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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Millionaire pornographers charged with sex trafficking in California

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 18:00

San Diego, Calif., Oct 11, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The owners and two employees of two related pornography websites were charged in federal court with sex trafficking on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

Michael James Pratt, 36, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, are all charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and a woman named Valorie Moser, 37, are additionally charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which also has a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pratt and Wolfe are the owners of two pornographic websites, GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys. Garcia is described in the release as an “adult film performer and producer,” and Moser is an administrative assistant. 

According to the release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Garcia was arrested on Wednesday, Wolfe was placed into custody by immigration officials and transferred into federal custody on Tuesday, and Moser will be arranged on Friday. Pratt is described as a “fugitive” who is at large. On Wednesday, the FBI raided the websites’ office in San Diego. 

The four are accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for pornographic films. The complaint alleges that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. 

The complaint alleges that instead of a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents they were not given the chance to read thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Others alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of the shoot until a video was complete, and that their families and friends saw their videos online, which resulted in harassment and estrangement from their families. 

The complaint also says that at least one performer was raped during a shoot, and others were sexually assaulted. The complaint states that performers would be forced to perform things they did not want to, or else they would not receive payment for their work or be allowed to leave. 

The FBI in San Diego is requesting that any additional victims come forward and share their experiences. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.

“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Abortion funding fight looms over Senate appropriations process

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- When the Senate returns for business on Oct. 15, it will have little more than a month to pass legislation funding the government—and pro-lifers are concerned that attempts to circumvent protections against taxpayer funding of abortion could be successful.

Shortly before the Senate left for the October recess, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a funding bill for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and related agencies, that increased U.S. international family planning assistance and reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA).

Some pro-lifers are concerned that this is problematic because the appropriations could end up increasing funding of groups that promote abortions abroad.

The bill including Shaheen’s amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and, like other bills funding various parts of the government, will have to be approved by the full Senate. After that, any differences between it and the House funding bill would have to be resolved in negotiations between members from both chambers; the final product would then have to pass both chambers to reach the President’s desk.  

However, for pro-life advocates, the approval of Shaheen’s amendment by the full Senate Appropriations Committee set a troubling precedent because it established a “ground floor” in fights over abortion funding in the budget negotiations.  

Shaheen had previously tried to offer an amendment directly repealing the Mexico City Policy but, she claimed, she was denied the opportunity to do so by Senate Republicans.

The Mexico City Policy bars U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration expanded upon this policy, applying the funding prohibition to an estimated $8.8 billion in U.S. global health assistance.

Shaheen’s amendment that was successfully approved by the committee would increase international family planning and reproductive health funding to $665 million. If the Mexico City Policy were to be repealed in the future—as it has been by the last two Democratic presidents—this increased funding would go to organizations that promote abortions abroad.

Certain domestic organizations promoting abortions already receive foreign aid, and could stand to receive even more funding if Shaheen’s amendment is enacted into law in spite of the Mexico City Policy.

The group Pathfinder International, for instance, receives U.S. assistance and says on its website that it works “to ensure access to comprehensive abortion care for all women.” The group Population Council says it teaches safe abortions, and claims that “[w]here abortion is not legal, we document the public health and cost burden of unsafe abortion.”

Other abortion-supporting groups that could receive more U.S. assistance include Engender Health and PATH.

Shaheen’s amendment also reinstated funding of the UNFPA. The Trump administration has redirected funding away from the UNFPA for three straight years because of the fund’s partnership with the Chinese government, which has instituted a coercive two-child policy and has enforced it through forced abortions and sterilizations.

Currently, the $32 million in funding of the UNFPA under Shaheen’s amendment could not be used in China, cannot be “comingled” with other UNFPA funds, and would be blocked if UNFPA funds abortions.

In addition, it would be subject to the Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibiting funding of organizations that perform or participate in forced abortions and sterilizations; the administration has invoked this amendment as an authority when announcing that UNFPA funding is being redirected.

Nevertheless, the reinstatement of UNFPA funding would seek to undercut the administration’s policy and could at least be a statement of support for the organization despite its partnership with the Chinese government on family planning.

Shaheen’s amendment comes after several attempts in the Senate to insert “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills to undo pro-life policies, despite an early bi-partisan agreement not to do so during the appropriations process.

The chamber had to pass a dozen appropriations bills by Sept. 30 to fund various government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, but disagreements on border wall funding and pro-abortion amendments derailed the process.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to repeal the Title X Protect Life Rule in a proposed amendment for a bill funding the Departments of Labor, HHS, Education, and related agencies. The Protect Life Rule forbade Title X family planning grants from going to entities that were co-located with abortion clinics, or that referred for abortions.

Instead of passing the appropriations bills, Congress instead passed a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government through November 21, setting up the new deadline for perhaps another showdown over abortion funding.

Also included in Shaheen’s amendment was a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era nondiscrimination rule, that USAID contractors cannot discriminate against beneficiaries on the basis of “gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.”

The 2016 USAID rule was interpreted as a prohibition on discrimination against individuals identifying as LGBTI, but the inclusion of “pregnancy” has led some pro-lifers to believe it could also be interpreted to prohibit “discrimination” against women seeking abortions.

For instance, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination on basis of sex, which HHS interpreted to include discrimination by health care providers against the “termination of pregnancy.”

Shaheen’s amendment would also mean that USAID has to create a mechanism to investigate claims of discrimination. As a press release by Shaheen’s office explained, “The investigation would ensure biases by the administration regarding reproductive health do not interfere or alter the delivery of services on the ground.”

Republicans in the committee inserted a mandate that such investigations be conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and not from within the State Department.

Tax churches that oppose gay marriage, Democratic candidate says

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Democratic candidate for president has said religious institutions should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. 

On Thursday night, during and Equality Townhall hosted and broadcast on CNN, Robert Francis O’Rourke, a former congressman, was asked by CNN anchor Don Lemon if he thought that  "religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage?"

O’Rourke answered “yes,” and after applause and cheers from the crowd, added, “there can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so, as president, we’re going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.” 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another presidential candidate, was asked earlier in the night if he would strip the tax-exempt status of churches who were opposed to same-sex marriage. Booker said that such a move would entail a “long legal battle,” but signaled his sympathy with the idea. 

“I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination,” he said. “And if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Both O’Rourke and Booker are averaging less than 2% in polls of democratic voters. 

Of the five largest Christian denominations in the United States--the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Church of God in Christ--none condone or perform same-sex marriages and all consider same-sex activity to be sinful. 

Same-sex activity is banned in most mainstream forms of Islam, and most Orthodox Jewish rabbis will not conduct same-sex marriages. 

Tax-exempt status for religious institutions is protected by Supreme Court precedent.

In the 1970 case Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, the court found that exempting religious institutions from taxes did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

On the contrary, the Court decided that taxing churches could increase government entanglement with religion, as a church may be unable to pay its tax bill and be shut down. In order to avoid this from happening, the court instead the court found in favor of continuing to exempt religious institutions from taxation. 

Tax exemptions for organizations opposed to same-sex marriage have been an open question since the oral arguments of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that resultred in same-sex marriage being legalized throughout the country. 

During arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who was arguing on behalf of same-sex couples, if colleges or churches would face the same fate as Bob Jones University. In the 1983 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court found that the IRS was right to deny a tax exemption to the school on the grounds that it engaged in racial discrimination by banning inter-racial dating (Bob Jones University dropped its anti-interracial dating policy in 2000, and regained federal tax-exempt status in 2017). 

At the time of oral arguments in Hodges, Verrilli admitted that he did not have an answer to Alito’s question “without knowing more specifics,” and said that “it’s certainly going to be an issue.” 

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he did not believe O’Rourke’s suggestion was constitutionally sound.  

"Stripping the tax-exempt status of religious groups simply because they hold beliefs that the government dislikes is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Goodrich. 

“It's also foolish because those groups provide billions of dollars in essential social services to their communities. Churches and ministries should be allowed to hold centuries-old beliefs without fear of government retribution." 

Transgender issues were also discussed on Thursday night, and transgender activists interrupted the townhall several times throughout the event. A nine-year-old girl who identifies as a transgender boy questioned frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) about what she would do to protect transgender children in schools. Warren said she would dismiss the current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who she characterized as one of the worst people to hold the position. 

"I want to make sure that the person I think is the right secretary of education meets you and and hears your story, and then I want you to tell me if you think that's the right person and then we'll make the deal," Warren said to the child.

Praying for souls, and runs: The parish serving Washington’s baseball fans

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- In a rapidly-gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood, a historic parish is putting the New Evangelization into practice by reaching out to a specific crowd—baseball fans.  

The parish of St. Vincent de Paul features a “Nats Mass,” a noon Sunday Mass for fans of the local baseball team, the Washington Nationals, who are traveling to the nearby stadium for a Sunday afternoon game.

“Let’s go to where they are,” said Fr. Andrew Gonzalo, pastor of St. Vincent in Southeast Washington, D.C., when explaining the concept of a “Nats Mass” and evangelization.

St. Vincent de Paul parish, canonically established in 1903, sits on a busy street corner with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building to the north, just one block away from the baseball stadium. For Nationals fans traveling to a baseball game along South Capitol Street, they will likely walk or drive past the over-100 year-old parish.

St. Vincent’s is situated in between D.C.’s Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods, a rapidly gentrifying area that now features new high-rise apartment buildings and townhouses, restaurants and bars, a waterfront park, and a new soccer stadium. The demographics of the parish have changed, and with it, the plan for evangelization.

“It’s a unique pastoral challenge, in the parish,” Fr. Gonzalo told CNA. The demographics of the neighborhood were once mostly African-American, but the area is now more racially and economically diversified, he said.

Nearby Nationals Park, finished in time for the 2008 baseball season, hosted a papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI on April 17, 2008, during his apostolic visit to the U.S. and the UN headquarters.

With the parish adjacent to the stadium, then-pastor Fr. Andrew Royals added a noon Mass to the St. Vincent Sunday schedule in 2014, whenever the Nationals had a scheduled Sunday afternoon game. Attendance at the “Nats Mass” shot up from five people to more than 120 by the following season, he told EWTN News Nightly in 2015.

“For me it was kind of a no-brainer,” Fr. Royals told EWTN News Nightly in 2015. “We’ve been serving the community for over 100 years, and now our community includes a baseball stadium.”

Five years in, the “Nats Mass” is advertised with a large white banner hanging from the side of the church announcing the Mass time. The Mass draws fans from all over the D.C. metropolitan area—and has helped transform some Catholics into regular Sunday mass-goers.

Fr. Gonzalo said some have told him that they had not been to Mass for some time, but saw the banner and decided to attend.

“They came, and they are now regulars,” he said, and some have frequented the noon Mass even when no game is scheduled; the noon Mass time is now a part of the year-round Sunday schedule.

The local O’Boyle Knights of Columbus council cooks hot dogs in the parking lot for attendees to socialize between Mass and the first pitch.

It’s an “opportunity also for evangelization,” Fr. Gonzalo said. “I embraced it right away,” he said of the Mass, because “baseball is a kind of national pastime for us here.”

“Baseball gathers people together,” he said, “and the Church should also do something like that.”

Fr. Gonzalo spoke to CNA on Wednesday, ahead of a pivotal win-or-go-home playoff game for the Nationals in Los Angeles

“I am praying that they will win,” he said.

Perhaps in part because of the prayers, the Nationals rallied from being three runs down for a stunning 7-3 victory on the road to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Although no home playoff game is scheduled for this Sunday at Nationals Park, a noon Mass will be celebrated at St. Vincent’s with confessions scheduled for half an hour beforehand.

'Vos estis' should guide diocesan policy, advocacy group says

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 00:00

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2019 / 10:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Benefits Association said last week that sexual abuse norms introduced by Pope Francis in May will likely require U.S. dioceses to amend their own internal policies regarding the definition and reporting of sexual abuse and misconduct.

In an Oct. 3 webinar, L. Martin Nussbaum, general counsel for the Catholic Benefits Association, told diocesan leaders and administrators that Vos estis lux mundi, the motu proprio on sexual abuse and misconduct issued by Pope Francis May 7, takes important steps to provide a safer environment in the Church, which require implementation by dioceses.

Vos estis, Nussbaum said, expands diocesan duties regarding vulnerable persons and abuse of authority,  protects Church whistleblowers, increases the role of laity in receiving reports and in conducting investigations, improves transparency regarding discipline of bishops, heightens the ecclesial role of metropolitans, and expands offers of assistance to the families of abuse victims.

“Families are injured, often, when a family member is abused...especially if it’s a minor,” Nussbaum told Church leaders.

“The outreach should also be to families,” he said, noting that Vos estis explicitly recognized that reality, and called dioceses to respond to it.

Nussbaum also explained that diocesan sexual abuse policies should take into account the Church’s expanded delineation of canonically criminal sexual behavior, which Vos estis broadened to include any kind of coercive sexual harrasment or abuse of office, and a broadened understanding of the canonical concept of “vulnerable persons.”

Diocesan policies should focus on the sexual abuse, harassment, coercion, etc, of both adults and minors, Nussbaum said, in recognition of the Church’s expanded delineation of canonical crimies involving sexual abuse or harassment of adults. Revisions to diocesan policies must also include Vos estis’ call to report allegations of misconduct by bishops to the metropolitan archbishop of the diocese.

The Catholic Benefits Association, which advocates for the religious liberty of dioceses and other Catholic institutions, makes resources related to Vos estis available to its member dioceses.


Bishops urge mercy on World Day Against the Death Penalty

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The death penalty is outdated and promotes a culture of violence, three bishops said during a livestream conversation on Oct. 10, marked as World Day Against the Death Penalty. 

Archbishops Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Wilton Gregory of Washington were joined by Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice (FL) for the roundtable discussion facilitated by Catholic News Service. DeWane is the current chairman of the USCCB’s domestic justice committee, and will be succeeded by Coakley in a few weeks’ time. 

“There’s no question that we are living in an age where violence has captured the hearts and minds of a lot of people,” said Gregory, offering that social media in particular has put “despicable” human carnage on display. 

On Wednesday, the day before the livestream, an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in Germany resulted in the murder of two people. The attack was broadcast over the streaming site Twitch. 

“What the Church wants us to understand is that taking a life, even the life of one who may have been guilty of a horrendous crime, is itself a continuation of violence,” said the Washington archbishop.  

“It makes us violent to do violence against another human being” regardless of the circumstances, Gregory said. 

October is also Respect Life Month, during which the Church makes special efforts to promote its teachings on the sanctity of life, something Coakley said is “foundational” to the Church’s teachings on human dignity and which, he emphasized, is not granted by a government, but endowed by the creator.

The Church’s positions are “very consistent in affirming human life and human dignity at every stage,” he said.

DeWane concurred with Coakley, saying that throughout the entirety of a person’s life, “we have to see that life is sacred.”

Catholics, said DeWane, have a moral obligation to “say something” when life is not being respected, especially in instances that involve people who cannot speak for themselves. 

Coakley pointed out that there is another side of the death penalty debate that is often forgotten: the victims of violent crime and their surviving friends and relatives. While it is important to champion the rights of accused, and even convicted criminals, Coakley stressed, it is important of acknowledge that some survivors--as well as those in the community--want to see the death penalty carried out in as a form of justice. Their desire for justice, Coakley said, cannot be ignored, even while accepting that the death penalty is not the answer.

“I think in our conversations about the death penalty, even though we’re speaking out in favor of abolition of the death penalty, we have to affirm and acknowledge--not just give lip service--to the suffering of victims as well,” said Coakley, noting that his archdiocese is home to the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in this country’s history. 

As a result of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Coakley said that many within his archdiocese remain supportive of capital punishment. 

Speaking to CNA after the discussion, Coakley developed his point. 

“Revenge is not the same as justice,” said Coakley. “And as even William Shakespeare said, ‘mercy seasons justice,’ I think just as many people who maybe see the perpetrator of a violent crime executed, would acknowledge that it did not bring them the release and the relief and the peace that they expected that it might.”

During the roundtable, DeWane also questioned the common assertion that executions bring any sense of relief to the families of victims. Instead, he said, the act of taking a life in an execution hurts society as a whole, while observing that there is little evidence that the death penalty serves as a deterrent against crimes. 

Gregory also highlighted the many cases in which a person is released from death row having been exonerated by either new evidence or modern DNA testing.  

“With the death penalty, there are no re-tries. It concludes and ends a life that may have been wrongly [convicted],” Gregory said. The Washington archbishop went on to point out the significant racial disparity in the application of the death penalty in the United States.

At the same time, Gregory said that favoring the abolition of the death penalty does not mean any lessening of the requirement to keep society safe. The choice, he said was not between killing or releasing the most violent offenders. Instead, “our society has the capacity to take violent personalities and put them away so they don’t harm others,” he said.  

“The Gospel calls us to mercy. Mercy is never cruel,” said Gregory. 

“I think our Church has to be a voice that is faithful to the call of the Gospel, which calls us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us,” Coakley told CNA after the livestream. 

“I think that’s incumbent upon us -- because we have to affirm the dignity of human life, that every person has been created in the image and likeness of God--even for the person who was guilty of heinous crimes. They don't forfeit their human dignity as a result of their criminal activity.” 

The World Day Against the Death Penalty was first observed in 2003. This year, the theme is “Children, Unseen Victims,” which is focused on increasing awareness of the children whose parents were executed or have been sentenced to death.

Brooklyn’s Bishop DiMarzio begins visitation of scandal-hit Buffalo diocese

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 15:20

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 10, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn has begun his apostolic visitation of the scandal-hit Diocese of Buffalo.

A statement released by the Diocese of Brooklyn Thursday said that DiMarzio had traveled to the diocese of Bishop Richard Malone and interviewed more than 30 people earlier this week.

“The Bishop takes his role as Visitator seriously and is determined to continue the fact-finding mission he has been directed to carry out by the Holy See,” said the Diocese of Brooklyn in the Oct. 10 statement.

“Both lay faithful and clergy, members of the Diocesan staff, and others have been invited to be a part of this process so that Bishop DiMarzio can gather information from several perspectives as part of this fact-finding mission of the Buffalo Diocese.”

DiMarzio was appointed to inspect the Buffalo diocese by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, last week. In an announcement released Oct. 3, the apostolic nunciature to the United States released a statement underscoring that the process was “non-judicial and non-administrative,” meaning that no formal charges are currently being considered against the scandal-plagued Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

The statement also made clear that the apostolic visitation was not being conducted or authorized under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, the policy document on sexual abuse and diocesan administration issued May 7 by Pope Francis, which came into effect June 1. That document provided new norms and mechanisms relating to misconduct by bishops who failed to act or attempted to cover up instances of sexual abuse.

Although the investigation is not being conducted under the terms of Vos estis, Bishop Malone has repeatedly found himself at the center of media attention.

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

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

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

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

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

Thursday’s statement from the Diocese of Brooklyn said that Bishop DiMarzio has “pledged to do his best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in Buffalo,” and that when he has concluded his work he will submit a report to the Congregation for Bishops.

At the time his appointment was announced, DiMarzio underscored his determination to get to the “truth so that justice might be served and god’s mercy experienced” in Buffalo, and invoked Pope Francis’ devotion to  “Our Lady Untier of Knots.”

Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

A day in the park for L.A.'s foster families

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 15:01

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 10, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is hosting a day in the park to not only celebrate foster families throughout the archdiocese but to get to know these "heroes,” who are often unknown among the Catholic community.

“To be a foster parent is really to be a hero, honestly,” said Kathleen Domingo, the archdiocese's senior director of the Office of Life, Justice, and Peace.
“We know for sure that there are thousands of Catholic families in our parishes and in our schools who are fostering; we just don’t always know who they are. Part of the reason that we are doing this event is to help them come out of the woodwork a little bit so we can get to know them and find out better ways to support them.”

The event is titled “Catholics Love Foster” and is part of the archdiocese’s march for life organization, OneLife LA. It will take place Oct. 13., beginning a Mass said by Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Afterward, attendees will walk to LA State Historic Park, where there will be music, food, and games. There will also be 20 organizations with giveaways for kids and resources for foster parents.

According to Domingo, the event will be catered for free by a few local vendors, who will prepare enough food for 1,000 people.

Domingo said lots of Catholics in the archdiocese are foster parents, but these families are perhaps unknown to the parish community or their pastor. She said that since the archdiocese revamped its foster care efforts two years ago, parishioners have loved the idea but do not know who these families are or how to support them.

“A number of different parishes we have been working with told us that they are happy to have foster agencies come and speak and that they are happy to make these introductions… [However], they really felt like they wanted to do more for the families,” she said.

“They know that families are going through the process and they can tell sometimes when some families … come with kids they didn’t have before ... but they didn’t always know who they were or they didn’t always know if it would be okay if they [approached them].”

She said fostering needs extra support because it’s a 24/7 job with kids who face additional challenges. She said, very often, foster children come with almost nothing - sometimes only a garbage bag full of clothes - and experience instability, affecting mental health and school. She said the kids may have also faced abuses and court pressures.

“Because many of them have been through times of trauma in their young lives, they may come with some more needs where they may need some additional counseling or some therapy,” she said.

“What I hear from foster families is even just that extra help with tutoring and making sure that their kids have extra support in the classroom.”

She said the archdiocese will help connect foster families to a greater support system in the Church. She said numerous parishioners, who may not have foster kids themselves, have offered to provide physical aid like clothes, food, or daycare. She also stressed the spiritual support of a praying community.

“[Parishioners] loved doing this work to promote fostering, but, so often, they aren’t aware of who in the community is actually fostering and they would love to provide traditional support,” she said.

“[We want to] find out how can the parish can support you, how can we support your kids, how can we integrate them better and reach out in love to them.”

Daria Ongsing, a 53-year-old grandmother, and her husband Virgilio will be attending the event. This couple was approved to be foster parents in July, but they are not new to foster care.

Around five years ago, she and her husband took in the children of their daughter, who had been struggling with drug addiction and had her kids confiscated by Child Services. After two and a half years, her daughter was able to get her children back.

She told CNA that the experience awoke a desire within her to help other people through foster care. Then last February, the couple went on a pilgrimage to Cebu. Once they returned, they saw flyers on their back door for a foster care orientation at the parish.

“There were flyers in the back, for Foster ALL had come to our church to do like an orientation. I just felt in my heart again, look, God is calling us to this,” she said. 

After the couple was approved, the Virgilios received four siblings into their home for a few days at the beginning of August. Later that month, the family took in Bryant, who turned five in September, and Bri-Asia, who will be turning seven in December. The two siblings are still at her house and have become a source of joy, she said.

Ongsing said the process has been a struggle at times. She expressed hope to meet more Catholics at the event who may be a source of support and that it inspires other parents to take on this ministry which has a great need.

She is currently working for Kaiser Permanente as a certified ophthalmic technician, but she plans to enter into early retirement within the next few years and take on fostering full-time.

“The [fostering] need is so great. It's crazy. So my plan is to retire young in the next year or two and certainly give it even more than I can do now,” she said.

“It's quite challenging, but it's very rewarding. I keep praying and asking God to just get us to do the best thing for these kids while they need us,” she further added. “I'm just trying to share a little bit of our blessings.”

Domingo told CNA that the Catholic Church in California has been shut out of the foster system because they will not place children with same-sex couples. She said the archdiocese’s Catholic Charity has not acted as a foster care agency for nearly 20 years.

“When Catholic Charities got out of the business of doing foster care, what happened is nobody picked it up, nobody in the Church was tasked with working on foster issues. What I’ve come to realize is that that is a similar story in most dioceses,” she said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles decided to ramp up its foster care efforts during the second OneLife event, after Nick Vuljicic, a motivational speaker born with no arms and no legs, encouraged the archdiocese to act “pro-life” to the unborn as well as those already born, like foster kids. Domingo said, at the time, LA County had an estimated 30,000 foster children.

Since then, Domingo has spoken to numerous parishes to booster fostering efforts. She said, although the archdiocese can no longer place kids into foster care, parishes in the area will host agencies to come talk to the laity.

Domingo said foster care is a “bridge-building topic” and supported by a variety of different people and groups. She also said good foster care is a solution to many issues in society.

“You can talk about fostering as a preventative for human trafficking, you can talk about it for keeping young adults off the streets, … you can talk about it in terms of helping birth parents, … who often get cleaned up and get prepared to accept their children back.”

“What we find is that when are talking about fostering and do these kinds of events, we are bringing people from different perspectives together to say we need to do something wonderful for these children and their families.”

More aborted remains found in cars belonging Ulrich Klopfer

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 12:45

South Bend, Ind., Oct 10, 2019 / 10:45 am (CNA).- More fetal remains were found in vehicles owned by the late Indiana abortionist Ulrich Klopfer on Wednesday, just weeks after the remains of more than 2,200 aborted babies were first discovered at his Illinois residence.

On Oct. 9, the Will County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Office discovered more fetal remains in vehicles owned by Klopfer, which were parked at an outdoor gated lot at a business property in Dolton, Illinois.

According to a release by the Indiana Attorney General’s office, investigators found eight cars belonging to Klopfer and discovered, in the trunk of one of the vehicles, five plastic bags and one box that contained fetal remains.

“The discovery of more fetal remains that Dr. Klopfer hoarded for his grotesque collection is just more reason we need to pass my Dignity for Aborted Children Act, which would ensure the remains of aborted children are given the proper burial and respect they deserve and horrible discoveries like this cannot be allowed to happen again,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said in a statement provided to CNA.

Braun’s Dignity for Aborted Children Act has been cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Klopfer had performed obstetrics, gynecological services, and surgical and medical abortions at clinics in Fort Wayne, Gary, and South Bend, Indiana. He was estimated to have aborted more than 30,000 children over a span of four decades.

His medical license was suspended by the state of Indiana in 2015 and indefinitely in 2016, after numerous complaints were issued against him. He admitted to performing abortions on two 13 year-old girls and did not report the cases to the state in a timely manner. His Fort Wayne clinic was reported by the state’s medical board to be “rundown,” and he charged adult patients extra for pain medication.

He also admitted to performing an abortion on a 10 year-old girl in Illinois, who had been raped by her uncle, while not reporting her case to the authorities.

On Sept. 3, Klopfer died, and on Sept. 12, local Will County, Illinois authorities were alerted by Klopfer’s family to the discovery of fetal remains at his Illinois residence. Authorities found medically-preserved fetal remains of 2,246 babies at his home, along with patient records.

The remains were reportedly stored in boxes dated 2000-2002, a period during which Klopfer owned and operated three abortion clinics in Indiana. Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend offered to have the fetal remains buried at a Catholic cemetery in his diocese.

Since then, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill (R) has announced that he is working with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D) to investigate the matter.

“We grieve for the little ones denied their very humanity and with the mothers forced to relive the trauma endured at Klopfer’s hands, wondering if their child is among his collection of bodies,” Sue Swayze Liebel, state policy director for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and an Indiana native, stated. “All of Klopfer’s victims deserved so much better.”

Attorney General Hill said that “the protocol we have already set up for dealing with these disturbing circumstances” will apply to the newly-discovered remains, and that the office will work to make sure “that these unborn children receive a respectful final disposition here in Indiana.”

In addition to their legislation in the Senate, Indiana Senators Young and Braun have petitioned the office of U.S. Attorney General William Barr for assistance in the current multi-state investigation into Klopfer, along with 65 Members in the House.

The White House has also called for a “full investigation” into the situation.

African Heritage Mass in Philadelphia draws Catholics from 21 countries

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 05:10

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 10, 2019 / 03:10 am (CNA).- Hundreds of African Catholics gathered last Sunday for an annual Mass in Philadelphia, blending cultures, languages, and attire from across the African continent.

The sixth annual African Family Heritage Mass was hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Oct. 6. Mass and a celebratory banquet were held at St. Raymond of Penafort Church in northwest Philadelphia.

Sister Florence Enechukwu, a Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary, founded the event in 2014. Father Christopher Walsh, the pastor at St. Raymond, was the main celebrant and homilist this year.

Fr. Walsh told CNA that the event gathered people representing 21 African countries.

“This is an opportunity for them to get together to worship...Different communities take different parts of the Mass and many different languages are used,” he said.

The scripture readings at the Mass were proclaimed in Swahili and English; the prayers of the faithful were read by representatives of Malawi, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, Catholic Philly reported.

Prior to the Mass, a Liberian choir sang “Let Us Come to Jesus My Friend.” During Mass, songs were sung by Kenyan, Francophone, and Nigerian Igbo choirs.

While some participants are part of vibrant communities in their hometowns, Walsh said, “there were also people there who drove down from areas further away in Pennsylvania who don't get to connect. They're from Africa, but they don't get a chance to connect with the larger African community.”

The priest noted that cultural practices are often tied closely to the dissemination of faith.

“The Church has always had an appreciation for culture, and in many cases, the African culture in which these folks grew up is the culture that passed on the faith to them,” he said. “Being able to celebrate in their own liturgical style with their own liturgical music, praying to God in their own language, is important.”

The event, which is hosted at a different parish every year, was held at St. Raymond’s this year because of the parish’s refugee ministry. The parish has sponsored 10 African refugees, hailing from Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania.

Walsh told CNA that the parish works with several agencies to support the refugees. The parish is able to provide clothes and pay a portion of their rent for a few months, in addition to helping them find work and obtain documentation and diplomas.

Participants at the Mass came from Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia, Congo, and the Ivory Coast, among other countries. They wore traditional African clothing from their respective countries.

Many attendees wore clothing featuring black and white images of their favorite saint atop their clothing. Emmanuel Okoro, coordinator for the Igbo Catholic Community at St. Cyprian Parish, said the event is joyfully anticipated by the African communities in the area.

“Many of us are wearing a patron saint,” Okoro told Catholic Philly. “I chose to wear the outfit with St. John Paul II. I have a special devotion to him. Many of those here are from throughout the Philadelphia Archdiocese and Camden. You will see that many of us are wearing different saints,” she told the Catholic Philly.

After Mass, a buffet was offered with a variety of traditional African dishes from different regions.

“It is part of the culture to make sure everyone comes together. Many of these groups worship together as a group,” said Samuel Abu, coordinator for the archdiocese’s Refugee Resettlement Program.

“Under Archbishop Charles Chaput we have the opportunity to pray together and gather to serve God,” he told Catholic Philly. “We have apostolates throughout the archdiocese. The African Catholic community is always increasing because now we have first, second and third generations of families. This Mass made it possible to bring them together.”

Holy See to UN: More must be done to end violence against women

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 02:35

New York City, N.Y., Oct 10, 2019 / 12:35 am (CNA).- Violence against women remains a global concern for the Vatican, an official told members of the United Nations this week, stressing that society must “advance and defend all the rights derived from the inalienable human dignity of every woman and girl.”

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the UN, on Monday sent an address to the UN General Assembly’s third committee that highlighted the “unique and irreplaceable” role of women in the world.

“While significant progress has been made in increasing the participation of women in social, political, economic and cultural life, and in ending violence against women and girls, much remains to be achieved,” Auza said.

He cited a report from the UN Secretary-General and said migrant women in particular, including many female migrant workers, are at risk of labor exploitation, human trafficking, and also face broader social exclusion. He said this remains a deep concern of the Holy See.

“These women deserve to be welcomed, protected, and integrated within our communities with dignity. They also deserve full and equal recognition before the law, including through access to the justice system,” Auza said.

“These women courageously leave their land and communities, often in the most difficult circumstances, to provide for their family and to assure their children of a better future. It is necessary, therefore, to adopt specific measures to protect and assist women migrant workers and to recognize their precious contribution to society.”

Auza also mentioned the “heinous” practice of trafficking of newborn babies, as well as forced surrogacy. He called for “effective legislation and enforcement to prevent trafficking in persons and limit impunity as much as possible.”

“While there have been various advances in formulating adequate legal instruments to investigate, prosecute and punish traffickers, in unlocking the financial chains, understanding the connection to other forms of organized crime and corruption, and fostering cooperation at and across borders, concrete measures and effective sanctions remain often limited,” he said.

September 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, parts of which the Vatican spoke out strongly against, including efforts to expand abortion as a means of population control.

Auza quoted Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in 1995 to the Secretary-General of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

“There will never be justice, including equality, development and peace, for women or for men, unless there is an unfailing determination to respect, protect, love and serve life— every human life, at every stage and in every situation,” Pope John Paul II wrote.

“The Holy See insists on equality in dignity between men and women and on equal respect at all stages of their lives...This remains an utmost priority and focus of the Holy See,” Auza added.

Little Sisters of the Poor appeal to the Supreme Court, again

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor have filed a petition requesting that the Supreme Court affirm the religious exemption protecting them from having to comply with the HHS Contraceptive Mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

The renewed petition comes after several states, including Pennsylvania and California, sued the Little Sisters of the Poor in response to an exemption granted to them in 2017 after their last appearance before the Supreme Court.

“The states are arguing that even though there’s injunctions in the mandate in the Little Sisters’ case in this country, it violated the law for the federal government to issue a religious exemption,” Diana Verm, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA. Becket is providing legal counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

“The Little Sisters just want to go back to serving the elderly poor,” said Verm. “If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, they’ll be able to do so.” 

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a Catholic religious order dedicated to the care of the elderly poor in addition to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. 

When the HHS Contraceptive Mandate was announced in 2011, the Sisters were told that they would not be grandfathered in and would have to provide contraception to there employees through their insurance plan, in violation of their religious faith. Despite being a religious order, the Little Sisters of the Poor did not qualify as a religious employer as they serve and employ people of all faiths. 

In 2013, the order first filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming that the mandate was a violation of their religious freedom. They were granted an emergency injunction at the end of that year that prevented them from having to pay thousands of dollars in fines for not complying with the mandate. 

Three years later, the Supreme Court sided with the Little Sisters, and ordered the government to come up with a solution that would appease all sides. In 2017, this solution came in the form of a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that exempted religious non-profits from the mandate. 

Verm noted that throughout the six-year legal process, not a single person has been presented as being unable to obtain contraception due to working for a religious employer under the exemption. In its own suit against the Sisters, Pennsylvania has admitted that there are many other ways for a woman to get contraception aside from their employer. 

Presently, an injunction granted by a Colorado court protects the religious order from the mandate, and preserves the exemption for religious-based nonprofits. 

If the Little Sisters of the Poor do not win this court case, Verm said, they would have to pay thousands of dollars in fines to the government. 

“That would be crippling,” she said. 

Children at risk from porn, trafficking, gender identity, summit hears

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Advocates for children, parents, and women’s rights all spoke out against growing threats of the sexualization of children at a summit on Wednesday. 

Panelists at the event, hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 9, addressed three areas—culture, education, and healthcare—where children are threatened by exposure to violent pornography, efforts to normalize sex trafficking, and a push to encourage them to question and alter their gender.

Parents are now “told that puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones may be the only way to prevent their child from committing suicide,” said Ryan Anderson, the William E. Simon senior research fellow at Heritage and moderator of the summit’s panel on healthcare.

Seventeen states have “passed laws banning medical professionals from helping a child to identify with their own body,” he added. And in all 50 states, doctors can prescribe testosterone for girls and estrogen for boys, and perform mastectomies on girls.

These procedures are being performed on children whose brains will not be fully developed until their mid-20s, Dr. Joseph Zenga, past president of the American Academy of Pediatricians noted, while observing that anti-smoking campaigns were predicated upon this fact.

“The brain does not mature until the mid-20s,” Dr. Joseph Zenga, past president of the American Academy of Pediatricians, stated on Wednesday. “This is malpractice as well as child abuse,” he said. “We are committing uncontrolled experiments on our children.”

The summit comes just months after the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document in June denouncing gender theory, titled “Male and Female He Created Them.” The document upheld the Church’s teaching on the natural sexual differences between men and women and human nature.

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote of the importance of accepting one’s body as a gift from God, rather than seeking to fundamentally change it.

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation,” Pope Francis wrote.

Dr. Zenga also criticized gender theory as having “no basis in science.”

“There is no science that says you can be any gender you can want to be,” he said, yet doctors are now encouraging children to embrace their gender confusion—and they are being told they cannot counsel children against a sex change.

“Boys will always be boys, and girls will always be girls,” he said.

The Vatican also responded to gender theories in “Male and Female He Created Them,” saying that they teach “that one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex.”

This, in effect, creates “a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

Walt Heyer, a “detransitioner” and founder of, said he’s received inquiries from people anywhere from several days after their gender-transition surgery to 32 years after surgery, expressing their regret and asking him for help. “People today in the hundreds, in the thousands, regret having been caught up in this madness,” he said.

Children are also threatened by the increasing availability—and graphic nature—of pornography, said Haley Halverson of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE).

“It is no longer a question of if children will be exposed to pornography; it is a question of when,” Halverson said on Wednesday. Children may either first be exposed through their friends, through using Google for school projects, or even playing age-appropriate video games, she said.

While “not everyone who is exposed has the same response,” she said, “for many, repeat exposure leads to a myriad of harms on adolescent development, relationships, and even sexual function.” There have been 40 peer-reviewed studies since 2011 revealing that porn harms a child’s brain structure and development, she said.

The violent nature of pornography also teaches impressionable young minds “that ‘no’ means ‘yes,’ and that violence is sexy,” Halverson said. Children also feel the need to “act out” the media they have received, and there is a “rising crisis of children who are sexually abusing other children.”

The NCSE has authored resolutions that have passed in 15 states calling pornography a public health crisis. In 2016, the Republican National Committee platform adopted at the convention also called pornography a “public health crisis.” 

There is also a new push in the U.S. to normalize and decriminalize sex trafficking, panel experts warned.

Decriminalization would include the exploiters of women, Halverson said, pimps, sex traffickers and buyers, and “would lead to an exponential boom” in commercial sexual exploitation.

Natasha Chart, a board member of the Women’s Liberation Front, described how she was almost caught up in the sex trade at 17 years old, and added that young women are vulnerable to being ensnared in an exploitative industry—but if they are desensitized to abusive sex through violent pornography, they may not have the awareness to say no.

“Are they going to have that fear if they’ve been watching violent porn since 2011?” she asked.

Yet some progressive non-profits have been working to normalize commercial sexual exploitation. One media guide that Chart referenced recommends usage of the terms “involved in the sex trade” or “trading sex” or “sex worker.”

People are now saying it’s “feminism to whitewash the commercial sexual exploitation of children,” she said.

Candidates announced for next USCCB president

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has released the list of candidates ahead of its presidential and vice-presidential elections. The elections will be held during the conference’s General Assembly in Baltimore, which will be from Nov. 10-13. 

In a statement released Oct. 9, the USCCB confirmed that Archbishops Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services, Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, and Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit have all allowed their names to go forward. 

They will be joined on the ballot by Bishops Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield (IL), and Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend. 

The candidates were each nominated by their fellow members of the bishops’ conference in line with the conference’s statutes and bylaws.

The current USCCB president is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Gomez has been serving as vice president since the last election in 2016. 

The first round of voting will elect the president by a simple majority of the bishops present for the election. If a candidate does not receive 50%-plus-one of the votes, an additional ballot is taken. If there is still no winner, a run-off between the two bishops with the most votes is held until a winner is determined.

Following the election of the president of the conference, the remaining nine candidates will form the ballot for the position of vice president, with the same electoral rules applying. 

Over the course of previous elections, the bishops have usually observed the informal custom of electing the serving vice president to the presidency. The most recent exception to this convention was in 2010, when then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan narrowly defeated the serving conference vice president Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon to become conference president.

The president and vice-president will each serve a term of three years. 

In addition to the presidential and vice-presidential elections, the members of the USCCB will be voting for the new chairmen of six conference committees: the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Committee on International Justice and Peace, Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, and the Committee for Religious Liberty.

Colorado dioceses announces independent reparations program for abuse victims

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 21:01

Denver, Colo., Oct 8, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Colorado announced Monday an independent reparation and reconciliation program that will provide for victims of clerical abuse in the dioceses who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in an Oct. 7 statement announcing the program.

“And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors. We hope that this independent program creates a simple and non-adversarial means for survivors to have their stories heard and be provided with resources to aid in their continued healing.”

The program will be available to all victims of abuse by diocesan clergy in the dioceses of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo who were minors at the time when the abuse occurred. There is no statute of limitations in the program for the timing of the abuse.

“No matter how long ago the abuse occurred, we hope anyone who is still suffering in silence will be encouraged to come forward. If any survivor also wishes to meet personally with me, my door will be open,” Aquila said.

The Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program, or CIRRP, was designed in collaboration with the dioceses by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who are administering similar programs in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California. It will be overseen by a committee of five people unaffiliated with the dioceses.

“Feinberg and Biros will have complete independence to determine the eligibility of individual claims and they alone will determine the amount of compensation offered to any survivor,” Aquila said. “The Dioceses have agreed to abide by Feinberg and Biros’ decisions and the compensation determinations are not subject to appeal by the survivor or the Dioceses.”

CIRRP is being offered as an alternative to victims in lieu of pursuing legal action against the Church in court, Aquila said, and is a voluntary program. While victims will be asked to share some personal information when filing their claims, it will be kept confidential by the program.

“Unlike civil litigation in the courts, this new program provides a process that is non-adversarial and protects victims’ privacy if they desire to remain anonymous. However, there are no restrictions if the survivor wishes to speak publicly about their abuse and participation in the program. Survivors do not need to retain a lawyer to participate and there are no fees for participating. Compensation for fully completed and documented claims can usually be paid within 90 – 120 days,” Aquila said.

To be eligible for the program, those filing claims must be reporting an incident of abuse that occurred when they were a minor by a diocesan cleric who was in active ministry at the time of the incident. Those filing claims about abuse incidents that occurred at the hands of members of a religious order, a priest of an out-of-state diocese, or a lay person will not qualify for the program. Those who have already reached a settlement with the diocese for their claim will not be eligible for the program.

“However, Claimants whose claims were dismissed or barred by a court on the grounds that the Colorado statute of limitations had expired and no other basis remain eligible to file a claim with the Program,” CIRRP protocol states.

Those who filed a claim with the diocese prior to the release of the program, but who had not reached a final settlement agreement, will be sent claim packets in the mail. Those who had not previously contacted the diocese prior to the program may register to file a claim online.

Registration for the program is open online from now until Nov. 30 while claim submission is open through Jan. 31, 2020. Claims not previously reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency will be reported to law enforcement through the program.

Claims will be considered eligible based on provided documentation and corroboration, findings by law enforcement, and credibility of the claim. Initial funding of the program will come from diocesan assets and not from donor funds designated for other ministries, schools or programs, the Archdiocese of Denver noted. The total cost of the program and total number of complaints remains to be seen.

The CIRRP program is similar to one administered in the Archdiocese of Denver for victims of abuse in 2006 by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The archdiocese states on its website that victim protection policies and protocols have been in place in Denver since 1991, and were again strengthened by the U.S. bishops' Dallas Charter in 2002.

There have been no known incidents of sexual abuse of a minor by a clergy member in the Archdiocese of Denver for 20 years, the archdiocese noted on its website, and there are no priests currently in active ministry with known and credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor.

“As a result, new cases of sexual misconduct by priests involving minors are rare today in the Catholic Church in Colorado,” Aquila said.

“Nonetheless, the Bishops undertake this program in their continued efforts to provide avenues for survivors of abuse to receive assistance to continue their healing.”

“The damage done to innocent young people and their families by sexual abuse in the past is profound. I realize, as you do, that no program, however well-intentioned and well-designed, can fully repair the damage done to victims and their families,” he added. “But I pray that this new program might provide another avenue toward healing and hope.”

US blacklists Chinese groups over repression of Uighurs

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 17:18

Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The US Commerce Department on Monday added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they co-operate in the detention and repression of Uighurs in the country's northwest.

The Oct. 7 Commerce Department filing said the groups are engaging in or enabling “activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States,” specifically “human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the [Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region].”

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The 28 groups added to the Entity List will be unable to buy from US companies without the approval of the US government. The groups are the Xinjiang public security bureau, 19 of its subordinates, and eight technology companies that produce video surveillance equipment, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition technology.

Announcing the additions, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the US “will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China.”

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said, “there is no such thing as these so-called 'human rights issues' as claimed by the United States. These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China's internal affairs.”

The Chinese government has said reports on the camps by Western governments and media are unfounded, claiming they are vocational training centers and that it is combatting extremism.

The Washington Post reported Oct. 5 that women in Kazakhstan who say they had been detained in Xinjiang said they were forced to have abortions, had contraceptive devices implanted involuntarily, or were raped.

According to an Oct. 8 article in NPR based on interviews conducted in Kazakhstan with relatives of Uighurs and Kazakhs  detained or imprisoned in Xinjiang, detainees are increasingly being sentenced and transferred to formal prisons.

In July, Xinjiang officials said the re-education camps have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” the AP reported.

While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study”, he said, they may do so at home.

The officials did not provide figures to back up their claims, and they have been met with scepticism outside China; David Brophy, senior lecturer in modern Chinese History at the University of Sydney, said to the Wall Street Journal “How much of this employment involves forced relocation to elsewhere in China? How much of it is taking place in education camps that have now been repurposed as heavily surveilled factories?”

Uighurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

In August 2014 officials in Karamay, a city of Xinjiang, banned “youths with long beards” and anyone wearing headscarves, veils, burqas, or clothes with the crescent moon and star symbol from using public transit. That May, universities across the region banned fasting during Ramadan.

Meanwhile, US officials are stepping up their criticism of China's detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, and other religious freedom abuses.

Speaking to CNA at the Vatican last week, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said the State Department is particularly concerned with the Chinese government's use of advanced technologies, like facial recognition and a social credit score system, to marginalize people of faith in the society.

"That system is starting to be exported to other places, other authoritarian repressive regimes ... I think that is why [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] talks about it, and it is certainly why I talk about it," Brownback said.

John Sullivan, deputy US secretary of state, said at a panel held last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that “the United Nations, including its member states, have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, including Muslims in Xinjiang. We urge the UN to investigate and closely monitor China’s rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief.”

“We cannot be the only guardians of the truth nor the only members of the international community to call out China and demand that they stop,” Sullivan stated.

He concluded: “I would like to take the opportunity to commend those who have already joined us in standing up for the rights of the more than one million members of ethnic and religious minority groups the Chinese government is abusing. We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China’s horrific campaign of repression.”

'Words matter' bishops say as Supreme Court hears LGBT cases

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 16:40

Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2019 / 02:40 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have urged the Supreme Court not to "redefine a fundamental element of humanity" by reinterpreting sex descrimination laws. 

The bishops' intervention came as the court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a trio of cases that could decide whether or not federal workplace nondiscrimination law extend to protect sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Two of the cases presented on Oct 8— Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda—involve employees who were fired because of their sexual orientation. A third, Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC,  involves a man who lost his job after announcing his intention to undergo so-called gender transition surgery.

During the session, the justices considered whether the cases constituted sex discrimination or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They also considered whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids sex discrimination in the workplace, also applies protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.

If the Court interprets that sex discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation or gender identity, the decision would have a widespread effect on cases throughout the country.

Leading U.S. bishops urged the court not to redefine “sex” to mean “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, Bishop Robert McManus, of Worcester, who chairs the USCCB’s Religious Liberty committee, Bishop Frank Dewane, of Venice, chairman of the Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, and Bishop James Conley, of Lincoln, who chairs the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said that the law must be interpreted in line with the meaning of the text.

“Words matter,” the bishops said. “‘Sex’ should not be redefined to include sexual inclinations or conduct, nor to promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact.”

“Title VII helps ensure the dignified treatment of all persons, and we as Catholics both share and work toward that goal,” the bishops wrote. 

“Redefining ‘sex’ in law would not only be an interpretive leap away from the language and intent of Title VII, it would attempt to redefine a fundamental element of humanity that is the basis of the family, and would threaten religious liberty.”

Franciscan University of Steubenville president Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, also stated in an amicus brief submitted to the Court in the Harris case that, if the Court defined “sex” to mean “gender identity,” then that could open the door to the school being forced to change its sex-specific dorms, bathrooms, and locker rooms, and its medical personnel having to perform objectionable medical procedures.

Among the issues discussed was the issue of sex-specific bathrooms, and whether non-discrimination statutes could require transgender persons to be able to use the bathroom of the gender opposite their biological sex.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that if the Harris case was decided in favor of Stephens, that question was “inevitable.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said multiple times during arguments that most people would consider it injurious having to share a bathroom with a person of a different biological sex.

Another topic discussed was men identifying as women being allowed to participate in women’s sports. Justice Samuel Alito said that debate would be revisited in the future.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted that several states have enacted statutes forbidding discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but many of them have also carved out religious exemptions. There are currently 23 states which have enacted such anti-discrimination laws.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that with the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and related legislation, Congress and states have found religious exemptions when forbidding discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, if the Supreme Court redefines existing nondiscrimination law in Title VII, he said, they would be giving “complete victory” to one side in the debate without letting the public debate the matter and settle it—as they have done already at the state level.

During Wednesday’s arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer told John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom who represented Harris Funeral Home, that the “other side” would argue that the Civil Rights Act was passed as part of the civil rights movement.

This entire movement, he continued, fought for protection for those who had suffered grievous discrimination; that same protection would have been extended to others who have suffered discrimination, namely individuals identifying as LGBTQ.

The court, Breyer summarized as the position counter to Bursch’s, has moved away from that interpretation over the years, towards a strict textual interpretation of sex discrimination. Breyer asked how that would not be a departure from the meaning of Title VII that it extended civil rights protections to vulnerable individuals.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor followed by asking “at what point” the court would step in to prevent “invidious discrimination” against whole groups of people, who are fired simply because of “who they are” and “merely because they’re a suspect class to some people.”

“We can't deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons,” Sotomayor said.

“At what point does a court say, ‘Congress spoke about this, the original Congress who wrote this statute told us what they meant. They used clear words. And regardless of what others may have thought over time, it's very clear that what's happening fits those words.’ At what point do we say we have to step in?” she asked.

Justice Samuel Alito said that, although Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and forbade sex discrimination in the workplace, it had not updated that language to include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Congress had not yet passed the Equality Act, Alito said, which would make sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class. If the Court were to change the interpretation of Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, “we will be acting exactly like a legislature.”

In the Harris case, Justice Roberts asked if the funeral home’s sex-specific dress policy presented discrimination on the basis of sex, or on the basis of Mr. Stephens’ transgender status.

David Cole, representing the emplyee fired by Harris Funeral Home, said that in his case a sex-specific dress code requiring him to dress like a man when he identified as a woman was harmful. Title VII was supposed to make one’s sex “irrelevant” to their success at work, he said, but Stephens was fired for being “insufficiently masculine,” which is “sex discrimination,” he said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged that the textual evidence of the case is “close,” and asked if a judge should consider the consequences of “massive social upheaval” of interpreting new protections in an existing law.

Project Rachel founder to receive Evangelium Vitae Medal

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 21:01

South Bend, Ind., Oct 7, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame announced Sunday that Vicki Thorn will receive the 2020 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal in recognition of her pro-life efforts.

Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, will receive the award at an April 25, 2020 banquet and Mass.

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture presents the award annually to champions of the pro-life movement. The winner receives a $10,000 prize and a specially commissioned medal.

“Vicki Thorn has dedicated her life to caring for women and men who have been wounded by abortion,” O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, said Oct. 6.

“Her work is a living witness to the unconditional love and mercy that lies at the heart of the Culture of Life. We are pleased to honor her with the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal,” he said.

In 1984, Thorn founded Project Rachel as a response to the psychological and emotional traumas which often follow abortion. Overseen by the United States bishops conference, it is now an active ministry in at least 165 dioceses throughout the U.S. It also functions in 25 other countries.

According to the Rachel Project website, the loss of a child by abortion can produce such effects as insomnia, depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. These effects occur in some women immediately, but more commonly they occur over the following 5-12 years after a terminated pregnancy.

Post-abortion syndrome is very common, the website states, but the negative effects of abortion are broadly ignored among the public. “Consequently, many women think that their grief reactions are somehow abnormal and believe that there is nowhere to turn for help,” the website says.

The project offers those struggling from post-abortion trauma with a network of informational, medical, and spiritual resources. Under the program, beneficiaries will have access to mental health professionals, spiritual directors, educational material, and intercessory groups. The goal of the project is to provide these women with forgiveness, healing, and hope.

“Vicki Thorn’s work has been a source of healing for women and men whose lives have been touched by abortion,” said Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame.

“I’m grateful to the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture for recognizing Ms. Thorn for her service to the Church and to the work of mercy on behalf of a Culture of Life,” he said.

In 2008, Thorn and her husband William were inducted into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Thorn was also given the People of Life Award in 2009 from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“In awarding Vicki Thorn the prestigious Evangelium Vitae Medal, Notre Dame recognizes her important service of the Gospel of life,” said Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“She has helped thousands of women who have had an abortion to accept St. John Paul II’s invitation in Evangelium Vitae to ‘not give in to discouragement and not lose hope.’ Project Rachel reminds us all that the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of life, is also the Gospel of mercy. I offer sincere thanks to Vicki especially for assisting so many women and men to experience God’s love and forgiveness and to become, in the words of St. John Paul II, ‘eloquent defenders of the right to life,’” he said.

The medal is named after St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae. In past, the medal has been awarded to Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and the Sisters of Life, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus, and Congressman Chris Smith - co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

Richard Doerflinger and Helen Alvaré, previous recipients of the Notre Dame medal, commended the decision to award Thorn.

“Vicki represents the kind of creative, brave, kind, tenacious woman who keeps the movement strong,” said Alvaré. “She puts the ‘respect’ in the ‘Respect Life’ brand.”

“Vicki not only championed the cause of post-abortion reconciliation and healing, she has lived to see it become an essential aspect of the Catholic Church’s pro-life ministry in the United States and around the world,” said Doerflinger.

“Far from resting on her laurels, she is now a leader in showing how the Church’s vision of human sexuality is supported by the findings of medical science, helping young people to turn away from behaviors that lead to the tragedy of abortion,” he added.

Indiana bishops say death penalty does not help convicts or victims

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 18:29

Indianapolis, Ind., Oct 7, 2019 / 04:29 pm (CNA).- Ahead of a scheduled reinstatement of the death penalty for federal inmates, the bishops of Indiana are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to reverse the decision.

“The federal government’s decision in July to end a 16-year moratorium on executing federal inmates is regrettable, unnecessary and morally unjustified,” the bishops said in a joint statement Oct. 4, released through the Indiana Catholic Conference.

In the Catholic Church in the United States, October is celebrated as Respect Life Month, with activities and prayers focused on respecting life from conception to natural death.

“As we observe Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church, we, the Bishops of Indiana, in as much as federal executions are conducted in our State, ask President Trump to rescind the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to resume capital punishment later this year. We respectfully implore that the sentences of all federal death row inmates be commuted to life imprisonment.”

On July 25, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was making plans to “resume capital punishment after a nearly two decade lapse, and bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”

The statement added that the Attorney General would be directing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five federal death row inmates, all of whom have been convicted of murdering, and in some cases also raping or torturing, children and the elderly.

“Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies, and currently no legal impediments prevent their executions, which will take place at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana,” the Department of Justice stated in July. The decision came despite several states placing moratoria on their state death penalties in recent years.

It also came one year after Pope Francis modified the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that capital punishment is “inadmissible.” Previously, the Catechism had stated that the death penalty was admissible for guilty parties “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

Federal executions in the U.S. are rare, with only three occurring in the modern era and the last one being in 2003, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. The federal death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, but revised federal death penalty statues were reinstated in 1988.

The Indiana bishops are not alone in their opposition to the end of the moratorium on the federal death penalty. When the Trump administration announced that executions would resume in July, numerous U.S. bishops voiced their opposition to the change.

In their statement, the Indiana bishops noted that “In seeking to end the use of the death penalty, we do not dismiss the evil and harm caused by people who commit horrible crimes, especially murder. We share in the sorrow and loss of families and victims of such crimes. And we call upon our faith community and all persons of good will to stand with the victims and to provide spiritual, pastoral and personal support.”

However, they added, their support of a moratorium on the death penalty comes from a respect for all human life. “Capital punishment undermines the dignity of human life. Taking human life is justifiable only in self-defense, when there is no other way to protect oneself, another innocent person or society from extreme violence or death,” the bishops said. “In the case of incarcerated prisoners, the aggressor has been stopped and society is protected. Hence, it is no longer permissible to take the life.”

Besides being morally problematic, the Indiana bishops said, the death penalty “neither helps the victims who survive, nor does it mitigate the loss of a loved one” and also takes away the guilty party’s chance for “reconciliation and rehabilitation.”

The bishops added that the death penalty is unequally applied to minorities, the poor, and those with mental health problems, and that it always carries with it a risk that an innocent person is being put to death.

They also expressed concern for the authorities that are tasked with carrying out the death penalty.

“Moreover, its application also impacts those who are associated with it, particularly correctional officers and those who are obligated to participate in taking a human life. The psychological and spiritual harm that these persons experience is real,” they said.

“We join our brother bishops of the United States in calling for an end to the death penalty. Twenty-five states no longer use it as a form of punishment. We ask the federal government to continue its moratorium until it can be rescinded formally as a matter of law.”

Federal use of the death penalty is scheduled to resume Dec. 9, when Daniel Lewis Lee’s execution is slated to take place. Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, was found guilty in 1999 of multiple offenses, including the murder of a family of three, according to the Department of Justice.

Red Mass opens Supreme Court term with religious liberty and abortion on the docket

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 17:15

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2019 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Washington, D.C. exhorted Supreme Court justices to “rejoice” in the Holy Spirit at the annual Red Mass on Sunday in D.C.

In his homily, celebrant Archbishop Wilton Gregory noted that “Saint Luke wrote the passage that we just heard saying that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.”

“May each one of you rejoice in a spirit of integrity, courage, and wisdom each day of this new year of legal justice and human compassion,” he said to those in attendance, who included Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas, along with recently retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, Attorney General William Barr and Solicitor General Noel Francisco, according to SCOTUSBlog.

The annual Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is celebrated at the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court term. Commonly called the Red Mass, it takes its name from the liturgical red vestments that worn. Marking the beginning of the judicial year, God’s blessings are invoked for the upcoming term along with prayers for wisdom for the justices and other members of the civic and legal communities.

In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said that those “blessed” with the Holy Spirit “find reasons to take heart and comfort in facing the tasks that are theirs.” He asked “for a generous outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all who serve us in the realm of our legal structures.”

The archbishop also exhorted those present to pray to the Holy Spirit for strength with “awareness of our human weaknesses.”

Sunday’s Mass kicked off a Supreme Court term that could cause substantial ripple effects on religious freedom and abortion laws in the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in a trio of cases—Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC—that will decide if federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination on basis of sex also apply to claims of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

For decades, federal courts have applied the language of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as it was written, recognizing that it protected against sex discrimination in the workplace but said nothing about sexual orientation or gender identity, or “SOGI” cases.

However, recent decisions in the Second and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals have interpreted Title VII to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

If the Court agrees and expands the scope of Title VII to include these protections, it could possibly open up religious employers to more anti-discrimination lawsuits and affect sex-specific policies in workplaces and a variety of organizations.

Such a change could mean that, for example, a homeless shelter might have sex-specific rooms to protect female abuse survivors from having to share a room with men. However, some public anti-discrimination ordinances have required shelters to accommodate men identifying as women, who request to share a room with women.  

Other social services or jobs might require sex-specific employment policies as well, such as domestic violence counseling which would pair female counselors with vulnerable women who are victims of abuse.

Religious employers with codes of conduct in place may conflict with the lifestyle choices of some employees, and give rise to new cases under a revised interpretation of Title VII. Some Catholic schools require teachers to live their public and private lives in accordance with Church teaching, so as not to cause scandal to the community. If a teacher at such a school contracted a same-sex marriage in public violation of Church teaching, however, the school might be faced with the decision to terminate their employment—and thus invite an anti-discrimination lawsuit—or retain them in violation of the code of conduct.

Title VII allows religious organizations to give priority to potential hires who share the beliefs and mission of the organization, but the scope of its religious exemptions are still being debated in the courts.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their own amicus brief, submitted with other religious groups in support of Harris Funeral Homes, stated that expanding Title VII protections to include “gender identity” could have a seismic effect on other conflicts outside of the workplace, and within religious institutions.

“Such an interpretation will affect the ability of churches and faith-based schools and charities to hire and retain employees who, by word and conduct, accept or at least do not contradict the church’s religious message,” the brief stated.

Another religious freedom case that the Court will hear this term involves a 19th-century “Blaine Amendment” statute in the State of Montana.

In 2015, the state enacted a scholarship program for students to attend a primary or secondary school, either private or public. However, the state constitution prohibits the appropriation of public funds “for any sectarian purpose.”

In the latter half of the 19th century, U.S. Congressman James Blaine led an effort to pass federal legislation barring taxpayer dollars from funding “sectarian” schools—which at the time targeted Catholic parochial schools, as the public school system was largely Protestant. Although Blaine’s legislation failed, many states, including Montana, enacted similar amendments to their constitutions.

The religious freedom issue at play in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue is whether the state’s scholarship program can pay for students to attend religious schools. The Court’s decision could affect how similar amendments would apply in the future to the access of religious groups to publicly-funded programs such as historic preservation grants, school vouchers, and social services.

Last week, the Court also agreed to hear a challenge this term to Louisiana’s abortion law; the law required abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case of complications arising from an abortion.

Louisiana’s law was struck down by a district court, but a panel of judges on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, ruling 2-1 that the law would not result in the closure of abortion clinics as critics said it would, and thus its requirement would not create an unconstitutional “undue burden” upon women’s access to abortions in the state.

In February, the Court had issued a temporary stay on the law going into effect before it agreed last week to hear the challenge to the law.

The Supreme Court struck down most of Texas’ abortion law in the 2016 decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt; the Fifth Circuit panel of judges acknowledged that ruling but drew distinctions between Texas’ abortion law and Louisiana’s. If the Court upholds this ruling, it could create some space for certain state regulations of abortion clinics in the future.