.

A letter between the Biernat and Bojanowski dated from 2016 was reportedly found by Fr. Nowak in Bojanowski’s apartment, the Buffalo News reported. The letter was reported to be a love letter, which Biernat’s lawyer has denied.

Crux also reported a 2018 real estate transaction under both Biernat’s and Bojanowski’s names.

O’Connor, the 2018 whistleblower, said she believes the letter was between friends and not a love letter, and that it has been circulated to distract from the Fr. Nowak scandal.

“I do not believe it is a love letter. I genuinely believe that it was a letter of friendship, which is a form of love and a very important one at that,” she wrote on her blog on Friday.

Fr. Biernat was counseling Bojanowski on how to get out of an abusive, grooming relationship, O’Connor argued, noting that she talked to Bojanowski directly about the letter and the house transaction, and that he responded without guile.

“Fr. Ryszard recognized a young man was being groomed by a priest, and he recognized it because it happened to him,” she said, adding that both Biernat and Bojanowski have shared that with her.

Regarding one line in the letter where Biernat wrote Bojanowski, “I am afraid that all that you know about me may compromise your freedom to love or to leave,” he was simply telling the seminarian that he would not stalk Bojanowski if he left the seminary, and would not use his position of influence to do so, O’Connor said.

Biernat shared the news of his house purchase with O’Connor last year, she said, and he was not secretive about it and even conducted the transaction with the help of the diocese’s lawyer. The house had been owned by a family member of Bojanowski’s, she said, and as Bishop Malone was moving to a new residence, Biernat did not want to move with all his belongings with the knowledge that Malone might be retiring soon and he would then have to move again, so he decided to purchase the home with Bojanowski.

What is the state’s role in promoting virtue?

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The debate over competing culturally conservative visions for the future of the U.S. continued Thursday night at the Catholic University of America, as Sohrab Ahmari and David French offered their prescriptions for moral decline in society.

 
Historic Christianity was never private, but has been “a collective experience,” said Ahmari, op-ed editor of the New York Post and a Catholic. He added that Christians “have to restore” the societal structures supporting the practice of virtue through the powers of the state and stop the public expression of certain problematic viewpoints.
 
David French, senior writer for National Review and a Protestant, said, “We live in a nation of enduring ethnic, religious, cultural differences,” and Christians need to accept that there will be hostile views in the public square with which they will need to co-exist under First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.
 
“There is no circumstance under which any political movement in this country can create a superstructure where the people that you like always, win and the people you don’t like and you think that are bad are always going to lose, and you’re going to always like that outcome,” French said.
 
“And if you try to do that, you’ll rip this place to pieces. The only way this place survives as a united country is if we apply 18th century solutions to this 21st century division, rediscover the First Amendment of the United States, rediscover religious freedom.”
 
The debate between Ahmari and French on “Cultural Conservatives: Two Visions” was hosted Sept. 5 by the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America.
 
While the conversation began cordially enough, tension immediately rose as the two launched into their positions—and their analysis of the other’s position—in the continuation of an online debate this past spring.

The debate hinged upon what means Christians can and should use to promote public virtue and discourage vice in the U.S. Ahmari emphasized that Christians need to use the force of the state to fight back against threats to public virtue, including through laws that might silence public views deemed a threat to virtue.

Ahmari’s first anecdote was his recent discovery that a local library was hosting a “drag queen story hour” for children. He said this use of the public space threatened to scandalize children and that local Christians should take control and put a stop to it.
 
“It is a threat, and it is demonic,” he said, reading a description of a similar event that was held in the UK where children at a library were taught how to twerk. “To me, that should raise a five-alarm cultural fire,” he said.
 
French said that in such a large, pluralistic country there will be moral failings and differences of opinion on morality. Christian efforts to use the state to silence views they don’t like simply won’t work in a society with so many different views and beliefs, he said.
 
A problem “infinitely worse” than “drag queen story hour” is the phenomenon of “tens of millions of Christian men addicted to porn,” French said. 
 
When pressed by French on what actions he might take against drag queen story hour, Ahmari responded that the head of the “Modern Library Association” could be subpoenaed by Congress and face tough questions, or a local ordinance could be passed curtailing drag queen story hour.
 
Such a local action would be subject to review by the courts, French said. The constitution has carved out a space for Christians to proclaim Christ without being silenced by the government—and a space is all they need to operate, he said.
 
Ahmari countered that the public square has become so corrupt that it is quite difficult for families and children to remain virtuous, and the government has a role in protecting children from pornography and other problems. While society was formerly majority-Christian with a more common definition of what was acceptable or unacceptable in public, he said, now that common definition has eroded and Christians need to be assertive to bring it back.
 
Christianity can’t just be for an “elite elect,” Ahmari said, noting that his son statistically would be likely to encounter pornography before the age of 12; children should not be exposed to pornography and be expected to live a heroic moral life on their own, he said.
 
French argued that Christians should desire the salvation of all but should not skirt the constitution—or walk right up to the line of violating it—to discriminate against viewpoints they believe are evil. If they do, they should expect their opponents to use the force of law to silence them, he warned.
 
“You cannot take these things on a case-by-case basis and say ‘free speech for me and not for thee,’” French said, because “if you have wrecked legal institutions,” then “there’s a price that’s paid there.”
 
That exchange revealed one fundamental difference between the positions—French said that any Christian attempt to silence views they don’t like would violate “viewpoint-neutrality,” the practice of the government not discriminating against any one belief. The First Amendment is clear that such actions would be unconstitutional, he said.
 
Ahmari said later in the debate that “public decency” laws might have protected against problems like drag queen story hour—while French said such an event wouldn’t even have violated obscenity laws from the 1800s.
 
The two also differed on the direction of societal moral decay. Ahmari argued that it has reached a crisis level where government action needs to be taken to protect virtue; French acknowledged that there are serious evils in today’s culture, but maintained that they will always be present in some form.
 
There have been positive signs in recent years, he noted, notably the continuous decline in the number of abortions for decades and “the advances that we have made” in respect for free speech and religious freedom by the courts.
 
“These battles are not won and lost in any one presidential cycle,” he said, in reference to support for President Donald Trump to use his administration to push pro-life policies. French argued against what he saw as using non-Christian means—supporting a flawed candidate like Trump—of promoting Christian beliefs in policy.
 
Ahmari said that Trump, while imperfect, is the most pro-life president in history; French, who has long opposed Trump, said that other presidents have supported pro-life policies and that Christians risk losing their credibility by attaching themselves to such a controversial figure.
 
The two agreed that Christians need to witness to their faith in the public square, but the debate revealed fundamental differences in their visions. The chief tension was whether Christians should violate, or come close to violating, the First Amendment to stop immoral public events and plagues such as pornography or library story hours.
 
Another underlying difference between the two was the role of the state in promoting virtue—as French said that Christians have a “space” to do so without resorting to using the levers of power to accomplish it, while Ahmari argued that the state has a proper authority to support a virtuous public square and Christians should use it assertively.

In response to restrictions, Planned Parenthood expands telemedicine program

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 02:04

Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- After several months of new pro-life legislation aimed at restricting abortion or defunding Planned Parenthood, the organization’s national branch has announced the expansion of its telemedicine program to all 50 states by next year.

The Planned Parenthood Direct app, through which users can request birth control delivery, UTI treatment prescriptions, and appointments at Planned Parenthood, is currently available in 27 states.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood has also used telemedicine to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in medical abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require that a licensed physician be physically present during medical abortions, effectively banning abortions prescribed via telemedicine.

“As politicians across the country try to restrict or block access to critical reproductive and sexual health care, the Planned Parenthood Direct app is just one part of the work we do to ensure that more people can get the care they need, no matter where they are,” Planned Parenthood CEO and acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement released Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood said the app will help remedy the “vast unmet need for sexual and reproductive health care in the United States,” by helping patients “overcome barriers” such as travel distance or lack of childcare during appointments.

The organization noted in its release that the expansion of the app was, in part, a response to a new pro-life policy at the federal level.

“In the wake of increasing restrictions on sexual and reproductive health care, the Planned Parenthood Direct app is helping to break down barriers and get people the timely care and information they need,” the statement said.

Last month, Planned Parenthood announced its plans to opt out of the Title X family planning program, following the passage of the Protect Life Rule, which bans recipients of Title X money from referring women for abortions, and from being located in buildings with abortion clinics. It also requires the financial separation of government-funded programs with programs that perform abortions.

By opting out of Title X, Planned Parenthood chose to forgo roughly $60 million in annual funds, or about 15% of its annual federal funding.

The Protect Life Rule came amidst numerous attempts at the state level to close Planned Parenthood clinics or restrict abortions. So far this year, Alabama, Arkansas and Utah have passed laws that would ban abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio, passed heartbeat bills that would restrict abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. A lengthy clinic licensure debate in Missouri could mean the closure of the last Planned Parenthood in the state.

Many of these state laws have not yet gone into effect, and are all being challenged in the courts by Planned Parenthood or other abortion advocacy groups.

How Catholic charities are helping in the wake of Hurricane Dorian

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 18:46

Raleigh, N.C., Sep 5, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- With Hurricane Dorian leaving widespread destruction in the Bahamas earlier this week, and now moving up the eastern U.S. coast, Catholic agencies are coordinating response efforts for those affected by the storm.

“The devastation, especially on Abaco and Grand Bahama, is significant,” said Nikki Gamer, media relations manager for Catholic Relief Services.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane on Sept. 1, becoming the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall there.

For the next 36 hours, the storm pounded the islands, stalled by an unusual wind pattern over the western Atlantic. When the storm finally moved on, it left entire neighborhoods under water, with storm surges up to 18 feet higher than normal tide levels, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Many residents are now homeless, with little ability to communicate with their loved ones as they face ongoing flooding.

The International Red Cross suggested that up to 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or suffered severe damage from the hurricane, which saw winds exceeding 100 mph. The U.N. World Food Programme is estimating that some 60,000 people may need immediate food aid.

Gamer told CNA that Catholic Relief Services is still working to assess the needs in the area, but it is clear that the destruction is extensive.

“We will be sending a member of our emergency response team to the Bahamas in coordination with a representative of Caritas Granada to support assessments and early response programming,” she said. “We are also coordinating with Caritas Puerto Rico who are planning to send relief supplies based on an update of needs from those on the ground. Other coordination is underway with the Archdiocese of Miami.”

From there, the agency will work with local partners to help provide emergency shelter, food, and clean water to families. The agency is accepting donations to help with relief efforts.

Less than 200 miles away, residents of Miami were spared a direct hit as the storm instead skimmed the Florida coast. Some 140,000 people lost power, although the outages were expected to be brief, a Florida Power & Light representative said. Authorities warned of flooding, storm surges and rip currents along the coastline for several days.

Mary Ross Agosta, communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA that the local Catholic community is working to assist with the short- and long- term needs of those facing devastation in the Bahamas.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski and the head of the local Catholic Charities branch are “in constant communication with Archbishop Pinder of the Bahamas,” she said, and “strong relief efforts are in place.”

“As with all disasters, people in South Florida – and around the world – seem to be at their best,” Agosta commented. “Donations to the Catholic Charities’ website, www.miamiarch.org, have been rapid and constant. It is with these donations, of which 100% is used for relief efforts, that the Archdiocese can respond to the needs of the people; at first, ships with goods, including diapers, formula, rice and, then financial resources to help recover.”

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities agencies further north are encouraging people to prepare as Dorian continues its trek up the U.S. coast.

Daniel Altenau, communications director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, told CNA that the agency “has been simultaneously working to help families recover and prepare for the next storm ever since the destruction of Hurricane Florence.”

That hurricane his North Carolina last fall, causing serious flooding, power outages, and an estimated $17 billion in damages in state.

Altenau said the goal has been to work with partner agencies to help families be better prepared for Hurricane Dorian and future storms.

“In the days leading up to Dorian making landfall, our Wilmington office worked with families to distribute preparedness supplies and review the disaster plan to make sure they stayed safe during the storm,” he said. “Our offices across the diocese have been sharing information about shelter openings and evacuation orders.”

Hurricane Dorian hit South Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Thursday and is expected to move up the coast of North Carolina overnight.

“As the storm now begins to impact our area, our staff and volunteers have been instructed to seek safe shelter until after the storm,” Altenau said. “As soon as conditions are safe, we will begin the process of distributing donated supplies such as food, water, cleaning supplies, diapers, and hygiene items.”

The agency is currently collecting donations at www.CatholicCharitiesRaleigh.org/disaster to aid in recovery efforts.

'Despicable,' 'repugnant,' 'extremist': Pro-life activists respond to Bernie Sanders on abortion 

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 16:05

Washington D.C., Sep 5, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders have denounced Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) statement that he would repeal the Mexico City policy and promote abortion in “poorer countries” in response to a question on population growth.

Sanders made the comments during his appearance on CNN’s “climate town hall,” a seven-hour broadcast during which 10 Democratic candidates for president were each given 40 minutes to present their plan for addressing environmental concerns.

Sanders was asked by a member of the audience to discuss his thoughts about population control and overpopulation.

“I realize this is a poisonous topic for politicians, but it’s crucial to face,” said the audience member, who was identified as a “teacher.” 

“Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact. Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key factor of a plan to address climate catastrophe?” 

Sanders replied by stating that it is a “fact” that women “have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions,” in reference to abortion.  

He then took aim at the Mexico City policy, a decades old provision that forbids U.S. foreign aid from going to programs that promote or perform abortions. 

Sanders erroneously told the audience that the Mexico City policy “denies American aid to those organizations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control, to me is totally absurd.” 

“So I think especially in poor countries around the world, where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to limit the number of kids they have--something I very, very strongly support,” said the Vermont senator. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said in a statement provided to CNA that Sanders rhetoric was promoting the use of taxpayer dollars to go to abortion providers was “despicable” and “wildly out of touch with mainstream America.

“Taking the lives of unborn children is never a solution.” 

A January Marist/Knights of Columbus poll found that three out of four Americans are opposed to taxpayer funds being spent to promote abortion abroad. This figure includes 94 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of independents, and 56 percent of Democrats. 

“Bernie Sanders’ repugnant ‘solution’ to climate change – eliminating the children of poorer nations through abortion, paid for by American tax dollars – should be condemned across the political spectrum,” said Susan B. Anthony’s List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement provided to CNA. 

She referred to Sanders as an “extremist,” and said he has “no business being president of the United States.” 

Dannenfelser said that Sanders took “Democratic abortion extremism to a new low,” and called for every Democratic candidate to be questioned on “where they stand on eugenic population control.” 

“Such paternalistic attitudes are behind coercive regimes like China’s, where child-limitation policies are ruthlessly backed by forced abortions,” she said.

CNN television host S.E. Cupp condemned Sanders remarks as a “vile idea” and said that he was promoting eugenics. The top 20 countries with the highest fertility rates are all located in Africa. 

“Let’s just state for the record: talking about needing ‘population control’ through ABORTION for teh sake of CLIMATE is talking about EUGENICS,” said Cupp on Twitter. “The fact that [Sanders] is willing to entertain this vile idea is not only disgusting, but should be disqualifying.” 

The Sanders campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment or clarification.

Marriage is 'colorblind' but not 'sex-blind', says Catholic author

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 05:05

Booneville, Mississippi, Sep 5, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- After a wedding venue employee in Mississippi cited her Christian beliefs in refusing to host the wedding of a mixed-race couple, a Catholic scholar clarified that “marriage is a colorblind institution.”

“A man and a woman, regardless of their race, can unite as one-flesh as husband and wife, and that marital union can give rise to new life and connect that life with his or her mother and father,” said Ryan T. Anderson, the John Paul II Teaching Fellow at the University of Dallas and a co-author of “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.”

Anderson told CNA that race is not relevant to the nature of marriage, and the race of a person does not negate any of the requirements of a valid marriage.

His comments come after a woman in charge of a wedding event venue in Mississippi apologized for declining to host the wedding of a mixed-race couple, something she had claimed violated her “Christian belief.”

According to the Washington Post, a black groom-to-be and a white bride-to-be had scheduled their wedding celebration to be held at Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Mississippi. They were finalizing plans when they were informed that the venue retroactively declined to host their celebration because the wedding would violate the owner’s Christian beliefs.

The groom’s mother and his sister, LaKambria S. Welch, drove to the venue to demand answers. In a filmed exchange first posted by the website Deep South Voice, Welch can be heard calmly asking a woman in a gray shirt about the cancellation.

“Well we don’t do gay weddings or mixed race,” the woman in the video said. “Because of our Christian race - I mean our Christian belief.”

Welch told the woman that she, too, is a Christian, and asked the woman from where in the Bible her belief came.

“Well, I don’t want to argue my faith,” the woman responded. “We just don’t participate. We just choose not to.”

“Ok. So that’s your Christian belief, right?” Welch said.

“Yes ma’am,” the woman replied.

After the video spread on social media, the venue issued an apology that has apparently since been deleted. According to The Washington Post, the apology was reportedly written by the woman in the video, who said she did not know that the Bible did not condemn mixed-race marriages.

“As my bible reads, there are 2 requirements for marriage and race has nothing to do with either!” the apology post said, according to the Washington Post. “All of my years I had ‘assumed’ in my mind that I was correct, but have never taken the opportunity to research and find whether this was correct or incorrect until now.”

The incident drew intense criticism on social media as well as from Booneville city officials, who said on Facebook that they were “aware of the comments recently made by a privately owned business located within the city of Booneville. The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status. Furthermore, the City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not object to interracial marriages. In fact, when the Catechism speaks about “mixed marriages,” it is in reference to couples of mixed creeds who marry - for example, a Catholic marrying a Protestant (or other baptized non-Catholic).

“Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ,” the Catechism states.

“But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home,” it adds.

The Catechism, and other Catholic documents, do not mention interracial marriages as immoral for any reason.

The Catholic Church does teach, however, that the sacrament of marriage must be between one man and one woman: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

The Catechism adds that men and women must give themselves to each other in marriage freely, totally, and fruitfully, meaning that the couple must be open to life. The sacrament of marriage also “requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses.”

For a same-sex couple, marriage is impossible according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, because sexual acts between same-sex couples are “contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved,” the Catechism states.

Instead, people with same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and are “called to chastity,” the Catechism states.

Anderson clarified that interracial marriage differs from same-sex marriage, because the biological sex of the individuals involved is directly relevant to the nature of marriage, unlike their race.

Because the Catholic Church is concerned for the good of spouses, children, and the greater society, Anderson said, it teaches that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

“While marriage must be a colorblind institution, it can't be sex-blind. Only a man and a woman can unite as one-flesh, and every child has a mother and a father,” he said.

“So it's for good reason that marriage is about uniting the two halves of humanity--male and female--for a common good they participate in that, in turn, benefits the general common good.”

Cardinal Tobin blesses immigration protest

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 20:00

Newark, N.J., Sep 4, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, blessed a group of protesters on Wednesday, as a they demonstrated in front of the city’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. 

The group gathered Sept. 4 to protest the Trump administration’s policies that separate children from their parents if the parents are found to have entered the country illegally. Some carried images of children who have died at the border or in U.S. custody. 

Speaking to the crowd, the cardinal offered his own voice in opposition to the policies.

“These draconian measures are not a solution to our broken immigration system. They are violations to human dignity,” said Tobin. He encouraged Catholics to contact their elected officials, “and urge them not to manipulate immigrant families as political pawns.” 

Tobin also led the group, which was estimated to be in the hundreds, in a recitation of the Rosary. 

Protesters also carried a stylized image of the Madonna and Child depicted as Latin Americans and framed behind a piece of chain-link fencing. 

Some of the group, who had agreed to risk arrest in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, blocked traffic by laying down on the road in the shape of a cross. The number of arrested was not immediately available. 

Wednesday’s protest was similar to an event in July staged at the Russell Senate Office Building. 

The Newark demonstration was held one day after the release of a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General which said that children separated from their parents at the border are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“According to program directors and mental health clinicians, separated children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress than did children who were not separated,” said the report. 

“Separated children experienced heightened feelings of anxiety and loss as a result of their unexpected separation from their parents after their arrival in the United States. For example, some separated children expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably.”

The report made many suggestions as to what can be done to improve the mental health of children who are in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody. 

The report recommended that the ORR “should identify or create resources that can improve facilities’ readiness to meet the mental health care needs of children of all ages, including very young children and pre- or non-verbal children.” This includes the creation of a “technical assistant group” that would assist facilities with their treatment strategies. 

Among other things, the report suggested that the ORR work to assist facilities with hiring and retaining mental health clinicians, create “therapeutic placement options” for children who are in need of “more intensive mental health treatment,” and to “take all reasonable steps” to reduce the time a child has to stay in ORR custody. 

“ORR should assess current policies and procedures to ensure that they do not present unnecessary barriers to children’s release to appropriate sponsors and adjust, as appropriate,” said the report. 

“Lastly, ORR should establish procedures to ensure that future policy changes prioritize child welfare considerations and do not inadvertently increase the length of time a child remains in ORR custody.”

HHS announces $2 billion to fight opioid addiction

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Sep 4, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration announced on Wednesday it will send almost $2 billion in grant funding to the states to fight the opioid crisis.

The administration will disburse $1.8 billion in grant funding to the states through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to fight the addiction epidemic, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Sept. 4. The funding was appropriated by Congress at the President’s request.

The grants will be awarded in two parts. One part is $932 million in State Opioid Response grants, under the HHS Substance Abuse Mental Health Services (SAMSH) program, for all 50 states and several territories.

Providers receiving the grants “must make available medication-assisted treatment, which is the gold standard of treatment for opioid addiction,” Secretary Azar told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday.

Funding is sent to state health departments, territories, and local health departments; states can use the grant funding in a variety of ways, such as “medication-assisted treatment,” “community-based prevention efforts,” “employment coaching” programs, or distribution of naloxone, which is a drug used to counteract opioid overdoses, Azar said.

An additional $900 in grant funding will be sent to 47 states, Washington, D.C., 16 localities, and two territories, under the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Overdose Data to Action Grant Program. The grant money will fund better data collection on opioid overdoses and help victims get the treatment they need, Anzar said.

“These funds will be delivered to the communities where the help is most needed,” President Trump said on Wednesday at the White House.

The funding comes in response to 70,000 deaths by drug overdose in 2017. Over two-thirds of those deaths involved opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Opioid-related overdose deaths increased by a factor of six between 1999 and 2017, though last year provisional overdose deaths fell by five percent, Azar told reporters on Wednesday.

Trump also noted indications of a drop in overdose-related deaths in his comments on Wednesday afternoon, saying that in the last two years indicated that deaths were substantially down in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and New Hampshire.

“The battle has only just begun,” President Trump said. “We’ll not rest until every American child can grow up free of the menace of drugs, empowered to realize their full and unlimited potential. So many lives are stopped cold by drugs.”

Secretary Azar told EWTN on Wednesday that faith-based organizations would be eligible to receive funding.

“We obviously encourage faith-based organization participation throughout the states” he said regarding the grants.

As an example, he said that the NIH HEALing Communities Initiative would provide around $400 million in funding to four communities in Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York. 

The recipients were selected on the criteria of a “whole-of-community approach” to fighting the opioid epidemic “to show that, with the right community efforts, including the faith community, we can tackle this,” Azar said.

However, the states will determine which faith-based organizations receive the grants, senior administration officials said.

The announcement comes just over a week after pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered by an Oklahoma district court judge to pay $572 million for its role in helping drive the state’s opioid epidemic by using deceptive marketing to push the sale and prescription of painkillers.

There are currently over 2,000 cases being litigated against pharmaceutical companies by state and local governments for their alleged roles in the opioid epidemic. When asked by NPR where the administration thinks damages—such as those ordered to be paid by Johnson & Johnson—should be used in the opioid epidemic, senior administration officials said that the administration does not currently have an opinion on that, as multi-district litigation is ongoing.

Kellyanne Conway, White House Senior Counselor, told reporters that the administration is trying to focus on the threat of fentanyl, which caused 32,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018.

“The fact that this nation is in such a predicament is because federal policies in our overall healthcare system has failed many Americans who are suffering,” Conway said.

Medical groups support North Carolina's 20-week abortion limit

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 15:25

Raleigh, N.C., Sep 4, 2019 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- Four non-profit medical groups have filed a brief with a federal appeals court in support of a 20-week abortion limit in North Carolina.

The state of North Carolina has “legitimate interests in regulating and limiting the practice of abortion,” the brief said.

“These important interests include using the State’s voice and regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the ‘life of the unborn’ and protecting the health of women from ‘the outset of [] pregnancy’,” it continued.

“North Carolina also has significant interest in regulating a ‘brutal and inhumane procedure’ to avoid ‘coarsen[ing] society to the humanity of not only newborns, but all vulnerable and innocent human life’ and in protecting the integrity of the medical profession.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and the American College of Pediatricians filed a brief in Bryant v. Woodall on Sept. 3. The case is being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

The case concerns a 1973 North Carolina law that limits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. U.S. District Judge William Osteen ruled in March that the law was unconstitutional.

Although the law banning abortion after 20 weeks has been on the books for decades, it has never been enforced. Osteen ruled that the law, even if not enforced, was unconstitutional and could deter people from engaging in behavior that is legally protected by the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and various laws.

In their brief, the medical organizations argue that Osteen’s ruling erroneously considered a 20-week baby’s viability as the only factor in the constitutionality of the North Carolina law.

“[T]he viability line is problematic because medical advances make it a moving target,” they said, and because the ruling fails to recognize the state’s other legitimate interests in regulating and limiting abortion.

“Advances in genetic science have undermined one of Roe v. Wade’s core assumptions, namely, that a pre-born child is not yet human,” Kevin Theriot, vice president of the Center for Life at Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the brief on behalf of the medical organizations.

“North Carolina’s commonsense law protects an unborn baby who can feel pain from the brutality of a dismemberment abortion and protects the child’s mother from the physical and psychological complications of a late-term abortion.”

The North Carolina law originally included exemptions that permitted an abortion to protect the health of the mother. A 2015 amendment to the legislation clarified this to mean when a “major bodily function” would be at risk if the pregnancy continued.

That change prompted abortion advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, to file a 2016 suit against the law.

With the law struck down, abortion remains legal for any reason in North Carolina until a doctor determines that the unborn child can survive outside of the womb.

Denise Burke, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that “abortion carries health risks for the mother, and those risks get more frequent and more severe the later in pregnancy she resorts to abortion.”

“Also, thanks to scientific advances like ultrasound, we know that babies have a heartbeat at six weeks, are fully formed at 12 weeks, and can feel pain in the womb at least by 20 weeks,” Burke said. “In light of these realities, and the Supreme Court’s precedent on the subject, North Carolina’s commonsense law limiting abortion after 20 weeks deserves to be upheld.”

If the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision were to be overturned, states would be free to set their own abortion policies. Some states have codified the Roe decision into law in the event it would be overturned, while others have “trigger laws” that would automatically ban abortion entirely if the case were overturned.

'This could be the end for me,' Buffalo bishop says in taped conversation

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 13:30

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 4, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Recordings of private conversations appear to show that Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported on Wednesday by WKBW in Buffalo. In the conversations, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.” 

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

The conversations were secretly recorded by Biernat as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.

According to an abridged transcript of the recordings provided by WKBW, Malone said in March that “the simple version here is we've got victims and we have a perpetrator, and the perpetrator is Jeff Nowak, and he's done things that are clearly wrong, and I think he's a sick puppy. That’s my amateur analysis of the whole thing.”

Despite this assessment, Nowak was not removed from ministry until Aug. 7, one day after the seminarian’s mother publicly accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.

The diocese issued a statement on August 18 that Malone had “never” kept a priest in active ministry who had a “credible allegation of abusing a minor” made against him, and “has never ignored” the accusation that Nowak violated the sacramental seal.

Malone started an investigation of the complaint, the statement said, and “[w]hen the individual who made the complaint was first questioned, his response was vague and needed follow up.”

In a statement released on Sept. 4, the diocese said it “stands by” its previous statement.

The seminarian, Matthew Bojanowski, raised the allegations in a letter to Bishop Malone dated January 24, 2019, saying Nowak had also admitted to “inappropriate actions” with minors. 

According to WKBW, Bojanowski first made the accusations known in October 2018, before he wrote Bishop Malone in January.

The recordings were reported by WKMB on Sept. 4 and were made by Biernat after Nowak became jealous of the close friendship between the seminarian and the bishop’s secretary. 

“I thought, 'I need to do something,' so I started recording those meetings because they say one thing but they do nothing,” Biernat told WKBW. “And so you have one recording in March then [a] week later, another recording, and nothing is being done.”

The diocese confirmed in a public statement that Malone had previously asked Biernat to take a leave of absence after Nowak obtained a letter between him and Bojanowski. According to a conversation taped Aug. 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.

According to taped conversations, which date back to March of this year, Malone appears to admit that Bojanowski’s accusations are credible, and he considered sending Nowak to the St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland for psychiatric treatment.

Bishop Malone referenced Bojanowski’s allegations and called them “frightening concerns”; he said that “it became very clear to me that Jeff-- was very interested in a-- an-- I think an inappropriate relationship [for] himself with Matthew.”

Malone also receiving a letter from Nowak which he suggests confirms the accusations. 

“I got this very carefully crafted-- letter you've all seen now that details, I think, and gives evidence-- that-- that do back up the concerns that Matthew has,” Malone said, including the allegations of the violation of the Seal of Confession by Nowak.

Nowak “has some serious, serious issues,” Malone concluded. “We're gonna send-- and we're gonna send him off to-- for-- assessment at St. Luke's Institute of Maryland.”

Despite this apparent resolution, Malone later said he was concerned that Nowak would “go ballistic” if told he would be sent to St. Luke’s. In a taped conversation in July, Malone said that he told Nowak to either “go to Southdown”—an institute in Toronto that specializes in mental health and addiction problems for religious and clergy—or receive a leave of absence, and that Nowack decided to go to Southdown. 

Nowak was still in active ministry in the diocese by the beginning of August.

In a year of scandals related to clerical sexual abuse, Bishop Malone has repeatedly found himself at the center of media attention. 

In November, 2018, a former employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

Last month, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

McCarrick created 'culture of fear and intimidation,' Seton Hall review finds

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 11:00

Newark, N.J., Sep 4, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick created a “culture of fear and intimidation” at the Seton Hall University seminary, according to a report released by the university on Aug. 27. 

“McCarrick used his position of power as then-Archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians. No minors or other University students were determined to have been affected by McCarrick,” said the statement. 

Seton Hall is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Newark, which McCarrick led from 1988-2000. The Archbishop of Newark serves as president of the university’s board of trustees.

It is one of the oldest diocesan-run Catholic universities in the country and has about 10,000 students, including 6,000 undergraduates. Seton Hall is also home to Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Hall college seminary.

The “independent, unrestricted review” was announced by interim university president Mary J. Meehan on Aug. 23 last year. It followed an Aug. 17 report published by CNA that detailed a series of allegations made by priests in the Archdiocese of Newark. 

Some of the priest’s accounts related to former archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Others detailed allegations of recent or ongoing behavior at the two seminaries, including a specific allegation concerning a former rector of St. Andrew’s Hall.

The review was conducted by the law firm Lantham & Watkins. It found that while Seton Hall University’s present Title IX policies are “consistent with state and federal law,” they were “not always followed” at Immaculate Conception Seminary or St. Andrew's Hall.

These policy lapses “resulted in incidents of sexual harassment going unreported to the University,” said the statement. 

“Individuals, communities and parishes across the country have been affected by former archbishop McCarrick and others who have profoundly and forever negatively altered so many lives,” the University statement said.

“The University community prays for all victims of harassment and abuse of any kind. Seton Hall remains committed to advancing its mission and providing seminarians, students, faculty, priests, staff and administrators with a safe and welcoming environment to learn, live and grow.”

Both seminaries and Seton Hall University are now fully in line with Title IX regulations, said the statement. 

The university also announced that it had developed a “series of proactive measures” to address the fallout of the McCarrick scandal among the community, and that “progress” had been made. 

The measures included a commitment to sharing as much of the report’s findings with the university community as is possible under privacy law. 

Additionally, the university announced that a new Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer would be hired to “ensure University-wide adherence to Title IX laws, policies, and practices” and the school will require Title IX training each year for everyone within the Seton Hall community. The school pledged to conduct “prompt reviews” of allegations of sexual harassment. 

The university also said that efforts were underway to “improve the structural relationship” between the main university, Immaculate Conception Seminary, and the Archdiocese of Newark, that will “enhance oversight, control and compliance to prevent recurrence” of past problems.

In October last year, the university was forced to respond to several reports that seminarians had been subjected to harassment on campus by other students, following the public scandal surrounding McCarrick.

“Recently my office has been informed of several instances of foul language and incivility being aimed at members of our Immaculate Conception Seminary,” wrote Meehan in an email sent to the university community on Oct. 15.

This behavior is “unacceptable,” she said, and “cannot be tolerated.”

The August 27 statement said that steps had been taken to “underscore the importance of Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Seminary to Seton Hall’s Catholic identity,” and work to “better integrate” these schools with the university. 

Seton Hall University’s Board of Regents unanimously endorsed all of the proactive measures.

A Catholic school removed Harry Potter from the library. Should Catholics read the books?

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 17:05

Washington D.C., Sep 3, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A Catholic elementary school in Nashville has banned the seven books of the Harry Potter series due to concerns the books promote witchcraft and black magic. An exorcist and a Catholic author talked with CNA about the Harry Potter books and the Catholic faith.

“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception,” Fr. Dan Reehil, pastor at Saint Edward School in Nashville, said to parents in an Aug. 28 email.

“The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text,” the priest added.

Reehil said that the books “glorify acts of divination; of conjuring the dead, of casting spells among other acts that are an offense to the virtue of religion — to the love and respect we owe to God alone. Many reading these books could be persuaded to believe these acts are perfectly fine, even good or spiritually healthy.”

Reehil told parents he made the decision to ban the books after consulting exorcists in both the United States and Rome.

Saint Edward teaches students from pre-K through eighth grade.

The Harry Potter books have been controversial since the first book was published in 1997. The American Library Association listed the Harry Potter series as its first-most challenged books in 2001 and 2002. The books were challenged due to claims of being “anti-family,” containing “occult/satanism” content, and violence.

Series author J.K. Rowling has rejected the idea that her books contain anti-Christian messages. In a 2007 interview, the author said that she believed there were parallels between the series’ title character, Harry Potter, and Jesus Christ.

Monsignor Charles Pope, a priest and exorcist of the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that “it’s always good to err on the side of caution in these matters,” adding that the decision to remove the books from the library was a “prudential judgment.”

“I think that in times like these we need to be extra cautious, and so as a general rule I’d support it, but I think every individual parent would have to work with their own kids on these matters,” Pope said.

Pope told CNA that he has not read the Harry Potter books nor seen the movies apart from “some excerpts,” and said with a laugh that the series is “way past (his) age.”

Rosamund Hodge, an author of young adult fantasy novels and a lay Dominican, told CNA she thinks concerns about the “magic” in Harry Potter are overblown.

“The magic in these books is about as ‘real’ as Cinderella’s fairy godmother singing ‘bibbidi- bobbidi-boo,’” she told CNA.

“While [Author J.K.] Rowling does occasionally draw from actual occult folklore for some of her world-building...the spells her characters use are usually just fake Latin describing what they’re supposed to do.”

Hodge does not believe there is a risk of children accidentally conjuring evil spirits through repeating the “spells” used in the books.

“Children are about as likely to summon demons by play-acting Harry Potter as they are to accidentally sell their souls by proclaiming ‘Abracadabra!’ while performing card tricks,” Hodge said.

Hodge said that while Rowling “does not write with a Catholic imagination,” she is not concerned with the allegations of “occult” content in the Harry Potter books.

The author told CNA that Catholic children might learn something from the books, even though the series characters do not possess a Catholic worldview.

“I think the proper response is not to ban the books, but to discuss them,” she said. “If children learn how to cope with Harry and his friends sometimes believing the wrong things, perhaps they'll be prepared for the Thanksgiving dinner where their favorite uncle announces that euthanasia should be legal.”

Pope told CNA that, no matter their decision about Harry Potter, Catholics should guard against any sort of dabbling with the occult or witchcraft.

“Once you’re into actual witchcraft you are in the dark side, since there’s nothing of God in this. It’s a violation of the First Commandment,” he said.

“I mean, I’ve had to look this devil in the face,” the priest added. “He’s very real. He’s very pernicious. He’s also very sly. We need to be sober about his present action in the world.”

 

In rare interview, McCarrick maintains his innocence

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:17

Salina, Kan., Sep 3, 2019 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- In an interview last month with Slate staff writer Ruth Graham, Theodore McCarrick said he doesn't believe he committed the acts of which he has been accused.

McCarrick, 89, has been in public disgrace since June 2018, when credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were made known. He was dismissed from the clerical state in February 2019, after an administrative penal process by which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of solicitation in the confessional, and sexual abuse of minors and adults, aggravated by abuse of power.

“I’m not as bad as they paint me,” McCarrick told Graham Aug. 14 at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kan., about 90 miles west of Salina, where he resides. “I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of.”

Graham wrote in an article published Sept. 3 that when she challenged McCarrick saying he “makes it sound as if he’s leaving it an open question,” and that it sounded as though he thought it was possible he had committed the acts, he responded no.

McCarrick was Archbishop of Washington from 2000 until 2006.

He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and took up residence in the friary that September.

Graham spent at least several days in Victoria, interviewing locals as well as friars who live with McCarrick.

She said McCarrick spoke with her briefly before lunch at the friary. He told her he doesn't leave the friary, even to enter the adjoining Basilica of St. Fidelis; a condition of his residence is that he remain on the grounds of the friary. He indicated that he spends much of his time in the chapel and the library.

McCarrick discussed in particular the accusations by James Grein that he had solicited him during confession: “The thing about the confession, it’s a horrible thing. I was a priest for 60 years, and I would never have done anything like that … That was horrible, to take the holy sacrament and to make it a sinful thing.”

The former cleric told Graham that he thinks men who said he abused them while they were seminarians during weekend trips to his New Jersey beach house “were encouraged” to develop similar stories, attributing this encouragement to unnamed “enemies.”

“There were many who were in that situation who never had any problems like that,” he said.

McCarrick also addressed the claims of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, emeritus apostolic nuncio to the US, who said McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct had been known to some Vatican officials for years, eventually leading to a restriction on the archbishop’s ministry by Benedict XVI and a subsequent restoration of McCarrick’s place as a papal advisor by Pope Francis.

The now-layman said Viganò “was talking as a representative of the far right, I think,” adding, “I don’t want to say he’s a liar, but I think some of the bishops have said that he was not telling the truth.”

Father Christopher Popravak, the former provincial of the Capuchin's St. Conrad province, told Graham that McCarrick will likely remain at St. Fidelis Friary, saying: “It’s become impossible for him to move because no one will have him.”

According to Graham, McCarrick had hoped to return to the east coast, but told her, “I don’t know how many years are in my calendar. One tries one’s best to accept where one is.”

The former cardinal said he receives little mail, and “the vast majority of the mail I get is looking for some help. I don’t have a lot of money, but I try to be helpful. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Once he was dismissed from the clerical state, McCarrick's room and board of about $500 a month were no longer paid for by the Archdiocese of Washington, and he offered to pay out of pocket.

According to Graham, Fr. John Schmeidler, pastor of the Basilica of St. Fidelis, declined McCarrick's offer.

Fr. Popravak said: “I know that itself could be construed as problematic, like the church is continuing to cover for him or harbor him. But we’re not attempting to profit from this. This is simply an attempt for us to show mercy.”

Graham wrote that McCarrick participates in the friary's daily routine, including Mass, breakfast, and evening prayers, as well as weekly confession.

Judge dismisses wrongful death suit filed on behalf of aborted baby

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 14:28

Montgomery, Ala., Sep 3, 2019 / 12:28 pm (CNA).- A judge in Alabama has dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the father of a six-week old aborted baby.

Court documents allege that a then-16-year-old Alabama woman obtained a medication abortion in February 2017, despite the protestations of her boyfriend, Ryan Magers who said he was the father of the child.

Magers subsequently sued the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, saying that he had wanted to keep the child.

Alabama voters approved changes to the state constitution – Amendment 2 – in November 2018 to establish a right to life of unborn children, known as a “personhood clause.” The measure passed with 60 percent support from the public. The state also has statutes defining “personhood” as beginning at conception, as well as several opinions from the Alabama Supreme Court doing the same.

In an Aug. 30 ruling, however, Madison County Circuit Judge Chris Comer said none of these measures are legally applicable, due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that established a “right to abortion” nationwide, as well as federal and state laws on abortion that are currently in effect.

Magers’ attorney had created an estate for the unborn baby, arguing that doing so granted personhood to the baby, identified in court documents as Baby Roe.

But Judge Comer disagreed, saying the estate creation process was “ministerial in nature.”

Brent Helms, Magers’ attorney, told CNA in March that the case is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, and hopes to establish a new precedent in what is legally “uncharted territory.”

The lawsuit names as wrongdoers the manufacturer of the pill that terminated the unborn baby's life, the abortion clinic, the doctor, the nurses, and all those who participated in the abortion.

If those entities are found liable for the wrongful death of Baby Roe, Helms said in March, then what was once a profit-making industry will now be subject to liability.

“And the question for them will be, ‘are we more subject to liability than we are to profitability?’ If a drug manufacturer determines that they're going to be held liable for an abortion in the state of Alabama, I doubt they're going to send any kind of pills to Alabama for an abortion,” he said.

“So I would think [their] conclusion would likely be that liability outweighs profitability, and therefore abortion is eliminated in the state of Alabama. It's just a simple business decision.”

Helms told local WHNT News 19 this week that they plan to appeal Judge Comer’s decision, saying, “As this is the first case of its kind, we expected to have to appeal to a higher court. At this point, we are exactly where we thought we’d be.”

Why organized labor is (still) a Catholic cause

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 17:49

Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2019 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- At a time when labor unions are weak, Catholics still have a place in the labor movement, said a priest who emphasized the Church’s historic efforts to teach the rights of labor and train workers to organize.

“On the local and state level, Catholics are a major part of the labor movement. They took to heart our Catholic social teaching, and tried to implement it in their workplace,” Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

However, he said, there is sometimes a disconnect between Catholics and support for organized labor.

“Like in so many areas of our faith, the heresy of radical individualism, a lack of knowledge about why unions were formed, and a general ignorance of what options workers have, have led to many Catholics to either not realize that the Church has favored workers’ associations, or that the Church even has a teaching that has to do with the workplace.”

Union membership peaked at 28 percent of the American workforce in 1954. According to 2017 figures, about 34 percent of public sector employees are unionized, but under 7 percent of private-sector employees are, CBS Moneywatch reports.

Unions continue to enjoy strong approval in the U.S., with 62 percent of respondents telling a recent Gallup survey they support organized labor.

But union support among some Catholics has waned, in part due to labor unions’ political support for legal abortion and pro-abortion rights political candidates, among other issues.

For Fr. Oubre, this shows the need for more faithful Catholics to join a union, not withdraw.

“The fact that many of the cultural war issues have been embraced by labor unions is a concern to me,” he said. “However, the Church and Labor have been here before.”

“From the 1930s to the 1950s, there was a real effort by communists to take over the U.S. unions, and in some cases, they were successful. Instead of saying, ‘Catholics can’t join unions because they are communists,’ which was not accurate because many were not, the Church instead set up labor schools by the hundreds in parish basements.”

“The Church taught workers their rights under the law and Robert’s Rules of Order. It encouraged Catholic workers to run for union office, and bring their Catholic social teachings to bear,” the priest said. “This was very successful, and led to the purging of many communists from the union ranks.”

Catholics have historically played a major role in the U.S. labor movement, as evidenced by several prominent Catholics who have headed the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S.

Oubre said unions are a place for Christian evangelization and contribution.

“We cannot write off whole groups of people because part of their agenda is not in line with Catholic teaching,” he said. “Rather, we are called to engage these groups, be active in the organizations, and like in the past, direct these organizations in ways that respect God’s truth.”

The record of Catholic social teaching also backs labor and the right of workers to organize, Oubre said.

In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII recognized that economic changes introduced new relationships between those who had wealth and those who did not.

“As cities grew, and manufacturing and industry developed, the relationship of responsibility that has existed in the past between the landowner and the peasant no longer existed,” Oubre explained.

“Pope Leo XIII recognized the natural right of people to associate with each other, whether these were religious associations or work guilds, he endorsed the importance of collective bargaining to promote the common good, and recognized the unequal contractual relationship between the worker and the employer.”

The labor market meant that workers were negotiating not only with an employer, but competing against all the other workers seeking the same job. Leo XIII said these pressures to accept employment at ever-lowering wages could lead workers “to agree to employment terms that did not supply the basic needs for a dignified family life.”

The labor-focused traditions of Catholic social teaching have continued especially through the work of Popes Pius XI, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

The Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution Gaudium et Spes names the right to found unions for working people as “among the basic rights of the human person.” These unions “should be able truly to represent them and to contribute to the organizing of economic life in the right way.” These rights include the freedom to take part in union activity “without risk of reprisal.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” also addresses the place of labor in Catholic thought and action.

In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union public employees to pay fees to public sector unions for collective bargaining.

A U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson said the decision threatened to mandate a “Right-to-Work” environment in government employment in a way that undermines the ability of workers to organize.

Oubre said Catholic union backers object to such a legal principle “because it works against the principle of solidarity and the right of association.”

“‘Right to Work’ laws have their primary intention of weakening the organizing power of unions, and allow people to receive the benefit the union, without taking on the responsibility of being part of the union,” he said.

In Oubre’s view, a union-friendly legal environment is critical.

“One can pass laws that promote workers ability to organize together, or to discourage it,” he said.

He noted the proposals for a “card check” unionization effort, in which an employer must recognize a union if a majority of workers express a desire for a union using signed cards.

Obure said this effort now faces legal obstacles and simply “begins a long process where union avoidance experts are brought in, one-on-one meetings take place with workers, sometimes the leaders are fired, and every effort is made to dishearten the workers.”

“When the election comes around, the will of the workers has been crushed,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues annual Labor Day statements which continue “the long tradition of support for workers’ right to organize and join unions,” Oubre said.

In 2018, the statement stressed the importance of just wages for workers, especially for those who have difficulty securing basic needs. It also discussed problems of income inequality between the wealthy and the poor, as well as between ethnic groups and between the sexes.

“This Labor Day, let us all commit ourselves to personal conversion of heart and mind and stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages, and in so doing, ‘bring glad tidings to the poor’,” the bishops’ message concluded.

 

This article was originally run on CNA Sept. 3, 2018.

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