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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 (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 44 min ago

Georgia boycott falls flat after heartbeat bill passes

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 17:30

Atlanta, Ga., May 10, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Following the passage of the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act in Georgia earlier this week, a promised boycott by film and television figures has failed to materialize.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the bill into law on Wednesday. Actress Alyssa Milano wrote an open letter Kemp in March, threatening a widespread entertainment industry boycott should the LIFE Act pass. The letter was co-signed by about 50 Hollywood actors.

At the time of the bill's signing, Kemp said that “I realize that some may challenge [this bill] in the court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy.”

So far, only the three companies--Blown Deadline, Killer Films, and Duplass Brothers Production-- have said that they will only consider filming in Georgia if the law is overturned. None have previously worked in the state.

Milano herself is still filming for her current project “Insatiable,” which is shot in Atlanta. While she remains on set, the former child star of “Who’s the Boss?” told BuzzFeed News that she would not return to the show if it were to be renewed for a third season, unless production was moved from Georgia.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents entertainment companies such as Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures, and Netflix, all of whom actually film movies and television shows in Georgia, has not taken any position on the boycott.

MPAA spokesman Chris Ortman told the Hollywood Reporter that the organization had taken no decision to boycott the state, citing its deep ties to the local economy and the likely legal challenges the law will face.

“It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process,” said Ortman, adding, “We will continue to monitor developments.”

Actress Ashley Bratcher, who lives in Georgia, did not join in on the calls for boycott. Bratcher, who starred as pro-life activist Abby Johnson in the film “Unplanned,” wrote a rebuttal to Milano defending the legislation and the sanctity of life. During the filming of Unplanned, Bratcher learned that she was herself nearly aborted.

The Supreme Court found in the 1973 decision Roe vs. Wade that a woman in the United States has a constitutional right to abortion. Since that decision, laws that criminalize abortion prior to fetal viability have typically been overturned as unconstitutional.

The so-called “heartbeat bills” have faced challenges in every state where they have been passed. These legal battles have prompted some pro-life advocates, including Catholic bishops, to withhold endorsing the legislation.

Tennessee’s Catholic bishops chose to oppose their state’s heartbeat bill over concerns that it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. They voiced concern that it was an imprudent approach to fighting legal abortion, citing other states where legal challenges to such bills ended up further enshrining a legal “right to abortion” and forcing the state to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.

The Georgia law is set to go into effect on January 1, several pro-abortion organizations have promised to challenge it in court.

The entertainment industry also threatened to boycott Georgia should Kemp be elected governor. This boycott did not materialize.

Bishop Olmsted sees 'renewal' in priestly formation, despite scandal

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 02:08

Phoenix, Ariz., May 10, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Despite the scandals of clerical sexual abuse that the Catholic Church has suffered in past decades, the Church in the United States has also enjoyed a “renewal” in priestly formation, says Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix, Arizona.

In a monthly series of columns, Olmsted has been considering various aspects of the Church scandal, as well as ways to move forward in purification.

“Having addressed some of the causes of the scandals and certain questions about the priesthood, I would like now to look at the renewal that we are seeing in priestly formation,” Olmstead wrote April 16 in the Catholic Sun.

“This is good news since much of the scandal that has so hurt the Church had its beginnings in deficient seminary formation.”

The priesthood, like secular professions, requires preparation for the duties required, he wrote. In the Catholic Church today, this takes the form of training and formation within seminaries, but priests were not always prepared in this way.

“While the formation of the clergy in the early Church took the form of an apprenticeship, it grew to include more education at the monasteries and cathedral schools in the Middle Ages,” Olmstead noted.

“Then, at the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, the Church called for seminary houses where men would be instructed especially in philosophy and theology in order to serve well as priests.”

St. Pope Paul XI, in the 1965 Vatican II document Optatum Totius, called for a “program of priestly training” be set up in each country under the purview of the country’s bishops’ conference, and that young men be trained “in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.”

St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II developed these ideas, Olmstead wrote, as they later called for synods on the priesthood. John Paul II issued the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis in 1992, which Olmstead said lays out the four pillars of formation for the priesthood.

These four pillars include: human formation— the augmentation of the men’s personalities and moral character to help them grow in virtue; spiritual formation— helping the men to experience God’s grace through the liturgy, Scripture, the Sacraments and prayer; intellectual formation— acquiring knowledge about Jesus and preparing the men for the teaching office of the priesthood; and finally pastoral formation— compassionately engaging in service to others within parishes, hospitals, schools, prisons, etc.

“The guidance of St. John Paul II in Pastores Dabo Vobis was a tremendous help for seminaries, putting specific criteria and policies in place that would protect us from the errors of the past,” Olmstead wrote.

In the United States, the bishops’ conference distilled the exhortation’s teachings into the Program for Priestly Formation which more specifically addresses the needs of the Church in the U.S.

Olmstead warned that priestly formation should not focus solely on academics, but on the “human and spiritual development” of the young men as well.

“It is important to note that the young men who are now considering such a call have grown up in a vastly different society from that of the Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. The stability of family life, the cultural mores and the laws of our land are not the same as in the past,” Olmstead wrote.

“Seminary life cannot simply assume good personal health and human competence on the part of those applying today and only focus on the academics. Instead, a special focus is needed on human and spiritual formation.”

The bishop said he has been pleased to see many seminaries “making good use of faithful counselors that can augment the work of seminary personnel and spiritual directors,” as well as having seminarians live in parish households where they can learn from and share in the work of pastors.

These developments, Olmsted said, are cause for hope in a new generation of priests. He also noted the importance of prayers from the laity in supporting priests and seminarians.

'No greater love' — Denver Catholics remember Kendrick Castillo, who died in STEM school shooting

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 19:00

Denver, Colo., May 9, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- When Sara Haynes heard about the shooting at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Tuesday, she prayed. A Catholic school teacher in Denver until just recently, she knew some of her former students were now high schoolers at STEM.

When Haynes learned out that Kendrick Castillo, a former student of hers, was the lone casualty in the May 7 shooting, she cried immediately.

Then she reached out to the other students who had been in the same 7th and 8th grade math and religion classes at Notre Dame Catholic School as Castillo. Details of Kendrick’s death were not yet public, but her students guessed Castillo had died trying to protect others, Haynes said.

“I went to my students and we were all just sharing together. And I said: ‘Do you guys think that he blocked the shooter?’ And they said: ‘Yeah.’ I mean, it just wasn't a shock to us” that he would give his life for others, Haynes said.

On Wednesday, Kendick’s father, John Castillo, confirmed to the Denver Post what he had learned from witnesses and the coroner: that Kendrick died while charging the shooter to save his friends.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” John Castillo told the Denver Post. “He cared enough about people that he would do something like that, even though it’s against my better judgment.”

“I wish he had gone and hid,” Castillo added, “but that’s not his character. His character is about protecting people, helping people.”

Kendrick’s friends and fellow students share the same sentiment, Haynes said.

“Every time I see a new kid that is in shock or crying, I ask - ‘But are you surprised?’ And they say ‘No, I’m not surprised at all. I’m just mad because I didn’t want him to have to do it. But of course he was going to do it.’”

Haynes said she remembers Kendrick as an unfailingly kind student, who cared deeply about everyone, who tried hard in school, and who wasn’t afraid to have fun and be goofy.

“Kendrick is probably one of the funniest people I've ever known,” Haynes said. “He's really quirky and sweet. And quiet, but not really. He's one of those kids that he knows the appropriate time to be quiet, and then when it's the appropriate time for him to just be a total dweeb, he'll be a total dweeb.”

He was always joyful, Haynes said, and funny - as her trove of goofy videos of Kendrick prove, she said. The only time when he was not joyful was at parent-teacher conferences, Haynes recalled. Kendrick tried hard in school, and he loved technology and excelled at science - but math was harder for him, she said.

“He would get so serious at parent-teacher conferences because he struggled academically and...most middle school kids put blame on other people, but he just always took the responsibility so seriously that he would cry,” she recalled.

“And we would tell him, ‘You don't need to cry! We just want you to turn in your work.’ And he'd be like, ‘I'm so sorry.’ He really was such a deep thinker even if he didn't look like it, because he was so jolly. He had this joy that shone through.”

Sr. Loretta Gerk was another teacher who knew Kendrick while he was a student at Notre Dame Catholic School - she taught him in physical education classes, from Kindergarten through eighth grade.

“He was the neatest kid,” Gerk told CNA. “He was so kind and gentle, but yet, he was all boy too, you know what I mean?”

Gerk said that she would sometimes worry about the kind and gentle students, because they could be prone to teasing. But no one ever teased or made fun of Kendrick - he was just too likeable, she said.

“Kids are sometimes cruel to each other,” she said. “But the kids weren’t mean to him. You couldn’t be mean to him.”

“If any little kids were crying or something, he would go talk to them. He would reach out to them. He would notice those things,” Gerk said.

Gerk said when she found out Kendrick had died in the shooting, her heart and her stomach hurt. When she found out he had died trying to rush the shooter, she thought: “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”

A hunter who loved his elk hunting trips with his father, Kendrick’s familiarity with gun safety may have given him additional courage when he rushed the shooter, Gerk said.

Not only was Kendrick kind in school, but he was also a very helpful and active person at church, Gerk recalled. He would often tag along with his dad to Knights of Columbus events, Gerk said. He would usher at Mass with his dad on Saturday nights, and help serve breakfast with the Knights of Columbus during Catholic Schools week.

“Kendrick would be in the kitchen, and he had a blue apron that said ‘Knights of Columbus.’ Kendrick was in there with his dad, helping,” she said.

Cece Bedard knew Kendrick because her dad, too, was in the Knights of Columbus. In a message to CNA, Bedard said that Kendrick “loved his faith and he really loved to serve others.”

It was not just that Kendrick did one heroic act, Bedard said, but “he lived the life of a hero, always helping others to the point where I’m not quite sure what he did for himself.”

He loved his Catholic faith, Bedard said, and once told her when they were young that although he couldn’t picture himself being a priest, he thought “the way of life (of a priest) was simply beautiful.”

“He truly was a living saint,” Bedard said.

Deacon Chuck Parker knew Kendrick at Notre Dame parish, where he remembers him as an altar server and a young usher, and a favorite greeter at the doors of the church.

“If anybody could exemplify a minister of hospitality it was Kendrick,” Parker said. “Even at such a young age, he was always very kind and compassionate, very engaging with people…people loved coming in and being greeted by Kendrick.”

“You hear a lot of people say that he was really a good kid,” Parker said. “And he was really a good kid, he just really was.”  

Parker, like many others, said he “wasn’t surprised” when he heard how Kendrick died, “because he was such a loving kid.”

“I was thinking about John’s Gospel where it says that there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And that was Kendrick,” he said.

In religion class, Haynes said Kendrick was pensive, hungry for the faith, and always eager to play Jesus whenever they acted out stories from the Bible.

“He always wanted to be Jesus,” Haynes said. In a video from her class that she posted to Facebook, Kendrick acts out the part of Jesus, going to search for his apostles or to comfort a suffering person, blessing them with the sign of the cross and inviting them to join him.

“I have this amazing scene where he found the two apostles and they're all kneeling in front of the camera...Kendrick is peering at the camera and then he does the sign of the cross at everyone watching. And he was so serious in it,” Haynes said.

While religion can sometimes be a difficult subject to teach junior high kids, Haynes said that whole class “was really on a spiritual journey that I just got to witness. They really wanted the faith. And they weren't afraid to ask the tough questions and to be stuck with some of the answers.”

Haynes credits Kendrick’s parents for raising him to be a kind and faithful young man, and she urged everyone to continue to pray for them for the rest of their lives.

Now a parent herself, Hayes said that while she hopes she never has to experience the tragedy of losing a child, she wants her two boys to grow up to be “just like Kendrick.”

Because of her faith and because of how he died, Haynes said she believes Kendrick “went straight to heaven.”

“I don't think there's any doubt.”

 

Lawsuit calls for POW Bible to be removed from VA hospital display

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 22:00

Manchester, N.H., May 8, 2019 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- A Bible once carried by a World War II prisoner of war is the center of a legal fight at a veterans’ medical center in New Hampshire.

The Bible was part of a “Missing Man” table display, honoring prisoners of war and missing soldiers, placed at the entrance of the Manchester Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. The bible was donated to the medical center by a 95 year old veteran and former POW to whom it belonged. The veteran had the Bible while he was a prisoner of war.

A federal lawsuit now argues that the Bible should be removed from display, because it violates the First Amendment by appearing to favor one religion over another.

The suit was filed by U.S. Air Force veteran James Chamberlain, a Christian, after months of back and forth between a group of veterans and the staff of the Manchester Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center over the Bible. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, 14 veterans and patients of the medical center filed complaints against the Bible with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) in January of this year. These veterans were of varying religions; they were Protestant, Catholic, atheist, agnostic and of other religions, the Union Leader reported.

After receiving the complaints, the MRFF advocated for the Bible’s removal, and in late January informed the medical center of the complaints they had received against it. At that point, the medical center told the foundation that the Bible would be removed.

But by Feb. 23, the MRFF received new complaints that the Bible was back on display, now in a plexiglass case, in the memorial. Chamberlain became the 15th veteran to file a complaint, and then became the plaintiff of the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Concord.

Attorney Lawrence Vogelman, who is representing Chamberlain, sent a letter on March 25 to Alfred Montoya, director of the medical center, asking again for the Bible’s removal. Vogelman received a letter from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs on April 4, which said the display of the Bible did not violate the First Amendment.

Vogelman wrote in the lawsuit that the display of the Bible in the memorial is “just as objectionable” as it would be if “the MVAMC only provided care to Christians, or denied care to non-believers, or those who worship their God in other ways,” the Union Leader reported.  

This week, the MRFF arranged for an airplane to tow a banner over the medical center calling for the removal of the Bible.

Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that the lawsuit is “nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community.”

“Make no mistake: VA will not be bullied on this issue,” he added.

Cashour told reporters that after the initial removal of the Bible, the medical center received numerous complaints from patients and their families, asking that the Bible be put back. After seeking legal counsel, the medical center decided to put the POW Bible back on display, Cashour said.

“We apologize to the veterans, families and other stakeholders who were offended by the facility’s incorrect removal of this Bible,” he told the Union Leader.

The Missing Man Table was sponsored by the Northeast POW/MIA Network.

First Liberty Institute, a non-profit organization that defends religious freedom, said in a statement that the Northeast POW/MIA Network “should be able to honor and remember those killed, captured or missing with a display that includes a Bible donated by a WWII veteran that represents the strength through faith necessary for American service members to survive,” the Union Leader reported.  

“First Liberty recently represented the Northeast POW/MIA Network in successfully ensuring that the POW/MIA Remembrance display it donated would remain intact at the Manchester VA Medical Center,” Mike Berry, FLI’s chief of staff, said in a statement.

 

Ariz. legislature adopts resolution calling pornography a public health crisis

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 21:19

Phoenix, Ariz., May 8, 2019 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- The Arizona legislature has passed a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis and a danger to mental and physical health.

House Concurrent Resolution 2009 was approved 16-13 by the state senate May 6. It was passed by the Arizona House Feb. 25.

The measure does not ban adult material, but rather makes a public statement against the dangers of pornography.

“Potential detrimental effects on pornography users include toxic sexual behaviors, emotional, mental and medical illnesses and difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships,” the resolution reads.

“To counteract these detrimental effects, this state and the nation must systemically prevent exposure and addiction to pornography, educate individuals and families about its harms and develop pornography recovery programs.”

The vote mostly ran along party lines, with Republicans in favor of the bill and Democrats opposed. Republican senators claimed the resolution to be an important stance against pornography’s hazardous effects, while Democrats said it will hinder the advancement of other social issues, like homelessness and measles, according to AZ Capitol Times.

“Pornography is rampant. It’s all over our phones and our internet,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen. “The soul of America is sick in many ways, and it starts with what we put into our minds and into our hearts.”

“The public health crisis in the U.S. really needs to be centered right now on the measles epidemic that is striking our country and our state,” said Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai. “We really need to focus on those types of things that are life-threatening and fatal.”

The resolution highlights some of the potential dangers of pornography, including addiction, violence, and eating disorders. It specifically draws attention to its effects on the development of children.

“Children are being exposed to pornography at an alarming rate, leading to low self-esteem, eating disorders and an increase in problematic sexual activity at ever-younger ages,” the resolution says.

“Pornography normalizes violence and the abuse of women and children by treating them as objects, increasing the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.”

According to the AZ Capitol Times, Sen. Victoria Steele said the measure will not have any real effect, noting that pornography is not the issue here.

“The real issue is not necessarily pornography,” Steele said. “The real issue is around violence against women and toxic masculinity.”

On Twitter, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and the Center for AZ Policy applauded the decision, calling it important step against the threats of porn: “Medical professionals, therapists, and even elected officials are beginning to acknowledge the public health harms of pornography!”

Chaput: Rep. Brian Sims’ harassment of pro-lifers ‘unbecoming of an elected official’

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 19:15

Philadelphia, Pa., May 8, 2019 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called for broad participation in a pro-life rally this week, scheduled in response to a Penslyvania state representative’s livestreamed harassment of a woman praying outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“These videos, which Representative Sims took himself, have rightly sparked broad outrage ... His actions were unbecoming of an elected official,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement released May 8.

“I’m calling on all people of good will to channel their indignation into right action and prayerful witness,” he said.

The archbishop invited prayerful participation in a rally May 10 at 11am outside of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood, the same clinic at which state Rep. Brian Sims filmed himself aggressively questioning a woman praying the rosary across the street from a Planned Parenthood May 2.

In a series of livestreamed videos, Sims’ solicited viewers for the woman’s name and address and for the names and addresses of three teenagers praying at Planned Parenthood, saying in one video: “Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims said in the video.

Chaput said that there is “much bitter irony” in Sims’ claim to be a champion for the rights of all women while he “trampled on the rights of others and disgracefully shamed them in public.”

“Representative Sims spoke often of shame and there was plenty of that to be found in his actions, which demonstrated a complete disregard for civility and basic human decency,” Chaput said.

“It was particularly disdainful that he offered a bounty for the identity and home addresses of three young ladies in order to encourage protests at their homes.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

In a video posted May 7, Sims said he had spent the last seven years volunteering as a Planned Parenthood patient escort. He tweeted earlier this month, “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

“Let us meet the hateful actions of Representative Sims with the love of Christ and let us fervently pray for respect for life from conception to natural death,” Chaput said.

 

Chaput: Rep. Brian Sims’ harassment of pro-lifers 'unbecoming of an elected official'

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 19:15

Philadelphia, Pa., May 8, 2019 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called for broad participation in a pro-life rally this week, scheduled in response to a Penslyvania state representative’s livestreamed harassment of a woman praying outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“These videos, which Representative Sims took himself, have rightly sparked broad outrage ... His actions were unbecoming of an elected official,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement released May 8.

“I’m calling on all people of good will to channel their indignation into right action and prayerful witness,” he said.

The archbishop invited prayerful participation in a rally May 10 at 11am outside of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood, the same clinic at which state Rep. Brian Sims filmed himself aggressively questioning a woman praying the rosary across the street from a Planned Parenthood May 2.

In a series of livestreamed videos, Sims’ solicited viewers for the woman’s name and address and for the names and addresses of three teenagers praying at Planned Parenthood, saying in one video: “Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims said in the video.

Chaput said that there is “much bitter irony” in Sims’ claim to be a champion for the rights of all women while he “trampled on the rights of others and disgracefully shamed them in public.”

“Representative Sims spoke often of shame and there was plenty of that to be found in his actions, which demonstrated a complete disregard for civility and basic human decency,” Chaput said.

“It was particularly disdainful that he offered a bounty for the identity and home addresses of three young ladies in order to encourage protests at their homes.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

In a video posted May 7, Sims said he had spent the last seven years volunteering as a Planned Parenthood patient escort. He tweeted earlier this month, “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

“Let us meet the hateful actions of Representative Sims with the love of Christ and let us fervently pray for respect for life from conception to natural death,” Chaput said.

 

Faith leaders call for an end to solitary confinement

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 18:00

Albany, N.Y., May 8, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- New York’s faith leaders gathered in protest of solitary confinement this week, pushing for a bill that seeks more humane ways to treat prisoners.
 
“We believe solitary confinement is a form of torture, and it has been vastly overused historically in New York State. Even with some recent reforms, not enough has been done,” Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, told CNA.

Thirty-five faith leaders and 30 others rallied in support of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Confinement Act in the New York Capitol Building in Albany on May 7.
 
Attendees included representatives from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, T'ruah the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and New York State Council of Churches - a coalition of numerous denominations.

The New York State Catholic Conference was not present at the event, but it expressed strong support for the HALT bill, which has not yet been debated on the Senate or House floor. The conference issued a memorandum in support of the act in January.

The bill seeks to “limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, improve conditions of confinement, and create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement,” according to the statement.

If passed, the law would restrict solitary confinement to 15 days or less. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has denounced solitary confinement that exceeds more than 15 days as a form of torture.

On any given day, there are an estimated 3,000 inmates in solitary confinement in New York’s state prisons. Prisoners in solitary confinement are isolated in 6-by-10 foot cells for 23 hours at a time.
 
After a 2016 settlement in a lawsuit challenging New York’s widespread use of solitary confinement as a punishment, the state reformed its prison system to limit the solitary confinement of pregnant women, youth and the disabled.
 
Solitary confinement can have serious consequences for prisoners’ psychological health, leading to an increase in depression or even suicide, Poust told CNA.
 
“It’s not necessary in modern society and modern prison systems to take this action. We are asking the state to look at its historic overuse of this policy and to present these prisoner with more humane conditions,” he said.

Poust drew attention to the care of the imprisoned prescribed by the Old and New Testaments. He said it is the responsibility of Christians to express solidarity with incarcerated people.

“Prisoners don’t lose their innate human dignity when they are sentenced. While there are many prisoners who present a danger to society and must be incarcerated, the idea that they should be treated as less than human is anathema to what we as a society should be striving for,” he said.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany has said that solitary confinement deteriorates mental illness, trauma, and recidivism, side effects that Americans cannot ignore.
 
“Social science has affirmed that solitary confinement works against the purpose of rehabilitation and restorative justice. It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities,” he wrote in a 2016 op-ed article in Times Union.
 
Pope Francis, an advocate care of the most vulnerable and on the peripheries of society, has spoken out on the topic. In 2014, he said solitary confinement was a form of torture and drew attention to its negative effects.

“The lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering, such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency,” Pope Francis said.

Judge rules against Virginia law banning abortions by non-doctors

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 17:58

Richmond, Va., May 8, 2019 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Richmond, Virginia has ruled against state medical regulations requiring first-trimester abortions be performed only by physicians.

“After a careful review of the experts' opinions from both sides, a consensus appears to have evolved that first trimester abortions, which typically require only medication, do not require the onsite presence of a licensed physician and is consequently unduly burdensome,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson on May 6.

Nearly a dozen lawsuits filed in states across the U.S. are seeking to allow medical professionals other than doctors - such as nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants - to perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood affiliates and abortion rights lobbying groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed 11 lawsuits across the United States since 2016, beginning after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down health and safety regulations on abortion providers in Texas.

The judge has yet to set a date for when the Virginia ruling will take effect. Pro-life advocates decried the decision, saying the ruling demostrated a disregard for the safety of women who choose to have abortions.

“Laws requiring that ‘physicians only’ perform abortions exist in 40 states. The court decision today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is directly contrary to controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of Virginia’s National Right to Life state affiliate.

“In their unceasing quest to promote no-limits destruction of unborn children regardless of stage of development or ability to feel pain, abortion advocates are more extreme even than the Roe v. Wade decision they claim to defend.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group, is challenging similar laws in Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas, Montana and Louisiana, the Washington Post reports.

A trial is set for May 20 on Virginia state requirements that all second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital; that patients wait 24 hours after getting an ultrasound to undergo an abortion; as well as licensing standards for clinics, the Post reports.

The Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood in Sept. 2017 filed a lawsuit in federal court, taking issue with a state law that only permits doctors to perform abortions. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has also introduced legislation that would allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to perform abortions.

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, told CNA in 2017 that requiring only doctors to perform abortions “establishes a high standard of safety for patient care.” Allowing non-doctors to perform abortions would “further isolate abortions from other gynecological care,” he told CNA.

According to Forsythe, the number of doctors who perform abortions has continued to shrink.

“Doctors don’t want to get into the business,” he said. “The abortion industry and population controllers have been desperately looking to increase the number of abortionists.”

Suzanne Lafreniere, director of public policy for Diocese of Portland in Maine, described the lawsuit as “a desperate attempt to increase abortions in the state of Maine.”

She said that the number of surgical abortions has been declining in Maine, and that the abortion lobby is doing “everything it can to increase its business, to be perfectly honest.”

Yesterday, the Maine House of Representatives passed a bill that would require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurance companies to pay for elective abortions. The bill now moves to the state Senate. Fifteen other states already spend public money on abortion— Maine’s Medicaid already covers abortions in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s life.

Last month, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ruling allowing a nurse practitioner and a nurse midwife to continue to perform abortions in the early stages of pregnancy, until the court makes a final decision on whether a state law excluding nurses from performing abortions is constitutional.

Bid to end death penalty in Louisiana fails

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 13:00

Baton Rouge, La., May 8, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A proposal to allow voters to decide if capital punishment should remain legal in Louisiana has been defeated in the state senate.

Senate Bill 112 would have added a question to the next state-wide ballot proposing a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty. It was defeated Monday by a vote of 25-13 against, having needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

The measure narrowly passed out of legislative committee on April 30. Speaking during the senate debate, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, (R-Baton Rouge) said that respect for all human life was paramount.

"It's a morally wrong thing to do, and at the end of the day, it cheapens life," Claitor said.

The senator, a former prosecutor, argued that execution did not work as an effective deterrent, was often flawed in its application, and had resulted in miscarriages of justice.

Claitor was supported by a minority of senators across party lines.

Sen. JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) spoke during the committee debate about the high percentage of exonerations of death row inmates which suggested the potential for mistaken executions.

"It's indisputable that we had people on death row who were [then] found innocent," Morrell said in support of Claitor's bill.

State representative Terry Landry (D-New Iberia) has proposed a similar measure in the House. A former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police and a former supported of capital punishment, he said that his beliefs had evolved and that he “now believe[s] the death penalty is wrong."

The measure was supported by the Catholic bishops of the state. Speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, executive director Rob Tasman said that "justice can never be wrought by killing a human being."

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, he ordered a revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the death penalty “inadmissible” and urging its elimination.

Opponents of the measure said that Claitor’s argument about deterrence was irrelevant.

"Nowhere does [the law] say we shall 'deter,' said Sen. Bodi White (R-Baton Rouge). "It says 'shall be punished' and that's what this does."

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux of the 21st district told News Star that deterrence was not a relevant factor in cases where he sought the death penalty.  

"What we consider is the victims and what victims consider as justice" he said.

The last execution to take place in Louisiana was in 2010.

Although there are currently 72 inmates on death row in the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards has imposed a moratorium on any further executions until July of this year because of the unavailability of the drugs used in lethal injections.

CRS: Situation in Gaza still dire, despite ceasefire

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 12:55

Washington D.C., May 8, 2019 / 10:55 am (CNA).- Although a ceasefire has calmed a violent situation in Gaza, one Catholic aid agency warned that the people living there remain extremely vulnerable due to drastic cuts in U.S. humanitarian assistance.

“Gaza is on the edge of a complete economic collapse,” said Hilary DuBose, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.

“Any additional pressure could be disastrous for the people who live there, and restoration of humanitarian aid is urgently needed,” she said.

A ceasefire called on Monday brought an end to a particularly violent weekend in Gaza, during which about 30 people were killed. Some 700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel over the weekend.

While the majority of the rocket fire was intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, at least one managed to reach Israel, where four people were killed.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked with fighter jets in response, and killed at least 27. Included in that total were eight members of the Quds Brigade, the militant wing of the Islamic Jihad.

At least two pregnant women were also killed, although it is unclear if their deaths were the result of Israeli airstrikes or from a rocket misfire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for the casualties at Hamas, the governing party of the Gaza Strip. The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

According to CNN, the weekend’s attacks were the first major increase in violence since Israel’s election last month.

In a May 8 press release, Catholic Relief Services said it was grateful for the ceasefire, but fears that “if fighting resumes and escalates, the already dire humanitarian situation will push Gaza to the brink.”

The agency said cuts in funding to the region have left families there struggling to find food, clean water, and medicine.

Early last year, the Trump administration announced that it was withholding $65 million that had been designated for UN relief efforts for Palestinian refugees. Officials said the foreign assistance would be frozen until the administration could determine whether United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East had made unspecified reforms.

That review does not have a clear timeline for completion, Catholic Relief Services said. But in the meantime, the people of Gaza are suffering.

“Those funding cuts impact every aspect of their lives,” DuBose said. “They are struggling to find work, feed their families, and get the health care they need.”

After a decade of conflict, and with unemployment rates at more than 50%, protests have become common in the region, and tensions are high.

“Another war would just be too much for many people to bear,” DuBose said, noting that in some places, the people are still trying to rebuild from previous conflicts.

As the House Appropriations Committee prepares to consider foreign assistance funding for Fiscal Year 2020, Catholic Relief Services is asking Congress to renew funding for families in the region.

Last month, Catholic Relief Services was one of 18 organizations that welcomed the introduction of a Senate resolution calling for the humanitarian aid already approved by Congress to be distributed to residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

“The vulnerable people we serve can’t wait any longer,” the agency said.

Why these men walked 24 miles to the ‘Rome of the Midwest’

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 05:37

St. Louis, Mo., May 8, 2019 / 03:37 am (CNA).- It can be hard to find time for silent reflection in today’s bustling modern society. But a group of men this past weekend found peace and silence in an unlikely place – on the sidewalks and shoulders of busy roads leading into the heart of a Midwestern metropolis.

The annual Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage, held this year May 4-5 in St. Louis, Missouri, brought together men ranging from their 20s to their 60s who were looking for both a physical challenge and spiritual rejuvenation.

Along the way, the pilgrims would encounter four Catholic churches dedicated to St. Joseph – appropriate, considering the Church celebrated the feast of St. Joseph the Worker the previous Wednesday.

The challenge

The idea was to start at a parish in Manchester, a western St. Louis suburb, and trek 24 miles along sidewalks, paths, through parks, and occasionally on road shoulders all the way to downtown St. Louis.

The men – around 20 total – gathered at St. Joseph Church and began their walk around 10 a.m. Saturday. They stopped for lunch in a park, and again for Mass at the Carmel of St. Joseph, a monastery of discalced Carmelite nuns, around 3:30 p.m.

In addition to carrying a yellow and white Vatican flag, the men took turns carrying a large wooden cross along with them.



“The experience of having carried a cross, basically a nailed together 2x4 cross that I'm sure doesn't weigh as much as Christ's cross, but carrying that a mile and a half was a very challenging and yet rewarding experience,” said Patrick Swackhammer, 45.

After Mass at the monastery, the group continued for several more miles before reaching the place of the night’s rest – St. Joseph’s in Clayton, Missouri. Total distance walked the first day: approximately 14 miles.

The men had dinner, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a holy hour including a Latin rosary, followed by fellowship and a few beers before settling into their sleeping bags on the tile floor of the church basement for the night.



Origins

“This was kind of my crazy idea several years ago,” said Gabe Jones, 30, one of the two main organizers of the pilgrimage.

Jones said he had been on pilgrimages and men’s retreats in the past that usually involved an invitation for men to drive to and meet at a sacred destination, rather than walking to it. To him, driving straight to a pilgrimage site defeated the purpose; it removed the physical hardship involved in actually getting to the site.

“A pilgrimage is: you walk, and you walk, and you walk, and you walk, and you get to this beautiful church, and you fall on your knees when you get there. That's a pilgrimage,” he said.

The United States does not have the same kind of culture of pilgrimage that Europe has, he said, partly because the U.S. as a country is much younger than the European continent, and thus is built primarily around the automobile.

Jones said the idea for the St. Joseph pilgrimage started as “just a bunch of guys getting together.”

The first year, 2015, a handful of guys expressed interest in the challenge, but nearly all of them canceled before it began or dropped out along the way for various reasons – a tweaked back, other plans for the weekend, a torn ACL – until, by the end, the only two pilgrims left were Jones and the priest that had come with him.

Jones said he was disappointed in the turnout the first year, but came to understand that the idea of walking 24 miles over a weekend and being away from your family is perhaps a bigger ask than he thought.

“What I learned from that first year is that material success and immediately seeing the fruits of our labor are not the most important thing,” Jones said.

“Just do the thing that you're called to do, and if it's the right thing then there will be good fruit. And it may not be right away, heck, it may not be in your lifetime. But just stick to it, and if God's calling you to that, do it.”

The next year, 2016, they had more like 40 guys sign up, with around 38 walking at any one time, Jones said. The pilgrims were coming from a whole range of places, physically and spiritually.

But the feeling of being the same boat and taking on the same physical challenge fostered a sense of brotherhood among the men.

“As a convert to the Catholic faith, the concept of a pilgrimage is something new, it's something I had to embrace along with embracing all the other unique aspects of the Catholic faith,” second-year participant Russell Yount reflected.

“But it's an idea that resonates with me, of having a goal and pursuing it.”

The importance of silence

Walking twenty-plus miles through an urban jungle may not sound like the most peaceful way to spend a weekend. But the organizers made sure that despite the constant hum of traffic next to the marching group of men, there were times when quiet contemplation was encouraged.

During some stretches of the route, the men were encouraged to socialize and get to know one another. During other sections, the organizers led rosaries via megaphone.

At other points, the men were encouraged simply to walk in silence, their quiet reverie interrupted only occasionally by drivers in passing cars pipping their horns in support.

“It's a good visible witness as we walk through the city,” co-organizer Chris Horan said.

“To people who aren't Catholic, people who are Catholic, to just plant seeds and show them that Catholicism is not dead, it's growing and growing, and maybe is more alive than ever.”

The homilist at Mass on Saturday pointed to St. Joseph as a model of silent masculinity.

“Given that [St. Joseph] said absolutely nothing in scripture...when he would have spoken, he was obedient, he was prayerful, and he's just the perfect model of silence, I think,” Horan said.

“And especially for men who are flooded with junk in the culture, it can be hard for us to keep St. Joseph in mind. But if we do that then it's only going to bring us grace...that's the main model for us as husbands, fathers, brothers, and even those called to the priesthood.”

Fr. Gustavo Serpa, a member of the Miles Christi religious order based in Detroit, was the official chaplain for the pilgrimage, giving several talks over the course of the weekend.



Horan said he appreciated Father Gustavo’s presence on the pilgrimage.

“I think his youth, his love of the Church, his love of St. Joseph have helped get us through and been a good example and model for us,” Horan commented.

Many of the participants pointed to the silence aspect as one of the most helpful parts of the pilgrimage, and one that helped them to bond with their fellow men.

“You can hear the cars going by, the footsteps on the pavement, and sometimes even voices. But it gives you an opportunity when you're not required to be speaking or doing things - it lets your mind and your soul kind of settle down and be quiet with Christ for a little while,” Bill Hennessy, 55, reflected.

Cory Ross, a 30-year-old stay at home dad, was similarly inspired by the call to silence in his everyday life.

“Silence is one of those things that we can hold as an important practice in our daily lives,” he said. “And Father kind of talked about how it helps us grow in virtue and reflect upon our lives and purpose and things of that nature. It has been really profitable.”

For Yount, a weightlifter, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to take on a physical challenge while also developing the virtues he has come to value as a convert to the Catholic faith. He said he got to tell his conversion story at his home parish soon after last year's Joseph Challenge.

“I think of things in terms of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and then the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity,” Yount explained.

So, he says, he always approaches anything he does with the question: “How does each thing that I'm doing here help to build one of those virtues?” In terms of the St. Joseph Challenge, he said, he’ll be pondering what virtues are in play; certainly fortitude and prudence.

Rome of the Midwest

Apart from being a physical challenge and an opportunity for silent retreat, the pilgrimage offered a unique opportunity for the men to experience the Catholic culture of the city.

“It's a city that I had always just kind of driven through before, but I have a totally different understanding of St. Louis now, having walked through it,” Yount said.

Much of the city’s robust Catholic culture originates in the mid-19th century, when a massive influx of foreign immigrants - many from Germany, Ireland, and Italy- arrived in the area, complementing the dominant French heritage in the city at that time.

Today, there are around 180 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and so many beautiful Catholic churches that the city has been unofficially dubbed the “Rome of the Midwest.”

“Having walked all the way from Manchester to downtown, and realizing just how Catholic the city is. How strong the Catholic heritage of St. Louis is – I had no idea,” Yount said. “But now I know, and I tell people all the time: if you're ever in St. Louis, there are these places that you don't want to miss that are of importance to us as Catholics.”

Push to the finish

Bright and early Sunday morning, the men packed their belongings, and set off on the final day of the pilgrimage. Today would involve about 10 more miles before they reached their destination: The Shrine of St. Joseph, downtown.

Eventually, to the pilgrims’ delight, the shining curves of the St. Louis Arch, located on the riverfront in the heart of downtown, came into view. Soon the shrine itself was in view, and the group was all smiles as they finally approached the impressive edifice – just in time for the regularly scheduled 11 a.m. Sunday Mass.

Many of the men’s wives and families were there to meet them at the end of their pilgrimage. They knelt in front of the shrine and prayed a litany to St. Joseph as they concluded their journey.



“If you want something more physical – physical suffering, physical sacrifice, as opposed to just spiritual sacrifice – come out and join us next year. You're only going to get grace from it, meeting like-minded Catholic men, and you're going to grow, God willing, in greater devotion to St. Joseph,” Horan said.

“You'll experience beautiful liturgies, and you'll take what you experience from this back home to your wives, your kids.”

The spiritual experience isn’t all the men will bring back with them.

“Of course, I'll be taking the blisters and the aches and pains back, too,” Swackhammer added.

All in all, it was a fitting introduction to the concept of pilgrimage, something many of the men had not encountered before.

“You may have to start small, but I think we make everything too stress-free and too easy, which also leads to distraction, and comfort, and not a lot of difference from our day to day lives,” Hennessy reflected.

“And being on foot, with being disconnected from our creature comforts for a few hours, a few days, it makes it much much easier to focus on what you're supposed to be focused on, which is basically getting to heaven.”

All photos credit: Jonah McKeown / CNA.

College student cited for assault after punching pro-life activist

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 19:38

Chapel Hill, N.C., May 7, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- A college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was arrested for assault after reportedly attacking the staff member of a pro-life group called “Created Equal” during an April 2 demonstration.

A video posted online appears to show the student attacking the staff member after confirming that the graphic images of abortion on display on the campus belonged to his group.

The video was taken by another member of “Created Equal.” It appears to show the woman asking the staffer “Did you put these (signs) up?” and punching the staff member multiple times in the face and stomach when he confirms that he did.

Created Equal describes itself as “a national anti-abortion organization that focuses on training students to be pre-born defenders by using a traveling photo exhibit to show as many students as possible what abortion does to preborn children.”

The group focuses on college campuses in order to “create debate on campus to influence America’s future decision-makers and leaders.”

The two members of Created Equal who were present for the UNC incident can be heard on the video saying “Ma’am, don’t do that” before calling the police. After the physical assault, the woman appears to yell at the staff member that he is a “(expletive) terrible person,” and that the signs are “wrong” and “triggering.”

When the police arrived, they confirmed the alleged attack with the young man who filmed the incident. The police said in the video that they were giving the student who threw the punches an arrest by citation for assault, which they said was a misdemeanor.

Mark Harrington, president of Created Equal, said in a statement following the incident that his group will continue to “return hate with love.”

"Pro-abortion activists are losing the argument, and instead of seeking debate they are escalating the violence on peaceful preborn defenders on college campuses,” he said. “We will never cave to acts of violence or intimidation. We will return hate with love for mothers and their babies."

The UNC incident is the latest in a series of attacks and harassment of pro-life demonstrators in the U.S. and Canada.

On May 2, Pennsylvania lawmaker Brian Sims livestreamed himself harassing an elderly woman who was praying a rosary outside of a Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood.

On March 2 of this year, an 85 year-old pro-life demonstrator was thrown to the ground and kicked outside a Planned Parenthood facility in San Francisco.

In October 2018, a Canadian man was arrested for roundhouse kicking a female pro-life demonstrator at a pro-life rally that took place in Toronto in late September 2018.

In a statement following the UNC incident, Created Equal said it is “currently engaged in several open cases with prosecutors” that include cases of stolen or damaged property of the group or physical assault of its members.

Pa. legislator acknowledges aggression toward woman praying at Planned Parenthood

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 17:06

Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- Brian Sims, a Pennsylvania state legislator who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood last week, said in a video posted to social media Tuesday that he was aggressive, and he reiterated his intention of “pushing back” against those who pray or protest outside abortion clinics.

Sims had livestreamed a video May 2 in which he can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.

He aggressively questioned her for several minutes, and addressing livestream viewers he solicited the woman's name and address, saying, “we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The lawmaker posted a video May 7 discussing the prior week's video.

 

I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania. pic.twitter.com/jURL1UX9qE

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 7, 2019


 

“I've lived across the street or next door to this particular Planned Parenthood … for the last 15 years,” he said. “I've seen men and women and teens try to go there for routine healthcare … and, yes, for abortions.”

“I've also spent the last seven years serving as a volunteer patient escort at this Planned Parenthood, and I have seen first hand the insults, the slurs, the attacks, and the racism that those protesters aim at mostly young girls … and last week was no different.”

“What I should have shown you in that video was protestors gathered together to pray at, not to silently pray for, people coming in and out of Planned Parenthood as they intercepted them and harassed them,” he stated.

“In my years with Planned Parenthood I've seen women and girls circle that block, two, three, four times before finally driving away because they know they weren't going to get in because of those protesters.”

Sims said that “as a Planned Parenthood volunteer and as a supporter, I fully understand, respect, and appreciate the non-engagement policy that they have, and I would never want to do anything that interfered with the care that they're providing to their patients. As an activist and an advocate I know why pushing back against harassment and discrimination are a must, even when they're uncomfortable.”

“But last week, I wasn't a patient escort, I was a neighbor and a concerned citizen, and I was aggressive. I know that two wrongs don't make a right, and I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Sims did not apologize to the woman he confronted in the video.

In a tweet accompanying the video, Sims wrote, “I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Sims has represented District 182, a heavily-Democratic area of Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. Sims is an LGBT activist and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

He has been seen in other videos approaching people outside the same Planned Parenthood location as in his May 2 post. Many of those he approached, whom he characterized as “white people” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here”, appear to be teenagers.

Sims have been the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office. He is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

A consortium of pro-life groups will hold a rally at the same Planned Parenthood location May 10. They have invited Sims to attend.

Dubuque archbishop hospitalized after heart attack

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 15:20

Dubuque, Iowa, May 7, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa was hospitalized on Friday due to a heart attack. The archbishop was taken to Mercy Hospital on the evening of May 3.

He had two stents installed in his heart, ABC affiliate KCRG-TV9 reported.

Father Nils Hernandez, pastor of Trinity Cluster, a grouping of parishes in Monona, Iowa, said the archbishop is doing well but called for prayers.

“The Archbishop is in good spirits and feeling better. He will be in the hospital for a few days,” said Nils on Facebook, relaying an email from the diocese. “Please keep him in your prayers for a full recovery.”

Fr. Noah Diehm, pastor of St. John Baptist de La Salle, also encouraged for prayers on social media.

“May the Lord give him the graces he needs to recover quickly and to continue to labor faithfully in His vineyard,” said Diehm.

Jackels served as Bishop of Wichita for eight years prior to his appointment to the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 2013.

Georgia heartbeat bill signed into law

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 14:15

Atlanta, Ga., May 7, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has approved a controversial law that bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The law will come in to force January 1, but is expected to be the subject of immediate legal challenge from abortion activists.

The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act will limit abortion in the state of Georgia to about the first six weeks of gestation. Presently, abortion is legal in the state until the 20th week of a pregnancy.

“We stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves. The LIFE Act is very simple, but also very powerful,” said Kemp prior to signing the bill.

The bill is “a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, that all life is worthy of protection,” he said.

Francis J. Mulcahy, the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, said in a statement provided to CNA that the bishops were fully behind the bill and are pleased that Kemp signed it into law.

“The Catholic Bishops of Georgia supported this bill and commend Governor Kemp for signing it,” said Mulcahy. The bishops said this law is a step forward compared to the present situation in the state, and “will bring protection of unborn human life to a point closer to conception than current law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has previously promised to fight the LIFE Act in court if the governor signed it into law. Other states have seen similar legislation struck down as unconstitutional by the courts following expensive legal battles.

Given the expensive legal processes which have followed the passage of heartbeat bills, many pro-life advocates, including some bishops, have witheld support from the measures, advocating instead for so-called “trigger laws” which would ban abortion in the event that Roe v Wade is overturned.  

Kemp acknowledged the imminent legal battle, saying that he knew many people did not agree with the law.

 “I realize that some may challenge it in the court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy,” he said.

While the Georgia law is not the first such measure to be passed at the state level, it drew national attention following public opposition by actress Alyssa Milano.

Milano, who appeared on the television show “Who’s the Boss?” and in the direct-to-video movie “Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure,” had threatened to organize a state-wide boycott by the film and television industry should Kemp sign the bill.

Georgia has a favorable state tax structure for TV and film production, and now attracts a larger share of the industry than Hollywood.

“We’ve always found (Georgia) to be populated with friendly and caring people,” said Milano in March. “We’ve found the hotels in which we stay and restaurants in which we dine while filming there to be comfortable and of a high quality. We’ve been glad to bring billions of dollars in revenue to support Georgia’s schools, parks, and communities.”

“But we cannot in good conscience continue to recommend our industry remain in Georgia if H.B. 481 becomes law,” she added.

Thus far, a boycott has failed to materialize, and many television shows and movies are still scheduled to be shot in Georgia in the coming months. A similar boycott was threatened following the election of Kemp but failed to materialize.

Brian Sims, doxing state rep, was subject of ethics investigation

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 11:15

Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- The lawmaker who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood May 2 was the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office.

The state’s ethics commission opened an investigation into state Rep. Brian Sims following a 2017 complaint that he had violated Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act. Sims is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

Sims has confirmed that he is under investigation, but says the complaint is a political “hit” and the “cost of politics in a city like Philadelphia.”

The lawmaker, who has filmed himself offering money to social media users to identify and “dox” women and teenagers, said in June 2017 that: “This was done to hit me where I’m strongest – and I think I’m strongest in my ethics.”

Media outlets in Pennsylvania first reported the investigation May 2017, following the leak of a letter from the ethics commission, in which executive director Robert Caruso said that a “full investigation” had been launched following a complaint against Sims.

The ethics commission has not reported whether the investigation has concluded.

Sims allegedly failed to report thousands of dollars worth of travel expenses, which he later reimbursed out of his official campaign funds, following a series of high-profile speaking engagements and trips overseas, made in connection with charitable fundraising.

A 2016 investigation by City&State Pennsylvania found that despite a rule prohibiting legislators from accepting honoraria, including speaking fees, Sims earned more than $40,000 from such activity following his election in 2012.

Sims has repeatedly insisted that the events were given in connection with his national role as an LGBT activist, and were not connected to his legislative work.

According to the City&State report, Sims was billed as a state representative in advance of a 2015 engagement to speak about LGBT issues to employees at Microsoft corporate headquarters in Seattle, suggesting a conflict with Pennsylvania ethics law.

Sims also failed to declare travel and accommodation he received from Microsoft in connection with the event. Though he initially suggested that the event had been arranged spontaneously while he was on a trip to California visiting friends, Sims made the trip in the company of a professional political consultant retained by Sims in 2013. City&State also found the event had been promoted by Sims months before it took place.

According to media reports, the ethics investigation into Sims’ conduct includes a 2015 engagement at Penn State University at which he was again billed as “Rep. Brian Sims” and promoted as speaking “about his career as a legislator and on current legislation before the House.”

The state representative has also come under scrutiny for an apparent pattern of behavior concerning the reimbursement of travel expenses using campaign funds.

In 2015, Sims joined six other Pennsylvania lawmakers on a trip to Israel organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. While all six of the other legislators declared $2,500 in reimbursements for travel and expenses from the JFGP to the state ethics board. Sims did not record any amount, and later saying that he “did not realize that Federation had subsidized my travel to the extent that they had” and had reimbursed the cost using campaign funds eight months later.

The City&State report identified several other instances where Sims appeared to fail to declare receipt of free travel, only to reimburse the expenses from campaign funds months later.

Speaking to City&State, Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said of Sims’ behavior “there’s a pattern here that raises questions,” and that “the questions merit an investigation by the ethics committee.”

“These delayed payments or reimbursements certainly raise questions about the origin of the money that paid for these trips in the first place,” said McGehee. “You can’t simply make things right by paying for it all with campaign funds later.”

Sims has defended his record as a “committed progressive” and said that his commitment to transparency is demonstrated by his record as “an avid social media user.”

Catholic conference supports Iowa budget cuts to abortion providers

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 01:01

Des Moines, Iowa, May 6, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- A budget bill became law in Iowa last week, adding restrictions to grants for abortion providers and Medicaid for gender reassignment surgery.

Tom Chapman, executive director for the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA the budget was a step in the right direction.

“There is no obligation to fund abortion providers,” said Chapman. “We’ve been working on that part of the issue for many years so we are very pleased to see that.”

Governor Kim Reynolds signed the Health and Human Services budget bill into law May 3 after it passed through the Senate and House in April. According to the Des Moines Register, the state will fund $1.9 million in health programs, including aid for veterans, elderly people, and children.

The law will also remove a five-year waiting period before pregnant women are covered by Medicaid. These women have to be lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States in order to qualify.

The budget will not provide grants to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, to administer sexual education. Des Moines Register reported that it will cease $260,000 from being sent to sex information programs of Planned Parenthood. The law will continue to fund the sexual education of numerous other organizations.

According to the NBC 13, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Executive Director Erin Davison-Rippey claimed that the organization provided the same services as other groups: “We’re delivering the same services that other providers are delivering. These are all age appropriate, medically accurate sex education that is generally provided in school settings to young people, sometimes community settings as well depending on the grant.”

Republican Representative Joel Fry argued that the budget is consistent with public opinion: “We have consistently heard from Iowans that they do not want their hard-earned tax dollars used by organizations whose primary business model is providing abortions.”

Chapman told CNA that funding abortion clinics for these services is unnecessary because other organizations who do not provide abortions administer the same things. He said the new restriction allows for a more objective approach to sex-education.

“I think it presents and opportunity to provide services more objectively if you are separating it from the abortion issue,” he said. “It represents the interests of parents who want to help direct that education,” he further added.

The law would also allow for areas of local government to opt out of Medicaid and other state funds to be used for sex reassignment surgery. Under the bill, the state is not required to fund any “cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedure related to transsexualism, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder.”

Chapman said that while all people deserve compassion, the Church is clear about the definition of sexual identity. He also said there is no requirement on the government's behalf to fund gender reassignment surgery.

“From the Catholic Church perspective, we believe that there really is no separation from the self and the body. You know, we are one integrated unit as men and women,” he said.

“We have to treat everyone with compassion and proper medical care. I think this is something we have to keep in mind as people are treated. At the same time, I think certainly from the governors perspective and the legislators perspective there is no obligation for the government to pay for those surgeries,” he added.

After harassing woman outside Planned Parenthood, Penn. lawmaker says Christians are 'Bible Bullies'

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 23:33

Philadelphia, Pa., May 6, 2019 / 09:33 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania lawmaker has said that pro-life activists and Christians are bullies, after he faced criticism for a video he livestreamed, in which he angrily confronted a woman praying outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.

“Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values,” Pennsylvania state representative tweeted May 5, after the pro-life group Live Action criticized a video Sims livestreamed May 2.

 

Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values. #BeReal https://t.co/kmDsrQsMmN

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 5, 2019


 

 

In the May 2 video, which Sims livestreamed on Twitter and the Periscope app, the lawmaker can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.

 

Push back against Planned Parenthood protestors, PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege, & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please! #YouAreStrongEnough  https://t.co/rYQOiAhC0D

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 2, 2019


 

While Sims solicits donations for Planned Parenthood, he refers repeatedly to the woman as an “old white lady.”

As he approaches her, he says “I have a couple questions for you, ma’am. How many children have you clothed today? How many children have you put shoes on their feet today? Have you fed any children today, or have you say stood out in front of a Planned Parenthood, shaming people for something that they have a Constitutional right to do?”

“You can pray at home,” Sims tells the woman.

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims can be heard saying.

“You’re allowed to be out here,” Sims says to the woman, who can be seen continuing to pray the rosary. “That doesn’t mean you have a moral right to be out here. Shame on you. What you’re doing here is disgusting. This is wrong. You have no business being out here.”

Sims can be seen continuing to speak to the woman for several minutes, while she continues to pray and does not engage him. He repeats the phrase “shame on you,” while calling her an “old, white, lady,” repeatedly.

Later, Sims asks the woman to “talk about your Christian faith. About how your Christian faith believes in shaming people. About your Christian faith believes in telling people that you know what’s right for their bodies. About how your Christian faith believes that you know what’s right for their families.

Several minutes into the video, Sims can be seen obstructing the woman’s path with his camera. “Get out of my way,” the woman says. “Get your camera out of my face.”

“No,” the lawmaker tells her.

He then says to the livestream audience: “If you know who this woman is, and you can give me her address, we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

As the nearly nine-minute video continues, Sims continues to berate the woman, and her religious faith, after she asks him to leave her alone. He calls her prayer “a racist act of judgment.”

“This Planned Parenthood has done more for civil rights in America than this person will ever do for anyone’s rights,” Sims says, while continuing to solicit funds for Planned Parenthood.

“Hasn’t fed a child today. Hasn’t put shoes on a child today. I’m sorry, ma’am, how many Catholic Churches are you protesting, out of 400 priests in Pennsylvania indicted for child molestation. I don’t remember seeing at those protests. I was at them. Instead you’re dragging people for their Constitutional rights. Shame on you,” Sims says to the woman.

“Shame on you.”

400 priests in Pennsylvania have not been indicted for child molestation. Sims seemed to be referring to a July report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, which noted 300 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct during a period of seven decades.

The woman is apparently not the only one to be the subject of videos livestreamed by Sims. In an undated video tweeted by Live Action May 6, Sims can be seen approaching five people, most of whom appear to be teenagers, outside of the same Planned Parenthood. He characterizes them as “white people,” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here.”

Sims says in that livestream video that he will give $100 to anyone who can identify the names and addresses of the young people.

 

UPDATE: Watch PA Rep @BrianSimsPA offer up $100 for the identities & addresses of 3 TEENAGERS who are fighting for the lives of preborn children.

This is despicable. pic.twitter.com/96JC9b8jQB

— Live Action (@LiveAction) May 6, 2019


 

 

“We’re actually just praying for the babies, and we believe that women deserve more,” one of them can be heard saying.

Sims, 40, has represented the 182nd district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. A Democrat, Sims worked as a legal advocate for same-sex marriage and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Shortly before posting his livestream interrogation of the woman, Sims tweeted “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Law enforcement officials have not yet said whether Sims will face charges for his engagement with the woman.

 

Civil appeals court dismisses legal challenge, says Sheen's body can go to Peoria

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 19:01

Albany, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The New York Court of Appeals has dismissed an appeal of an earlier judgement allowing Venerable Fulton Sheen’s remains to be moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria, in accordance with his family’s wishes.

The May 2 dismissal of the Archdiocese of New York’s appeal could pave the way for the Illinois-born archbishop’s beatification.

“After almost three years of litigation, the New York Archdiocese’ legal arguments have now been rejected at all three levels of the New York state court system,” the Diocese of Peoria said May 6.

“Although the New York Archdiocese may technically have legal options remaining, they are contrary to the wishes of Archbishop Sheen and his family, and would serve no genuine purpose except to delay the eventual transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains,” it added.

Archbishop Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.” He authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure among Catholics in the U.S. until his death.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002 after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

However, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

The New York archdiocese, however, has said that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is at rest there.

In March 2019, the New York appeals court unanimously ruled that Sheen’s remains be transferred to Peoria.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.

An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.

Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.

In June 2018, the Superior Court of New York ruled in favor of Cunningham’s request that Sheen’s body be moved to Peoria. The Archdiocese of New York then announced that the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were appealing the decision.

Now, a New York appellate court has again sided with Cunningham, ruling 5-0 that Peoria may have the body. The court found that Sheen lived his life with heaven and sainthood as his ultimate goals, which should be considered in the present dispute.

The Diocese of Peoria voiced hope that the beatification efforts for Sheen may now move forward, with Sheen’s body in Peoria. In a March statement, the diocese said that the courts have had ample opportunity to consider the arguments raised by New York, but have ultimately found them unavailing.

Both the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York have repeatedly voiced prayers that the beatification cause may move forward in a timely manner.

Archbishop Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area. In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous – a key step necessary before someone is beatified.

The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

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