CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 4 min 52 sec ago

Ohio bill would introduce fetal development into school curriculum

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 02:42

Cincinnati, Ohio, Jul 11, 2019 / 12:42 am (CNA).- A recently introduced bill in Ohio would add scientific information about the development of the unborn child to the state’s public and charter school curriculum.

HB 90, known as the “Humanity of the Unborn Child” bill, would direct the state board of education and department of health to create educational programing that “provides accurate, scientifically verifiable information concerning the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child” throughout a pregnancy.

The legislation would also instruct the department of health to “develop and maintain a pregnancy and child services database containing a list of agencies that offer services available to assist women through pregnancy and childbirth and while their children are dependent.”

It would direct the health department to distribute educational materials on maternal health, including information about prenatal vitamins and nutrition, avoidance of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy, and resources available for prenatal medical care.

The bill, currently in the House Health Committee, was introduced by Rep. Niraj Antani (R., Miamisburg).

“When you learn that a baby’s heart beats at six to eight weeks, the fingernails form at 10 weeks, at 20 weeks pain is felt, that will help create a culture of life,” Antani said, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Current regulations in Ohio require sex education that includes discussion of STDs and emphasizes abstinence before marriage, according to the Toledo Blade. No current regulations are in place for discussing abortion in school.

Supporters of the legislation say that educating people on fetal development and pregnancy health is good for moms and their babies.

The Toledo Blade reported that Jessica Warner, director of legislative affairs for Ohio Right to Life, testified before a committee hearing about the need to find ways to reduce infant mortality and promote better education on prenatal care.

“This can ... ensure that young women who may find themselves pregnant are quickly connected to the prenatal care that is so needed,” she said.

Critics of the bill have blasted it as a political move that will deprive students of information that they need to make informed decisions.

The legislation would prohibit organizations that perform abortions from being consulted in the creation of the fetal development curriculum, which would be taught to students in 3rd-12th grade. It would also bar school employees from referring students for abortions.

Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist at the ACLU of Ohio, told the Huffington Post that the legislation is “attempted propaganda reflecting one particular viewpoint.”

Jennifer McNally, chairman of the board of trustees for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, argued that the bill dictates “standards that are blatantly inaccurate and ideologically motivated,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Consideration of the “Humanity of the Unborn Child” bill comes as states across the country continue to debate legislation that would expand or restrict abortion access.

Last week, a federal judge temporarily blocked an Ohio law banning abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, usually six to eight weeks into pregnancy.

The law had been set to go into effect July 11.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett wrote that the law is unconstitutional “on its face” and that “the law is well-settled that women possess a fundamental constitutional right of access to abortions,” reported local radio station WOSU.

The temporary stay means that abortion clinics may continue performing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable while the law’s constitutionality is argued in court.

Catholic school teacher fired for gay marriage sues Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:05

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 10, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- A teacher at a Catholic school in Indianapolis whose contract was terminated due to his same-sex marriage is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, one day after reaching a settlement with the school.

Local news station RTV6 reported that former Cathedral High School teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott filed a lawsuit claiming that the archdiocese illegally interfered in his professional relationship with Cathedral High School, leading the school to terminate his contract last month.

The news station cited a press release from Payne-Elliott’s attorney, which said the former teacher has also filed a discrimination claim at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying the archdiocese “discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliated against him for opposing sexual orientation discrimination.”

A statement from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis responding to the lawsuit said that within archdiocesan Catholic schools, “all teachers, school leaders and guidance counselors are ministers and witnesses of the faith, who are expected to uphold the teachings of the Church in their daily lives, both in and out of school.”

“Religious liberty, which is a hallmark of the U.S. Constitution and has been tested in the U.S. Supreme Court, acknowledges that religious organizations may define what conduct is not acceptable and contrary to the teachings of its religion, for its school leaders, guidance counselors, teachers and other ministers of the faith,” the archdiocese said.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC that government cannot interfere with religious institutions’ hiring and firing decisions regarding employees whom they consider to be ministers.

Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit was announced one day after his attorney released a statement saying that a settlement had been reached between Cathedral High School and the teacher, who at the time was still unidentified.

The July 9 statement said that the school was working to help the teacher find a new job.

“The teacher thanks Cathedral for the opportunities and experiences that he has had teaching at Cathedral and does not wish Cathedral any harm. The teacher also thanks his friends, former colleagues, and students for their support during this difficult time. Cathedral thanks the teacher for the years of service, contributions, and achievements,” the statement said.

“For its part, Cathedral intends to remain Catholic, while respectfully facilitating discernment among the Archdiocese, the Catholic community and the Cathedral Family on this issue.”

Terms of the settlement were not released.

Last month, Cathedral High School announced that it was terminating the contract of an employee – now identified as Payne-Elliott – in a civil same-sex marriage.

“It is Archbishop [Charles] Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” Cathedral High School leaders said in a June 23 letter.

“Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedral’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

“Therefore, in order to remain a Catholic Holy Cross School, Cathedral must follow the direct guidance given to us by Archbishop Thompson and separate from the teacher,” said the letter, signed by Matt Cohoat, chairman of Cathedral High School’s board of directors, and Rob Bridges, the school’s president.

A few days prior, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis announced that another high school, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, would no longer be recognized as a Catholic school following a two-year disagreement about the employment of a teacher in a civil same-sex marriage.

School leaders at Brebeuf said that to follow the instruction from the archdiocese “would not only violate our informed conscience on this particular matter, but also set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations.”

The Code of Canon Law recognizes the diocesan bishop’s responsibility to ensure that religion teachers are “outstanding in true doctrine, in the witness of their Christian life, and in their teaching ability.” The diocesan bishop has the right to approve religion teachers and, “if religious or moral considerations require it, the right to remove them or to demand that they be removed.”

In a press conference June 27, Archbishop Thompson stressed that the teacher was removed not because he was gay, but because he had contracted a same-sex marriage, in opposition to Church teaching on marriage.

All people should be treated with love and respect, and sexual orientation in itself is not sinful, the archbishop said, according to the Criterion.

However, he added, the Church is clear in teaching that the proper role of sexual activity is within a marriage between one man and one woman.

The issue in cases such as Brebeuf and Cathedral, he said, “is about public witness of Church teaching on the dignity of marriage as one man and one woman. That is our Church teaching.”

“In this particular case we’re dealing with, those are ministers in our Church. Teachers, guidance counselors, other leaders, leaders of the schools and other leaders in the archdiocese are bound to live out these principles.”

Archbishop Kurtz announces cancer diagnosis, asks for prayers

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 14:15

Louisville, Ky., Jul 10, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz requested prayers Wednesday as he announced that he has been diagnosed with bladder cancer and will soon undergo treatment. The Archbishop of Louisville announced he will be out of the archdiocese for three months while he receives treatment.

“I have been diagnosed with urothelial carcinoma in my bladder and prostate and will take part in a treatment plan that includes immunotherapy and chemotherapy for at least 12 weeks,” said Kurtz in a statement posted on the Archdiocese of Louisville website July 9. 

After undergoing chemotherapy, Kurtz said that he will have his bladder and prostate surgically removed. His diagnosis came after several months of health problems and medical tests. 

Kurtz, who served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2013 to 2016, said that he is “very grateful” to his oncologist Dr. Dan George and the rest of his team at the Duke University Cancer Institute, and that he has “good cause for optimism.” 

“I feel well, and with the encouragement of Dr. George, I have remained active during this time,” said the archbishop said. He will be staying in North Carolina throughout his treatment, but will be in contact with officials from the archdiocese while he is away. 

Kurtz said that Archbishop Christoph Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, is aware of his illness and imminent absence from his archdiocese, and is “supportive of the plan I have developed.” 

“Needless to say, I will miss the many opportunities I have to visit parishes and talk with so many of you at upcoming events this summer and fall,” he said. “You will be in my prayers. Please keep me in yours.”

According to the American Cancer Society, urothelial carcinoma is the most common form of bladder cancer. The five-year relative survival rates for all stages of bladder cancer is 77 percent.

Christmas, Bible controversies prompt VA policies for 'inclusive' religious liberty

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Jul 9, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- New policies from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs permit religious literature, symbols, and displays at VA facilities in a way that protects the religious freedom of veterans and families while “ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination,” the department has said after some controversies over Christmas decorations, Christmas caroling, cards, and other religious displays.

“We want to make sure that all of our veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said July 3.

The changes will help ensure consistent compliance with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.

The policies will allow religious content to be included in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities “in appropriate circumstances,” the department said.

They will “allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA.” Further, they will allow the VA to accept donated religious literature, cards, and symbols and to distribute them to VA patrons “under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them.”

The announcement linked to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 20 decision allowing a Peace Cross war memorial to remain on public land and to be maintained by public funds in Maryland.

The July 3 statement from the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs said the changes aimed to “simplify and clarify” policies regarding religious symbols and spiritual and pastoral care, which have been “interpreted inconsistently” at VA facilities. Previous interpretations resulted in “unfortunate incidents that interrupted certain displays.”

Earlier this year, a lawsuit challenged a Bible that was part of a “Missing Man” table display set up to honor prisoners of war and missing soldiers, shown at the entrance of the Manchester Veterans’ Administration Medical Center in New Hampshire. The display, sponsored by an outside group called the Northeast POW/MIA Network, used a Bible donated by a World War II veteran who possessed it while he was held captive.

The lawsuit was filed by a Christian U.S. Air Force veteran after 14 veterans and patients of the medical center, of various religious backgrounds, filed complaints with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

After the complaints the Bible was initially removed, but the medical center received numerous complaints from patients and their families who asked that the Bible be put back. After seeking legal counsel, the medical center decided to put the POW Bible back on display, said Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cashour apologized to those who were offended by the facility’s “incorrect” removal of the Bible.

The new nationwide VA policies were welcomed by Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for the First Liberty Institute, which represented Northeast POW/MIA Network in defending its display’s presence at the VA facility.

Berry said the new policy is “a welcome breath of fresh air.”

“On the eve of our nation’s Independence Day, this is the perfect time to honor our veterans by protecting the religious freedom for which they fought and sacrificed,” he said. “The Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of religious displays with historic roots such as those commonly found in VA facilities,” he added.

The policy change drew criticism from Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

In a July 3 statement, Weinstein said the policy change was “nothing more than a transparent and repugnant attempt to further buttress and solidify fundamentalist Christianity as the insuperable official religion of choice for the VA, our Armed Forces, and this country.”

Weinstein claimed the VA announcement was “both tragic and predictable in this hyper-dangerous era of an ignorant, fundamentalist Christian lapdog cum coward as our Commander in Chief.”

He objected that the policies were “clearly based” on the Supreme Court’s “idiotic decision” regarding the Peace Cross.

The VA’s new policy announcement linked to news stories about various restrictions and bans that have drawn controversy.

A VA hospital in Georgia barred high school Christmas carolers from singing religious songs. The hospital required them to sing from a list of 12 Christmas songs its pastoral service deemed appropriate. The ban was enacted on the grounds that each veteran had the right to be protected from unwelcomed religious material.

In other facilities across the country, VA officials have barred gifts wrapped with wrapping paper or gift bags that used the words “Merry Christmas.”

A Dallas VA medical center refused a delivery of children’s handwritten Christmas cards because they used phrases like “Merry Christmas” and “God Bless You,” Fox News reported in 2014.

In November 2015, a VA medical center in Virginia backed away from an earlier announcement that it would not allow Christmas trees in public areas. It said it would allow the trees “so long as they were accompanied by the respective symbols of the two other faiths that celebrate holidays during this holiday season - namely symbols commemorating Hanukkah and Kwanzaa,” the Salem VA Medical Center public affairs officer said, according to the Virginia NBC television affiliate WSLS.

The controversies had already resulted in some changes.

Department of Veterans Affairs guidance released in 2016 said that once a VA facility director allows holiday singing in a designated location, the department “must remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group or individual generally or in its holiday songs.”

The 2016 guidance said that Veterans Health Administration facilities may receive cards and gifts with religious messages for distributions to patients and residence in accordance with their individual preferences.

It also allowed veterans’ groups to set up displays with religious items on VA property.

'Never accept' separation of faith from political engagement, Chaput says

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 15:10

Washington D.C., Jul 9, 2019 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- Christians are called to win the battle of ideas and values in secular society, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said Tuesday.

In a speech delivered to the Alliance Defending Freedom Summit on Religious Liberty July 9, the archbishop said authentic religious freedom is essential in shaping a society of love, “the animating spirit of all authentically Christian political action.”

“I mean love in the biblical sense: love with a heart of courage, love determined to build justice in society and focused on the true good of the whole human person, body and soul.”

Chaput told the audience of lawyers from around the world that Christians must work to build an authentic vision of society built around the common good, and that “human progress means more than getting more stuff, more entitlements, and more personal license.”

“Real human progress satisfies the human hunger for solidarity and communion,” Chaput said. “When our leaders and their slogans tell us to move ‘forward into the future,’ we need to take a very hard look at the road we’re on, where ‘forward’ leads, and whether it ennobles the human soul or just aggravates our selfishness, our isolation, and our appetite for things.”

True religious freedom is crucial to serving real human progress, the archbishop said, drawing a distinction between it and “the half-starved copy of the real thing called ‘freedom of worship.’”

“We can never accept a separation of our religious faith and moral convictions from our public ministries or our political engagement. It’s impossible. And even trying to do so is evil because it forces us to live two different lives, worshiping God at home and in our churches; and worshiping the latest version of Caesar everywhere else.”

Sincere religious faith, Chaput said, fosters virtue and not conflict and is vital to advancing human dignity and building a humane society. But, he warned, “the creation myth” of the modern secular state is that religion is irrational, divisive, and violent.

“Secular, non-religious authority, on the other hand,” Chaput said, “is allegedly rational and unitive. Therefore, the job of secular authority is peacemaking; in other words, it must keep religious fanatics from killing each other and everybody else.”

“The problem with that line of thought is this: It’s simply an Enlightenment fantasy. Secular politics and ideologies have murdered and oppressed more people in the last 100 years—often in the name of ‘science’—than all religions together have managed to mistreat in the last millennium.”

The archbishop continued to argue that much of the current debate about “religious extremism and looming theocracy” is a push by a political elite to “get religion out of the way” as a secularist consensus is formed and imposed.

“God is a competitor in forming the public will, so God needs to go,” Chaput said.

“Any claim that atheists, agnostics and a secularized intelligentsia are naturally more ‘rational’ than religious believers is nonsense. We’re all believers. There are no unbelievers… atheists just worship a smaller and less forgiving god at a different altar.”

Chaput said that while the American political system has many strengths, there is “no automatic harmony” between Christian faith and democracy, which is not an end in itself and cannot determine either the good or the true.

Unmoored from the objective nature of truth and goodness, “like every other form of social organization, democracy can become a form of idolatry and a license for inhumanity,” he said. Ensuring it does not requires that Catholics make a much more robust and authentic Christian witness in public life, one which does not compromise for a broader acceptance.

Citing the example of Catholic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s recent embracing of federal abortion funding, Chaput noted that Catholic advances into the cultural and political mainstream of American life have done little to Christianize American culture, but have “done a great deal to bleach out the zeal and faith of everyday Catholics, and to weaken the power of any distinctive Catholic witness.”

“The right to pursue happiness, which is so central to the American experience, does not include a right to excuse or ignore evil in ourselves or anyone else. When we divorce our politics from a grounding in virtue and truth, we transform our country from a living moral organism into a kind of golem of legal machinery without a soul.”

Noting that Christians are often accused of waging a “culture war” on issues such as abortion, sexuality, marriage, and the family, Chaput said that the conflict is real and being fought equally hard on the other side.

“They too are ‘culture warriors,’” he said. “Neither they nor we should feel uneasy about it. Democracy thrives on the struggle of competing ideas. We steal from ourselves and from everyone else if we try to avoid that struggle.”

The archbishop described democracy as built upon the pillars of cooperation and conflict, and that both were needed to make society function.

“What that means for people of faith is this: We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We also have a duty to seek common ground where possible, but that’s never an excuse for compromising with grave evil.”

“To work as our country’s political life was intended, America needs a special kind of citizenry; we need a mature, well-informed electorate of persons able to reason clearly and rule themselves prudently,” said Chaput.

“If that’s true—and it is—then the greatest danger to American liberty in our day is not religious extremism. It’s something very different. It’s a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in dumbed down, bigoted news, vulgarity, distraction and noise, while methodically excluding God from the human imagination.”

“All of us who are people of faith need to re-examine the spirit that has ruled our approach to American life for the past many decades. In forming our pastors, teachers, and catechists—and especially the young people in our schools and religious education programs—we need to be much more penetrating and critical in our attitudes toward the culture around us.”

“Sooner or later,” he warned, “a nation based on a degraded notion of liberty, on license rather than real freedom—a nation of abortion, sexual confusion, consumer greed, and indifference to immigrants and the poor—will not be worthy of its founding ideals. And on that day, it will have no claim on virtuous hearts.”

In a clearly personal address, Chaput noted that he is shortly to turn 75 and would be obliged to submit his resignation to Pope Francis. “When I sat down to write these remarks, I did it knowing that this talk will probably be the last one I give as Archbishop of Philadelphia. So the words matter.”

“If we want a culture of religious freedom, we need to begin living that culture here, today, and now. We live it by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God—by loving God with passion and joy, confidence and courage, and by holding nothing back. God will take care of the rest.”

Detroit pastor, founder of accused priest support group, under investigation

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 14:00

Detroit, Mich., Jul 9, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit who helped to found a nonprofit to support priests accused of abuse, has been temporarily removed from ministry and is the subject of a canonical investigation, the archdiocese has confirmed.

Fr. Eduard Perrone, who is the pastor at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Grotto) Parish in Detroit, was accused of groping a former altar boy. The priest strenuously denies the allegations. His suspension was announced by the archdiocese on Sunday, July 7. 

After receiving authorization from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Archdiocese conducted a preliminary investigation, the first stage of a canonical process, into the allegations against Perrone. A subsequent presentation to the Archdiocesan Review Board “found that there was a semblance of truth to the allegation,” Monsignor Mike Bugarin told CNA on Tuesday. 

Bugarin serves as Episcopal Vicar and Delegate for Matters of Clergy Misconduct in the Detroit archdiocese. 

While speaking to CNA, the monsignor avoided describing the charges as either “credible” or “substantiated” and emphasized that at this stage the only conclusion had been of a “semblance of truth.” 

Semblance of truth is a legal standard in canon law usually defined as “not manifestly false or frivolous” that establishes only that an allegation cannot be immediately dismissed as factually impossible.

Bugarin emphasized that the process is still in the “very beginning” stages, and will now be referred back to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for further evaluation.

The Archdiocese of Detroit declined to provide details of when the alleged incident is said to have taken place, citing the ongoing nature of investigations, but did confirm that the alleged incident concerns Perrone’s “earlier years of ministry.” 

Perrone was ordained in June of 1978. This complaint was received last year, according to the archdiocese, and is the first ever received against concerning the priest. 

According to reporting from the Associated Press, the allegation stems from gatherings Perrone would have with altar boys at his mother’s lake house. Perrone AP that there were always other adults present at these events, and that everyone remained fully clothed. 

After receiving the complaint, Bugarin said the Archdiocese “turned it over not only to the local prosecutor, but also to the Michigan Attorney General’s office.” Initially, per an agreement between the archdiocese and the six county prosecutors represented by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s territory, the complaint was given only to local law enforcement, who began to investigate the claim. 

“They in turn continued to do the investigation, until the Michigan Attorney General came in and announced an investigation of the seven dioceses of the state of in the Michigan on the handling of clergy sex abuse crisis,” said Bugarin. This meant that the attorney general was going to investigate the claim.

Three former altar boys who spoke to AP said they had not been sexually abused by Perrone, nor had they ever heard any rumors of the priest abusing anybody. Perrone himself vehemently denied that he ever did anything inappropriate with a child. 

"Never inappropriate touching," he said to the Associated Press when asked about the allegations. "I never ever would have done such a thing.”

Perrone is one of the founders of Opus Bono Sacerdotii. Established in 2002, the group describes itself as a support organization for priests facing “acute difficulties” including "criminal investigations and charges, substance and alcohol abuse, gambling addictions, pornography addiction, financial improprieties, behavioral and emotional disorders, vocational crises, interpersonal problems, career burnout, etc,". 

The organization did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

California confession law dropped

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 10:00

Sacramento, Calif., Jul 9, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A California bill that would have required priests to violate the seal of confession has been withdrawn by its sponsor the day before it was to be debated in committee. 

California Senate Bill 360 was removed Monday from the agenda for a meeting of the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee scheduled for July 9. The decision by the bill’s sponsor, state Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), came just hours after the Public Safety Committee released a report on the bill July 8. That report raised a number of First Amendment concerns with the proposed legislation. 

The bill, which passed the state senate in May by a wide margin, would have required a member of the clergy to violate the seal in some circumstances, if they learned about child abuse while hearing the confessions of other priests or Church officials. 

In addition to religious liberty objections, many  - including the Public Safety Committee report - noted that the bill would be almost impossible to enforce. Hill’s decision to drop the measure also followed widespread public opposition to the proposed law. Over 100,000 Catholics sent letters voicing their opposition to SB 360. After the senate vote in May, Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland issued a statement saying that neither he nor any of his priests would abide by the law if it came into effect.

“I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom,” wrote Barber in May. “Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it.

The California Catholic Conference put out a statement Monday welcoming the withdrawal of the bill as a victory for religious freedom. 

“This outcome is good for the Catholic people of California and for believers of all faiths, not only in this state but across the country,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles in a statement. 

“SB 360 was a dangerous piece of legislation. It was a threat to the sacrament of confession that would have denied the right to confidential confessions to priests and tens of thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries,” he added. 

Gomez thanked those who worked against the bill, including the “many faith leaders” from around the United States. 

“It is a beautiful thing to stand together with our brothers and sisters in the apostolic churches of the Catholic and Orthodox East, with Baptists and Pentecostals, Anglicans and Lutherans, Muslims and Jews, and the Church of Latter Day Saints,” he said. 

Hill had previously claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator also claimed that such abuse had been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

Despite recent investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis in different countries and jurisdictions, no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Per Canon Law, priests who violate the seal of confession by sharing anything learned within the sacramental context to anyone, at any time, for any reason is subject to automatic excommunication and and further punishments, including loss of the clerical state.

On July 1, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary (which handles cases related to the seal of confession) issued a document underlining the “intrinsic requirement” of total secrecy regarding the sacrament of confession. The document as widely received as a response to efforts by governments in California and other jurisdictions to attack the sacramental seal.

Federal judge temporarily halts Ohio's 'heartbeat abortion' law

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 18:01

Columbus, Ohio, Jul 8, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- An Ohio law banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat was temporarily blocked by a federal judge July 3, a week before it was set to take effect.

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett issued the temporary stay on the law following a suit from the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics and abortion rights groups.

The ACLU has argued that the law is unconstitutional because it would effectively ban most abortions. Fetal heartbeats are typically first detectable between six and eight weeks of pregnancy, before some women know they are pregnant.

In his ruling, Barrett wrote that the law is unconstitutional “on its face” and that "the law is well-settled that women possess a fundamental constitutional right of access to abortions,” reported local radio station WOSU.

The temporary stay means that abortion clinics may continue performing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable while the law’s constitutionality is argued in court.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) signed the law April 11, fulfilling a campaign promise after former Governor John Kasich (R) had twice vetoed similar legislation. Kasich had argued at the time that passing a heartbeat law would lead to an expensive legal battle for the state of Ohio. He said the state would ultimately lose the fight and be forced to pay “hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the legal fees for the pro-choice activists’ lawyers.”

“Government’s role should be to protect life from the beginning to the end,” DeWine said at the time of the law’s signing.

The Ohio House had voted 56-40 and the Senate 18-13 to send Senate Bill 23 to DeWine’s desk. State Senator Kristina Roegner (R) was the bill’s primary sponsor.

The law would criminally penalize doctors for performing or inducing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, with exceptions for medical emergencies. Women would also be able to sue doctors who perform abortions for wrongful deaths.

“While it is certainly disappointing that Judge Barrett would issue a preliminary injunction, it is certainly not surprising,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a statement July 3. “The Heartbeat Bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v. Wade. We know that this preliminary injunction is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered.”

Roe is an outdated, terribly decided precedent and its time that the Supreme Court take a second look at it,” Gonidakis added. “We’re confident that the Heartbeat Bill could be the legislation that reaches that level. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for life-saving laws and policies to seek a more life-affirming culture in Ohio.”

Several states have similar heartbeat laws in place, including Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to Fox News reports. While some states have sought to considerably restrict abortion this year in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, other states, including Rhode Island and Vermont, have passed laws protecting broad access to abortion throughout most or all of pregnancy for almost any reason.

Former US ambassador to Holy See to chair new human rights commission

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, will head a new human rights advisory body to the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.

“It’s a sad commentary on our times that more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, gross violations continue throughout the world,” Secretary Pompeo stated at a July 8 press conference announcing the new Commission on Unalienable Human Rights.

Pompeo said that “the time is right for an informed review of American human rights in foreign policy,” and that Glendon was “the perfect person to chair this effort” and chair the new commission.

Glendon, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See in 2008-09, is a Harvard Law professor with expertise in international human rights.

She was named to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994, led a delegation of the Holy See to the fourth U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995, and served as head of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences from 2004-14. In 2018, she resigned as a memeber of the Board of Superintendence, which oversees the IOR, commonly known as the Vatican Bank.

Glendon also served as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2012 until 2016, appointed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

During Monday’s press conference, Glendon thanked Pompeo “for giving a priority to human rights at this moment when basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many, and ignored by the world’s worst human rights violators.”

The commission, according to Secretary Pompeo, will be an advisory body made up of human rights experts, philosophers and others from across the political spectrum, with the core mission of advancing  “our nation’s founding principles and the principles of 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

In addition to Glendon, commission members include Notre Dame Law professor Paolo Carozza; Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and philosopher Christopher Tollefsen.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Secretary Pompeo noted current confusion between “inalienable” rights and those granted by governments, and how contemporary discourse has confused the two with people “appealing to contrived rights for political advantage.”

“Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass,” he wrote, adding that institutions like the United Nations, tasked with upholding fundamental human rights, have contributed to the confusion.

Pompeo added on Monday that the commission members “will provide the intellectual grist for what I hope will be one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Declaration.”

“I hope that the commission will revisit the most basic of questions: What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?” Pompeo said.

“How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn, but simply by virtue of our humanity belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?”

Illinois lawmakers aim to repeal parental notification for minors' abortions

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 11:10

Springfield, Ill., Jul 8, 2019 / 09:10 am (CNA).- Illinois lawmakers have announced their intention to repeal the state’s parental notification law for abortions for minors. The move follows the enactment of a state law recognizing a “fundamental right” to abortion in the state.

“I’m going to try to get this repeal bill done in veto session if we can. If not, I’m certainly going to go back at it in January,” Rep Emanuel Welch (D) said of his bill, House Bill 2467, as reported by Capitol News Illinois.

Rep. Welch’s legislation, along with Illinois Senate Bill 1594, introduced by state Sen. Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (D), would repeal the state’s parental notification law that was enacted in 1995 and implemented in 2013 after a lengthy court battle.

That law requires that abortion providers notify the parents of a minor seeking an abortion at least 48 hours before the scheduled abortion, except in certain cases where the minor could not notify a family member.

ACLU of Illinois, along with other abortion advocates, praised the repeal bill when it was approved by the Public Health Committee in the State Senate in March, saying that the state should not be legislating “family communications” that “flow from trust and shared values among family members.”

“We need to trust youth in our state to make the health care decisions, without forcing them to risk their health and safety,” ACLU of Illinois stated.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, in an interview with CNA in June at the U.S. bishops’ annual spring meeting, warned that after the state legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act, more pro-abortion legislation would be coming including a rollback of parental notifications.

The bishop said that once abortion is recognized as a “fundamental right,” then the question will be asked “how do you deny somebody’s fundamental right?”

He also warned that a possible denial of protections for religious health providers who conscientiously object to providing abortions could be in the works. Conscience protections were added to the state’s abortion law shortly before its passage in the legislature, but the bishop said they were “fragile” because of the law recognizing a right to abortion.

Are millennial Christians really killing evangelization?

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 05:06

Washington D.C., Jul 7, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- Millennials are notoriously blamed for being killers of previously-thought-necessary industries and activities: Applebees. Napkins. Golf. Mayonnaise. Lunch. And so on.

For the ever-shrinking number of millennials who are practicing Christians, could evangelization be on the chopping block next?

Recent data from the Barna group, which researches the intersection of faith and culture, shows that of millennials practicing their Christian faith, almost half - 47 percent - believe it is at least somewhat wrong to “share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” This is significantly higher than the number of Gen X-ers (27 percent), and Boomers (19 percent), who said the same.

But while at a glance this statistic may be alarming, given the missionary mandate of the Church, there might be more behind it than just another hit on the millennial kill list.

Elizabeth Klein is an assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. One of the main goals of the institute is to prepare students to respond to the New Evangelization - a term popularized by Pope John Paul II that emphasizes a renewed call to share the Gospel with the world.

Klein said before sounding the alarm about the death of evangelization, the statistic should be read in light of the others also shared by Barna - that 96 percent of millennials believe “part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus,” that 94 percent said that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus,” and that 73 percent said “I am gifted at sharing my faith with other people” - higher than every other generation included in the data.

And in 2013, 65 percent of millennial Christians said they had shared the Gospel with someone in the past year, compared to the national average of about half of Christians in general.

“I thought it was interesting that they didn't highlight that millennials in fact evangelize more than the older generations do,” Klein said of an article from Christianity Today on the data.

Furthermore, she said, the phrasing of the particular question about evangelization probably also affected the way millennials responded.

“I thought the phrasing of the specific question - it’s about people who already have a religious faith, so I thought that was a big factor,” Klein told CNA.

“I think millennials are more likely to see someone of a different faith as more of an ally maybe than in the past,” she said, “because we are in such a post-Christian, post-religious world that anyone else who is practicing a faith may be more likely to be seen as someone you have a lot in common with, rather than the chief object of evangelization for millennials,” which would probably be atheists or fallen away Catholics, she said.

Vince Sartori is a regional director with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which trains students and missionaries on college campuses to form disciples through friendships and Bible studies. Evangelizing in a millennial culture is at the heart of the group’s work.

Sartori, who served as a missionary on two different campuses before becoming a regional director, said he has noticed a hesitancy in millennials on campus to engage in evangelization.

“I think some of it comes down to a misunderstanding of evangelization versus proselytization,” Sartori told CNA.

Proselytization, Sartori said, happens when “the person is preaching or going out to be heard, not listening to someone but rather just trying to get a point across.”

Evangelization, on the other hand, is “about building trust, encountering a person, understanding a person, and introducing them to Jesus and proposing ideas, as opposed to just telling them something.”

Sartori said the way millennials answered this question also reflects the current political climate and a culture that prioritizes people’s comfort over everything else.

“In this culture of ‘if you disagree with me you hate me,’ I would say most millennials would say: ‘I’m not trying to convert anyone,’” Sartori said.

“But I would hope everyone is trying to convert someone, it’s just that there’s a right and true way, and then there’s a way that’s just kind of yelling at people, and that’s obviously not what I’m about and not what anyone would desire. And I think in general millennials are really sensitive to that.”

Klein also said that millennials are reacting to the polarization that characterizes the political and social media world of today.

“Actual authentic dialogue has in fact broken down, and I don't think that's a delusion of millennials; things are often so polarized that it is very difficult to have a dialogue which is perceived as open and a back and forth, and not somehow inauthentic or aggressive” she said.

“It’s not that they don't want to share their faith, but it seems that sharing via dialogue or speaking makes people uneasy, and I don't think that's inexplicable, that seems to make sense,” she said.

Part of the training of FOCUS missionaries is teaching them how to evangelize, Sartori said - which includes building friendships and trust with people before proposing that they consider going to church or learning more about Jesus.

“The three habits (taught to missionaries in training) are the things we emphasize that help us to go and do evangelization,” Sartoir said. “The first is divine intimacy (with God), the second is authentic friendship, and the third one is clarity and conviction for what we call spiritual multiplication. So this idea that you’re investing deeply in a few people, and sharing your faith in a way that they can then go and do that with others.”

“You’re listening, you’re building trust, you’re speaking in a way that they’re going to be able to hear you,” Sartori said, “but you’re also hearing where they’re coming from on things.”

Once a friendship is established, Sartori said one of the easiest ways to talk to someone about God is to ask them about the faith tradition they had while they were growing up.

“It’s the basic questions of like - did you ever go to church growing up? Something like that that’s less attacking than, say, ‘How do you feel about abortion?’ or something that’s more politicized or a hot topic,” Sartori said. “You want to do something that’s a softer, more inviting conversation, so you can just understand the person.”

After a conversation about faith has been opened, then it can be time to invite someone to events at a parish or into a Bible study, if the person is open to it.

“While there’s an urgency for someone to accept the Gospel as quickly as possible, we also want to propose it and not impose it, so we’re not going to rush into anything on that,” Sartori said.

Klein said millennials are also most likely to be tuned into the need for authentic witness - that someone must be living a personal life of holiness and friendship with God before they can propose it to someone else.

The article on the Barna research from Christianity Today ended with: “Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, ‘If we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character.’”

“This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix,’” it said, quoting Hannah Gronowski, the founder and CEO of Christian non-profit Generation Distinct.

But Klein said this kind of attitude is overly dismissive of the importance of personal holiness.

“Witnessing personal holiness - it's not like that's easy, its plenty important,” she said, especially with the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.

“I don't think that millennials are crazy to think that personal holiness is the most important thing right now, especially when dialogue has broken down and there has been a lot of - with the recent scandals - insane hypocrisy where people's lives are not matching what they're saying,” she said.  

“I think a big part of it is...holistic Catholic formation,” Klein added. “If you're not prepared to pursue wisdom and pursue personal holiness, you're not going to have that authentic witness and authentic life to share.”

While that doesn’t remove the necessity of evangelizing with words, Klein said, it does point to why millennial Christians may have answered that particular question the way they did, beyond a trend toward universalism and relativism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself recognizes the disconnect that may exist between a person’s holiness and the preaching of the Gospel: “On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the ‘discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.’ Only by taking the ‘way of penance and renewal,’ the ‘narrow way of the cross,’ can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For ‘just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.’” (CCC pp. 853).

“It’s very clear that the Church has a missionary mandate, but I think it nuances that very well and talks about the hypocrisy that has been found,” Klein said. “I think that tension is what millennials are most keyed into, that personal holiness comes first before you can even think about opening your mouth.”

An oft-quoted line, typically attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, speaks of the tension between personal holiness and evangelizing: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,” the saying goes.

But if that quote really came from St. Francis of Assisi, Sartori said, it came from a saint who preached the Gospel so prolifically that he was known to preach it “to the birds.”

“He couldn’t stop preaching,” Sartori said, “so of all the people to have said that, St. Francis is one of the greatest examples of preaching (the Gospel).”

So while personal holiness is a must, he said, so is preaching the Gospel with words.

“To preach the Gospel is an integral part of being a Christian,” he said, “and we can’t separate that.”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2019.

How the Pittsburgh diocese is tackling addiction

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 18:34

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 6, 2019 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has launched a new addiction ministry to bring rehabilitation to those facing addiction and their families through a holistic approach, including spirituality and close relationships.

“We have a big opiate crisis in Pittsburgh, like every big city,” said Father Michael Decewicz, a recovering alcoholic and one of the leaders behind Addiction Recovery Ministry (ARM).

“How can we as Church respond in love to the addicted and the afflicted? This is our chance as Church, as people of God to reach out to those who are suffering addictions and afflicting their loved ones,” he told CNA.

ARM began Feb. 10 with a Mass of Healing from Addiction. An estimated 200 gathered at the liturgy, where people battling addictions received Anointing of the Sick.

Anointing of the sick “can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age,” according to the Code of Canon Law.

Father Decewicz noted to CNA the proximity of the program's initiation to the Feb. 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. He said it correlates to the healing miracles of Lourdes, but also emphasized that addiction is a disease, not a moral choice.  

The ministry is funded by Pittsburgh’s Our Campaign for the Church Alive, a fundraising initiative designed to fund extraordinary ministries in the diocese.

Located at the John Paul I Center in Sharpsburg, the program will begin with three meetings a week of either Narcotics Anonymous or NARANON, a support group for friends and family of addicts suffering from an addiction to narcotics.

Decewicz said program will later add Alcoholics Anonymous and ALANON, the family support group for alcoholics, and eventually have a variety of all four of these meetings three times a day.

The program will also include monthly opportunities for education on the disease of addiction and spiritual nourishment, which may include “a talk on the spirituality of recovery and addiction,” said Decewicz.

He said this ministry is an opportunity for evangelization. The results might not be immediate, he said, but these are moments to plant the seeds of the faith and help people, who often have been wounded by organized religion, reconsider the Church.

“God calls us in our brokenness. We need to spread that message that God touches us in our brokenness and in our frailty. To bring a message of compassion and empathy….to affirm the dignity of every human being regardless of what they are suffering,” he said.

“For years AA has met in the basement of the church, it’s time to invite them upstairs,” he said.

Father Decewicz said a major component of the ministry will be the opportunities for one-on-one encounters. If people call the program, he said the organization will the return the call within 24 hours and connect the person to a recovering addict who can be a guide or a friend.  

Decewicz will be one of the individuals answering calls, helping direct people to the proper services, and discussing his or her experience. Another volunteer for the ministry is Carol Smith, a retired Program Manager for a women’s residential facility and a recovering addict of nearly 24 years.

“You need the right tools, the right people around you to support you,” she told CNA. “There is someone here who can help you, who can identify with you, and get [you] to a meeting.”

She stressed the healing potential of 12 steps programs and shared her own experience with addiction – getting into prescription drugs when she was about 12 and the damage that followed.

Smith was introduced to prescription painkillers because of a dental procedure. She fell in love with these opiates, she said, noting she began stealing drugs from her father’s drug store. After her little brother was born and she felt more estranged from her family, Smith began to spend more time with the wrong crowd, getting deeper into alcohol and other types of drugs.

Even as the drug habit progressed, she was able to function, receiving good grades throughout high school and getting accepted into the University of Pittsburgh. While maintaining an addiction to heroin, Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and later on worked for the government as a supervisor in the welfare department.

She said her life began to take a tragic turn after her husband died. She was forced to resign from her position because of a problem with theft, and eventually ended up in the hospital with sores on her legs from heroin abuse. From the hospital, she was taken to jail which then led to a work release program.

After prison, the addiction was still too much, and Smith again began shooting up heroin. “[Getting high,] that’s all I know how to do. I’ve been doing it for the past 40 years,” Smith told her supervisor when she was confronted about her relapse. But, instead of getting taken back to jail, Smith was taken to an eight week outpatient program, where she was introduced to NA.

“I started going to meetings every day and that’s when the bulb finally went off – you can get through a day without getting high, you can live without using.”

Smith explained the importance of faith in the 12 step program, calling it an opportunity for people to experience the love of God. She further added that evangelization efforts begin with people living this love.

“God is a part of it,” she said. “There’s a lot of people, especially people in addiction, they think that God’s given up on them and that he could never love them with the horrible things they’ve done.”

“The biggest thing is you let them know that God’s love them,” she said. “I think it is more about being an example if you are going to try and have other people come to God or look at him the way you do.”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2019.

NY priest who raised funds for Lady Gaga non-profit accused of sexual coercion

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 00:52

New York City, N.Y., Jul 5, 2019 / 10:52 pm (CNA).- A New York priest who told a prospective seminarian to lie to Church officials about his sexuality has been removed from active ministry after allegations of coercive sexual misconduct.

“I write to share some unpleasant and somber news concerning Father John Duffell, your just retired parish administrator,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote in a July 1 letter to parishioners of New York’s Blessed Sacrament Parish.

“Father Duffell has been directed not to publicly exercise his priestly ministry due to an allegation from the past that he abused his position of authority in a violation of his promise of celibacy.”

“The allegation was made first to the District Attorney, and then brought to our attention. This allegation involves an adult; it does not involve a minor. It is important that the archdiocese take such allegations seriously,” Dolan wrote.

A source close to the priest told CNA that the allegation involved serial misconduct over a period of years.

Dolan's letter said that as the matter is being investigated, “Father Duffell’s rights under canon (church) law are being protected, and he had the opportunity to defend himself during a penal process that the archdiocese initiated. He also has the presumption of innocence of the allegation. He and his advocate had the opportunity to review all of the evidence and respond to it.”

The cardinal’s letter did not indicate what the next steps will be in the penal process initiated against the priest.

Duffell, 75, was ordained in May, 1969, by Cardinal Terrence Cooke. He has served mostly at parishes in Manhattan and Yonkers.

At a 2011 conference at Fordham University, Duffell told a participant to lie to Church authorities about same-sex attraction in order to be accepted for seminary formation.

You’re not broken, the system is broken, and therefore you deal with it as a broken system; you lie,” Duffel said of the participant’s sexuality.

The priest has faced criticism for some activities of the “gay fellowship” at his parish.

In 2017, the parish “gay fellowship” partnered with the Born This Way Foundation, an “LGBT-rights” group founded by entertainer Lady Gaga, to hold a fundraising dance at the church hall.

Duffell was pictured in an Instagram photo with Lady Gaga in 2016.

Last month, the parish’s “gay fellowship” sponsored as a fundraiser a staged reading of the “Love! Valour! Compassion!” a Terrence McNally play about a group of eight gay men spending three weekends together at an upstate New York vacation home. The event was billed as an observation of the 1969 Stonewall riots, considered to be a landmark event within the “LGBT rights” movement.

After the 2002 passage of U.S. Church norms designed to address clergy sexual abuse - most especially the “Dallas Charter” - Duffell was among the most outspoken clerical critics of the Church’s policy.

The priest was a co-founder of Voices of the Ordained, a group of New York-area priests who raised concerns about the Charter.

“Ordained ministers of the gospel are a group very much at risk at the moment. Given the norms approved in Dallas, anyone can make any kind of accusation against us and we're dead meat,” Duffell told the Washington Post in 2002.

In May 2002, Duffell criticized the initial suspension of Charles M. Kavanagh, an eventually laicized priest who was removed from ministry that month for allegations that he sexually abused a high school seminarian in the 1970s.

“You almost hope the punishment could be leveled after the facts were determined,” Duffell told the New York Times.

“According to the cardinal, this is the policy that has to be in effect because this is what the people want. I wonder if that's really true. Isn't somebody innocent until proven guilty?”

The priest was a technical adviser for 2000 film “Keeping the Faith,” about a priest and a rabbi in love with the same woman, a childhood friend.

Though Dolan’s July 1 letter referred to Duffell as retired, the priest was reappointed as Blessed Sacrament’s administrator for a one-year period in October 2018.

Duffell is listed as the parish pastor on the website of Blessed Sacrament Parish and in the parish’s July 7 bulletin. He was appointed administrator of the parish in 2014, according to archdiocesan records.

Dolan noted that retired auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh would serve as the parish administrator until a new pastor could be appointed.

Was this Michigan grandfather on a mission from God?

Fri, 07/05/2019 - 18:34

Marquette, Mich., Jul 5, 2019 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- Irving “Francis” Houle was a Michigan father of five known for his holy life. He appeared to bear the stigmata, a physical manifestation of the wounds of Jesus Christ, and said he experienced the Passion and visions of Jesus and Mary.

Now the Diocese of Marquette is asking whether he was a saint.

For Gale Houle, his wife of more than 60 years, he was also her husband.

“Irving is my saint, and this is well deserved,” she said, speaking to the U.P. Catholic newspaper about the inquiry into his canonization.

“He was a husband and father and a grandfather. I love him with all my heart,” she continued, “But some days he just wasn’t there!”

In November 2018, Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan opened the cause of canonization for Servant of God Irving C. Houle, who passed away Jan. 3, 2009 at the age of 83.

Houle believed he first saw Jesus when he was a young child, but didn’t recognize him at the time. He suffered near-fatal injuries in a fall from a horse, and his doctor said he was too weak for surgery.

A nun in the family encouraged prayers for him, and the next morning new X-rays showed no evidence of severe injuries. Young Irving told his mother a man in white robes and upraised hand had been standing by his crib in the night, and a bishop told his parents this figure must have been Jesus, the National Catholic Register’s Joseph Pronechen said in a blog post.

Houle graduated from high school in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army for two years in Europe and the Middle East, then worked at a shoe store and a Montgomery Ward department store before becoming a cleaning supplies salesman. He then served as a plant manager for a machinery manufacturer.

He and his family were parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Church in Escabana, a city of over 12,000 on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In addition to his five children, he had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“He was a joker,” his wife Gail said. “He was a little tease; he was a lot of fun. The kids miss him terribly.”

Irving Houle said he received his mission in visions from Jesus and Mary: to suffer the Passion every night to save sinners and to bring people back to confession and to the Eucharist.

He began a healing ministry, often in churches after Mass. He would pray and place his hands on people’s heads. His travels took him across Michigan, to South Dakota and, one time, to Fatima. He never took payment for the healings.

Though the healings were often spiritual, rather than physical in nature, some people reported immediate physical cures as well.

He prayed over one wheelchair-bound woman, a cancer patient given only four months to live. Five months later she came to him, walking, reporting that she was free of cancer. An eight-year-old boy suffering leukemia also reported healing after his prayers.

Witnesses, including his wife Gail, said Houle first received the stigmata in 1993, at the age of 67.



“I didn’t notice any real changes in him before it happened,” she said.

On Holy Thursday of that year, he felt sick and went home to lay on the couch after Adoration at the parish church.

“That night, he said his hands hurt,” Gail said. “I looked but there was nothing. I asked him if his arms hurt too, but he said no. Later, he said his head hurt.”

On Good Friday, he stayed home, an unusual action for the devout churchgoer. This continued through Easter.

“After Easter, he had red spots the size of dimes on his hands. He said they hurt, but didn’t want to discuss it.”

Deacon Terry Saunders told the U.P. Catholic he saw Houle immediately after Easter, when Houle brought him Holy Communion.

“He told me of the pain in his hands and when the marks appeared. He was nervous about it,” Saunders said. “Over time, I saw his hands swell, like they’d do if you were hit with something. His hands split open, and after that, he had open wounds sometimes as big as a quarter or half dollar. He wore bandages on the back of his hands for the rest of his life, and bands like sweatbands around them if he was bleeding.”

Gail said they struggled in dealing with the stigmata.

Doctors, priests, bishops and cardinals had examined his wounds, but they did not know what was happening.

Houle said he suffered the Passion and had visions every night, with the pain beginning at 12:30 a.m. and lasting 35 minutes. He would then have visions until 2:30 or 3 a.m., he told Father Robert J. Fox in an interview.

His wife Gail never witnessed this part of her husband’s life, though several people including his brother did. She believed that her habit of falling asleep quickly was God’s way of shielding her.

In one May 1993 vision, the Virgin Mary told him: “My beloved Son: I come to you this night to tell you how much your prayers and suffering have meant to my Son and me. Your suffering has been long, my child. You have pleased my Son and me. We will be close to you. The graces have been given to you. Satan is trying to cause confusion among you. But I tell you, he will not succeed…”

Houle said he would feel intense pain, at times feeling as if he were being torn apart. During this time God would show him who and what he was suffering for, like civil wars, abortion, homelessness, murders, and abused women and children.

He saw the people for whom he suffered, but not their names. He would say “it usually goes back to the sins of the flesh,” according to the National Catholic Register blog post.

Saunders said that all of Houle’s suffering was “for the conversion of sinners.”

Bishop Doerfler has appointed Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, an expert from Rome, as postulator of Houle’s cause. Ambrosi is involved in overseeing other canonization causes, including that of the American archbishop and television personality Ven. Fulton J. Sheen.

At its June meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in favor of Houle’s canonization moving forward. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will now review the case to determine if he led a life of heroic virtue. Should the congregation and the Pope approve, he will then be given the title “venerable.”

He could be beatified following sufficient proof of one miracle, and canonized upon sufficient proof of another miracle.

In 2005, Father Robert J. Fox published a book about Houle under the title “A Man Called Francis,” calling him “Francis” to protect his identity.

Father Fox was an observer of Houle’s sufferings and estimated that Houle prayed over 200,000 people. The priest founded the Fatima Family Apostolate and retired near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. In 2003, he hosted Houle on his EWTN radio show “Reclaiming Your Children for the Catholic Faith.”

The Irving C. “Francis” Houle Association has been formed to promote Houle’s canonization cause and to help raise funds for expenses, including for the work of Ambrosi and others. It currently has between 100 and 150 members.

Bishop Doerfler named Deacon Terry Saunders as its president and moderator.

 

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA Jan. 4, 2019.

Edited January 4 at 9:20 a.m. Dr. Andrea Ambrosi was incorrectly identified as a priest.

Head of CRS: Global migrant deaths demand action

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 17:30

Baltimore, Md., Jul 4, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A string of high-profile migrant deaths in the last week should draw our attention to the thousands more that go unreported, and encourage us to welcome migrants, while also working to address the challenges that lead them to leave their homes, said the head of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) this week.

“Thousands of migrants die each year trying to attain what we Americans sometimes take for granted,” said Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS.

In a July 3 statement, he encouraged Americans to take time on Independence Day to “reflect on what it means to be living in a country that was founded upon the notion that every human being has the right to pursue happiness.”

The Catholic Relief Services statement pointed to several recent migrant deaths that have garnered the attention of the international media.

Last week, a photo of two migrants who had drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande went viral. Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria died June 23 during their attempt to enter the U.S.

Earlier this week, an unidentified man was found dead after stowing away in the landing-gear compartment of a nine-hour flight from Kenya to London.

And at least 44 people were killed and over 100 more injured early Wednesday during an airstrike on a migrant detention center in Libya.

The Tripoli-based government has accused General Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army of carrying out the attack, while the General’s forces are blaming the government.

But for each of these deaths, Catholic Relief Services noted, there are thousands more that fail to attract the attention of the media.

A report last week from the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) found that more than 32,000 migrants have been reported dead during their journey to a new country over the last five years.

Nearly one migrant child per day is reported dead or missing, although the report warned that many more likely go untracked.

In his statement, Callahan stressed that the deaths of migrants worldwide should prompt Americans to take action.

“Yearning only to be free of violence or poverty, migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Rio Grande,” he said. “Or they’re dying of thirst in the brutal heat of the Sahara Desert. They are suffocating in the landing gear of jet planes, and from rocket fire and neglect in detention centers.”

Catholic Relief Services works in more than 100 countries to provide humanitarian assistance, emergency relief, and development. In many countries, their programming helps address the underlying challenges that lead people to emigrate.

Callahan invited Americans to remember in a special way those who are seeking freedom on Independence Day this year.

“Let’s commit to treating them with dignity, and to improving the conditions in their homelands,” he said.

El Paso migrant shelter closes as 'humanitarian crisis' at border continues

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 06:00

El Paso, Texas, Jul 4, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency in El Paso, Texas, has closed a temporary shelter for migrants and asylum seekers released from federal custody, as more asylum seekers are required to wait in Mexico for court dates, and after concerns have been raised about the detention condtions of would-be migrants in government custody.

Fernando Ceniceros, communications specialist for the Diocese of El Paso, told CNA that changes in border patrol policy have likely led to the decrease in migrants entering the United States at El Paso, but the humanitarian crisis is no less severe— the difference is that many would-be migrants in need of aid are required to remain in Mexico, rather than crossing the border.

“They're not letting them cross over anymore,” Ceniceros said. “We think that the decline was the reason we had to shut down [the shelter].”

The Department of Homeland Security announced new Migrant Protection Protocols in January, providing that migrants arriving illegally or without proper documentation “may be returned to Mexico and wait outside of the U.S. for the duration of their immigration proceedings, where Mexico will provide them with all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.”

The Diocese of El Paso’s shelter, which Bishop Mark Seitz opened in October 2018, was part of a larger consortium of aid agencies, Ceniceros said, led by Reuben Garcia at the Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants that has been operating in El Paso for over 40 years.

“We were receiving anything between 40-80 migrants a day,” Ceniceros said.

“They were coming into the shelter, we were helping them clothe them, give them a warm shower, give them something to eat. And they were in and out of our shelter within 28-48 hours...we helped them connect with their families here in the United States.”

The migrants that the Diocese of El Paso was assisting had already been cleared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and had been dropped off in the city, in need of basic necessities. A recent government report indicates that in some regions, migrants in federal custody have endured prolonged detention in overcrowded conditions and awaited processing and release for periods of longer than one month.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, apprehensions of “unaccompanied alien children” has risen by nearly 75% from May 2018 to May 2019. The rise in apprehensions is led by El Paso, which has seen a 323% rise in that period period.

The rise in apprehensions of  families is higher— 463% across the board. El Paso’s rate of apprehension of families rose 2,100%.

“We've never seen the kind of influx of migrants that we have in the last year and a half,” Ceniceros commented. 

“And just as a point of reference, we were just receiving single men usually. They were just looking for work, they were coming from Mexico. Mostly now, you're looking at families from Central America. Really very [few] Mexican nationals are coming [now]. But we were seeing even migrants from as far as Africa come through here and seek asylum.”

He said the Diocese of El Paso continues to provide legal services for migrants and asylum seekers.

The federal Office of the Inspector General reported this week overcrowded, squalid conditions at some migrant detention facilities along the US/Mexico border, including standing-room-only cells, children going without showers and hot meals, and detainees clamoring desperately for release.

“What you're seeing on television as far as conditions are concerned is that's what we've heard...really terrible conditions. And we're asking for prayers that we're able to step in and help these people,” Ceniceros said.

“We are in contract with the Diocese of Juarez [Mexico] and their migrant shelter there. And we're working to set up a plan to send over supplies, find a way to send over supplies to them. Because they're inundated [with migrants].”

“This ‘remain in Mexico’ protocol protection is really very alarming to us and it really will create a humanitarian crisis. And I think that's really what we want to bring attention to, is the humanitarian crisis on the other side of the border...We're called to serve here in the Church, and serve the poorest of the poor. And that's really what our message is.”

The bishops on either side of the Rio Grande, where several migrants recently died, expressed last week their sorrow over the deaths.

Bishops Daniel Flores of Brownsville and Eugenio Andres Lira Rugarcia of Matamoros wrote June 28 to “express with much pain the sorrow of the whole community upon hearing of the parents and children that have recently lost their lives upon crossing the Río Grande River, seeking a better life.”

The six Catholic bishops of Washington state issued a joint statement June 28 calling for immigration reform that "honors the dignity of those seeking a better life in the United States, while also addressing the legitimate need for safe and secure borders."

"Worsening conditions that fuel the Latin American refugee crisis, combined with domestic policies that disrespect the dignity of human beings, risk causing even greater suffering for those fleeing peril and threaten the domestic tranquility promised to Americans," the bishops said.

Rebuilt from the ashes: The story of an American basilica

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 05:41

Norfolk, Virginia, Jul 4, 2019 / 03:41 am (CNA).- An immigrant parish, burnt down, with only the crucifix remaining. A parish rebuilt, transformed and a key part in giving back to the community. In a sense, one parish’s story of struggle, pressure and rebirth is metaphor for the American Catholic experience.

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, Virginia, is the only black Catholic church in the United States that is also a basilica. Its dramatic history captures both the broader American Catholic history of persecution, growth and acceptance, but also a witness to the unique challenges faced by black Catholics over the centuries.

Founded originally as St. Patrick’s Parish in 1791, it is the oldest Catholic parish in the Diocese of Richmond, predating the foundation of the diocese by nearly 30 years.

“Catholicism was not legal to practice” in Virginia when the colony was founded, said Fr. Jim Curran, rector of the basilica. In much of Colonial America, before the Revolution and the signing of the Bill of Rights, churches that were not approved by the government were prohibited from operating, he told CNA.

The land originally bought in 1794 for the parish is the same ground on which the basilica today stands. From the beginning, according to the parish’s history, Catholics from all backgrounds worshiped together: Irish and German immigrants, free black persons and slaves.

However, by the 1850s, the parish’s immigrant background and mixed-race parish drew the ire of a prominent anti-Catholic movement: the Know-Nothings.

Largely concentrated in northeastern states where the immigrant influx was greatest, the movement rose and fell quickly. Concerned with maintaining the Protestant “purity of the nation,” it worked to prevent immigrants – many of whom were Catholic – from gaining the right to vote, becoming citizens, or taking elected office.

“I consider the Know-Nothings to be a sort of gatekeeper organization, by which I mean that they were both anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic at the same time,” said Fr. David Endres, an assistant professor of Church History and Historical Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

He told CNA that the Know-Nothing Party was able to bring together both pro- and anti-slavery voters in the mid-1800s, united in the common “dislike of foreign-born and Catholics.”

While most anti-Catholic activities took the form of defamatory speeches and public discrimination, the prejudice sometimes turned to violence and mob action, Fr. Endres explained.

The anti-Catholic discrimination and threats found their way to St. Patrick’s doorstep, where the Know-Nothings were unhappy that the pastor was allowing racially integrated Masses, said Fr. Curran.

The pastor at that time, Fr. Matthew O’Keefe, received so many threats directed against the church and himself that police protection was required to stop the intimidation of the Catholics worshiping at the church, according to the locals.  

Despite the threats, however, Fr. O’Keefe did not segregate the Masses. In 1856, the original church building burned down, leaving only three walls standing. Only a wooden crucifix was left unscathed.

More than 150 years later, it is still unclear exactly who or what caused the fire, but since the days following the blaze, parishioners have had their suspicions.

“We don’t know for sure if they were the ones who burned it, but it’s widely believed, it’s a commonly held notion that it’s the Know-Nothings who burnt the Church,” Fr. Curran said.   

Fr. O’Keefe and the parishioners worked hard to rebuild the church, seeking donations from Catholics along the East Coast. A new church building was constructed less than three years after the fire and is still standing today.

After the church was rebuilt, the parish renamed itself in 1858 in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It claims to be the first church in the world named for Mary of the Immaculate Conception following the declaration.

In 1889, the Josephites built Saint Joseph's Black Catholic parish to serve the needs of the black Catholic community, and the two parishes operated separately within several blocks of one another. However, in 1961, St. Joseph’s was demolished to make way for new construction, and the two parishes were joined, reintegrating – at least in theory – St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

But the merger was not popular with many of the white parishioners and conflicted with the segregation policies of local government institutions and public life, Fr. Curran said. “St Mary’s became a de facto black parish.”

During this demographic shift, many parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception had to draw deeply upon their faith. Black Catholics had to be stalwart, facing prejudice from both some white parishioners, who did not view them as fully Catholic, and some black Protestants, who did not support their religious beliefs.

“They were devoted, and still are,” the rector said. “You have to be very devoted to be a Black Catholic.”

This devotion and witness of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was formally celebrated when, in 1991, Saint Pope John Paul II elevated the 200-year-old church to a minor basilica.

“Your black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the Church needs you, just as you need the Church, for you are a part of the Church and the Church is part of you,” Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed at the elevation.

Today, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception plays a vital role not only as the only Catholic basilica in Virginia, but also as an important anchor of the neighborhood. The basilica operates a “robust” set of outreach ministries to local families, including rent assistance and food aid, serving thousands of people.

“The Church standing proudly and beautiful in the midst of the poor is where we need to be,” Fr. Curran said.


This article was originally published on CNA July 4, 2015.

NY archdiocese suit says insurers can't dodge duties, as abuse claims loom

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 19:01

New York City, N.Y., Jul 3, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- After a New York law temporarily allowed alleged victims of past sexual abuse to file lawsuits that had been barred by legal time limits, the New York archdiocese has filed a lawsuit against 31 insurance companies, charging that many intend to limit or deny insurance claims.

“The Archdiocese of New York has filed suit seeking to hold insurance companies to the policies they issued, and for which it paid premiums,” a spokesman said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The lawsuit argued that the archdiocese is entitled to all benefits of the policies, including coverage of legal fees during litigation. The archdiocese could face substantial legal liability as a result of the Child Victims Act, signed into law in February by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The act allows for victims of child abuse to bring civil claims against their alleged abuser until the age of 55. Previously an accuser’s civil complaint had to be filed by age 23. Criminal prosecutions can now be brought if the victim comes forward before age 28.

The act creates a one-year “look-back” window for victims of any age to come forward.

The New York archdiocese’s lawsuit, filed in New York, charges that the Insurance Co. of North America, a subsidiary of Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., breached its contract with the archdiocese, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Chubb said it wouldn’t cover a legal claim concerning a lawsuit from a man who alleged sexual abuse by two clerics in the 1970s.

“Rather than honor its contractual obligation under the insurance policies they issued, Chubb has advised the archdiocese that it will not stand behind its insurance policies and contractual obligations,” an archdiocese spokesman said.

Chubb’s letter of denial said the accuser “alleges to have sustained injury that was expected and/or intended from the standpoint of the archdiocese,” and so did not fall under covered policy, the New York Law Journal reports.

The archdiocese’s attorneys countered that this misinterprets the accuser’s claim. They argued that the wording did not allege the archdiocese expected or intended sexual abuse.

The alleged abuse victim’s expected lawsuit against the archdiocese has not yet been filed but can become active when the one-year window opens in August.

Previous proposed versions of New York’s law on sexual abuse claims shielded public institutions including public schools from lawsuits. However, such lawsuits are allowed under the version that became law.

The New York Catholic Conference supported these changes allowing lawsuits against public institutions and did not oppose the final bill, Dennis Poust, Director of the New York Catholic Conference, told CNA.

James R. Marsh, an attorney representing 40 plaintiffs against the archdiocese, told the news site Crain’s New York Business that the lawsuit against insurers is “an unequivocal sign that the church is getting serious about dealing with its exposure.”

“With the New York Archdiocese facing significant financial liability after decades of heartbreaking sexual abuse, it appears that it is beginning the process of addressing its financial challenges head-on,” Marsh said. “That’s just what this filing represents: an institution seeking to ensure that liability is fairly shared with its own insurance companies.”

Michael Pfau, a lawyer representing 50 alleged victims in the New York archdiocese and 500 alleged victims around the state, told the New York Daily News it is not uncommon for insurance companies to initially balk at paying.

“This is a very positive step. We want to see the archdiocese secure coverage,” Pfau said, characterizing the lawsuit as “an acknowledgement that the Archdiocese of New York has enormous potential exposure.”

A law similar to New York’s has been passed in New Jersey, and Catholic institutions could face a wave of lawsuits there.

In October 2016, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York launched The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program as an arbitration process for victims. The archdiocese presented the program as a way for abuse victims to secure compensation more easily than through the courts. The arbitration process was presented as having lower standards of evidence to secure compensation, though participants in the program waived their right to future civil action.

More than 200 individuals applied for compensation before a November 2017 deadline. Scores of individuals received compensation totaling in the tens of millions of dollars.

It was in this process that an alleged victim of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick came forward, the New Yorker magazine reported in April.

The New York archdiocese’s further inquiry led to the June 2018 announcement that McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, had been credibly accused of sexual abuse when he was a priest of the archdiocese.

In September 2018 the New York attorney general’s office issued subpoenas to all eight Catholic dioceses in the state, asking for documents related to sexual abuse allegations and the Church’s response to them.

At the time the New York archdiocese said it has shared with local District Attorneys “all information they have sought concerning allegations of sexual abuse of minor.”

“Not only do we provide any information they seek, they also notify us as well when they learn of an allegation of abuse, so that, even if they cannot bring criminal charges, we might investigate and remove from ministry any cleric who has a credible and substantiated allegation of abuse.”

US bishops commend Supreme Court's 2020 census decision

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- The US bishops on Tuesday applauded the Supreme Court's recent decision blocking the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census under the reasons proffered by the Commerce Department.

“We affirm last week’s decision by the Supreme Court that the inclusion of a citizenship question must ensure genuine reasons for such inclusion,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice and Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairs of the USCCB's domestic justice and migration committees, said July 2.

“We reaffirm that all persons in the United States should be counted in the Census regardless of their immigration status and reemphasize our judgment that questions regarding citizenship should not be included in the Census. We hope that this view will prevail, whether by administrative action or judicial determination.”

In its June 27 decision in Department of Commerce v. New York, the court found that the Trump administration's reason for seeking to include a citizenship question on the census seemed “contrived”. The ruling was 5-4.

The administration agreed July 2 to start printing the questionnaire without the question.

The decennial census is used in districting for elections, and helps determine the allocation of federal funding to the states.

A question about whether the respondent is a citizen has not appeared on the census questionnaire since 1950.

The administration had argued for its inclusion under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, saying it could strengthen protections for minorities.

But some researchers at the Census Bureau had found that including the citizenship question could lower the response rate of minority and immigrant households, lowering the quality of the census data.

Are economic sanctions on Iran just?

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Economic sanctions are often seen as a more humane alternative to military conflict. But as some observes warn that sanctions on Iran are beginning to restrict the availability of daily necessities, questions have arisen about the justice and proper limits of such measures.

In 2018, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. That agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was supported by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops, but critics said it was ineffective and strengthened the regime’s ability to support terrorist activity abroad. 

Further sanctions have been imposed following an escalating series of events, including the recent shooting down of an American drone. On Monday, as Iran confirmed it had violated the terms of th 2015 nuclear deal and would withdraw from it. The White House responded that it would exert “maximum pressure” on the regime to curb its “nuclear ambitions” and “malign behavior.” 

While U.S. sanctions are intended to have “maximum effect” on Iran’s regime, Niki Akhavan, Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Catholic University of America, and expert in digital media and politics in the Middle East and Iran, told CNA that they could ultimately violate the “basic rights” of the Iranian people. 

Akhavan warned that there were increasing reports of ordinary citizens, especially the middle class, having difficulty obtaining necessities like food or medicine.

“Everyday life has become more and more difficult,” Akhavan said. 

While the sanctions against Iran do not directly include basic staples like food or medicine, she told CNA, their wider impact on the entire economy is creating pressure on ordinary citizens. Iranians who once were able to travel to visit family or to get medical care outside of Iran now can no longer afford to do so.

In September last year, Armenian Catholic Church leaders in Iran made a similar warning that the return of sanctions would harm all Iranians. 

On Monday, as Iran confirmed it had violated the nuclear deal and would withdraw from it, the White House responded that it would exert “maximum pressure” on the regime to curb its “nuclear ambitions” and “malign behavior.” 

Regarding the use of economic sanctions, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that sanctions “seek to correct the behaviour of the government of a country that violates the rules of peaceful and ordered international coexistence or that practises serious forms of oppression with regard to its population.”

Monsignor Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas, told CNA that this violation of peace is interpreted by the Church to be a violation of what St. Augustine defined as the “tranquillitas ordinis,” or the “tranquility of order.” 

Peace should not simply be defined as the absence of war but must include at least some measure of justice. The “promotion of peace” is the necessary context for considering sanctions, Swetland said, and they can only be levied against those who violate peace. 

While noting that the Iranian regime “is in various ways” violating the tranquility of order, Swetland also said that the criteria of a just war had to be applied in determining what response was merited.

In cases where a military conflict would be unjust, nations must seek “non-lethal ways of resolving those conflicts,” the monsignor said, while warning that in cases of a “creeping conflict” it is all the more important to arrive at negotiations between both parties. 

On June 18, the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace chairman Archbishop Timothy Broglio called for “sustained dialogue” by the U.S. and world powers with Iran “to de-escalate the current situation.” 

Swetland told CNA that sanctions were one possible tool to bring that about, but that the Church teaches that there are proper uses and limits to how they are applied against persons or regimes. 

In some cases, sanctions might be narrowly-tailored against individual human rights abusers in response to their gravely wrong actions. However, Swetland warned, the more broadly sanctions are applied, such as economic sanctions taken against sectors of a country’s economy, the more scrutiny is necessary to determine their justice.

Sanctions must always be used as a path to negotiation, he said, and must be used with “great discernment” to ensure they remain “focused” and “narrow.”

“They can’t be used indiscriminately” and “must never be used for the direct punishment of an entire population,” Swetland said.

“I believe the U.S. has tried to target the sanctions [against Iran],” he said, but noted that while U.S. sanctions had been imposed over the past year in increasing proportion they need to be “continuously evaluated.”

“When ordinary people can’t get food and medicine, it’s gone too far.”

Pages