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Catholic Relief Services: Immigration action must consider root causes

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 18:54

Washington D.C., Jan 12, 2019 / 04:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the ongoing discussions surrounding immigration, part of the solution must involve looking at the factors that drive people to leave their homes in the first place, said the vice president of an international Catholic aid group.

“What we would like is more attention to addressing why people flee,” said Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services.

O’Keefe spoke with CNA about the motives behind immigration to the United States, and how Catholic Relief Services is working to address these root causes.  

“There’s a range of reasons why people migrate from different parts of the world, but in summary: conflict, persecution, climate change, and extreme poverty are the principal drivers that we see.”

For example, he said, “you have people who are refugees or want to claim asylum in the United States because of persecution and violence.”

These refugees – such as those trying to escape religious persecution in the Middle East, civil war in parts of Africa, or gang violence in Central America – are really “forced migrants,” he said.  

“Their lives are at risk. They flee when they determine that staying would be a death sentence.”

There are also migrants who come to the United States “to live a better life,” often because they have no future or way to escape extreme poverty in their home country, O’Keefe continued.

In one part of West Africa where Catholic Relief Services works, there are rural communities where generations of families have farmed the land, he said. But changes in climate in recent years mean that agricultural productivity has dropped significantly, and farms that previously sustained families can no longer do so. Young people realize that they cannot survive by farming, and they are forced to move.

Jan. 6-12 marks National Migration Week, which has been observed by the U.S. Church for almost 50 years.

Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee, elaborated on this year’s theme, “Building Communities of Welcome.”

“In this moment, it is particularly important for the Church to highlight the spirit of welcome that we are all called to embody in response to immigrant and refugee populations who are in our midst sharing our Church and our communities,” he said in a statement.

Immigration remains a divisive subject in Washington, D.C. In an evening address on Jan. 8, President Donald Trump reiterated his insistence that a border wall is necessary to keep America safe from drugs and violent gangs. Democrats in Congress have pushed back against the idea, refusing to agree to a budget that funds the wall. The dispute has prompted a partial federal government shutdown that has now lasted three weeks, with no end in sight.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has long advocated for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, with an earned legalization program, along with “targeted, proportional, and humane” enforcement measures.

The conference has also called for a temporary worker program that responds to market needs and protects against abuses, as well as the restoration of due process protections for immigrants, an emphasis on family unification, and policy changes to address the deeper causes of immigration.

Examining and addressing the things that drive people to leave their homes in the first place are key parts of a comprehensive approach to immigration, O’Keefe said.

“What needs more focused attention is how to help countries in Central America, for example, to address problems of violence, gangs, and poverty in those countries, so people don’t feel like they have to flee.”

This work is part of Catholic Relief Services’ focus as an international agency.

In El Salvador, where extreme gang violence has forced thousands to flee their homes, Catholic Relief Services runs a gang violence reduction program for young people. The agency works to help young people complete their education, get a job, and recognize that they have alternatives to joining a gang.  

“We have 15,000 youth or so who have gone through that program successfully, and a very high retention rate in terms of education and jobs,” O’Keefe said.

The agency also builds relationships with local companies in El Salvador, so that young people who complete the violence reduction program can find jobs. Sometimes there is a stigma against hiring former gang members, which can contribute to the problem, as ex-gang members who find themselves unemployed may be more likely to return to violent activity.

Catholic Relief Services certifies people who have completed their program, O’Keefe said. This increases their job prospects, boosting employer confidence and trust that they will be good employees.

In poor, rural areas of Honduras, the agency is working to implement a U.S. government-supported school feeding program.

The idea, O’Keefe said, is to build prospects for education in a poor part of the country by connecting families to educational institutions, so there is less incentive for them to leave.

“The more children are connected to schools and education, the less likely they are to fall into trouble,” he said.

“In Central America, one of the most climate-impacted parts of the world, we have done a lot of work with small farmers, particularly in the coffee sector,” O’Keefe continued. Coffee tends to grow on hills and mountains, he explained, and as the climate has gotten warmer, farmers have to go to higher elevations to grow the crop.  

Catholic Relief Services has helped the famers make that transition, O’Keefe said, whether it be a transition to different crops, farming techniques, or elevations. As a result, the people have avoided sinking further into poverty and in some cases are moving forward economically.

“That allows them to stay on their land and not feel like they have to migrate,” he said.

For Catholics, thinking about migration should always emphasize the dignity of human person, O’Keefe said. He noted the Share the Journey campaign launched in response to Pope Francis’ call a year ago for Catholics to unite in solidarity with migrants.

Over the past year, Catholic Relief Services has worked with the U.S. bishops’ conference and Migration and Refugee Services, as well as dioceses and Catholic universities, to organize events and activities “that highlight the plight of migrants and refugees, and just help Catholics in the United States to deepen their own understanding of…why people flee, what that experience is like, and really to have an experience of encounter.”

In a sub-campaign called Be Not Afraid, Catholic Relief Services worked with a videographer to bring together refugees and American citizens who had concerns and fears about immigration.

Videos on the Share the Journey website show the moment of encounter between people who come from different backgrounds and perspectives.

“That moment of encounter between them as human beings, where they recognize each other’s humanity.” O’Keefe said. “We did that because we really wanted to show what the Holy Father is asking us to do.”


San Antonio archdiocese prepares for new parishes

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 19:18

San Antonio, Texas, Jan 11, 2019 / 05:18 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of San Antonio has collected over half of the funds for a campaign to construct new parish buildings in preparation for an expected population boom.

The "On the Way - ¡Ándale!" Capital Campaign, this is the first campaign the diocese has seen since 1955. It has raised over $40 million of the $60 million goal.

Construction on Mary, Mother of the Church parish could start as early as fall 2019. The church grounds will include a sanctuary, school, meeting hall, rectory, and sport complex.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller blessed the grounds of the new parish Dec. 8. The parish grounds are located in west San Antonio.

The campaign is expected to establish eight parish communities throughout the archdiocese. The plan is for the parishes to be completed within 10 years.

The construction of new churches is rare, but the archdiocese is predicting a large increase in church-goers as San Antonio plans to see an increase in nearly 1 million people by 2040.

Don Meyer, general chair of the campaign, told KENS 5 that new facilities are required to compensate for the upcoming growth and the already over-populated parishes in the area, including his own parish, Holy Trinity.

"There's a projected 200,000 new Catholics coming in the next ten years. To faithfully serve those parishioners, we will require new parishes, new and expanded schools to educate the youth to give them a faith-based education and renovation and expansion of existing parishes," he said.

Donna Degenhardt, an attendant at the blessing ceremony, also told KENS 5 that a need for new parish facilities was desperately needed.

"We need this church in the worst way. It is so wonderful. We're so excited and we can't wait until it gets built!" she said.

According to the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Father Larry Christian, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, spoke to the attendees of ground blessing ceremony, highlighting the importance of the project.

“The On the Way - ¡Ándale! capital campaign – in many ways – is about building up the legacy of our founders and the many people who have helped establish the Catholic parishes, missions, schools, hospitals, colleges, service programs and spirit that is reflective of our archdiocese,” he said.

Sister Pimentel disappointed she could not speak with Trump during border visit

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 18:46

McAllen, Texas, Jan 11, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- Sister Norma Pimentel says she is “truly disappointed” that she did not get a chance to speak during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump Jan. 10, during the president’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas.

Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley.

“I was looking forward to this roundtable discussion, but there was no discussion unfortunately,” she told The Valley Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

“There were certain people selected to speak, to really support the president’s agenda.”

President Trump visited Texas on Thursday in an effort to drum up support for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, in the midst of a government shutdown that began over funding for the wall. Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House staff were with the president.

“I don’t know that [Trump’s] interested in hearing anyone else but those who are simply wanting to applaud what he’s doing and what he wants to hear,” Pimentel said.

The sister highlighted the work of the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, now housed in a former nursing home, has helped close to 150,000 people since 2014, sometimes up to 300 a day.

Pimentel said most of the people they help are women and children who have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date to consider their request for asylum.  

“I think as Catholics, as people with faith, recognize that God asked us to support, defend, and protect all human life. And that’s what we’re doing here at the Respite Center,” she said.

Though the Jan. 11 discussion`with the president included U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, local officials, and others working with immigrants, it was reported that representatives of local agencies and local elected officials were not invited to speak during the discussion.

Pimentel said if she had had the opportunity to speak, she would have emphasized that she understands the importance of border security and keeping the country safe, and that the Border Patrol - with whom she says she has always had a good relationship, and prays for daily - should be supported.

”We also must recognize that there are a lot of families, innocent victims of violence, that are suffering,” she said.

“And we find them here in our community, and we as a community are so generous in responding to help them, to be there for them. It’s a part of who we are as Americans, very compassionate. And that is a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listening to.”

Pimentel wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post ahead of Trump’s visit that she said she hopes he reads. The Jan. 9 op-ed is a letter welcoming the president to the Rio Grande Valley and inviting him to visit the Respite Center.

“Before the respite center opened, dozens of immigrant families, hungry, scared and in a foreign land, huddled at the bus station with only the clothes on their back, nothing to eat or drink, and nowhere to shower or sleep. They waited hours and sometimes overnight for their buses,” she wrote.

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened the first respite center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen to provide the migrants with basic necessities, including a shower and a bowl of soup. In need of more space, they later moved to their current location in the former nursing home.

“You will see volunteers arriving to offer a hand either preparing hygiene packets, making sandwiches, cutting vegetables, preparing the soup for the day or sorting through donated clothing,” Pimentel wrote.

“We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.”

Pope Francis personally thanked Pimentel and her order for their work during his visit to the United States in 2015.


'A sense of conversion' - A bishop reflects on the Mundelein retreat

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 18:44

Gallup, N.M., Jan 11, 2019 / 04:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Praying daily before the Eucharist with more than 250 other U.S. bishops was, for Bishop James Wall of Gallup, the highlight of a seven-day episcopal retreat held this week at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“We had the talks from Fr. Cantalamessa, which were excellent, a great homily each day; but for me the highlight of the retreat was every night having the bishops gather in silence before our Lord present in the Eucharist. It was an opportunity to pour your heart out to the Lord, but even more importantly to listen to him, and to receive his direction in all of this.”

“That was where I drew a lot of strength, in the sense of renewal, recommitment, conversion, really to be the shepherd, or bishop, that our Lord wants me to be. I drew a lot from that Holy Hour every night at 7 o'clock,” Bishop Wall told CNA Jan. 10. “I loved the Holy Hour.”

The bishops of the US went on retreat Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary, in the Chicago suburbs. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., who has been preacher to the papal household since 1980, directed the retreat. Pope Francis had asked the nation's bishops to go on retreat together, and offered Fr. Cantalamessa for the time of prayer.

“The effect on me was very positive,” Bishop Wall said.

The retreat consisted of two conferences per day given by Fr. Cantalamessa, each nearly an hour, as well as a Mass at which the Capuchin preached. Then in the evening, the bishops gathered for a Holy Hour.

“For me, really the highlight of the whole retreat was every night at 7 o'clock we made a Holy Hour. So you have all the bishops gathering together praying before our Lord present in the Eucharist, and for me that was very positive, it had a very positive effect on me.”

The Holy Hours were inspiring for Bishop Wall, and recalled for him the day of prayer and penance at the US bishops' autumn general assembly.

“That was one of the best days I've ever had with my brother bishops because there we were, all of us together, six and a half hours of Eucharistic Adoration, reflecting on the Word, hearing some powerful talks.”

The Holy Hours “reminded me of that,” he said, “because here we all were, taking the time to be on retreat with each other, ultimately to allow the Lord to speak to our heart and guide us.”

“Coming off the retreat, I have a great sense of renewal, and strengthening in my whole purpose and calling as a bishop.”

Bishop Wall described “a great respect for silence” during the retreat, and noted that “there were lots of places to find good quiet time to reflect and pray, and read … it was an excellent retreat.”

He mentioned that he had brought with him on retreat, for reading during Holy Hours, Complete My Joy, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix' Dec. 30, 2018 apostolic exhortation on the family. “It helped me think about how is it that I am going to speak to the family,” Bishop Wall said.

The retreat was focused on Christ's commission of the 12 apostles, and the apostolic mandate, centred on the verse: “And he made that twelve should be with him, and that he might send them to preach.”

Bishop Wall called Fr. Cantalamessa “an amazing man, guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Having been on a retreat directed by Fr. Cantalamessa before, “I knew how good he was, and I know how brutally honest he can be, too. To know that he was not only the papal household preacher currently, but for Benedict and John Paul II, I was really encouraged by it … he had some really good words for the bishops.”

In addition to mentioning the role and gift of ecclesial movements in the Church, Fr. Cantalamessa did address the sexual abuse crisis in different talks, Bishop Wall said. “And I think considering everything that's going on in the world and the US, it was to be expected that he would.”

Addressing Pope Francis' letter to the US bishops ahead of their retreat, Bishop Wall said, “I took it as encouragement, an assurance of prayer.”

The renewal facing the Church, the bishop said, “is not renewal in a really pretty way at all. I think it's a painful renewal, and that's what's happening right now. It's really disheartening when we come out with the Charter, we commit ourselves to the Charter, and you find instances when there hasn't been fidelity to the Charter – because ultimately the Charter is about providing an opportunity for young people to encounter the living Christ. That's what it’s all about.”

At the retreat “I experienced a sense of conversion,” Bishop Wall said.

“One of the things Cantalamessa talked about was a sense of reliance on the Holy Spirit, and I think sometimes we can forget that; we can try to 'go it on our own', so it was a reminder, a renewal, a call to conversion. That's what I experienced, took away from that, so I would hope that everyone else would take that away, too. It's all you can hope for.”

U.S. Catholics losing trust in clergy, survey finds

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Trust in the clergy has declined sharply over the last year, a new Gallup poll shows. Only 31 percent of American Catholics now rate the honesty or ethical standards of the clergy as “high” or “very high.”


The figures, released Friday, show a drop of 18 points since 2017. Among American Protestants, the same question produced a relatively stable number of 48 percent, a drop of only one point since 2017.


The survey was conducted between December 3-12 and surveyed 1,025 adults.


Americans previously registered a drop in confidence with the Church itself. A similar poll, conducted last summer, reported that confidence in the Church dropped from 52 percent in June 2017 to 44 percent in June 2018.


Since that poll was taken, the Church in the United States has suffered a number of abuse-related scandals, including the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the college of cardinals following multiple allegations of sexual abuse, and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that reported allegations of widespread clerical sexual abuse in that state over a period of several decades.


Church leaders have faced a mounting series of questions in recent months, with many being asked to make clear when they first became of aware of allegations against bishops like McCarrick.


Ahead of a recent week-long retreat held at Mundelein Seminary, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the American bishops, in which he referred to the loss of credibility among the hierarchy as a “crisis” facing the Church.


“Clearly a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it,” said Pope Francis in the letter. He also noted perceived divisions among the American bishops, and said that a unified body would help to re-establish credibility among Catholics.


Catholic confidence in clergy has wavered over the last decade and a half.


In 2008, 63 percent of American Catholics said that they had a “high” or “very high” view of the ethical standards of the clergy. This number dropped nine points, to 54 percent, by 2011.


Following the election of Pope Francis in 2014, the number rose to 57 - the last year in which topped 50 percent.


Other Gallup polls have offered different indicators about the state of the Church in the United States. The number of Americans who identify as Catholic has remained roughly stable at around 25 percent throughout the last seven decades. Conversely, the number of self-identified Protestants has dropped, and the number of people with no religious affiliation, self-identified “nones,” has risen.


Additionally, over half of Catholics surveyed in 2018 say that religion is a “very important” part of their lives. This figure, too, has remained relatively stable since 2001.


One area that has not remained stable is Mass attendance. From 2014-2017, not a single age group of Catholics reported a majority attending Mass each week. In 2018, only about 36 percent of Catholics said they had been to Mass within the last week. That number is a drop from 45 percent in 2008, and 75 percent in 1955.

Pennsylvania grand jury’s Catholic sex abuse report gets a factcheck

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 14:12

New York City, N.Y., Jan 11, 2019 / 12:12 pm (CNA).- The 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report on Catholic clergy sex abuse didn’t get the thorough scrutiny it deserved, and both readers and reporters have been too accepting of the “sensational charges” it made, says veteran Catholic journalist Peter Steinfels.

In a lengthy essay published this week by Commonweal, Steinfels argued that many of the report’s charges are “grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust.”
Steinfels told CNA he wrote the essay because “I saw it as required by vocation as a reporter and editor to get at the truth.”
“The report’s recounting of crimes and sins by abusing priests shocked me, as they should any sensitive person and especially a Catholic,” he said. “But they did not surprise me, having followed this story for thirty years. I was surprised by some of Catholic reaction, as though they had only now become aware of this kind of abuse and its devastating impact.”
Steinfels, a professor emeritus at Fordham University, is a former editor of Commonweal magazine and a former religion columnist for the New York Times.
In his Jan. 9 essay, “The PA Grand-Jury Report: Not What It Seems,” Steinfels considers various aspects of the report and the reaction to it.
He said most public reaction was based on “the heated language and awful examples of the first 12 pages” of a report that was said to contain up to 884 or 1,356 pages.
“And when I read those sweeping, ‘take-no-prisoners’ charges about bishops and other church officials across seven-plus decades, without distinction—that ‘all’ victims were ‘brushed aside,’ and church leaders ‘did nothing’ while ‘priests were raping little boys and girls,’ I said to myself, ‘this really deserves factchecking’.”
After examining the report in detail, he found that “while there were indeed real failures of church leadership over that long timespan, the report’s extreme charges were not substantiated by its own contents.”
The grand jury report, released Aug. 14, was authored by 23 grand jurors who spent 18 months investigating six Pennsylvania dioceses with the help of the FBI, examining half a million pages of documents in the process. The six dioceses were Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.
It claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests and presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations—either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.
Steinfels cites “the hard reality that not many people have actually read the report, let alone read it critically.” Due to the report’s length, journalists and commentators were dependent upon “established scripts of what a story is about” from church officials or victims’ advocates.
He focused on the charge that “all” of the abuse victims in the report “were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all.” The report introduction charged: “priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”
This charge “is contradicted by material found in the report itself—if one actually reads it carefully. It is contradicted by testimony submitted to the grand jury but ignored—and, I believe, by evidence that the grand jury never pursued.”
The grand jury could have reached “precise, accurate, informing, and hard-hitting findings about what different church leaders did and did not do, what was regularly done in some places and some decades and not in others,” he said. “It could have confirmed and corrected much that we think we know about the causes and prevention of the sexual abuse of young people.”
“Instead the report chose a tack more suited to our hyperbolic, bumper-sticker, post-truth environment with its pronouncements about immigrant rapists and murderers, witch hunts, and deep-state conspiracies,” Steinfels charged, arguing that a desire for factchecking should be applied to the report’s denunciation of the Catholic dioceses just as if it came from a demagogic politician or media personality.
Grand juries don’t determine guilt or innocence, but whether there is sufficient grounds for an indictment and trial. They hear evidence in secret without representation from those investigated.
“And in practice, they operate almost completely under the direction of a local, state, or federal prosecutor, a district attorney or attorney general, whose conclusions they almost invariably rubber-stamp,” said Steinfels.
When grand juries release indictments, they are treated as the first step in a process, but when they release investigative reports these reports are treated as “at once an accusation and a final condemnation” whose potential damage is “incalculable,” wrote Steinfels, citing jurist Stanley H. Fuld. While many people raise “perfectly legitimate questions” about bishop accountability, many overlook questions about grand juries’ accountability.
He faulted the report for its lack of numerical analysis, like a failure to calculate the number of men in the priesthood in these dioceses since 1945 to add insight about the prevalence of sex abuse among Catholic priests.
“There are no efforts to discern statistical patterns in the ages of abusers, the rates of abuse over time, the actions of law enforcement, or changes in responses by church officials,” he said. “Nor are there comparisons to other institutions. One naturally wonders what a seventy-to-eighty-year scrutiny of sex abuse in public schools or juvenile penal facilities would find.”
The report’s authors seem to discount both upward and downward trends in sex abuse by Catholic clergy.
“If we are to believe the findings of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it increased in the latter 1960s, spiked in the ’70s, and declined in the ’80s,” said Steinfels.
The report erroneously attributed to Cardinal Donald Wuerl the phrase “circle of secrecy,” which was found scribbled on a rejected 1993 request from an offending priest seeking to return to ministry. Wuerl’s effort to correct this error before the report’s release was ignored, according to Steinfels.
The Catholic bishops’ efforts to address abuse, as in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, are also poorly presented.
The report is written to “minimize or dismiss the Charter’s importance,” Steinfels wrote. It presents a “caricature” of history, failing to include any account of “the lengthy documents submitted to the grand jury by the six dioceses.”
“There is not the slightest indication, not the slightest, that the grand jury even sought to give serious attention to the kind of extensive, detailed testimony that the dioceses submitted regarding their current policies and programs” regarding abuse prevention and reporting.
Steinfels gave particular attention to the grand jury report’s treatment of the Diocese of Erie, comparing it to other in-depth reports on sexual abuse there.
The grand jury report claims every diocese hid sex abuse but “contains scant evidence of Erie church officials dissuading people from taking sex-abuse charges to the police, although one can assume that Catholic deference to clerical authority and the culture’s general sexual taboos once made dissuasion hardly necessary.” The report’s own profiles of accused sex abusers in the diocese indicate that the diocese had been “regularly reporting allegations of abuse” by 2002, when such reporting was officially made mandatory by the 2002 child protection charter.
Steinfels also questioned the wisdom of naming accused priests, citing the case of Fr. Richard D. Lynch, who died in 2000. Years later, he is still listed by the Erie diocese as “currently under investigation, and each is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise,” and was named in the grand jury report as an offender. In his own reading of the accusations, Steinfels said it could be tempting to treat Lynch’s lone accuser as “a disgruntled crank.”
The grand jury report’s expansive definition of criminal “hiding” of abuse, Steinfels said, makes it an “indisputable standard” to publicize the names of all credible or suspected abusers, alive or dead.
“If this is to be the case, it should not be unilaterally declared by a grand jury but established by statute and applied to all organizations rather than the Catholic Church alone,” he said.
The report comes in the context of a push to expand or create exemptions for the statutes of limitations on sex abuse for both criminal cases and civil lawsuits. The grand jury report recommended creating a retroactive two-year legal window allowing victims of child sex abuse to sue even if the statute of limitations has expired.
It follows after credible accusations of sex abuse of minors and seminarians against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as well as explosive, but difficult to confirm accusations of former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano that Pope Francis returned McCarrick to influence in Church.
The impact of the grand jury report on American Catholics was also a focus for Steinfels.
“Why the media were so amenable to uncritically echoing this story without investigation, and why Catholics in particular were so eager to seize on it to settle their internal differences, are important topics for further discussion,” he said.
Speaking to CNA, Steinfels had three suggestions.
“First, we should not let our quite understandable shame and horror at this misconduct bludgeon our critical faculties and the necessity of making distinctions, especially before and after 2002,” he said.
“Second, the dominant story line, that Catholic bishops, fully aware that priests posed a peril to children, knowingly reassigned them to protect the abusers and the institutions' reputation, is just too simple to the point of falsehood,” he added. “That happened, but there were lots of other factors and actors at play, both in the church and the culture, that are essential, even if complicating, parts of the story.”
For bishops, “past failures and present pastoral responsibilities” limit what they can effectively say. Therefore, “it becomes incumbent on responsible Catholic lay people, perhaps joining hands across the church issues that divide us, to demand better -- from the media and from legal authorities,” Steinfels said.


Across the US, organizers prepare for pro-life marches

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 05:29

Chicago, Ill., Jan 11, 2019 / 03:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands of pro-life advocates will rally this month in major cities throughout the country, marking the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion in the U.S.

March for Life Chicago will take place on Jan. 13, drawing numerous pro-lifers from Illinois and surrounding states, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri. The event is expected to gather more than 6,000 attendees.

The day will begin with an early morning rally for youth, Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, and brunch in support of the local pregnancy center, Aid for Women. In the afternoon, the procession and rally will occur at the Federal Plaza in Chicago.

Speakers will include Pat McCaskey, a co-owner of the Chicago Bears; Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Jeanne Mancini, president of the national March for Life; and Ryan Bomberger, founder of the Radiance Foundation.

The theme of the event, “Unique From Day One,” emphasizes medical technology as affirming life beginning at conception. Dawn Fitzpatrick, president of the March for Life Chicago board of directors, said the pro-life message is a “synchronicity of science and faith when it comes to the uniqueness of each life.”

“Being pro-life is not in opposition to science. It’s quite the opposite in fact. Medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause – that life begins at fertilization, or day one, when egg meets sperm and a new, unique, human embryo is created,” he said.  

Kevin Grillot, vice president of the March for Life Chicago, told CNA that through science, “we can see where life begins, and how beautiful is it that each person, from the moment of conception, their DNA distinguishes them…Every single person is unique and distinct and whole human being, starting from the moment of their conception.”

Bomberger, one of the speakers at this year’s event in Chicago, said that the pro-life issue is personal for him: he was conceived in rape. While abortions following rape account for just 1 percent of total abortions in the U.S., he said, they are often used to justify the other 99 percent.

“As someone who is written off as an exception, it is particularly special to me,” he told CNA of this year’s theme. “Pro-life is pro-science, it’s pro-woman, it’s pro-child, it’s pro-family. I think all those elements are so inextricable tied together with this theme – that you are not repeatable.”

He said his speech at the rally will offer the testimony of his own story as an example of the purpose and value of every human life. He hopes that his witness will encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and become a source of healing for others facing unwanted pregnancies.

“[I am] someone whose birth mom choose to be stronger than the violence of rape and not only gave me life but gave me the incredible gift of adoption,” he said.

Bomberger is one of 15 siblings, many of whom were adopted from various backgrounds. He now has four children of his own, two of whom are adopted.

“To have been adopted and loved and now to be the one who has adopted and loved, it’s just a really powerful thing,” he said. “I will be emphasizing adoption and that you cannot address abortion…without talking about adoption. For me, it’s like not finishing a sentence.”

A major purpose of pro-life marches, he said, is a display of solidarity to counter some media depictions suggesting that only a small portion of the population is pro-life.

“What this march does is it reminds you that you are not the only one,” he said. “I think the march serves as a powerful [reminder] that we are not alone that there are far more who are with us.”

Dozens of pro-life rallies in other cities across the U.S. will also be taking place this month.

March for Life Denver is scheduled for Jan 12. A rally entitled Celebrate Life 2019 will take place at the Colorado State Capitol. Praise and worship music will be held before the rally at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. A mariachi band, Aztec dancers, and Mexican folk dancers will also perform at St. John Vianney Seminary.

One Life LA is planned for Jan. 19. Attendees will march from La Placita to the LA State Historic Park. After the rally, a Requiem Mass for the Unborn will be held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels and a Young Adult after-party will take place at Imperial Western Union Station.

Speakers will include Ryan O’Hara, content director for Saint Paul’s Outreach; marriage speaker Damon Owens; and Abby Johnson, founder of the And Then There Were None ministry to help abortion workers to leave the industry.

The national March for Life in Washington, D.C. will take place on Jan. 18. Speakers for the 46th annual D.C. march will include Congressmen Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Dan Lipinksi (D-Ill); Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; and Dr. Kathi Aultman, fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Following a rally on the National Mall, participants – who routinely number in the hundreds of thousands – will process along Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court.


Little Sisters back in court to defend HHS mandate exemption

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 19:19

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Little Sisters of the Poor are back in court this week, as two states are challenging their religious exemption from the HHS contraception mandate.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have each filed lawsuits saying that the sisters should not receive a religious exemption from the mandate. Other states have joined onto these lawsuits as well.

“The Little Sisters are looking forward to a final victory in this case, so they can put this whole lawsuit behind them. It's been a long fight,” Becket Fund for Religious Liberty senior counsel Lori Windham told CNA. The Becket Fund is representing the Little Sisters in these cases.

Oral arguments were heard on Thursday in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The judge said that she would make a decision by Monday.

On Friday, oral arguments will be heard in the case State of California v. HHS, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Windham, who was present for oral arguments, told CNA that while the judge had issued an injunction blocking the Trump Administration’s protections of the Little Sisters of the Poor, she did have tough questions for the state.

“She asked Pennsylvania why it was wrong for the Trump Administration to issue this rule protecting the Little Sisters and others, but wasn't wrong for the Obama Administration to issue a series of rules to create the mandate in the first place,” Windham explained. She said that the state’s lawyers attempted to explain why this was different, and then tried to steer away from that particular topic.

The Little Sisters were one of several hundred plaintiffs to file suit against the Obama-era HHS Contraception Mandate, which would have required them to offer free-of-charge contraceptive coverage to their employees through their insurance plan.

This mandate was issued under the Affordable Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2011.

In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Little Sisters of the Poor also take a vow of hospitality. The order operates nursing homes to care for the elderly poor, and are present in communities around the world. The Little Sisters were not eligible for the initial religious exemption from the mandate because they serve and employ those of all faiths.

In October 2017, the Trump Administration issued a new rule that would allow the Little Sisters of the Poor to receive a religious exemption and would not force them to distribute contraceptives against their religious beliefs.

After Thursday’s arguments, Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters issued a statement, saying that she hoped the five-plus years of court cases would soon be over.

“We pray that the court will allow us to finally and fully return to our life’s passion of caring for the most vulnerable members of our society,” she said.


Wuerl knew McCarrick abuse allegations in 2004

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 19:13

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2019 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- An allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was reported to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2004, while the cardinal served as Bishop of Pittsburgh. Wuerl forwarded the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed to CNA that an allegation against McCarrick was presented to Wuerl while he served as Bishop of Pittsburgh, as part of a complaint made by laicized priest Robert Ciolek.

In a statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Jan. 10 that laicized priest Robert Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss an allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said.

“A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States."

The disclosure is the first confirmation by Church authorities that Wuerl was aware of allegations against McCarrick before the Archdiocese of New York announced in June 2018 a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against McCarrick.

The news raises questions about 2018 statements from Wuerl that denied he had even heard “rumors” about his predecessor as Archbishop of Washington.

In 2004, Ciolek submitted a lengthy letter to Wuerl, alleging that he had been the victim of sexual abuse committed by a Pittsburgh priest while he was a student at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary.

Ed McFadden, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that in 2004 Ciolek “asked that his complaint against McCarrick be forwarded to the [apostolic] nuncio. And it was,” McFadden told CNA.

“Wuerl forwarded the file and his complaint to the nunciature in 2004.”

“At that time Ciolek asked for complete confidentiality, and that his name never be mentioned.”

The statement from the Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed that Ciolek had originally insisted on confidentiality, but also that he had recently authorized the diocese to speak about the matter.

“Mr. Ciolek asked that the allegation regarding then-Cardinal McCarrick be shared only with ecclesiastical – that is – Church authorities,” the statement said.

“In November 2018 Mr. Ciolek authorized the Diocese of Pittsburgh to respond to press inquiries about this matter.”

The diocese confirmed that Ciolek visited Pittsburgh recently to review files related to his complaint, and that diocesan officials were aware that he intended to discuss the matter with the press.

Ciolek reached a settlement agreement with three New Jersey dioceses in 2005 in connection with clerical sexual abuse allegations. The settlement awarded Ciolek some $80,000 in response to allegations that concerned both McCarrick and a Catholic school teacher.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh said it was not aware of the settlement until July 2018. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Washington said Wuerl was unaware of the 2005 settlement until that time.

Details of Ciolek’s settlement were first reported in September 2018. At that time, the Washington Post reported that the settlement agreement included references to Wuerl, and to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Neither the Pittsburgh diocese or McFadden offered detail on the specific allegations made against McCarrick, but McFadden said they concerned behavior by McCarrick at his New Jersey beach house, where the archbishop is alleged to have shared beds with seminarians, and exchanged backrubs with them.

McFadden said Ciolek “never claimed direct sexual engagement with McCarrick” in his complaint to Wuerl.

The news that Wuerl received a formal complaint against McCarrick as early as 2004, and forwarded it to the apostolic nunciature in Washington raises serious questions about the intended meaning of Wuerl’s 2018 statements concerning McCarrick.

Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against McCarrick.

In the same letter, Wuerl affirmed that “no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”  

In a Jan. 10 statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick.  His statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The Cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.”  

“Cardinal Wuerl has said that until the accusation of abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick was made in New York, no one from this archdiocese has come forward with an accusation of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick during his time in Washington.”

“It is important to note that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington in November 2000 and named a cardinal in February 2001, years before Mr. Ciolek made his claims. Then-Bishop Wuerl was not involved in the decision-making process resulting in the appointment and promotion.”

Wuerl’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington was accepted October 12, 2018. The cardinal was appointed by Pope Francis as apostolic administrator, or interim leader, of the archdiocese until a successor is appointed.

The cardinal fell under heavy criticism in the second half of last year, after a Pennsylvania grand jury report about clerical sexual abuse released in July raised questions about his leadership while he served as Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Despite earning a reputation as an early champion of “zero-tolerance” policies and the use of lay-led diocesan review boards to handle accusations of clerical sexual abuse, Wuerl faced questions about his handling of several cases during his time in Pittsburgh after he was named more than 200 times in the grand jury report.

The disclosure also raises further questions about how McCarrick was able to remain in office and in apparently unrestricted ministry during retirement. In July 2018, a priest named Fr. Boniface Ramsey told the New York Times that he expressed to Church authorities concerns about McCarrick’s conduct with seminarians as early as 2000, when McCarrick was appointed Archbishop of Washington.

Concerned by the appointment, Ramsey said that he contacted then-nuncio Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo Higuera to report allegations of McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians in his beach house. Ramsey said that he had heard accounts of this misconduct from his own seminary students.
Ramsey said he put his concerns in writing at the request of Montalvo, who promised to forward them to Rome.

Ramsey subsequently released a letter from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, dated 2006 and signed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, acknowledging his complaint of 2000, apparently confirming that Montalvo had sent Ramsey’s letter to Rome.

Montalvo was still in his position when Wuerl reportedly forwarded Ciolek’s complaint in 2004, and would remain in Washington until August 2006, when he died suddenly.

McFadden told CNA that while he could confirm Wuerl sent Ciolek’s complaint to the nuncio as requested, neither he nor Cardinal Wuerl were aware that any further action was taken on the matter.

“As far as we can tell, the nunciature never acted on that, but we don’t have any more information.”

Montalvo’s successor as nuncio in Washington was Archbishop Pietro Sambi. CNA has previously reported that in 2008, acting on explicit instructions from Pope Benedict XVI, Sambi ordered McCarrick to move out of the archdiocesan seminary in which he was living during his retirement.

That order, and other measures which may have been imposed on McCarrick during his retirement, were a central feature of the allegations of Sambi’s own successor, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

In his now-famous “testimony,” released in August last year, Vigano insisted that Wuerl had been aware of restrictions placed on McCarrick during his retirement for several years, and that they directly concerned his interactions with seminarians.

In response to Vigano’s claims, Wuerl denied “receiving documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Vigano.”


First African American bishop to lead US diocese in 20th century dies

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 17:21

Biloxi, Miss., Jan 10, 2019 / 03:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze, the first black bishop to lead a diocese in the United States in the 20th century, died Wednesday, January 9 at the age of 95 after a lengthy illness.

Howze was appointed as the first bishop of the Diocese of Biloxi in 1977, and served there for 24 years. He had previously served as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, and as a priest for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.  

“While we are saddened by the death of Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze, we rejoice in his life,” Bishop Louis Kihneman III of the Diocese of Biloxi said in a statement.

“His was a life well lived in faithful service to Almighty God and to the people of Mississippi, both as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson and later as first bishop of Biloxi from 1977 to 2001.”

“Establishing a new diocese was hard work, but Bishop Howze was very proud of what he, with the help of devoted clergy, religious and laity, accomplished during his tenure as bishop of Biloxi and was forever grateful to the people of the diocese for their unfailing generosity of time, talent and treasure,” Kihneman said.

Howze was born in Daphne, Alabama on August 30, 1923. He was the oldest of four children born to Albert Otis Howze Sr. and Helen Lawson. When he was just five years old, his mother died, and from then on, he spent much of his time in the homes of his grandparents, aunts and uncles. His father would eventually remarry and have three more children.

A bright student, Howze graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1944, and went on to graduate with honors from Alabama State College in Montgomery, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in science and education.

For the next two years after college, Howze taught high school biology and chemistry at Central High School in Mobile, Alabama. It was there that he was inspired by one of his Catholic students, Marion Carroll, Jr., to convert from Methodism to Catholicism.  

After his conversion and confirmation into the Catholic Church at the age of 25, Howze’s curiosity about becoming a priest grew, and after a few years he officially began studying for the priesthood, in spite of also having had dreams of joining the medical field.  

On May 7, 1959, at the age of 35, Howze was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. He became known for his ability to integrate his parishes despite racial differences, and was known for emphasizing the unity that the body of Christ had in God.

After serving as a priest for 13 years, Howze was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Natchez-Jackson by Pope Paul VI, and was ordained a bishop on Jan. 28, 1973 in Jackson, Mississippi.

On March 8, 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed Howze as the founding bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Biloxi, along the Mississippi coast, where he would serve 42 parishes, 28 Catholic schools and some 48,000 Catholics.

Howze was the first black Catholic bishop appointed to lead a U.S. diocese in the 20th century. The first black Catholic bishop ever appointed to lead a U.S. diocese was Bishop James Augustine Healy, who was of mixed African and Irish descent. He was appointed to lead the Diocese of Portland, Maine by Pope Pius IX in 1875.

When Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987, Howze shared with him the concerns of many black Catholics about racism in the Church, and about the difficulty some black Catholics had in reconciling their faith with their race and culture, the Sun Herald reported.

Dr. Todd Coulter, a former student of Howze who is now an internal medicine doctor, said his example as a black Catholic leader was inspiring.

“We looked up to him,” Coulter told the Sun Herald. “He was a trailblazer for us, a hero — period. Especially for those of us who were considering the possibility of becoming a priest.”

Throughout his time as auxiliary bishop and as bishop of Biloxi, Howze served in numerous leadership positions, including as president of the National Black Catholic Clergy, a member of the World Peace Committee of the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), the Mississippi Health Care Commission, the NCCB Liaison Committee to the National Office for Black Catholics, and the NCCB Interreligious and Ecumenical Affairs Committee, among several others.

He was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Peter Claver, and a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Kihneman said in his statement that he was honored to have had Howze present for his own installation as the fourth bishop of Biloxi, and that every time he visited him, Howze’s “first concern” was for the people of the Diocese of Biloxi.

“He loved the Diocese of Biloxi and prayed unceasingly for its continued success. He had a genuine concern for the salvation of souls,” Kihneman said.

“Now, we pray that God, who called Bishop Howze to priesthood and the episcopate, will now welcome him to his heavenly home where he will continue to intercede for us. May he rest in peace.” ​

The funeral Mass for Bishop Howze will be held at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Biloxi on Wednesday, January 16.


How cutting FEMA aid could impact California families

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:23

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump has threatened to stop sending federal money to the state of California for wildfire recovery, a move that Catholic aid workers say could dramatically impact thousands of California families trying to rebuild their lives.

“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump wrote in a tweet Wednesday.

“Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to send no more money.”

The fire season in California in 2018 was the state’s worst on record, with thousands of structures destroyed and nearly 90 lives lost. An unusually dry autumn contributed to the severity of the fire season.

About 6,650 people in California have successfully applied for FEMA assistance to the tune of nearly $50 million in aid, according to the latest available numbers from FEMA. That assistance can be used for essential home repairs and other necessities not covered by insurance.

It’s not yet clear whether Trump has the legal authority to order FEMA directly to cut funding for California, but the Sacramento Bee reports that the president does have to power to refuse to declare a state of disaster in California during or after future fires.

The Washington Post reportedly reached out to FEMA for comment, but received only an automated reply saying the agency is unable to respond to general press inquiries due to the partial government shutdown. The agency has said that individuals can still apply for aid while the government is shut down.

California’s newly-elected governor has called on the Trump administration to double federal funding to manage the state’s forests.

Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Diocese of Sacramento, told CNA that though he suspects the president's words were a political message directed at California's new governor, the impact of defunding FEMA completely could be devastating.

"It's sad that whatever politics are involved here are being directed at these families that really need our care, concern, and our help in order to rebuild," Eckery told CNA.  

"You take an emergency that affects thousands and thousands of families in northern California, billions of dollars in property damage, that began on federal land with the possible involvement of a public utility, and then try and say, 'No, this is all about California forest management processes’...I'm kind of dumbfounded," he said.

"In terms of toying with people's livelihoods and their concern about rebuilding, it becomes even more strange when you realize that this is a community that is probably one of the few places in California where a majority of voters supported President Trump."

Eckery explained that in the case of a natural disaster, for the most part the state has the primary responsibility for operations along with their partners in local government. FEMA can then underwrite grants and low-interest loans to help provide aid from outside the state; for example, if a state needs large amounts of concrete for levies, not all of which can be sourced in-state.

If Trump were actually to carry out his threat to defund FEMA, thousands of families trying to rebuild that would be affected, he warned.  

The Sacramento diocese is making schooling available for free for 30-40 students affected by the fire, Eckery said, and Catholic Charities is engaged in case management to match families with resources so they can do their own rebuilding.

"We've moved from the emergency stage to the recovery stage," he said.  

"People need to understand that even though the Camp Fire is out of the day-to-day headlines, it still burned down a community of 35,000 people. And so that is a lot of hurt, and those people need and deserve our help."

Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa, whose district includes much of northeastern California, wrote in a press release that he expects the president to keep his promise to help victims of the fires.

“Although I share the President’s great frustration with California’s choking regulations from the stranglehold environmental groups have on the state, as well as the inaction on federal lands up until this Administration...threats to FEMA funding are not helpful and will not solve the longer term forest management regulatory problems,” he wrote.
“These are American citizens who require our help.”


Catholics in US express frustration over border security stalemate

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday evening, US President Donald Trump highlighted humanitarian problems present along the US-Mexico border and issued a call for increased security, including the construction of additional barriers on the border. His remarks were met with mixed reactions and frustration from Catholics across the United States.

Among the points raised by Trump in his Jan. 8 address is that approximately 90 percent of the heroin supply in the United States enters the country through the border with Mexico. “More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War,” said Trump.

Trump also highlighted the dangers of the journey from Central America to the United States, saying he feared children were being used as “pawns” by “vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.”

Isaac Cuevas, the director of immigration and public affairs for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that while he agrees with Trump’s assessment that there is a humanitarian crisis at the border, he did not believe either Trump’s address, or the response by Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), were signs that progress will be made.

“Both sides agree that immigration is an issue that can no longer be ignored, but they also need to agree on where change has to start,” Cuevas said.

“These challenges in migration will not go away with the implementation of barriers, but we all agree that the system, especially from a legal standpoint, is broken and needs help.”

Cuevas told CNA he thinks that it would be a “common-sense solution” for both parties to work together and create a plan that would both strengthen security at the border and create a way for people who are already here to obtain legal status: “A pathway to citizenship, for good people making positive contributions in our communities and to our way of life in this country,” he said.

Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, which is located along the southern border, tweeted Jan. 9: “Mothers and children are fleeing the very criminal elements that we ourselves recognize represent a mortal danger. Are we not capable of sustaining a response that both protects the vulnerable and restrains the menace?”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said Jan. 9 of "Tuesday's immigration speeches" that he was deeply disappointed by "the dehumanizing words used to describe our immigrant sisters and brothers. These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories. Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees."

The cardinal quoted Pope Francis, and then said, "Those coming to our borders seeking asylum or escaping crushing poverty are not pawns in a political debate, but rather the strangers and aliens our Scriptures constantly instruct us to welcome ... I beg all our legislative leaders to come together for the common good."

The stalemate over the border wall continues amid the USCCB's National Migration Week, taking place Jan. 6-12. The week's theme this year is “Building Communities of Welcome”.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said Jan. 4 that “In this moment, it is particularly important for the Church to highlight the spirit of welcome that we are all called to embody in response to immigrant and refugee populations who are in our midst sharing our Church and our communities.”

Congresswoman blasts ‘religious bigotry’ against Knights of Columbus, Catholic nominees

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 14:30

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Democratic lawmakers are divided over questions some see as a religious litmus test applied to candidates for the federal bench. The debate has turned into a war of words between members of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation

“We cannot and will not tolerate prejudicial treatment of those with whom we disagree, any more than we would tolerate such treatment of those with whom we agree,” Rep Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) wrote in a Jan. 8 op-ed for The Hill.


Gabbard accused senators screening judicial candidates of “religious bigotry” and warned against legislators “weaponizing” questions of personal faith.


At least two judicial candidates in recent months have faced questions about their Catholic faith during the federal confirmation process. Legislators from both parties have said some of those questions have gone too far.


Gabbard’s op-ed referenced the 2017 confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who, the the congresswoman wrote, was treated inappropriately by members of the Senate Judicial Committee.


“No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because ‘the dogma lives loudly within you’ as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings.”


Article 6 of the Constitution states that “there shall be no religious test” for any candidate seeking public office.


In December, CNA reported that Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about a judicial nominee’s Catholic faith and membership of the Knights of Columbus. The issues were raised in questions put to Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.


In her questions, Hirono said that “the Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions” by supporting basic Catholic beliefs regarding abortion and marriage.


The Knights of Columbus has nearly 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes.


Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society” which is “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and against “marriage equality.” In the light of his Catholic faith and membership of the Knights, both senators questioned Buescher’s ability to apply the law fairly and objectively as judge.


Referring to Hirono and Harris’s questions to Buescher, Gabbard wrote that while she personally opposed his candidacy for a judgeship, she “stands strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.”


“While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office,” Gabbard wrote.


“The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.”


Hirono hit back Tuesday at her fellow Hawaiian Democrat’s comments. A spokesman for the senator said Gabbard “based her misguided opinion on the far-right wing manipulation of these straightforward questions.”


Last month, a spokesperson for the Knights of Columbus said the senators’ conduct recalled past periods of anti-Catholic discrimination.


“Our country’s sad history of anti-Catholic bigotry contributed to the founding of the Knights of Columbus, and we are proud of the many Catholics who overcame this hurdle to contribute so greatly to our country,” Kathleen Blomquist told CNA.


“We were extremely disappointed to see that one’s commitment to Catholic principles through membership in the Knights of Columbus—a charitable organization that adheres to and promotes Catholic teachings—would be viewed as a disqualifier from public service in this day and age.”

New York Governor calls for abortion in state constitution

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 13:00

New York City, N.Y., Jan 9, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for a change to the state’s constitution to enshrine abortion rights. Leading pro-life leaders called his statements "abhorrent" and "out of step" of mainstream politics.


Speaking Monday at an event in Manhattan, Cuomo said that he hopes to pass an amendment that “writes into the constitution a provision protecting a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health.” He was joined at the event, hosted at Barnard College, by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.


Pro-life activists decried Cuomo’s wish for a constitutional amendment protecting abortion and the imminent law as extremist politics at work.


"Gov. Cuomo's extremist push to conflate abortion with healthcare is a tragic example of politics and ideology triumphing over medicine and the science of embryology,” Americans United For Life CEO Catherine Glenn Foster told CNA.


In New York, changing the state constitution requires the state legislature to approve the amendment in addition to passage in a statewide voter referendum. The earliest such an amendment could be passed is 2021.


In the near term, the New York state legislature is likely to pass the Reproductive Health Act later this month. The legislation would codify the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and that permit abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The bill was first introduced in 2007.


The New York state senate recently returned to Democrat-majority control for the first time since 2010, and the bill is widely expected to become law.


Foster said that the Reproductive Health Act has “nothing to do with women’s rights or enhancing women’s health,” and instead, it would simply make abortion more dangerous by stripping away health and safety regulations on abortionists.


“Under Gov. Cuomo's leadership, New York nail salons will be more regulated than abortion facilities,” Foster added.


Foster’s comments were echoed by Tom McCluskey, March for Life vice president of government affairs.


McCluskey told CNA that it was “abhorrent” that Cuomo would prioritize abortion legislation during this time, and that this move was “out of step with the mainstream.”


“The American consensus has consistently supported limiting abortion to, at most, the first trimester,” McCluskey said, pointing out that only six countries allow abortion to occur after the 20th week of pregnancy.


“[The proposed amendment] is just another example of Democratic extremism that benefits none and hurts our most vulnerable.”

President Trump signs anti-human trafficking bill into law

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 09:45

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 07:45 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump signed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act on Tuesday.


The law, which was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), authorizes $430 million to be spent over the next four years to help combat sex and labor trafficking both in the United States and abroad. This is Smith’s fifth anti-trafficking bill to become law.


“In the fight to end modern day slavery, my law honors the extraordinary legacy of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived,” Smith said of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a prominent abolitionist after being freed.


The law provides resources for trafficking prevention education for children; shelter, therapies, and reintegration assistance for trafficking survivors; the facilitation of trafficking-free supply chains in the United States; training of government officials as well as airline industry employees to identify trafficking cases; and oversight to ensure that government purchases are not employing traffickers.


The bulk of the allocations will go to the State Department to fund their educational and diplomatic efforts against trafficking.


The new legislation provides funding to the International Megan’s Law, which was also authored by Smith.


The International Megan’s Law, which was named in memory of Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who was murdered in 1994 by a convicted pedophile, establishes country-to-country notification about convicted pedophiles who may be traveling to an area for the purposes of sex trafficking or child exploitation.


Since the International Megan’s Law was enacted in February 2016, nearly 3,500 convicted pedophiles have been denied entry to a country. This new bill allocates $18 million in funding to the Department of Justice, Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security spread over three years.


A recent United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report found that there has been an increase in the number of trafficking victims, particularly girls, over the last decade. The total number of people detected as victims of trafficking has increased 40 percent since 2011, but the UN says that this could be due to improvements in detection.


In 2016, the most recent year statistics were available, 23 percent of all detected trafficking victims around the world were girls under the age of 18. In 2004, the first year statistics were made available, only 10 percent of trafficking victims were girls. Boys under the age of 18 accounted for eight percent of detected trafficking victims.


The UNODC found that 94 percent of sex trafficking victims were female. Males accounted for 65 percent of labor trafficking victims. Vulnerable populations, such as Syrian and Rohingya refugees, are at an increased risk of being preyed upon by human traffickers.

What is Opus Dei? A CNA Explainer

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Opus Dei confirmed this week that in 2005 it reached a $977,000 settlement with a Washington, DC woman who alleged that Opus Dei priest Fr. C. John McCloskey sexually assaulted her in the context of pastoral counseling.

The story has made headlines because of McCloskey’s connection to political and media circles in Washington, DC. But it has also gained attention because of the place Opus Dei has occupied in popular culture, especially after the publication of the 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code,” which offered a portrayal of Opus Dei many critics dismissed as fantastical.

But what is Opus Dei?

Founded in 1928 by Spanish priest Fr. Josemaria Escriva, the movement was borne of Escriva’s vision to help lay Catholics in Madrid understand the baptismal calls to holiness and evangelization. He called the movement Opus Dei to emphasize his believe that its foundation was a “work of God,”- or, in Latin, “Opus Dei.” The movement began as a program of Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation for laymen, and began admitting women to its programs of formation two years after its foundation.

Technically, Opus Dei is a “personal prelature,” which is a Church structure comprised of priests and deacons joined together to “accomplish particular pastoral or missionary works,” according to canon law. The priests and deacons of the prelature are not members of a religious order, like the Jesuits or Benedictines, and therefore, they do not make public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as religious priests and brothers do. Instead, they are secular clerics, as are diocesan priests, which means that like diocesan priests, they are obliged to celibacy and to obedience, but they are not bound to poverty, or to other aspects of monastic, or religious life.

Because Opus Dei is a “personal prelature,” its members are the priests and deacons incardinated into its structure. However, Opus Dei also involves lay Catholics, who associate themselves to the mission of the prelature by means of individual agreements.

Association comes at different levels: some unmarried Catholics collaborate with Opus Dei as “numeraries,” who dedicate much of the life and time to Opus Dei and its mission; “supernumeraries” are typically married, and share in Opus Dei’s work and mission in the context of their families; “cooperators” may be married or unmarried laity who collaborate with or support Opus Dei at a less committed level. There are also diocesan priests and bishops associated with Opus Dei through an organization called the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.

Though commonly referred to as “members,” numeraries, supernumeraries, and cooperators are not formally members of Opus Dei, and remain subject to the jurisdiction of their own diocesan bishops and pastors. In 2016, there were more than 2,000 priest members of the prelature, and more than 90,000 lay people were connected to the organization by means of agreements.

In the United States, Opus Dei supports Catholic schools, generally segregated by sex, in several cities. The organization offers formation through spiritual direction, retreats, “evenings of recollection,” at which priests offer spiritual guidance and confession, and through “circles,” small group meetings of spiritual formation. In Washington, DC, Opus Dei operates the Catholic Information Center, a centrally-located bookstore offering weekday Mass and frequent evening programs.

Opus Dei has been criticized by some observers, who say the organization in inconsistent in its practices in different regions, promotes secrecy about its practices and governance, and focuses its recruiting on persons of wealth or influence.
Opus Dei’s spirituality, rooted in the writings and thought of Fr. Josemaria Escriva, who was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002. Escriva’s work focused on becoming holy in ordinary life, by means of a deep prayer life, offering to God sacrifices and challenges, and the cultivation of virtue.


Hawaii's assisted suicide law comes into effect, but few physicians cooperate

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 16:01

Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan 8, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Hawaii's law legalizing assisted suicide went into effect last week, but many physicians and pharmacists are choosing not to prescribe or dispense the needed medication.

The Our Care, Our Choice Act was signed into law in April 2018, and took effect Jan. 1.

“A minority of physicians feel prepared to actually participate in terms of writing a prescription," Dr. Daniel Fischberg, medical director of the The Queen's Medical Center palliative care department told the AP.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, The Queen's Medical Center and Hawaii Pacific Health have both said their pharmacies will not fill prescriptions for assisted suicide, and patients may not administer the medication at their locations.

CVS has said that their pharmacists can choose whether to fill prescriptions for assisted suicide drugs.

The law allows a terminally ill adult Hawaii resident to receive a prescription for a lethal medication if two doctors find that the person has fewer than six months to live and is mentally competent. The patient must undergo a mental health evaluation to determine that they are not “suffering from conditions that may interfere with decision-making, such as a lack of treatment of depression,” according to the AP.

The patient must make two requests for the life-ending medication, with a 20-day waiting period between requests, and sign a written request witnessed by two people, one of whom cannot be related to the patient.

A doctor may dispense the medication, but it must be self-administered.

The law includes criminal penalties for tampering with a request for lethal medication or coercing such a prescription.

Health care providers and facilities are free not to cooperate with assisted suicide under the law.

The Hawaii health department expects 40-70 requests for assisted suicide in 2019.

While the Our Care, Our Choice Act was being considered, Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu wrote that his wonder at the bill “is compounded when I think of how, until now, we have prided ourselves on helping people not take their own lives. We have suicide prevention programs and hotlines, and have always considered suicide a tragedy that wreaks havoc on so many survivors who feel grief and frustration that they were not able to prevent this 'autonomous' decision from being made.”

Bishop Silva pointed out that under the law, the death certificate of one who commits assisted suicide will list as the immediate cause of death their terminal disease.

“In other words, it will lie about the real immediate cause of death, which is freely and deliberately ingesting a poison into one’s system,” he wrote. “If we call it another name besides suicide, then it may become respectable. Under no circumstances should we call it what it is, since certain insurance benefits may not be available to one’s estate if one commits suicide. So let’s also lie to the insurance company by calling it 'death with dignity' or some other title that will make it sound more respectable.”

In addition to Hawaii, assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.

New Mexico bishop opposes abortion legalization bill

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 14:50

Gallup, N.M., Jan 8, 2019 / 12:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed legislation in New Mexico would repeal the state’s laws criminalizing abortion, which date to the 1960s but have not been enforced since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup has expressed strong opposition to House Bill 51.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” Wall wrote in a Jan. 7 statement.

New Mexico law currently states it is a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion, with exceptions for rape, birth defects, and to preserve the health of the mother.

Under the current law, abortion would be banned completely if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The effort to decriminalize abortion is part of a broader push in states that have laws banning the procedure, such as Massachusetts, which repealed its law in July 2018. Those who are in favor of abortion rights are moving to remove laws that would go into effect if abortion were once again left to the states to decide.

“Should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned...I am in agreement that criminalization of abortion should not target women, many of whom find themselves in personally or financially dire circumstances,” Wall clarified.

“But abortion also targets and victimizes another deeply vulnerable population: unborn children and future generations. Our state must strive to protect and uphold the dignity of all peoples, from conception to natural death, and any effort to permit the killing of unborn children violates the sanctity of every human person, mother and child.”

Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces) introduced the bill, along with Georgene Louis (D-Acoma). The proposed bill is supported by the state’s new Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, as well as the state’s House Speaker and Senate majority leader. The legislative leaders have tabbed the bill as a “high priority” for the current legislative session, and Lujan Grisham has pledged to sign the bill into law if it passes the legislature.

Wall encouraged New Mexico’s lawmakers to focus on policies and legislation to “promote the prosperity of human life at all stages of development” rather than promoting abortion.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living,” Wall wrote.  

He also expressed opposition to any potential measures or clauses that might force doctors to participate in abortion procedures in violation of their beliefs.

Nine states including New Mexico currently have laws that would ban abortion. Four additional states – Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota – have what are known as “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if the Roe decision were overturned.

Efforts are underway to expand access to abortion in several states, including New York, where a bill to decriminalize abortion has strong support from a newly installed Democratic majority in its legislature.


Lawmakers from both parties to address 2019 March for Life

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 14:45

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- The March for Life has announced a bipartisan group of legislators who will address the upcoming March for Life at a rally immediately before the event, being held in 10 days time.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) will be joined by Louisiana State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D). This will be Daines’ first time addressing the March for Life.

“We are delighted to have these four pro-life champions speak at the March for Life rally. The right to life is a non-partisan issue and, regardless of politics, we should all unite for life and stand against abortion, the greatest human rights abuse of our time,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said in a statement to the press.

Headlining the March for Life Rally is conservative commentator and author Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire. Also speaking will be pro-life activist Abby Johnson, Dr. Alveda King, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chairman of the USCCB’s Pro-life Activities committee, and many others.

Last year, President Donald Trump addressed the March for Life via a video feed, becoming the first president to do so. Previous presidents have addressed the March for Life by phone call. The president’s involvement at the rally prompted Lipinski, who at the time was a vulnerable incumbent in a heated primary battle against a pro-abortion candidate, to withdraw from speaking.

In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the March for Life in person. He was the first vice president and the the highest-ranking government official to do so.

The 46th-annual March for Life will be held on January 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. It is the largest anti-abortion demonstration in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march. It is held each year around the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that established a legal right to abortion in the United States.

Opus Dei US head confirms misconduct settlement against popular DC priest

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Opus Dei announced Monday that it had paid a settlement following accusations of misconduct against a priest of the society made in 2002.


Fr. C. John McCloskey was the subject of a complaint by a married woman to whom he had been giving spiritual counsel. As a result of the complaint, Opus Dei paid a reported settlement of $977,000 to the woman in 2005.


At the time of the complaint, McCloskey was serving as the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center is a popular venue among Washington  Catholics, offering daily Mass during the working week and a program of Catholic events in the evenings.


McCloskey had a high public profile during his time in Washington, preparing several senior politicians for reception into the Catholic Church, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and serving U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.


In a statement released by Msgr. Thomas Bohlin, Vicar of Opus Dei in the United States, the prelature expressed its sorrow and called any case of harassment or abuse “abhorrent.”


“What happened was deeply painful for the woman, and we are very sorry for all she suffered,” Bohlin wrote. “I am very sorry for any suffering caused to any woman by Father McCloskey’s actions and pray that God may bring healing to her.”


“I am painfully aware of all that the Church is suffering, and I am very sorry that we in Opus Dei have added to it. Let us ask God to show mercy on all of us in the Church at this difficult time.”


The Washington Post reported that McCloskey groped the woman on several occasions while giving her spiritual direction. According to that report, the woman was left with feelings of guilt and shame, and struggled with depression. The Post also reported that the woman took her concerns to McCloskey in the confessional, where he absolved her.


Bohlin said that Opus Dei had acted swiftly when the complaint was first made, telling McCloskey to have no further contact with the woman and to offer spiritual direction to women only through a screen in a traditional confessional - something Bohlin noted was already a rule for Opus Dei priests.  


“After investigating the complaint in subsequent months, we found the complaint to be credible, and in December 2003, Father McCloskey was removed from his position at the CIC,” Bohlin said in the statement.


After leaving Washington, McCloskey was first sent to the United Kingdom before being assigned in different regions of the United States. McCloskey has since returned to the Washington area because of his declining health.


Bohlin stated that McCloskey’s ministry had been restricted since he left Washington, and his contact with women limited to the confessional. “Throughout the years, we were careful to ensure that he would not have any opportunities to engage in the kind of actions that led to the complaint.”


Opus Dei is personal prelature founded in Spain by St. Jose Maria Escriva in 1928 and first approved by the Vatican in 1950.


According to Opus Dei, McCloskey is currently suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease and is unable to say Mass, even privately, as he is “largely incapacitated.”


“I would also ask you to pray for Father McCloskey as his health continues to decline,” Bohlin said.


The prelature released details of the complaint at the request of the woman involved in the settlement in an effort to encourage any other potential victims to come forward.


Brian Finnerty, spokesman for Opus Dei, told CNA he was not aware of either the woman who brought the complaint or the society had contacted the police.


Opus Dei said it believes there could be at least two other women similarly abused by McCloskey in Washington, and that the group has attempted to make contact with one of them. In his statement, Bohlin said the prelature had received no complaints about McCloskey concerning his time in ministry either before or after his term as director of the CIC.


According to the statement from Msgr. Bohlin, the woman who raised the original complaint remains in contact with Opus Dei’s ministry in Washington. She told the Washington Post this week she is “very happy with how it’s being handled right now. They listened.”