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Updated: 1 hour 56 min ago

House excludes unborn from 'vulnerable populations' at risk from chemicals

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- House Democrats rejected an amendment that would have added the unborn to a list of “potentially vulnerable populations” deserving of protection from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in a bill that was ultimately passed with bipartisan support. 

The bill, H.R. 535 PFAS Action Act of 2019, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.” 

PFAS are found in a variety of common items, including Teflon pans, paints, and cleaning products, as well as in foam used in fire-fighting equipment. Firefighting foam is often the source of groundwater contamination, which then spreads to plants and animals. 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced a motion on Friday that would send the bill back to committee to amend the language to include the unborn. In a speech on the House floor, McMorris Rodgers said it was a “simple, clear, and direct” motion, that “clarifies the protection of ‘vulnerable populations’ must include any unborn child.” 

In her speech, McMorris Rodgers noted that Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had both raised concerns about the effects of PFAS on pregnant mothers and child development. 

“By rejecting this amendment, the Majority would be denying the science of the development of a child in the womb,” she said. 

“This motion is consistent with policy the EPA itself has employed – considering the impact of chemical exposures to babies in the womb,” the representative added. “For example, in 2011 the EPA under President Obama decided to regulate certain chemicals in drinking water, based in part on the impacts to the in-utero person.”

The 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act also recognized the personhood of the unborn. That bill was passed with both Democrat and Republican support. 

McMorris Rodgers’ motion was rejected and the bill was not amended. Democrats voted against the motion by a vote of 219 to 4. 

PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous in society, and every person has some level of PFAS in their bloodstream. Newborn babies are at particular risk, as they can absorb PFAS chemicals in utero through the umbilical cord, as well as through breast milk. 

The EPA says that exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, detrimental effects to the immune system, cancer, and thyroid issues. PFAS chemicals are also believed to increase cholesterol levels. 

The bill was passed on a vote of 247-159 on Friday, Jan. 10.

Bishops narrowly approve USCCB rate hike for 2021

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 09:43

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2020 / 07:43 am (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have narrowly approved an increase on the amount dioceses must contribute to the national bishops’ conference. The measure initially failed to pass when put to a vote during their November 2019 meeting and additional votes had to be collected by mail to ensure the measure passed.

On the first day of their November meeting last year, the bishops voted in favor of a three percent rise in the amount each diocese in the country is required to contribute for the funding of the USCCB, based in Washington, DC, for the year 2021. But the vote of 111 to 55 in favor failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass.  

The conference leadership ruled the vote “inconclusive” and determined to send additional postal ballots to bishops not present at the meeting. Two months after the initial vote in Baltimore, the measure passed with a final tally of 130 in favor, 62 against, and three abstentions.

The final result of 130 votes in favor from diocesan and eparchial bishops was the minimum number of votes required to pass. During the first vote in Baltimore, the bishops of New York had to vote electronically from Rome, where they were conducting their ad lima visit to Pope Francis and the Roman curia.

The diocesan assessment, currently estimated at $25 million per year, is used to fund administrative, pastoral, and public policy programs at the USCCB, and the conference has told the bishops that a regular increase is necessary to maintain reserves.

The three percent increase is the first to be passed by the bishops since November of 2017, but which did not come into effect until the 2019 financial year. In November of 2018, no increase was approved for the 2020 assessment, largely due to the costs dioceses were facing from a surge of new clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Following the inconclusive vote at the 2019 meeting, USCCB treasurer Archbishop Dennis Schnurr called the failure to pass “no surprise,” and acknowledged the financial challenges of some dioceses facing a resurgence in clergy sex abuse claims from new openings in state statutes of limitations.

“There are a lot of dioceses in this country that are looking at bankruptcy,” Schnurr said.

While the assessment increase can now come into effect, some bishops have publicly stated their opposition to the rate hike.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in November that his archdiocese’s assessment amounts to $257,000 per year which, when paired with a matching donation to the Holy See, totals more than half a million dollars annually.

“I don’t have this kind of money to keep increasing it [the assessment],” Chaput said. “We have huge expenses because of the sexual abuse issue and related circumstances.”

Chaput also noted that the conference itself was in ruder financial health than many of the dioceses being asked to fund it at ever-increasing rates, including his own.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to pay more than $32 million in settlements to abuse victims, after a window for new abuse claims closed on Sept. 30 in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report, released in August of 2018.

Chaput said that the USCCB also has more savings and investments in reserve than the archdiocese does.

“I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

Other bishops have noted that the three percent increase is essential for the conference to keep up with inflation and rising operating costs.

In November, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago noted that it had been several years since the last rate increase, and that the three percent rise would not even keep up with the accumulated cost of inflation.

Beyond DC, more pro-life marches set for 2020

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 02:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 10, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- While hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates will gather in Washington, D.C. for the National March for Life this Jan. 24, thousands will attend similar events in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Denver.

Although they address serious subjects, some events will take on a celebratory air, aiming to convey the joy of human life.

In Los Angeles, OneLifeLA’s Sixth Annual Walk for Life will take place Jan. 18, beginning with a young adult rally, and culminating in a festival, and even an official after-party.

Participants will walk from the rally site through city streets to Los Angeles State Historical Park, the venue for a pro-life festival and food trucks. The event will have a children’s area with face painting, balloon art and space for frisbee games.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will host a requiem Mass for the unborn, before events conclude with a young adult after-party at the Imperial Western Terminal at Union Station.

Last year’s OneLifeLA event drew 30,000 people, Angelus News reports.

The rally’s keynote speaker is sex trafficking survivor and criminal justice reform advocate Cyntoia Brown-Long. The event will also feature musical guests, including the group Love and the Outcome and singer-songwriter Francis Cabildo.

Kathleen Buckley Domingo, senior director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, reflected on this year’s theme: “One Mission, One Family.”

“The goal is always to get people to recognize our mission and do it all year-round, a groundswell of action in the community that loves, cherishes, and respects every single person, and doing it as part of one extended family. We want this to feel as if it’s our own family reunion, and a time to tell our family stories.”
The March for Life Chicago, held Jan. 11, bills itself as the largest pro-life event in the Midwest. Last year’s event drew about 8,000 attendees. The theme is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”

Keynote speaker for the Chicago rally is Claire Culwell, who survived the abortion procedure that killed her twin sister, and was born two months premature. She was adopted after birth and reconnected with her birth mother in 2009.

Political figures to speak at the event include U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, who narrowly won a primary victory in 2018. U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) will also speak.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago is among the speakers, as is Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Morning and evening convention sessions at Congress Plaza Hotel will feature pro-life organizations from across the U.S. At the hotel there will be a morning youth rally, a Catholic Mass, as well as an evening banquet and a swing dance for young adult attendees.

In 2019, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation to declare abortion a “fundamental right.” It removed several abortion laws from the state code, including a ban on partial-birth abortion, required waiting periods for an abortion, and regulations on abortion clinics.  Illinois’ Catholic bishops criticized the goals of the bill and the manner of its passing, without hearings or the public release of the final text in the final days of the legislative session.

Dawn Fitzpatrick, president of the March for Life Chicago, placed the March for Life in that context.

“Furious that Illinois legislators have made this state an abortion oasis for the Midwest, pro-life advocates from across the country are empowered to come together in a joyful gathering knowing we can build a brighter future,” Fitzpatrick said Nov. 22.

“More people than ever plan to turn out for the March for Life Chicago.”
This year’s pro-life events are significantly larger in scope, she said.

“This expansion gives participants the opportunity to connect with companies, organizations, and other individuals from across the country who share their values. Now, they will depart ready to take further action in their own communities,” said Fitzpatrick, who is also senior coordinator for Respect Life Ministries at the Chicago archdiocese.

In Colorado, Catholic Charities of Denver’s Respect Life office organized the Jan. 11 Celebrate Life Rally and March. The rally will begin on the west steps of the state capitol in Denver followed by a march around Civic Center Park.

The event will begin with several morning Masses in the area, including one at the nearby Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The rally’s keynote speaker is former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino. Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver will also speak at the rally.

The Denver event aims to emphasize a proposed 2020 ballot measure known as Initiative 120, which will ban late term abortions 22 weeks into pregnancy, with exemptions for abortions that in a doctor’s judgement are an immediate threat to a woman’s life.

“I urge all Catholics to get involved in this effort!” Archbishop Aquila said Jan. 7. “We must not let up in our efforts to ensure that the goodness of every human life is respected in our laws, our churches and our families.”

Backers of the proposal must collect over 124,000 signatures by March 4 in order to qualify for the November 2020 election ballot.

In Richmond, Va. the second annual Virginia March for Life is scheduled for Feb. 13 at the state capitol. The state event was launched last year in response to abortion legislation in the state legislature, including a bill that its own sponsor admitted could allow abortion up to birth.

The Texas Rally for Life, held in Austin Jan. 25, includes a walk to the capitol in Austin at 1 p.m., a rally at the capitol at 2 p.m., followed by a pro-life expo on the Great Walk of the Capitol Grounds. Organizers estimated 10,000 people attended last year.



Neb. pro-life bill introduced; Governor declares Roe v. Wade anniversary a day of prayer

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 20:30

Lincoln, Neb., Jan 9, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- On the first day of the Nebraska Unicameral’s legislative session, state Sen. Suzanne Geist introduced a bill that would ban a common procedure used for second-trimester abortions.

The bill, introduced Jan. 8, seeks to ban dilation and evacuation abortions, or “dismemberment abortions” as the bill calls them.

“Dismemberment abortion means an abortion in which, with the purpose of causing the death of an unborn child, a person purposely dismembers the body of a living unborn child and extracts him or her one piece at a time from the uterus through use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush, or grasp a portion of the unborn child's body to cut or rip it off,” the bill says.

The bill would make an exception for cases in which the mother’s life is at risk by continuing a pregnancy, or for cases in which a physician determines there is “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function” should the mother continue a pregnancy.

Only doctors performing dismemberment abortions would face sanctions under the bill; it would not seek to punish women seeking or undergoing the procedure, or any staff assisting the physician, including nurses or pharmacists.

“Regardless of our individual opinions on the issue of abortion, I think we can all agree that no living human being should be torn apart limb by limb,” Geist said at a Jan. 8 press conference, NET News reported.

The bill comes at a time when several other states have passed or introduced bills that restrict abortion in some way, while other states are scrambling to expand access to abortion, in anticipation of a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

Some bills restricting abortion have passed state legislatures, but have been blocked in court.

Geist has said she is not concerned about judicial appeals of the bill.

“My job is to legislate, not to worry about what the courts are going to do,” the state senator told NET News.

The bill was introduced on the same day that Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts declared the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as a day of prayer for the state of Nebraska.

“Nebraska state law states that it is ‘the will of the people of the State of Nebraska and the members of the Legislature to provide protection for the life of the unborn child whenever possible,’” Ricketts said in a proclamation.

“Nebraskans display our pro-life values in a multitude of ways from the crisis pregnancy centers that provide free care for expecting parents to the prayer vigils held across the state every year.”

The governor encouraged Nebraskans to pray according to their own faith tradition for an end to abortion, as well as to “take direct action to aid mothers, fathers and families in need, especially those expecting a child who cannot provide for themselves.”





Congressman: Pro-life Democrats get little support from pro-life groups

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, has questioned the commitment of some pro-life groups to bipartisanship in the movement to end abortion.

“I’ve gotten some support from pro-life groups, but honestly, not as much as I’d like to see,” Lipinski told CNA in an interview on Thursday.

“I am not someone who’s a big self-promoter but, look, I have put myself on the line in a more difficult political situation than almost any other pro-life member of Congress,” Lipinski said.

Lipinski is an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman now fighting for his re-election in Illinois’ third congressional district, in the suburbs of Chicago. The district is safely Democratic, but this election cycle marks the second straight challenge Lipinski has seen in the primary.

In the 2018 Democratic primary, his opponent Marie Newman raised more than $1.4 million while making Lipinski’s pro-life support a focal point of her campign. A significant amount of outside money went into the race, and Lipinski barely held her off with a slim 2,145-vote margin. Buoyed by her strong challenge, Newman promptly announced her intent to run again in 2020.

“Some people in the pro-life movement do not seem to believe it’s that important to protect pro-life Democrats. And I think you just have to look at what the other side is doing, see the value that they place on defeating someone like me,” Lipinski said.

Actively pro-abortion groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood have lined up in support of Newman.

Lipinski had to dig deep to survive the 2018 primary, raising more than $1.5 million and spending almost $2.4 million. Although he has not had to spend as much this election cycle, Newman’s campaign presents another stiff challenge just two years after the last one.

Democrats who carry the pro-life mantle are few and far between. Lipinski was one of only seven candidates for the House or Senate endorsed by the group Democrats for Life in the 2018 elections.

The re-election of John Bel Edwards—Louisiana’s governor who signed a “heartbeat” bill into law in an election year—was seen as a boost to hopes that more such Democrats could win in red or purple states.

Yet in a presidential election year, the top candidates have issued a stern challenge to the party’s voters—stand behind abortion access.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called abortion rights “human rights” and “economic rights” at a November debate; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at the same debate called on American men to support abortion, saying that “if there’s ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment.”

Joe Biden, meanwhile, reversed his longstanding support of the Hyde Amendment and now supports taxpayer-funded abortion. Pete Buttigieg has said that decision to have an abortion, even until birth, is up to the woman.

As Lipinski told CNA on Wednesday, he has not seen the support he has desired from pro-life groups and individuals while he faces one of his toughest re-elections yet.

While Democratic party leaders have acknowledged the possibility of pro-life Democrats—House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Mary.) said in September that “Absolutely there's room in our party” for pro-life members— and some of Lipinski’s colleagues refuse to undermine him, others in the party, including progressive Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have openly or quietly supported Newman’s campaign.

“So it disappoints me at times, when people say that they’re not going to support me,” Lipinski said of pro-life voters.

The congressman gave the example of his vote to impeach President Donald Trump in December as a possible sticking point with some in the movement.

“I think that [vote] should have nothing whatsoever to do with supporting a pro-life candidate,” he said.

The day the House voted to impeach President Trump, the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List issued an indictment of the vote and said it “will be a huge political liability for House members going into 2020.”

But the pro-life movement needs both parties to thrive moving forward, Lipinski said.

“I think that if the pro-life movement is going to be confined to one party, it would be even more difficult to ever get anything done to protect life,” he said. 

“It will be easier for the Republican Party to take pro-life voters for granted—even easier than it is right now.”

Lipinski will not be attending the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., as the House will not be in session that week. He said he will be campaigning in his district with the primary approaching on March 17.

However, Lipinski will address the Chicago March for Life this Saturday, and will speak at a pro-life dinner around that march as well.

Maine bishop suspends chalice amid flu outbreak

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 16:00

Portland, Maine, Jan 9, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland issued a directive on Thursday suspending the distribution of Communion under both species and the exchange of handshakes during the sign of peace in response to an outbreak of influenza in the state.

Starting the weekend of January 11-12, and continuing until the end of the flu season, priests throughout the diocese will make announcements requesting that any parishioner exhibiting cold or flu symptoms skip Mass and stay home, and that they are released from their obligation to go to Mass on Sunday. In addition to prohibiting the distribution of the consecrated wine, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers are also being required to take extra sanitary measures.

Since December, six people have died from the flu in Maine. From December 28 until January 4, there were 368 new cases, marking a 40% increase over the previous week. Additionally, 90 people have been hospitalized with flu-related complications. 

There have been over 1,200 positive flu tests in Maine since the start of flu season. Officials say it is likely that even more people have had the flu, but gone undiagosed.

“Encouraging people who are at risk to stay away from large church gatherings is an extra step intended to maintain their health,” said the directive. The release said that the instructions were developed after reviewing reports from state health authorities. 

Instead of handshakes during the Sign of Peace, the faithful in Maine are “encouraged to offer a verbal greeting, smile, or bow of the head,” and hospitality ministers should refrain from shaking the hands of those entering the parish. Hospitality ministers will also be encouraged to sanitize their hands before and after Mass.

“Parishioners should not hold hands during the Our Father,” adds the directive. 

During Masses, the chalice will only be distributed to people who are unable to partake in the consecrated hosts, such as those with celiac disease or other gluten allergies. Deeley is encouraging, but not requiring, Catholics to receive Holy Communion on the hand rather than directly on the tongue. 

The directive states that all ministers of Holy Communion will be required to sanitize their hands before and after the distribution of Holy Communion, and those who distribute Holy Communion are advised to not touch the tongue or hand of the communicant while distributing hosts. 

Any sponges found in holy water fonts are to be removed, and each Mass will include a prayer for those sick with the flu or other illnesses, their caretakers, and the community at large during the Prayers of the Faithful. 

A statement from the Diocese of Portland said that these new protocols are “similar to those established during other severe flu seasons” and they will be “in effect until further notice.” 

The Diocese of Portland is the only Roman Catholic diocese in the state of Maine.

Lawsuit on disclosure of abuse claims allowed to proceed against Diocese of Pittsburgh

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 13:58

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jan 9, 2020 / 11:58 am (CNA).- A judge in Pennsylvania is allowing a lawsuit to move forward arguing that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has created a public nuisance by failing to properly report and disclose information on sexual abuse of children.

The lawsuit is filed by both abuse victims and parents of children in the Catholic Church. Their attorney, Benjamin Sweet, said the ruling is unprecedented in supporting a suit filed by individuals who are not alleging abuse against themselves or a family member.

“This is the first time a cause of action has been brought by a non-survivor member of the public and the first time a court has said that is a viable legal strategy, that a private citizen can compel the church to prove it’s complying with the mandatory reporting law,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

He noted that none of the plaintiffs or attorneys are seeking monetary awards or damages in the suit, but said that they hope to push for additional transparency in the Church.

The plaintiffs are asking that the diocese be required to publicly release all of the information given to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury for its 2018 report on sex abuse in the Church in Pennsylvania. They also want a way for people making claims of clerical abuse to ensure that their allegations have been properly filed with the Church and secular authorities, the AP reported.

The suit had originally been filed in 2018 against all of the state’s eight dioceses. However, local CBS affiliate KDKA-2 reported that the judge issued a preliminary dismissal for the other seven Pennsylvania dioceses because there are no specific allegations against them.

Ellen Mady, chancellor of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA that the diocese is aware of the ruling but cannot comment on pending litigation.

“The diocese is in full compliance with the State of Pennsylvania’s mandated reporting requirements, and reports all allegations regarding sexual abuse of a minor to the district attorney’s office. We pray for healing for all victims,” she added.

According to the AP, diocesan lawyers had argued that they were not required to publicly release information about allegations, just to report them to law enforcement officials.



Chick-Fil-A still aims 'to glorify God' after corporate giving flap

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Chick-fil-A’s CEO has said that the restaurant chain “inadvertently discredited” many faith-based organizations when it announced last year that it was adjusting its corporate giving last year. The admission came in a December letter to a Christian organization.

"As you have seen, recently we announced changes to our giving strategy at the Chick-fil-A Foundation. These changes were made to better focus on hunger, homelessness and education," said Dan T. Cathy in a letter dated December 5, 2019. 

“We understand how some thought we were abandoning our longstanding support of faith-based organizations. We inadvertently discredited several outstanding organizations that have effectively served communities for years,” he added. 

The letter, addressed to American Family Association president Tim Wildon, made clear that the company’s Corporate Purpose, “to glorify God by being a faithful steward to all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A,” would not be changing. 

“Let me state unequivocally: It is not,” said Cathy. 

In November 2019, the Chick-fil-A Foundation announced that it would restructure its commitments to charitable organizations. The Foundation would be giving a large grant to Junior Achievement, Covenant House International, and food banks located near new Chick-fil-A locations.

Notably, the new giving strategy did not include donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Salvation Army, two faith-based organizations that had previously received multi-year grants from the Chick-fil-A Foundation. Both organizations promote the Biblical view of marriage and sexual relations and have come under sustained public criticism from LGBT campaigners. The November decision by the foundation was widely interpreted as a move to distance Chick-fil-A from that criticism.

The Salvation Army responded to the announcement at the time, saying they were “saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed.” 

The Salvation Army said in the statement that a large number of the 23 million people they serve each year are part of the LGBT community, and that “we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population.” 

The statement also condemned “misinformation” regarding the organization’s work, and that they serve everyone in need, regardless of their sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity.

In the letter to Wildon, Cathy affirmed that Chick-fil-A would still give to religious charities in the future. 

“Chick-fil-A will give to faith-based and other organizations that we believe to be highly effective in a particular area,” he said, adding that “grant recipients will likely rotate” each year. 

Franchise operators are still able to donate to the charitable organization of their choice, “at their discretion,” said Cathy. 

“We have been entrusted with much to share and the needs are great,” he said.

New York bishops condemn 'dangerous' surrogacy bill

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 18:00

Albany, N.Y., Jan 8, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of New York stated their opposition to commercial surrogacy Wednesday as a new bill was introduced to legalize the practice in the state.

“The surrogacy legislation is designed mainly to benefit wealthy men who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay baby brokers, at the expense of low-income women,” said a Jan. 8 statement from Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.

A bill, A.1071 / S.2071, has been introduced in the state legislature which removes existing prohibitions on surrogacy contracts in New York. The Empire State is one of the few remaining states in the country not to have legislation on surrogacy. 

Under the legislation, embryos created in a laboratory through in vitro fertilization (IVF), using sperm and eggs that may or may not be from the legal parents, can be transferred to the uterus of a woman who, having agreed to be a surrogate mother, is contractually obligated to bear the child and give the baby back to the legal parents.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, supports the legislation.

Regarding the practice of IVF, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2376 teaches that:

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’”

The New York Catholic Conference, which speaks on behalf of the bishops of the state, called the bill “a dangerous policy that will lead to the exploitation of poor, vulnerable women, and has few safeguards for children.” There are no safeguards such as residency requirements and background checks for surrogate parents, the conference says.

Other countries, including almost all European Union members, have begun moving away from the practice after cases of abuse of poor women acting as surrogates were made public.

India, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia have banned the commercial surrogacy trade and the EU Parliament has found it to be a “serious problem” and one “which constitutes an exploitation of the female body and her reproductive organs.”

In addition, the legislation explicitly denies any and all rights to babies in utero, stating that they may not be viewed as a ‘child' under the laws of New York, with the presumption that they must instead be viewed as manufactured products or disposable goods.

Archbishop Gomez urges prayers for peace amid Iran tensions

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged Catholics to pray for peace during amid rising conflict between the United States and Iran.

Gomez released the statement on Tuesday evening, after Iranian forces fired missiles at an American military base in Iraq in response to the killing of Iranian General Qassam Soleimani last week.

“We must pray urgently that our world’s leaders will pursue dialogue and seek peace,” said Gomez. 

“Please join me in asking our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, to intercede, that Jesus Christ might strengthen the peacemakers, comfort the suffering, and protect the innocent and all those in harm’s way, especially the men and women in our military and diplomatic service,” he added.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump addressed the press shortly before noon, and stated that the United States would not be escalating the situation further, and that “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

The president said that had been no casualties from the missile strike on Tuesday, and that there was “only minimal damage” to the base. 

Trump defended the airstrike that killed Soleimani, saying “Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood” and that “he should have been terminated long ago.” 

“By removing Soleimani, we have sent a powerful message to terrorists: If you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our people,” said Trump.

The president urged NATO to become deeper involved in the peace process in the Middle East, and said that America would impose further economic sanctions on Iran. These sanctions would continue until Iran makes changes.

As of Wednesday, there was no plan for a military invasion of Iran. 

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it,” said Trump. “We do not want to use it.  American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

Trump ended his address with a message to the Iranian people and their leaders, saying that America wants the country to “have a future and a great future--one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home, and harmony with the nations of the world.”

“The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” he said. 

Louisiana Catholic church vandalized with graffiti

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 15:47

Lafayette, La., Jan 8, 2020 / 01:47 pm (CNA).- Last weekend, the property of a Catholic church in Louisiana was vandalized with black spray paint, including symbols of a satanic nature.

The graffiti was found on a statue, Marian grotto, and prayer altar outside of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Catholic Church in Abbeville, La., just over 20 miles southwest of Lafayette.

One of the vandalized objects was a 70-year-old statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux. The symbols spray-painted on the statue included an upside-down cross, the word satan, and a pentagram. The police were called Jan. 4.

"Vandals came and defaced our statue of [St. Therese]. It's sad that it's not a random act of graffiti that some kids did. These are cult paintings, satanic cult, 666, an upside down cross," said Trustee John T. Landry, according to KATC.

The damage to the grotto and prayer altar, which includes similar graffiti, was found this week when a parishioner came to pray at the Marian shrine. It is unsure if this vandalism occurred on the same night, and it had been overlooked when the police conducted their report.

Landry expressed sorrow for the attack, claiming the site as a place of peace and contemplation.

"Churches are places of peace and solitude and prayer. To see someone that malicious to not only put graffiti, but to put the devil's work and signature on a Christian statue, is horrible," he said, according to KATC.

While the property does have security cameras, the cameras were not pointed at the statue. Abbeville police department said the perpetrators are unknown and have offered a cash reward for information.

FBI interviewed Papal Foundation staff about McCarrick

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Law enforcement officials have conducted interviews with several senior figures at the Papal Foundation, a U.S. based charity which supports the charitable works of the Holy Father.

Officers from the FBI have spoken to at least three foundation staff members over last several months, with enquiries focused on the role of Theodore McCarrick, who served as a board member until his removal from the College of Cardinals in 2018, following charges of sexual abuse of minors. Last year, McCarrick was laicized following a Vatican investigation and his conviction by a canonical process.

“There were questions on how the foundation operates,” one person contacted by the FBI told CNA, though they declined to be named citing confidentiality concerns. “It seemed to be linked to [McCarrick’s] sexual abuse.”

As a cardinal and one of the most senior figures in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, McCarrick was known to wield considerable influence across the Church, both in America and in Rome. He was also a prolific fundraiser, securing millions of dollars in donations for various causes, sitting on the board of several grant making bodies, and running his own private charitable fund.

Pressing questions remain unanswered about McCarrick’s ability to buy influence and insulate himself from rumors and allegations, and a Vatican report on McCarrick’s career, and how he was able to rise so high despite decades of apparent sexual misconduct and abuse, is due to be released in early 2020.

One person interviewed by the FBI told CNA that foundation staff members do not believe McCarrick had the opportunity to misappropriate Papal Foundation funds directly, but the FBI is uncertain.

“There’s no question at the foundation [of McCarrick abusing funds], but I think, at least for the authorities, McCarrick’s ability to have abused his position is an open question,” the person told CNA.

At least one member of the Papal Foundation’s staff has also been interviewed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

The Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation gives grants in support of projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million in grants in service to the Catholic Church.

The foundation is managed by a three-tiered board of trustees. American cardinals residing in the U.S. serve as ex officio members, and bishops and elected laity serve as second and third tier trustees.

McCarrick’s last known intervention with the Papal Foundation occurred in 2017, when he circulated a letter to a lay member of the board of trustees rebuking him for opposing a controversial grant request from the Vatican, which asked the foundation for $25 million for a bankrupt Italian hospital, the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI). 

While the Papal Foundation board was told the money was intended to inject liquidity into the hospital, which had amassed debts of more than 800 million euros following years of fraud and embezzlement by senior administrators, CNA reported that the grant funds were actually intended to offset and illicit loan by APSA, the Holy See’s sovereign bank, made to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to fund the purchase of the hospital out of government-controlled insolvency.

CNA has reported that shortly after accusations of sexual abuse of minors were first presented to Church authorities against McCarrick, APSA’s secretary flew to Washington to meet privately with McCarrick before the then-cardinal intervened in favor of the $25 million grant at the Papal Foundation.

In autumn 2017, several board members objected to the grant request because they had discovered that the hospital was financially insolvent, and not merely in a short-term cash crunch, as they had been led to believe.

McCarrick wrote to one lay trustee, copying in the foundation’s board, that raising concerns was “irresponsible, and seriously harmful to The Papal Foundation.”

Eventually, $13 million was sent to Rome by the foundation, with Wuerl later signing a letter to donors insisting that the Holy See, not the hospital, was always the intended beneficiary.

In November, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, told CNA that he arranged the grant request to the Papal Foundation. 

If a full-fledged federal or state investigation is underway, Vatican and American Church leaders could find themselves facing questions that extend in scope beyond McCarrick’s role at the Foundation.

One outstanding question Church officials might face is the final use and destination of the $13 million that was sent to Rome from Papal Foundation funds.

Last year, APSA conceded that 30 million of the 50 million euro loan for the IDI purchase had to be written off, wiping out the Vatican’s profitability for the year.

Also last year, senior figures at the Papal Foundation told CNA that the Secretariat of State had reclassified the grant as a loan but, rather than be repaid, the $13 million will be “discounted” against future grant requests made by the Secretariat.

Meanwhile, the IDI president has said that $13 million dollars received in “financing” from the Secretariat of State “appeared” to be from the Papal Foundation and would be repaid in cash to the Secretariat - if and when the hospital returned to profitability.

Archbishop calls for prayer, solidarity after Puerto Rico earthquakes

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 02:59

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan 8, 2020 / 12:59 am (CNA).- In the wake of a series of earthquakes that left at least one dead, multiple injured and some 300,000 without water in Puerto Rico, Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves called for prayer and solidarity among his people.

“A 6.7-point earthquake has just shaken all of Puerto Rico that is now without (electricity),” Nieves, Archbishop of San Juan Puerto Rico, said in a Jan. 7 tweet. “Prayer, serenity, solidarity and charity are important. We are one family!”

Since Dec. 28, Puerto Rico has been struck by a series of earthquakes of increasing strength, including a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit on Monday. The largest and most destructive thus far struck the country early Tuesday morning, measuring in at 6.4 in magnitude.

The region experienced multiple earthquakes and aftershocks in the following hours, including a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. Hundreds more are expected in the weeks ahead, the Miami Herald reported, prompting Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez to extend holiday breaks for schools, shut down public agency offices, and declare a state of emergency.

“We’re talking about a situation that never happens in Puerto Rico,” Vázquez said, according to the Miami Herald. “It’s not like a hurricane where we can prepare, that we can see it coming... you have to be prepared.”

Puerto Rico suffered devastating damages from Hurricane Maria in September 2017, and some regions of the island are still recovering from that destruction more than two years later.

In a statement Jan. 7, president of the U.S. bishop’s conference Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles offered his prayers of solidarity for the people of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

“I wish to express my prayerful solidarity on behalf of the bishops of the United States to the people of Puerto Rico and all those in regions effected by the terrible earthquake that took place today. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who are suffering from this disaster,” he said.

“The Church in the United States stands with you. In our prayer, we recall in trust that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, offering Himself to us and calling us to Himself even in our hardest hour,” he added.

The 6.4 earthquake on Tuesday struck the southern part of the main island of Puerto Rico the hardest. Among the damage of that earthquake was the partial collapse of Inmaculada Concepción church in Guayanilla, a Catholic church built in 1841. Punta Ventana rock formation and arch, a popular tourist destination along the coast of Guayanilla, collapsed in the earthquake.

In the city of Ponce, some 15 miles to the east of Guayanilla, a 77 year-old man was killed by the earthquake while at least 8 others were injured. More than 250 people seeking temporary shelter in the town of Guánica in southern Puerto Rico were going to be placed in tents outside until the danger of further earthquakes and aftershocks subsided, officials told CNN.

Riko Gonzalez, a Puerto Rico resident, told CNN that “people are afraid to go to bed, to then be woken up to worse earthquakes than the day before.”

Donations for disaster relief in Puerto Rico can be made through Catholic Charities USA at:


Wyoming legislator seeks to repeal death penalty

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 00:01

Cheyenne, Wyo., Jan 7, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- A Wyoming lawmaker intends to introduce a bill to repeal capital punishment in the state when the legislative session begins next month.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said the death penalty does not align with conservative principles.

“I oppose the death penalty because I believe in limited government over life and liberty matters concerning our citizens, fiscal responsibility in how we spend our justice dollars, and because executing our own citizens is immoral and a violation of God's natural law,” he told CNA.

“If we’re taking a person’s life because we believe that it was unjust for that person to take another’s life, then that seems paradoxical. We ought to be consistent with our morals and our principles. Life is either precious or it’s not.”

In 2019, Olsen sponsored Senate Bill 145, which was defeated 18-12. He announced last week the decision to sponsor a similar bill again this year.

The Republican party holds 50 of the 60 seats in Wyoming's House of Representatives, and 27 of the 30 Senate seats.

Wyoming has not executed anyone since 1992.

Olsen is working with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Introduced to Wyoming in 2017, CCATDP states that small government and the death penalty are not compatible.

“Conservatives have a hard time trusting the government to fix pot holes, to deliver the mail, to decide which businesses to support. Conservatives would rather the government stay out of the business of picking winners and losers in corporations,” Olsen said, according to Oil City News.

“They want the government outside of all these areas in their lives. So why then would we concede that the government should be such an integral part of our justice system? It makes absolutely no sense.”

Kylie Taylor, Coordinator of CCATDP in Wyoming, expressed concern that because the justice system has the potential for error, capital punishment puts innocent people at risk of being executed.

“Since 1973 at least one-hundred and sixty-five inmates have been exonerated. That comes to about one in ten inmates on Death Row that are exonerated and that is huge,” she said, according to Oil City News.

“We know that the system isn’t perfect and that one mistake with a life is one too many,” Taylor further added.

Deacon Mike Leman, the Diocese of Cheyenne's legislative liaison, told CNA that “For us as a diocese, it’s been about connecting life issues. One of the things I’ve done recently is researching comments from popes in the past and you realize they’ve been for a number of years calling for repeal on the death penalty.”

“It’s important to highlight and connect the life issues because until we do that it’s really hard to highlight for people our responsibility toward any other marginalized population if we turn right around and say, in certain circumstances, life really isn’t an inalienable right.”

He said the Church has emphasized a need for public safety and the responsibility of the government to defend its citizens from dangerous people. However, through the advancement in technology, this does not require the death penalty.

“Pope John Paul II said back in '99 that through the development of our prison systems and our technology and all of these things, society can protect its citizens.”

He also drew attention to the importance of recognizing the system’s potential for failure and told a story about a man he met who was exonerated from death row.

“I’ve actually met a person who was on death row for 12 years. His father died while he was in prison, his mother, because he was on his last appeal, bought a plot for his grave, and then they found out that the process was completely wrong,” he said.

“When you actually meet someone who has been in that position, it makes you think a little bit more deeply about it.”

The Church has consistently taught that the state has the authority to use the death penalty, in cases of “absolute necessity,” though with the qualification that the Church considered such situations to be extremely rare.

Both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice of capital punishment in the West.

St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the catechism's paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri continued.

Will 2020 bring pro-life momentum to state legislatures?

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 18:52

Washington D.C., Jan 7, 2020 / 04:52 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates are hopeful that 2020 will see the pro-life movement building on its victories from the past year, despite court challenges and efforts by pro-abortion lawmakers to loosen abortion restrictions.

“In 2019, life-related bills were introduced in every state and we hope to see this momentum carry into 2020,” Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel for Americans United for Life, told CNA Jan. 6.

She cited the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a challenge to a Kentucky law that requires abortion doctors to present and describe an ultrasound image of an unborn child to a mother seeking an abortion, and to play audio of the baby’s heartbeat. Advocate of the law say it helps ensure informed consent before an abortion.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to let Kentucky’s informed consent law go into effect will likely encourage other states to consider similar laws focused on patient protection, health and safety, and informed consent,” Glenn said.

The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reported 58 abortion restrictions and bans enacted in 2019, CNN reports.

Eight states in 2019 passed abortion bans after the unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable. The legislation in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, while Missouri’s legislation bans it eight weeks into pregnancy, CNN reports.

In the upcoming year, more states are planning to consider heartbeat-based abortion legislation, although such laws often face legal challenges.

The South Carolina Senate will consider a heartbeat ban this year, after the House of Representatives passed the legislation last year. In Pennsylvania, Republican legislators have introduced a heartbeat-based abortion ban but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has pledged to veto it.

The Tennessee legislature could consider a ban on abortion based on whether a pregnancy hormone is detectable, as early as 10 days from conception.

Citizen action is also changing abortion law.

In December, Michigan Right to Life delivered over 379,000 petition signatures on a citizen-led initiative to ban “dismemberment abortion,” formally known as dilation and extraction, an abortion technique in which the unborn baby is removed from the mother’s uterus with a clamp.

State law requires just over 340,000 signatures for the initiative to advance.

State records indicate that 1,777 dilation and extraction abortions were performed in Michigan in 2017, out of 26,594 total abortions.

If the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections certifies the petition signatures, the legislature has 40 days to consider the initiative.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate separately passed their own versions of a similar ban on a vote split along party lines. However, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, had promised to veto the bill.

If the legislature supports the proposal, the initiative would bypass the veto threat and automatically become law, the Detroit Free Press reports. If the legislature does nothing, it would go on the ballot for the 2020 general election.

In Colorado, the group Due Date Too Late has organized a petition drive to put on the 2020 ballot a 22-week abortion ban. The ban exempts abortions that in a doctor’s judgement are an immediate threat to a woman’s life.

The group must collect over 124,000 signatures distributed across the state’s 35 state senate districts by March 4 in order to qualify for the ballot. They must then secure 55% of the vote in the general election in order to be successful.

The initiative has the support of Catholic bishops in Colorado, who have granted permission to pastors in every Catholic church in Colorado to allow trained petitioners to ask for signatures at their church.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver in his Oct. 9, 2019 column lamented that Colorado has “some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.” He urged all Catholics to become involved in the effort to limit abortion in the state.

Pennsylvania legislators have also proposed a new regulation requiring medical facilities to “cremate or inter the fetal remains” from miscarriages or abortions.

Such rules have new prominence after authorities discovered more than 2,400 fetal remains kept at the properties of a deceased retired abortionist who worked at three Indiana clinics.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, a Republican, said in a December 2019 report that the case “exemplifies the need for strong laws to ensure the dignified disposition of fetal remains.”

Glenn said the average citizen can advance pro-life legislation by calling their local legislators and Members of Congress to express support for these issues.

“If you are able, show up in person and testify on a bill. You do not have to be a lawyer, and some of the most moving testimony I have ever heard is from people who just care deeply about their community.”

Success in state and federal courts is also imperative to the progress of pro-life initiatives.

There are currently dozens of pending court cases on abortion-related issues including medical safety standards and free speech rights of pro-life advocates. There are also direct challenges to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent which helped mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Glenn said the biggest legal case in 2020 is June Medical Services v. Gee, which the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear in March. The case concerns Louisiana requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their abortion facility.

“The Gee decision may impact some of these, but we expect that the Supreme Court and the lower courts will keep regularly hearing abortion lawsuits in the near future,” she said.

Amid speculation that the U.S. Supreme Court could change federal precedent on abortion, backers of legal abortion are working to defend their position at the state level.

In 2019 California, Illinois, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont passed legislation to strengthen and expand protections for legal abortion, and this trend could continue in the coming year as well.

“Already states like Massachusetts and Virginia have begun pushing extreme ‘Roe’ Acts that would allow abortion throughout the entire pregnancy,” Glenn commented.

“These bills expand abortion well past viability and remove health and safety protections for women and girls,” Glenn said. “These bills place the financial interests of the abortion industry ahead of the wellbeing of women, and in a state like Massachusetts where the legislation seeks to remove any parental involvement, ahead of the wellbeing of young girls and their families.”

The Massachusetts legislature is set to consider the Roe Act, which would remove parental consent requirements for underage girls seeking to procure an abortion. It would allow third-trimester abortion if a doctor diagnoses the unborn baby with a fatal condition.

It would establish a right to an abortion under state law, securing legal abortion if federal court precedents are modified or overturned, National Public Radio reports.

However, the bill has not yet passed through legislative committees and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who generally favors legal abortion, has said he does not back the bill’s expansions of abortion legality.

In Virginia, lawmakers have introduced legislation to remove parental consent requirements for minors seeking abortions, to eliminate requirements that a pregnant woman must have an ultrasound before an abortion, and to amend the Virginia constitution to make access to abortion a permanent legal right.


Bishop Scharfenberger says he was given no 'particular mission' in Buffalo

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 18:00

Buffalo, N.Y., Jan 7, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, has said he was not given the results of a Vatican-ordered investigation into the scandal-hit diocese.

“I was not given that,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger told local news station WKBW in an interview on Monday, regarding the Vatican’s report of the investigation. “I don’t know what it contains,” he said.

Scharfenberger also told WKBW that he was not given a clear mandate by the Vatican when he was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese in December after the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone.

“I was not sent with a particular mission,” Scharfenberger said of his temporary appointment to Buffalo, emphasizing that Malone resigned and was not “forced out.”

“I was not given any documentation or any marching orders that ‘you’re here to clean things up,’ or anything. I was just told to be the administrator of the diocese.”

After more than a year of successive scandals concerning sexual abuse and cover-up in the diocese, in October the Vatican appointed Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn to conduct an Apostolic Visitation of Buffalo, resulting in a report submitted to the Vatican in November. 

Although he said he had not seen the conclusions of that report, Scharfenberger did address the climate of suspicion and cynicism which had set in across large parts of the diocese.  

“Criminality is not entitled to secrecy,” he said on Monday. “So anything that our files that would contain that would hint at criminal behavior, if that’s the case, I want to be transparent and expose.”

“Christ says ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ that we have nothing to fear from that truth,” he said.

Bishop Malone’s resignation was accepted in December after sustained criticism and scrutiny beginning in November of 2018, when his former executive assistant Siobahn O’Connor leaked confidential diocesan documents showing that the diocese had drastically underreported to the public the number of priests with abuse accusations made against them. The documents showed that Malone worked with diocesan lawyers to limit the list of accused priests that would be released to the public.

In August, Malone’s then-secretary Fr. Rishard Biernat leaked audio of conversations between him, Malone, and diocesan lawyers and staff. In the audio of the conversations, Malone admitted that accusations of grooming and violation of the Seal of Confession made by a then-seminarian against one diocesan priest were probably true, but months later the priest still remained in active ministry.

“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, noting that if the matter—which could appear to be a “love triangle” between the seminarian, priest, and Biernat—were leaked the public, “it could force me to resign.”

Although no successor has yet been chosen, some have speculated that Scharfenberger could be a candidate. The Diocese of Buffalo has nearly 600,000 Catholics spread across eight counties, larger than Scharfenberger’s own diocese of Albany, which has 400,000 Catholics.

After Archbishop Bernard Hebda was initially appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in 2015 after the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt following an abuse cover-up scandal. Hebda was later confirmed as the next archbishop, despite being in line to replace Archbishop John Myers in Newark, where he was also serving as coadjutor.

On Monday, Scharfenberger insisted that his stay in Buffalo would be temporary. “Every indication that I have,” he said, is that “my tenure in Buffalo is time-limited and that it will be a short time.”

Even if only in Buffalo temporarily, Scharfenberger will have to address the impending threat of bankruptcy in the diocese, with a high number of lawsuits related to allegations of sexual abuse filed beginning in August, when a one-year window was openned in the state’s staute of limitations. 

In August, as the one-year legal window opened in New York for lawsuits over previous cases of sexual abuse, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that covered up sexual abuse. The New York’s Attorney General is also conducting an investigation into the diocese.

Scharfenberger said Monday that while he did not intend to revisit previous decisions made by the diocesan review board on allegations of determined to be false or lacking in evidence, he would do so if those decisions were manifestly wrong.

The bishop called on abuse victims who think their cases were wrongly decided “to come forward” and have their cases reopened by the diocesan tribunal.

For survivors who want to see documentation as to how their previously claims of abuse were handled by the diocese, Scharfenberger said they “should come forward and we’ll do whatever we can to let that person know what they need to know, or want to know,” he said.

Teen arrested for Planned Parenthood attack in Delaware

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 17:00

Wilmington, Del., Jan 7, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- An 18-year-old man is being held in custody and is charged with federal crimes after he allegedly threw an incendiary device at a Planned Parenthood location in Newark, Delaware early on Friday, Jan. 3. 

Samuel James Gulick, of Middletown, Delaware, was arrested on Saturday, Jan 4, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware. Gulick was arrested by the FBI and will have a detention hearing on Friday, Jan. 10. 

Guilick is charged with “maliciously damaging a building used in interstate commerce through the use of fire or destructive device,” “intentionally damaging a facility that provides reproductive health services,” and “possession of an unregistered destructive device under the National Firearms Act.”

According to the release, shortly after 2 a.m. on Friday, Guilick spray-painted the words “Deus Vult,” a Chi Rho, and a Marian symbol on the outside of the Planned Parenthood. He then threw a lit object at the window of the facility. 

“The object then exploded and Gulick ran away,” said the release. “The fire burned for approximately one minute before self-extinguishing.” 

The facility’s front window and porch were damaged by the explosion and fire. The site was closed at the time of the incident. 

According to Planned Parenthood’s website, the Newark location does not provide abortions on-site, but does offer abortion referrals. The Newark location is the only one of Delaware’s three Planned Parenthood facilities that does not provide abortion services. 

Gulick was captured after surveillance video spotted his car leaving the scene. The FBI also found Guilick’s social media postings, which include posts using the words “Deus Vult” and “several anti-abortion posts.” 

“Deus Vult” or “Deus lo vult” is a Latin phrase that means “God wills it.” It was a battle cry of the First Crusade, and was reportedly used in a speech by Pope Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont. In that speech, Urban II instructed that “Deus lo vult” be used as “this one cry raised by all the soldiers of God.” In recent years, the term has been popularized online through the use of meme imagery. 

The most serious charge faced by Guilick, damaging a facility that provides reproductive health services, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Guilick is unlikely to receive the maximum sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office release. 

Ruth Lytle-Barnaby, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Delaware, told the New York Times that Guilick’s actions were “an act of domestic terrorism and a blatant attack on reproductive health.” She theorized that Guilick had been “emboldened” by the current presidential administration.

The Diocese of Wilmington, the only Catholic diocese in the state of Delaware, did not respond to CNA in time for publication.

Theodore McCarrick has moved from Kansas friary

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 13:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 7, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick has moved from the Kansas friary where he had been living since 2018.

A spokesman for the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Conrad told CNA Jan. 7 that McCarrick left St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas, just days ago.

He has moved to a residential community of priests who have been removed from ministry, senior Church officials told CNA.

The former cardinal made the decision to leave the Kansas friary himself over the Christmas period, sources say, adding that his continued presence in the friary had become a strain on the Franciscan community that was hosting him.

McCarrick moved to the friary shortly after he was accused in 2018 of sexually abusing minors, seminarians, and young priests.

McCarrick’s new location remains undisclosed. Sources told CNA that the former cardinal arranged his new accommodation for himself, adding that the residence to which he has moved is “rather secluded and away from public attention.”

“McCarrick remains a guest at his new accommodation, but he is funding his own stay and is there by his own choice - no one can make him stay if he does not wish to,” a Church official told CNA.

Sources familiar with McCarrick’s situation told CNA that both the Kansas friary and McCarrick had been concerned that a forthcoming report on the former cardinal’s career, due to be released by the Vatican in the near future, would bring disruptive media attention to the friary.

McCarrick apparently hopes the new “secluded” location will limit media attempts to contact him in the event of renewed interest in his case, a Church official told CNA.

“It is not a secret where he is, but it is private, and for the good of the community I don’t think there will be a public announcement of it at this point,” the official said.

“He left on his own accord,” Fr. Joseph Mary Elder, a spokesman for the Capuchin province, told CNA Jan. 7.

“It was his decision.”

Elder said he was not aware where McCarrick had moved.

In June 2019 Elder told CNA that McCarrick, 89, “is in poor health and remains under a supervision plan.”

“At this point, the length of his stay is indeterminate, but he is looking for lodgings closer to his family. There is no timetable for when or if that might happen,” Elder said in June of McCarrick’s residence at the friary.

“Mr. McCarrick follows the everyday life and routine of a friar with the exception of public ministry; he lives in the same type of room as the friars, joins in the community prayers and the celebration of the Mass, and participates in community meals and interactions,” the priest added at that time.

In August, McCarrick told Slate magazine that “I’m not as bad as they paint me.”

“I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” McCarrick told Slate, in the only interview he has given since allegations regarding his sexual abuse of minors emerged in June 2018.

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.

In February 2019, he was found by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

McCarrick was laicized in February 2019, but remained in residence at the friary.

McCarrick told Slate in August 2019 that didn’t ever leave the friary while he resided there, even to enter the adjoining Basilica of St. Fidelis; a condition of his residence was that he remain on the grounds of the friary. He indicated that he spendt much of his time in the chapel and the library.

McCarrick discussed in particular the accusations that he had solicited James Grein 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 Slate 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.

This story has been updated since publication.

Minnesota’s Catholic, Lutheran bishops call for welcoming of refugees

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 02:52

St. Paul, Minn., Jan 7, 2020 / 12:52 am (CNA).- Reflecting on the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, the Catholic and Lutheran bishops of Minnesota issued an open letter encouraging Christians to adopt a welcoming attitude toward refugees.

“We are saddened that as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ — who himself experienced life as a refugee when his family fled to Egypt — our nation may be creating even more hardships for vulnerable refugee families,” said an open letter from Minnesota’s Catholic bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore imbued with a sacred dignity we must respect and protect. This is especially true when it comes to the poor and vulnerable.”

The article ran in the Star Tribune’s Opinion Exchange Dec. 23, in preparation for National Migration Week, which is observed this year Jan. 5-11. This year’s theme is “Promoting a Church and a World for All.”

The religious leaders condemned an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in September, which limits refugee placement to areas where both state and local governments have provided written consent.

“The new order seems to unnecessarily politicize what has been a humanitarian program rooted in our nation’s long history of resettling families fleeing from life-threatening dangers,” the bishops said.

They voiced concern that the new rule will create additional obstacles for refugees, who already “have escaped terrible situations of persecution and violence, leaving [their] homes and livelihoods to face an uncertain future.”

“We fear the executive order will create further hardship for refugees by delaying the resolution of their cases, dividing extended families and placing additional strains on the resettlement system, the religious leaders said.

“We are also troubled by the decision to set a limit of 18,000 refugees in 2020, the lowest in 40 years,” they added. The 18,000 figure marks a 40% drop from the previous year’s ceiling of 30,000, which was already less than half of the 67,000 average annual refugee admissions before Trump took office.

While resettling refugees may pose challenges for a community, the Catholic and Lutheran leaders said, the Bible is clear about the Christian’s responsibility towards vulnerable people.

“The world is experiencing the largest displacement of persons in human history. Our nation’s refugee policy is one way to demonstrate our values by following a common moral exhortation in the Bible: to welcome the stranger in our midst,” they said.

They encouraged Christians to pray for immigrants and look for ways to welcome them into the community. They also called for dialogue between those with different opinions on handling refugee resettlement.

“Pray for refugees and voice your support for them to our elected leaders. Reflect on ways you or your church congregation can assist them and other newcomers and how we can together address the fears and misconceptions that are all too common in these situations,” they said.

“If you are challenged by the influx of refugees, we invite you to seek to encounter them, learn their stories and work to see them as God sees them - as sons and daughters.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington also issued a statement on Jan. 6 for National Migration Week. He said every Catholic family has an immigration story, whether recent or in the past, and emphasized humanity as one united family.

“This observance allows us to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants around the world, including immigrants, refugees, and victims and survivors of human trafficking,” he said.

“Christ calls us to live in solidarity with one another, setting aside our fears or apathy. Within our parishes, neighborhoods and this Diocese, we should seek to encounter all migrants as children of our loving God, serving them in love and compassion.”

New York governor announces $45 million marked for security at religious schools

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 21:00

New York City, N.Y., Jan 6, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- During a solidarity march with the Jewish community of New York, which suffered numerous attacks during the week of Hanukkah last month, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state is spending $45 million this year on increased security for religious institutions and schools.

Cuomo made the announcement on Sunday during a speech before walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with tens of thousands of fellow march participants.

Anti-Semitic attacks took place in New York every day of the week of Hannukah last month, including a stabbing during a celebration at a rabbi’s home that wounded five people. The money for increased security at religious sites was earmarked last April as part of the state’s budget, due to the advocacy of multiple Jewish organizations as well as the New York State Catholic Conference, a spokesman for the conference told CNA.

While the earmarked security funds predated the recent Hannukah attacks, the allocation came after a year of increased violence against Jewish people throughout the United States, including the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers who were shot and killed by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the synagogue shooting was the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the U.S. The year of 2018 was the third-highest year for anti-semitic incidents in the past four decades, and had a 99% increase in antisemitic incidents compared to 2015, according to the ADL.

Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA that Catholic and other religious schools and institutions can apply for the funds if they can demonstrate a security need.

Several Catholic schools in the state have already used the money to add security measures such as video surveillance and better-fortified entrances, Poust noted.

“We’re grateful that the governor and legislature recognize this need, particularly during this period of increased violence and hatred aimed at religious communities. We know that they take student safety seriously, and we’re working with our allies in the Jewish community to increase funding, given the current climate in New York.”

There is also a separate set of $15 million in state funds set aside for health, safety and security needs, which is apportioned proportionately to all independent and religious schools, instead of through an application process, Poust noted.

Poust said he is unaware of any current threats against Catholic schools or institutions in the state of New York, but noted that two Catholic churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn were vandalized last year.

St. Gerard Majella in Queens, New York was vandalized twice in September 2019, resulting in roughly $10,000 in damages to parish signs, plants, rosary stations and the sprinkler system.

In November 2019, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Williamsburg was vandalized by a man who pulled plants from the parish garden and threw them at the rectory, and knocked over a statue of St. Jude, which he left in the middle of the street. The man was arrested and charged with a hate crime, according to a report from the diocese.

Adriana Rodriguez, communications director for the Brooklyn diocese, told CNA that in both cases of vandalism, surveillance video was key in notifying the police about the incidents and in the arrest of the man in November. She added that she is unaware of any current threats against Catholic schools or institutions in the diocese.

According to the Wall Street Journal, religious leaders in the area of Monsey, the New York suburb where the Hanukkah stabbing occurred, appealed last week for even more security funding in order to protect yeshivas, Jewish educational institutions attended by some 30,000 students in the area.