CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

House votes to recognize Armenian genocide

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass a resolution recognizing the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), sponsor of the resolution, said after the vote that “the House declared that it will no longer be party to the cause of genocide denial.”

“While we can never undo the atrocities of the Armenian genocide, this vote is a commitment that we will never forget and we will never again be intimidated into silence,” Schiff stated.

Schiff’s resolution, cosponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), states that it should be U.S. policy to recognize and commemorate the Armenian Genocide, and to promote education and remembrance of the genocide. It passed the House overwhelmingly, with 405 members voting in favor, 11 Republicans voting against, and three members voting “present.”

The resolution also recognizes the Ottoman Empire’s “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.”

The resolution is non-binding, in that it simply expresses “the sense of the House of Representatives,” but it is still significant as the culmination of an almost-20-year effort in the U.S. House to pass such a resolution.

“This is a vote I have waited 19 years to cast; one that tens of thousands of my Armenian American constituents have waited decades to see,” Schiff said in his remarks on the House Floor on Tuesday.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians released a statement on Tuesday, praising the vote.

“The Christians all across the Middle East were impacted by the Armenian Genocide. In Lebanon, 250,000 Maronites were starved to death by the Ottoman Empire,” Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, stated, noting that by the House’s action, the U.S. shows it “will no longer ignore the Turk’s history of ethnic cleansing.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement following the House vote that the resolution “has apparently been drafted and issued for domestic consumption” and “is devoid of any historical or legal basis.”

The Armenian genocide, recognized as such by many scholars, occurred in the Ottoman Empire - now Turkey - from 1915-1923, with the systematic annihilation of the mostly Christian Armenian minority in eastern Anatolia.

Around 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed, along with Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs. Millions more were displaced. Those targeted by the Ottomans suffered forced displacement, death marches, torture, rape, and mass killings.

Turkey has repeatedly denied that genocide took place, saying that the number of those killed was far less than some have estimated and that deaths were a result of conflicts related to the First World War.

A Vatican archive of documents was released in 2015, on the centenary of the genocide, showing the Holy See’s commitment, along with other Catholics, to help genocide victims in the region. The Vatican also worked to stem the tide of Christian persecution in the Ottoman Empire that had been occurring in the decades prior to 1915.

Pope Francis has referred to the killings as genocide multiple times, using the term at a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 12, 2015, ahead of the centenary.

A year later, speaking at the presidential palace in Armenia in June of 2016, the pope called the “genocide” the “‘Great Evil’ that struck your people” and said that it “was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”

Members of Congress said that Tuesday’s vote was a significant step toward fighting silence and ignorance on the matter.

“Today, we end a century of international silence. There will not be another period of indifference or international ignorance to the lives lost to systematic murder,” Rep. Bilirakis stated on Tuesday. “Genocide is genocide, Mr. Speaker, even if our so-called strategic allies perpetrated it.”

“I found Pope Francis’ words and explicit use of the term ‘genocide’ to be another wake-up call for the world,” Bilirakis said on Tuesday, noting that Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria resulted in “extremely concerning” acts committed against local populations including Kurds.

While U.S. officials have at times referred to the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians as “genocide,” officially recognizing the genocide committed a century ago has proved difficult because of the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and geo-strategic ally.

The U.S. did submit a written statement on the Armenian genocide to the International Court of Justice in 1951, and President Ronald Reagan mentioned it by name in his proclamation on April 22, 1981; two joint congressional resolutions, H.J. Res. 148, adopted in 1975, and H.J. Res. 247, adopted in September of 1984, also recognized it.

Nevertheless, the Tuesday House resolution was the product of almost two full decades of preparation.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired congressional hearings on the Armenian genocide in 2000 and 2015, said that support for a resolution on the genocide was squelched in the House due to pressure by the Clinton administration in 2000. A similar attempt in 2007 was unsuccessful, he noted.

Smith said Tuesday that 28 countries and 49 U.S. states have recognized the Armenian genocide “despite Turkish Government threats—and they do make threats.”

“As Pope Francis said at his Mass marking the 100th year of genocide: ‘Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,’” Smith said.

Meet Jan Benton - leading the charge for inclusion of Catholics with disabilities

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 15:44

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- When Janice Benton, OFS was attending college in Michigan, she answered an ad in her parish bulletin that was seeking someone willing to be a catechist for children with intellectual disabilities.

That response would begin a career spanning several decades, where she would work to improve inclusion for Catholics with disabilities--a career that would lead her to speaking at the Vatican and leading the National Catholic Partnership on Disability for 15 years.

Benton will be retiring from her position this year and will be honored for her work with Catholics with disabilities at a banquet on Nov. 8. She spoke recently with CNA to discuss how the landscape in the Church has changed for people with disabilities since she began working in the field, and how she hopes things will continue to improve in the future.

After volunteering with children at her parish, Benton started a catechesis program to serve young adults with disabilities, and was working at a nursing home. There, she befriended a young woman with cerebral palsy. She told CNA she had wondered why a young adult was living in a nursing home, and sought out the friendship. She also met another volunteer in a catechetical program who had cerebral palsy.

“So I ended up with friends and family members with disabilities,...and I was blessed to work with folks from the Archdiocese of Detroit to get a lot of their training from them,” Benton said. “They had quite a good program there.”

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) was founded in 1982, and Benton assisted with its creation, having previously worked with the U.S. Bishops’ Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities. Benton took over the role of director of the NCPD in 2004.

Benton said she has seen many positive changes regarding the treatment of Catholics with disabilities during her more than 40 years working in that ministry.

“I think people are more engaged in parish life now, and their gifts are really being recognized,” she said. “I think of it as just recognizing their giftedness and that everybody is called to, everyone belongs in the Church. And they’re called as part of the body of Christ to contribute.”

Specifically, Benton said she is happy to see more and more parishes and schools adopt inclusive models to serve Catholics with disabilities.

“There’s more involvement in parish life itself and less just separate programs (that are) just kind of off to the side to serve people,” she said. “There’s just more appreciation of people for who they are, their giftedness and what they can bring to the faith community.”

While Benton is heartened by these changes, she said there’s still much more work to be done. For instance, the NCPD still receives calls from families with children who were told they would not be permitted to receive their First Communion or participate in faith formation classes due to their disabilities. The USCCB approved the Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities in 1995, which Benton called a “beautiful resource that’s easy to put into the hands of pastors and catechetical leaders.”

And although there have been substantial improvements in the Church regarding persons with disabilities, especially with the ever-growing list of Catholic schools that are willing and able to accommodate students with special needs, Benton told CNA that Catholics with disabilities are still often overlooked by other members of their parishes.

“I have a friend who says one of the things that hurts her the most is not being seen as a person, (but) kind of being seen as a ‘person with a disability’ and not as somebody you'd want to go out to lunch with or just have fun with,” said Benton.

“And my friend in my parish says what hurts often the most is that nobody wants to sit near her. They kind of keep a wide berth. And, so I think people still tend to exceptionalize disability, and want to make it special or different or kind of focus on what might be a difference, as opposed to the common humanity of everybody.”

As she prepares to leave her role at the NCPD, Benton said she hopes the organization is able to expand its presence into parishes. She hopes that parishes will make the accommodations needed, and include persons with disabilities into their regular programs.

Doing this, she said, will ensure that “people can participate fully and meaningfully--and not just be taken care of, but really share their gifts with the Church community.”

“I want people to know that the Church is here for them, that the NCPD exists,” Benton said.

“I want people with disabilities to really experience the sense of belonging and really experience people treating them with dignity and respect, and that they really are just vital members of the body of Christ.”

What does Joe Biden think about abortion?

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s denial of reception of Holy Communion in South Carolina on Sunday has renewed scrutiny of his evolving views on abortion.

Over the course of his decades-long career, the Catholic former Vice President has said that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade went too far, but has now pledged to enshrine its full effects in federal law. He has been for, then against, bans of taxpayer funding for abortion and against, then for extreme practices like partial birth abortion.

Biden was denied Communion on Sunday, at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, pastor Fr. Robert Morey denied Biden Holy Communion as the Catholic presidential candidate was campaigning nearby that weekend and had attended Sunday Mass.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Morey explained in a statement sent to CNA. “Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he stated.

“Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” he said.

The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, and that every act of abortion is the wilful taking of innocent human life. In the 2008 “Meet the Press” interview, Biden was asked “as a Roman Catholic” when he thought life began.

He said that he was “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,” but added that to impose that belief upon others through the application of law would be “inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

“There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that's existed. Back in ‘Summa Theologia,’ when Thomas Aquinas wrote ‘Summa Theologia,’ he said there was no--it didn't occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith? And that's the reason I haven't,” Biden said.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II warned of a political mentality where “the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people-even if it is the majority.”

“This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the ‘right’ ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part,” he wrote. “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”

Biden, a Democrat, originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 representing the state of Delaware. He served in that role until 2009, when he was elected Vice President as the running mate of President Barack Obama.

In Biden’s 36 years in the Senate and eight years as Vice President to President Barack Obama, he has reversed himself a number of times on the issue of abortion. 

While largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade, Biden previously said he believed the decision “went too far.” In 1981, he voted for a constitutional amendment allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade; the next year he voted against such an amendment.

In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Biden warned that the opposing ticket would appoint judges who would outlaw abortion, and that the administration he was in would not do that. In the 2008 vice presidential debate, he bragged about spearheading “the fight against Judge Bork,” a Supreme Court judicial nominee in 1987, warning that Bork would have changed Roe v. Wade if he were confirmed to the Court.

In a 2008 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden said Roe is “as close to a consensus that can exist in a society as heterogeneous as ours” in that it left decisions on life to the mother in the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed the states some intervention in the second trimester, and that “the weight of the government’s input” in the third trimester is that the pregnancy is carried to term.

Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”

In 1984 then-Senator Biden supported the Mexico City Policy, which bars taxpayer funding of foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortion as a method of family planning. He was also for years a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions in the U.S.  

Shortly after announcing his candidacy for president in April this year, Biden reversed his support for Hyde when Democrats highlighted his long-time stance, prompting a backlash from other candidates and the progressive wing of the party. He also abandoned his support for the Mexico City Policy, promising to overturn the rule if elected.

Biden also currently favors reinstating taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

In 1995 and again in 1997, Biden voted to ban partial-birth abortion, but was vocally critical of the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld a partial-birth abortion ban, saying that it could open the door for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

A point of consistency for Biden has been his opposition to parental notification laws and laws barring minors from seeking abortions out-of-state, both of which he has spoken against. His 2020 campaign platform calls for ending state “TRAP” laws on abortion, or laws restricting abortion access such as requiring parental notification or mandatory waiting periods.

What to do about Halloween? Catholic moms – and an exorcist – weigh in

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 11:08

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2019 / 09:08 am (CNA).- For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing,” Cunningham told CNA. “People were just out talking while kids were trick or treating, and it had been really nice up until that point.”

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character “Freddy Krueger,” a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cunningham’s youngest at that point was a year and a half, “and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger.”

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn’t alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

“We knew it would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected,” Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas – what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a “baptized” form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast – All Hallow’s Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus “baptize,” the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist’s perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it’s important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that’s all good clean fun,” Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it’s just for entertainment.  

“In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like,” he said, “because it’s a violation of a Church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God.”

“And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil.”

It’s also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

“It’s because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they’re celebrating that day, they’re actually inviting more evil into our lives,” he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said.

“A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we’re not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do.”

Trick-or-treating Catholics

Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she’s found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

“Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?” she said.

“Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It’s just so different from when we were little.”

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

“We let them know that we’re having a party because it’s celebrating the saints in heaven, we’re celebrating them, so when they’re trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it’s because it’s a party for all the saints.”

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it’s important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

“I think as Christians we’re so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us,” she said. “But then we lose the history of it, and we think, ‘Oh well this is the devil’s day,’ just because some people say it is.”

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they’re not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

“I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we’ll talk about different saints,” Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off-limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

“As Catholics it’s important that we don’t become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith,” she said. “If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don’t even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture.”


This article was originally published Oct. 31, 2015.

Dia de los Muertos about more than the 'bread of the dead,' bishop says

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 06:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 30, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a primarily Mexican way of celebrating the feasts of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.

The celebration is an expression of Latin American culture and Catholic beliefs, which makes use of some familiar symbols to teach and celebrate the Church’s teaching on the communion of the saints and the souls in purgatory.

Annual celebrations typically involve skeletal costumes and face makeup, parades and processions, as well as traditional foods such as “pan de muerte” (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls (calaveras).

Los Angeles Auxilary Bishop Alex Aclan, a native of the Philippines, celebrated a Mass in honor of Dia de los Muertos Oct. 26 at Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard, California.

The Mass featured pilgrim images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego, as well as over “ofrendas,” or altars, which are traditionally used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations to honor deceased loved ones.

Aclan told CNA the celebrations at the cemetery were very typical Mexican style, he said, with the altars set out with pictures and personal items for the faithful to remember and honor loved ones.

There were more than 100 ofrendas set up throughout the cemetery, and participants took part in dancing, processions and prayers for the dead.

Dia de los Muertos is sometimes popularly thought of as “Mexican Halloween,” and the ofrendas may be seen as a means for people to conjure up their deceased loved ones.

"That's a corruption of the original notion of the celebration of the feast," Aclan said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “all forms of divination are to be rejected” which includes the “conjuring up the dead.”

However, the Church encourages Catholics to pray for the dead as one of the spiritual works of mercy.

Aclan he said he made sure that archdiocesan offices are involved in planning celebrations, to make sure that Dia de los Muertos customs are in accord with Catholicism and the Catholic tradition.

The bishop was quick to point out that the real focus of Dia de los Muertos are the two Catholic feast days within it, not primarily Halloween.

In his native Philippines, Aclan said, celebrations around this time primarily take place on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, which is marked as a national holiday in that country.

"I grew up with that tradition of All Saints Day, and I remember us staying in the cemetery praying all day long for the souls, even though we do it on the day of All Saints rather than All Souls," he said.

In Mexico, the bulk of the celebrations take place from Oct. 31 to All Soul's Day, Nov. 2, incorporating both of the Catholic feasts.

"All Saints Day of course for those who are already in Heaven, and All Souls Day for those who are still on their way to heaven," he said.

Aclan said whenever he preaches or speaks about Dia de los Muertos, he tells people it is a beautiful manifestation of the Church's belief in the communion of saints.

"I think it's a wonderful way to teach people about our beliefs as Catholics on the communion of saints," Aclan commented.

"For Mexicans to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, my experience is the remembering of the dead is really the most important part of it. Making sure that the dead are remembered, that their deceased are remembered, and that we really are one with them even though they're on the other side and we're still here."

"And that's basically our teaching on the communion of saints. The different parts of the Church: the ones in Heaven, the ones that are still on their way trying to find their way to the gates of Heaven, and us here on Earth, and we are still together as one. We are still one Church."


In UN address, Holy See voices support for ceasefire in Yemen

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 02:06

New York City, N.Y., Oct 30, 2019 / 12:06 am (CNA).- A nationwide ceasefire is essential to ease the suffering of the people of Yemen, which has been in a civil war since at least 2014, said the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. on Tuesday.

“Children are starving; access to clean water is scarce; the economy continues to struggle severely; those who cannot flee the front lines of war remain cut off from basic supplies and humanitarian workers are impeded to operate in some areas,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, describing the situation in Yemen.

“A nation-wide ceasefire that this Council has repeatedly called for is essential if the intolerable suffering of the Yemeni people is ever to come to an end. Coherence and honesty demand that this call for a ceasefire must be concretely accompanied with a stop to the flow of arms in the region.”

Auza on Tuesday gave a statement at the United Nations Security Council during the Open Debate dedicated to "The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.”

Yemen, located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, has for several years been the site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with about 22 million of the nearly 29 million people in the country in need of some sort of humanitarian assistance. More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes and the number of people facing pre-famine conditions could reach 14 million, the U.N. has estimated.

Auza also addressed other topics, including “glimmers of hope” in the eight-year long conflict in Syria with the announcement of the formation of a Constitutional Committee, scheduled to convene in Geneva on Thursday. The committee, composed of opposition, civil society and government members, will seek to rewrite the Syrian constitution.

Despite this hope, he also echoed Pope Francis’ call for safe passage and humanitarian assistance for the thousands of refugees fleeing northeast Syria as tensions with Turkey remain high.

Auza also addressed the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that “harmful rhetoric, threats, terrorism and violence, including at times disproportionate use of force on the part of the security forces” have exacerbated an already tense situation.

While Israel’s population is predominantly Jewish, about 20% of the country’s 8.5 million people are Arab. About 2% are Christians, though their numbers have sharply declined after decades of emigration.

The Palestinian population is largely split geographically and politically between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants, largely based in Gaza, have engaged in military attacks on Israelis, and the Israeli military has also conducted military action.

Security borders have impaired Palestinians’ ability to work and travel, including travel to Muslim and Christian holy places, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a continuing source of tension.

“While everything must be done to ensure that the Holy Sites are protected in line with International Law and the Status Quo regarding the city of Jerusalem, so that people of all religions can visit and worship without fear, it is of deep concern that native Christian communities feel constrained to abandon these lands, the very cradle of their faith, in search of peace and security for themselves and for their children,” Auza remarked.

The Holy See has long supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on a diplomatic level recognizes and refers to both “the State of Israel” and “the State of Palestine.”

“However, [Christians’] presence and witness in these places is of fundamental importance. More should be done to ensure their protection, not only for their survival but also for them, like all citizens living in Israel and Palestine, to realize their full potential and integral human development,” Auza continued.

“It is high time that decisions taken and mechanisms already in place are used effectively to realize the objective of a Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, within secure and internationally recognized borders.”

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said in May that peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks.

The ordinaries represent a diverse group of Middle East Christians in communion with Rome. They have voiced doubts about the viability of a two-state solution.

“The proposal for a two-state solution has gone nowhere and is repeated to no avail,” they said in May. “In fact, all talk of political solution seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.”

“Therefore, we promote a vision according to which everyone in this Holy Land has full equality, the equality befitting all men and women created equal in God’s own image and likeness. We believe that equality, whatever political solutions might be adopted, is a fundamental condition for a just and lasting peace.”

N. Ireland bishops: Hold politicians responsible for abortion law

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 22:00

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct 29, 2019 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- Voters must hold politicians responsible for failing to stop the British Parliament’s radical expansion of legal abortion in Northern Ireland, the region’s Catholic bishops have said.

“This is a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It is also a sad day for our local democracy,” the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said Oct. 22.

“The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so. It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made.”

“Abortion is a brutal violation of the precious gift of life,” the bishops continued.

“The right to life is not given to us by any law or government. Any human law that removes the right to life is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative. For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith.”

Extremely permissive abortion legislation and the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” became law in Northern Ireland on Oct. 21 under the legislation the British Parliament passed in July. The legal changes will take effect next year.

The Catholic bishops also voiced concern at the redefinition of marriage, saying it “effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children.”

Previously, Northern Ireland’s laws only permitted abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Backers of the law said it had saved over 100,000 lives by avoiding the permissive law that took effect in other parts of the United Kingdom in 1967.

The new law means no explicit legal protections for unborn children up to 28 weeks into pregnancy, compared to legal abortion up to 24 weeks in other parts of the U.K. Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

Critics of the British Parliament’s law incorporated matters of special importance to the region. They said the law violated agreements about the devolution of important decisions to Northern Ireland, agreements enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement that helped bring peace to the violent struggles between nationalists and unionists.

The parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly could have blocked the law from taking effect, but failed to reach any agreement due to a dispute between the two leading governing parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and the second-largest party, Sinn Fein.

The DUP is traditionally strongly Protestant and anti-Catholic, but also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. The nationalist parties including Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic Labor Party traditionally draw support from Northern Ireland’s Catholics.

The Catholic bishops and leaders in the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches had previously called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene to block the legislation.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties. It was not able to do business by Oct. 21. The nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party walked out of the final critical meeting. Sinn Fein, did not participate in the meeting, nor did the Green Party and the People Before Profit party.

Sinn Fein, which also backs abortion rights and same-sex “marriage,” has said that it will not participate in the formation of a Northern Irish government without an Irish Language Act, which would give Irish equal status to English in the region.

Other nationalist parties back such an act, while unionist parties oppose it.

Jim Wells, a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland and a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, has called for referenda to address the new changes.

“I and many others strongly believe that both issues should be made the subject of referenda which will give the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to have their say,” Wells said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

“There is huge concern in the community about the total lack of consultation prior to these changes and a sense of anger that they were unable to have their views considered in advance of October 21,” he continued. “They were forced through late at night by others who had little or no understanding of the values of the people of this part of the United Kingdom.

The Democratic Unionist Party is part of the Conservative coalition U.K. government now headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At the time the legislation passed, Theresa May was Prime Minister.

Wells’ comments drew criticism from pro-abortion rights campaigners such as Naomi Connor, co-convener of Alliance for Choice. She said a referendum would not be legally binding on the grounds that there is no written constitution and it would constitute a plebiscite.

Connor claimed that legal abortion is a matter of human rights.

“Human rights are not an a la carte menu that Mr Wells can pick and choose from and these matters should not be decided by referenda,” she said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

She said that successive Northern Ireland governments “failed women and pregnant people repeatedly by refusing to legislate for abortion provision.” She said his stand forced women to travel to the U.K. for abortions “in stigma and shame.”

Connor said it was “highly insensitive” for Wells to make comments near the anniversary of the October 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of an infection after reportedly asking for an abortion at University Hospital Galway. Doctors refused an abortion because the baby still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar later died of a severe antibiotic-resistant infection.

Pro-abortion rights campaigners have charged she was wrongly denied an abortion that they say would have saved her life.

An inquest found multiple communications failures during her treatment while also recommending changes in guidelines for doctors to save the life of the mother.


Brain death diagnosis for second Michigan teen raises questions

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 20:36

Detroit, Mich., Oct 29, 2019 / 06:36 pm (CNA).- For the second time in a month, a family in Michigan is fighting to keep their teenage son on life support after a hospital has declared the boy brain dead and made plans to remove his life support systems.

Titus Jermaine Cromer Jr., 16, was rushed to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak after suffering cardiac arrest, according to local news reports. When he arrived, he could not breathe independently or regulate his own blood pressure. However, after receiving hydration, nutrition, and body temperature regulation, his family’s lawyer says he is showing signs of improvement and can now breathe independently and regulate his own blood pressure.

However, hospital officials have diagnosed the teen as brain dead, after two doctors determined that he had suffered “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

The hospital made plans to remove his life support systems on Oct. 28, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The family challenged the decision and has asked for additional medical opinions on whether Cromer is actually brain dead.

“As a parent, if there's a million-to-one chance that he's going to get better, I'm going to take it,” the family’s lawyer said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “And I'm not going to get two opinions. I'm going to get 20. I'm going to fight for my boy until there's absolutely no hope at all. And then I'm going to fight some more.”

Oakland County Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou ordered the hospital to continue life support until a Nov. 7 court hearing on the teen’s health status.

The Detroit Free Press said the family’s lawyer described them as “very much guided by their faith, and as Catholics, they believe that removing life support would be murder.”

The case is similar to that of 14-year-old Bobby Reyes, who was rushed to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan last month following a severe asthma attack. Repeat tests in the following days indicated that there was no blood flow or electrical activity in the boy’s brain.

The hospital declared Reyes brain dead and made plans to remove him from life support. Reyes’ family fought the decision but ultimately failed to receive relief from a court, due to a jurisdiction dispute. Reyes was removed from life support on Oct. 15.

The hospital said in a statement, “Continuing medical interventions was inappropriate after Bobby had suffered brain death and violates the professional integrity of Michigan Medicine’s clinicians.” Michigan law recognizes an individual as dead if they have undergone “irreversible cessation of all function of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

The two Michigan cases have drawn renewed attention to the diagnosis of brain death and sparked concerns over parental rights in cases where family members question a diagnosis.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) maintains that cases of improvement over the course of months or years generally indicate an incorrect diagnosis of brain death in the first place.

“Stories of people continuing on a ventilator for months or years after being declared brain dead typically indicate a failure to apply the tests and criteria for determination of brain death with proper attentiveness and rigor,” said Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the center, in a 2005 information sheet.

“In other words, somebody is likely to have cut some corners in carrying out the testing and diagnosis.”

In Cromer’s case, the family believes their teenage son has been misdiagnosed. Their lawyer cited his improvements in independent breathing and blood pressure regulation as “very strong indicia that he has not suffered brain death,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Medical criteria for diagnosing brain death, while controversial in some circles, have been accepted by most Catholic bioethicists, provided that diagnostic tests are carried out thoroughly and carefully.

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the international congress of the transplantation society, St. John Paul II stated that using as a criterion for death “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem) … if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

The NCBC has also stated repeatedly that “Health care workers can use these neurological criteria as the basis for arriving at ‘moral certainty’ that an individual has died.”

The NCBC noted that determining death by these neurological criteria typically involves bedside testing to assess absence of response or reflexes, apnea testing to assess the absence of the ability to breath, and “possible confirmatory tests to further assess the absence of brain activity (for example, an EEG) or the absence of blood flow to the brain.”

Similarly, the U.S. bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services indicate that “the determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

And in 2008, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death … 'is' death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that after brain death, “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body. Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life. In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”

Still, some pro-life advocates question the medical criteria used for diagnosing brain death and argue that taking organs from individuals diagnosed as brain dead amounts to homicide. The NCBC rejects that stance as “irresponsible” and “in tension with Catholic teaching,” countering that while a body may appear to be alive due to oxygenated blood being mechanically pumped through the body, thorough and rigorous testing can confirm that an individual is truly dead.

Dr. Alan Shwemon, former chief of the neurology department at Olive View-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, is an outspoken critic of the criteria used to diagnose brain death.

Shewmon had diagnosed some 200 patients as being brain dead throughout this career, according to the New Yorker. But he began to have doubts about the condition, which were intensified when he saw the case of a 13-year-old girl in Oakland who had been declared brain dead but began to show signs of improvement after being given tube feeding and hormone replacement.

Over the next four years, the girl was able to respond to simple motor commands and underwent puberty-related physical developments before dying of unrelated conditions, Shewmon said. His analysis of the situation led him to believe that the girl had not been brain dead, but was instead in a “minimally conscious state,” with brain flow in the brain too low to be detected by imaging technology, yet sufficient to prevent the death of brain cells – a condition known as global ischemic penumbra.

“Her case challenges the claimed infallibility of diagnostic criteria for brain death and supports the hypothesis that global ischemic penumbra can mimic both clinical brain death as well as absent blood flow on radionuclide scans,” Shewmon asserted in a December 2018 article.

Cromer’s family is now seeking additional medical opinions and a long-term care facility that will accept their son.

Will Colorado tax sacramental wine? A legislative committee is studying the idea

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 18:45

Denver, Colo., Oct 29, 2019 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- A bicameral committee in Colorado’s legislature is considering two bills that would tax sacramental wine and insurance premiums paid to fraternal societies, like the Knights of Columbus, that sell insurance to their members.

The Tax Expenditure Evaluation Interim Study Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is tasked with evaluating recommendations regarding Colorado’s tax exemptions and credits from the state’s auditor.

Colorado governor Jared Polis pledged during his 2018 campaign to close “tax loopholes,” which he says lead to higher tax rates for state residents and businesses.

“We pay too much because special interests get too much in tax breaks,” Polis told business leaders earlier this year.

At an Oct. 30 hearing, the legislature’s study committee is expected to review a draft bill “concerning the repeal of the excise tax exemption for sacramental wines.”

The bill would repeal an existing state tax exemption for “sacramental wine sold and used for religious purposes.”

According to the draft bill, the tax exemption for sacramental wine is “claimed by a small number of taxpayers for a total amount of only $2,600.”

“There is no corresponding excise tax exemption for religious organizations that use other goods with excise taxes for religious ceremonies,” the bill says, proposing to eliminate the exemption “to simplify the collection and administration of taxes for the state of Colorado.”

Among other bills the committee will review is a draft bill “concerning the repeal of the insurance premium tax exemption for fraternal societies.”

“Under current law, the insurance premium tax exemption for fraternal societies states that fraternal benefit societies that offer insurance products to their members are exempt from the insurance premium tax. The bill repeals this exemption,” the draft text explains.

A January 2019 report from Colorado’s state auditor explains that 35 “fraternal benefit societies...which are social groups organized around a common bond that offer insurance products to their members.” The groups are exempt from state insurance tax premiums.

Fraternal benefit societies include the Knights of Columbus, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the Catholic Order of Foresters, and other social groups, both religious and non-religious.

The auditor’s report says that fraternal organizations have 116,000 members in Colorado, and received $189 million in premiums during 2017, but added that the use of fraternal organizations for the purchase of insurance is declining.

“In Colorado, as of Calendar Year 2017, about 2.4 percent of all life insurance policies were purchased through fraternals,” the report said. A decline in policies issued decreases the amount of revenue the state could collect by eliminating the tax exemption.

“Despite their decline in membership and insurance market share, we found that many fraternals continue to provide social and charitable benefits to the State,” the auditor’s office added, while noting that ending the insurance exemption would lead to an increase of state tax revenues totaling only around $3.8 million.

Colorado’s budget in 2018-19 was 28.19 billion.

While the draft bill proposes to eliminate the exemption, the bills are still under consideration by the tax committee.


Ohio Supreme Court will not hear appeal from abortion clinic

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 18:33

Columbus, Ohio, Oct 29, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- For the second time in three months, Ohio’s top court has refused to hear an appeal from the last abortion clinic in Montgomery County.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Women’s Med Center in Kettering, near Dayton. An earlier request to take up the case had been denied in August by the same court and in April by Ohio’s 2nd District Court of Appeals.

The case involves the Ohio Department of Health revoking the clinic’s operating license in 2016 because it had not obtained the required patient transfer agreement from local hospitals. The clinic challenged the decision.

Under a 2013 law, abortion facilities in Ohio are required to have a transfer agreement with nearby hospitals in case of a medical emergency. To be exempt from the requirement, a facility must indicate that it has sufficient backup physicians, and its request must be approved by the state health director.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the clinic has been operating under an exemption waiver that had expired. State Health Director Amy Acton denied the request for a renewed exemption. She said that while Women’s Med Center had four backup physicians, the clinic’s application “does not sufficiently address how coverage by the backup physicians is to occur and in what order the backup physicians should be contacted.”

Acton wrote a letter to the clinic’s attorneys in August stating that “now that the Ohio Supreme Court has declined jurisdiction in the litigation regarding the 2016 revocation, that revocation is final, and (Women’s Med Center’s) license is revoked,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Supporters of the clinic argued that the hospital transfer requirement is unjust. Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, called the law an “an undue burden (that) should be ruled unconstitutional.”

“It is shameful that Premier Health has shirked their responsibility to sign the transfer agreement that would allow the community’s only abortion provider to remain open - especially when you consider that the agreement would not require the hospital to do anything that federal law does not already require of the hospital,” she said, according to The Dispatch.

But Bob Wurzelbacher, director of Respect Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, applauded the court’s decision.

“We are grateful for this decision to close a facility whose operation was not health care but, in reality, a threat to the health of women,” Wurzelbacher told CNA. “We need to continue to be committed to truly helping women in crisis pregnancies, who can be served at several pregnancy care centers available to all women in the Dayton area.”

Archdiocese faces third discrimination complaint over same-sex marriage policy

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 18:00

Indianapolis, Ind., Oct 29, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Indianapolis on Wednesday defended its decision not to renew the contract of a school employee who publicly defended the same-sex marriages of two former colleagues. 

Kelley Fisher, who had worked as a social worker at Roncalli High School for 15 years, lost her job last spring after she publicly defended guidance counselors Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey, two former guidance counselors who were both dismissed last academic year for being in same-sex marriages, the Indianapolis Star reported. 

Fisher, who has said she identifies as straight, was an employee of Catholic Charities of Indianapolis, an entity that is also overseen by the Archdiocese. Fisher was contracted as a social worker by the school through Catholic Charities and reportedly received multiple warnings from the school before her contract was not renewed. 

In a statement made following the filing of Fisher’s complaint and provided to CNA, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis defended its decision to not renew Fisher’s contract.

“If a school’s leaders reject core aspects of the Catholic faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its mission,” the Archdiocese stated. “Because of that, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.” 

The statement added that parents rely on the Archdiocese to ensure that their students are receiving an authentically Catholic education. 

“Many families in our community have sacrificed so their children can attend schools where they will learn the Catholic faith. They rely on the Archdiocese to uphold the fullness of Catholic teaching throughout its schools, and the Constitution fully protects the Church’s efforts to do so,” the Archdiocese said. 

Fisher filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Roncalli and the Archdiocese, both of which are also facing a recently filed federal lawsuit from Fitzgerald, who claimed her firing was discriminatory in nature. 

Fitzgerald entered a civil same-sex marriage in 2014. According to the Indianapolis Star, after her civil marriage was brought to the school’s attention, Fitzgerald was asked to resign of her own accord, dissolve the civil marriage, or to maintain discretion about the situation until her contract expired. She refused these options and was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of the last school year, and remained on leave until her employment contract expired.

David Page, Fitzgerald's lawyer, argued in the lawsuit that his client was treated differently than heterosexual employees who have disobeyed other Catholic teachings.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Fisher said she was let go after she made two public Facebook posts in support of Fitzgerald and Starkey and advocating for a change in the archdiocesan contracts that require employees to adhere to Catholic teaching in and out of the classroom. 

“As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,” Fisher told the Indianapolis Star.

“Our job is, as a counselor or social worker, that we don't bring our values or judgment into a session,” she added. “And I feel very strongly about that.”

Fisher and three anonymous employees also told the Indianapolis Star that they were told by Roncalli that they needed to get permission to attend an event for Shelly’s Voice, a non-profit founded by Roncalli students in support of Fitzgerald after she was placed on leave.

The Archdiocese of Indiana said in its statement that these employees were “mistaken.”

“No teachers or counselors were told they need permission to attend outside events or civil weddings of any kind,” the Archdiocese said. “The expectations for all teachers and counselors at Roncalli are clearly laid out in the school handbook, and the superintendent of Catholic schools meets with any employees who have questions.” 

The Archdiocese has been the subject of multiple recent complaints and lawsuits due to its policy on same-sex marriages for school employees.

A Jesuit high school in the archdiocese, Brebeuf Prep, appealed to the Vatican after the archdiocese revoked its Catholic status earlier this year when it would not terminate an employee in a same-sex civil marriage. That appeal is still pending.

In August, Joshua Payne-Elliot, a teacher dismissed from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, filed suit after he was dismissed for contracting a same-sex civil marriage. In September, the federal Department of Justice said the school’s decision was protected by the First Amendment. 

Despite these challenges, the Archdiocese reported that “staff retention at Roncalli High School was 88 percent this past year, which is Roncalli’s highest staff retention rate in the past five years.”

“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis remains committed to providing high quality, holistic Catholic education and formation so that young people recognize the many gifts with which they have been blessed, and in turn strive to make God known, loved, and served,” the statement added.

“We invite anyone seeking a Christ-centered, student-focused learning environment where young people are supported in being the best versions of themselves to check out one or more of the 67 Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana.”


Catholic groups warn of assisted dying risks in House palliative care bill

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Oct 29, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed a bill late Monday to support palliative and hospice care—but Catholic groups are concerned that a key omission could allow federal funding of practices they say amount to assisted dying.

On Monday, the House passed the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (HR 647) by voice vote; the bill funds efforts to increase palliative care faculties at medical schools, as well as palliative care and hospice training and education.

Palliative care involves pain management and physical, psychological and emotional care for those suffering from a serious illness, and can be provided alongside medical care. Hospice care is when palliative care is given to patients with a terminal diagnosis, who do not wish to unnecessarily prolong their life through extraordinary means of medical care but who wish to remain as comfortable as possible.

The bill requires that federally-funded palliative care be in accord with Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, in that it cannot promote “assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

However, language that is not included in the bill that has some Catholic groups, including the U.S. Bishops Conference, concerned. 

The House bill omits language contained in the Senate version of the legislation, introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) in July. 

The Senate bill states: “As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.”

This clarification is significant, supporters say, because it offers an unprecedented definition of palliative and hospice care that specifically excludes any act that would hasten or bring about death. It refers to certain controversial practices which some in the medical community recognize as a legitimate part of palliative care, but which may cause or assist in causing the death of the patient.

Catholic organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), supported the Senate bill. Only CHA supports the House bill as well.

“We support the Senate version, and we made it clear to both the House and the Senate that we want the Senate version to prevail,” Greg Schleppenbach, associate director to the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

The language in the Senate bill is key to providing a sound definition of palliative care, he said, as some in the medical community are advocating practices that are contrary to the Church’s teaching on palliative and end-of-life care.

CMA, an association of Catholic individuals in health care with independent chapters throughout the country, supported Baldwin’s bill because it saw a need to promote “good palliative care and hospice care” as a means to “accompany” a sick patient and offer them a “life-affirming response” instead of promoting “euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

Both CHA and the USCCB cited current “barriers” to the provision of palliative care in the U.S. to argue in favor of Baldwin’s legislation, in a July letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

Such barriers include a lack of health care professionals trained in palliative care and a lack of patient education on palliative care options, the groups said in the letter.

In addition, the groups praised the Senate bill for requiring that federally-funded palliative care be in accord with Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, in that it cannot promote “assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

The House version contains this funding prohibition as well, but the Senate bill goes one step further. It contains an additional clarification: “As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.”

Doxing state Rep. Brian Sims apologizes, five months later

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 16:00

Harrisburg, Pa., Oct 29, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvanian state lawmaker who offered money in exchange for the identities and other personal information of pro-life activists, including two minors, has apologized to the family, five months after his actions.

Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the subject of an unrelated ethics investigation, wrote a card to the Garecht family of Pennsylvania in late October apologizing for recording them outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia in mid-April.

Sims had recorded Ashley Garecht, two of her daughters, and one of their friends while the group were praying out the Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia. Sims posted the video on his Twitter account and said that he would pay $100 for information about their identities.

In the video, Sims called the girls “pseudo-Christian protestors” who were “shaming young girls.” In other videos published later, Sims can be seen shouting at an elderly woman who is praying outside the same clinic on a different day. When pro-life group Live Action tweeted the post, he responded by saying the organization, founded and run by women, were “misogynists.” 

“Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and broken values,” he said in May in response to Live Acton’s tweet. In the following weeks, Sims continued to tweet pro-abortion rhetoric and defend his actions. 

Joe Garecht, whose wife Ashley was targeted by Sims, told the Washington Examiner that Sims had finally apologized months after the fact, and had sent the family a handwritten note. Previously, Sims had only apologized to Planned Parenthood, offering his regrets that his attempt to dox teenage girls had reflected poorly on the abortion provider. 

"Rep. Sims sent a short handwritten note, apologizing for his actions. We take him at his word, and we have already forgiven him," said Garecht to the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.

Following Sims’ apology, Pennsylvania Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Coaldale) withdrew his resolution seeking to censure the Sims for his conduct on Twitter and after the incident. In a press release, Knowles said it was “sad” that it had taken more than five months for Sims to make the apology.

“But he finally did apologize to the people he bullied, harassed, and doxed at the Philadelphia abortion clinic,” said Knowles. 

The resolution to censure Sims was never brought to the floor.

Alabama abortion ban blocked in federal court

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 13:38

Montgomery, Ala., Oct 29, 2019 / 11:38 am (CNA).- A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Alabama law banning most abortions, which passed in May, from going into effect on the planned date of Nov. 15.

The “Human Life Protection Act,” which Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law May 14, would have made attempting or performing an abortion a felony offense for medical professionals.

Despite the judge’s ruling, an Alabama lawmaker who helped sponsor the legislation is welcoming the legal challenge, in the hopes that the Supreme Court will ultimately review the law.

“Today’s ruling is both expected and welcomed. Our law was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court level, and today’s ruling is merely the first of many steps on that legal journey,” said Rep. Terri Collins as quoted by

“I remain confident that our mission will be successful and appreciate the support of millions of citizens who support our effort to preserve unborn life,” Collins said. reports that District Judge Myron Thompson issued a ruling blocking the law from taking effect while a legal challenge, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, makes its way through the court system.

Under the Alabama legislation, doctors who perform an abortion could be charged with a Class A felony and could face between 10 years and life in prison.

The law includes an exception for “cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child's mother,” and includes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The penalty would apply only to doctors, not to mothers, who, according to the law’s sponsors, would not face criminal penalties for seeking or undergoing abortions.

The sponsors, including Rep. Collins, have said that the law is designed to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, North Dakota, Kentucky and Mississippi have all passed various restrictions on abortion designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, many of which have also been blocked by courts.

Missouri passed a near-total ban on abortion in May designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny, but in August a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the new law, preventing it going into force.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama said in April that the state’s legislation reflects “the strong commitment that the people of Alabama have to life.”

In an April 3 statement, the bishop praised the lawmakers’ efforts.

“I strongly support these bills and stand behind the efforts of these legislators to promote life and to, hopefully in the near future, eliminate this evil we know as abortion from within the boundaries of the State of Alabama; and, eventually, to make the killing of unborn children in our country something that is no longer viewed as anything but the horrendous and inhumane killing of the most innocent among us that it is,” he said.

There are currently three abortion clinics operating in Alabama.

USCCB to give dioceses $10 million for local mission projects

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Oct 29, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced on Monday that it has allocated $9.9 million in grants for evangelization in the United States in the year 2020. 

The grants will go to 77 dioceses and eparchies, chosen in September by the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions. The subcommittee met in El Paso, one of the recipient dioceses. All the dioceses picked to receive grants “face significant challenges to their evangelization efforts due to geography, low populations, and poverty,” an Oct. 29 statement from the conference explained. 

Money for these grants was raised through the Catholic Home Missions Appeal, a national collection taken up each year in April. A “home mission” refers to a diocese or parish in the United States or its territories that is unable to provide basic pastoral services, such as access to the sacraments, religious education, or ministry training, without outside assistance. 

Selected grant recipients include the Diocese of Kalamazoo, which will use the money to support its migrant ministry outreach program. That program, now in its 20th year, reaches more than 15,000 migrant farmworkers in the diocese, and provides Mass, sacramental preparation, catechesis instruction and other services. 

Other dioceses will use the grant money to fund faith formation programs for youth and young adult Catholics, or to reach people in extremely remote parts of the diocese. The Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, which includes many isolated communities, will use the funds for this purpose.

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, who leads the committee on Catholic Home Missions, said in a statement that the grants are vitally important to the mission to spread the Gospel in the United States. 

“These dioceses otherwise might not be able to engage as robustly in the evangelization and outreach programs that foster the community and fraternity needed to enrich the faithful who long to grow closer to Christ,” said McKnight. 

“The Diocese of El Paso, along with many other dioceses throughout the United States struggle to meet the basic pastoral needs of the faithful,” said McKnight. “Thanks to the generosity of Catholics throughout the United States, dioceses in need can apply for grants that will help them with evangelization and pastoral ministry efforts.” 

Archbishop Gomez asks for prayers for those impacted by Calif. fires 

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 21:11

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 28, 2019 / 07:11 pm (CNA).- As 16 wildfires continue to incinerate thousands of acres of land in California, destroying businesses and homes, Archbishop Jose Gomez has called for prayers for the victims of the fires.

“We are facing a new outbreak of fires in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita regions,” Archbishop Gomez said in a statement on Friday, October 25.

“Please pray with me for the families at risk and also for the firefighters and other first responders. May God keep them all safe and bring these fires to an end! May Our Blessed Mother Mary be close to all of them,” he said.

The Getty and Tick fires, located in the area of the archdiocese, have burned at least 5,000 acres so far. The fires have caused mass evacuations and the closings of several Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Last Friday, 20 elementary schools and two high schools in the archdiocese were closed due to the fires. By Monday, Oct. 28, eight of the schools remained closed due to the Getty and Tick fires.

“Our prayers are with all those who are impacted or harmed by the fires, especially families who are evacuated and for the firefighters, police and others working to keep people safe,” the archdiocese said in a statement last Thursday.

Biden denied communion at SC parish

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- A South Carolina Catholic priest denied Holy Communion to  presidential candidate Joe Biden on Sunday, because of the candidate’s support for legal abortion.

Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, denied Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden Holy Communion at Sunday Mass for his support of legal abortion, the Florence Morning News reported Monday.

"Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey said in a statement he sent CNA Oct 28.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added.

According to the Florence Morning News, Morey was a lawyer for 14 years before becoming a priest, practicing law in North Carolina and working for seven years for the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Biden, a former senator from Delaware and the former Vice President of the United States, was campaigning in South Carolina over the weekend, the Associated Press reported.

Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004, explaining the application of Canon Law 915 to the reception of Holy Communion.

The memorandum stated that “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.”

The case of a “Catholic politician” who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter continued.

In such cases, “his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

Then, he continued, when the individual perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it," Ratzinger wrote.

“As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations,” Morey said.

While not supporting taxpayer funding of abortion as much as other presidential candidates, Biden’s campaign platform would seek to “codify” Roe v. Wade.

At a Planned Parenthood event this summer, Biden promised to “eliminate all of the changes that this President made” to family planning programs, according to POLITICO, and said he would increase funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

In recent months Biden reversed course on the Hyde Amendment, once supporting the policy that protects taxpayer dollars from funding abortions and now opposing it.

“I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers,” Morey's statement concluded.

This story is developing and will be updated.


Pro-life leaders ask HHS to separate abortion payments in insurance plans

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 19:12

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2019 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- A group of pro-life leaders is calling on the Trump administration to finalize a rule that would require abortion to be billed separately from other services in taxpayer funded health insurance plans.

An Oct. 21 letter to Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services, applauded the pro-life efforts of the Trump administration.

The letter asked HHS to further these efforts by implementing a rule removing the ability for insurance companies to create “hidden abortion surcharges,” through which “enrollees...are unknowingly paying into plans that subsidize elective abortion.”

The letter was signed by the heads of more than 40 pro-life organizations in the U.S., including Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life Committee, March for Life Action, Americans United for Life, and American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNS.

“Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funding through Health and Human Services to cover elective abortions or insurance plans that include elective abortion coverage,” the signatories said. “Research shows that by the end of 2018, over 2.3 million babies have been saved as a result of this amendment.”

However, while the Hyde Amendment applies to federal health care programs including Medicaid, pro-life advocates have voiced concern for years that the Affordable Care Act does not follow its requirements.

Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account.

Critics have long argued that enforcement regulations under the Obama era were so permissive as to render the rules meaningless. The regulations allow for health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices or collecting it separately.

This essentially renders the surcharge invisible, critics have said. A Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring Section 1303’s requirements.

In their recent letter, the pro-life leaders called for clear and transparent policies requiring a truly separate payment and adequate enforcement measures for abortion coverage in taxpayer-funded insurance plans.

“While including abortion at all in government subsidized health insurance plans runs afoul of the long-standing principle of the Hyde Amendment, requiring separate payments is an important first step in correcting this wrong and providing transparency,” they said.

The pro-life advocates reiterated their support for the HHS proposal, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Exchange Program Integrity,” announced last November to explicitly require that abortion be billed separately from other services in taxpayer funded insurance plans.

“As we near the one year anniversary of the proposal of this rule, we strongly urge its finalization and swift implementation,” they said.

Pregnant college students need to know their rights, pro-life group says

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 18:39

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2019 / 04:39 pm (CNA).- As many pregnant students say they face pressure to have abortions to advance their education and careers, one pro-life group has released a “bill of rights” to help pregnant and parenting students protect their futures.

“The goal of schools should be to assist students, no matter their stage of life,” the Students for Life’s Pregnant on Campus initiative said on its website. “If a student is being bullied by coaches, intimidated by professors, and pressured by friends, this is not the supportive, empowering environment that pregnant and parenting students on American campuses deserve.”

The relevant law, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, bars federal money to academic institutions and programs that discriminate on the basis of sex. These institutions include colleges, universities and elementary and secondary schools.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said that more than one in five students is a parent, and over 70% of these parenting students are women.

“Lack of awareness of the rights of pregnant and parenting students is widespread, affecting many students and student athletes,” Hawkins said Oct. 24. She said the Students for Life Pregnant on Campus initiative aims to educate women about their rights and to “provide them support, including legal assistance, so that they can complete their educations.”

In an essay for the Washington Examiner, Hawkins said that college athletic programs appear to be ignoring decades-old federal protections for pregnant women, as student athletes face pressure to have abortions. Hawkins noted that female athletes like Sanya Richards-Ross, who won a gold medal in the 400-meter race at the 2012 Summer Olympics, have said abortion is prevalent among track-and-field women athletes.

Camille Cisneros, director of the Pregnant on Campus project, said the effort aims to help institutions follow the law and to support pregnant and parenting students with access to child care and nursing rooms on campus or provisions like parking passes for pregnant students.

“Our goal is to make sure that pregnant and parenting students have the tools they need to create a beautiful future for themselves and their children,” Cisneros said.

Students for Life promotes a 10-point “Pregnant on Campus Bill of Rights.” It emphasizes the right of pregnant students to be free from limits on activities and benefits enjoyed by other students. These include involvement in clubs, academic programs and intramural activities like athletics.

One such right concerns pressures on women to seek abortions.

“Athletic directors or coaches may not bully students into abortion, threatening loss of future or present opportunity,” it says.

Students may not be barred from campus housing and may not have academic or athletic scholarships revoked due to pregnancy, nor may they be penalized in matters of financial aid, the document says. Further, scholarship recipients must be informed of their Title IX rights, and failure to inform students constitutes negligence on the part of coaches or other school officials.

Professors and other staff may not punish pregnant students who take medically necessary absences and they must make accommodations for retaking tests and completing other assignments, the document states. A student cannot be penalized because he or she is parenting a child.

Title IX offices on campus are tasked with compliance with this law, but Students for Life of America said these offices need to improve.

“Too often, Title IX coordinators are either complacent or complicit in violations,” the organization charged.

Students for Life said its more than 1,200 groups and chapters will be able to talk to fellow students, Title IX coordinators, academic institutions, and athletic department staff about supporting pregnant and parenting students.

The Pregnant and Parenting on Campus Initiative’s website is It provides information, flyers, social media graphics, and other material about pregnant and parenting students’ rights.

Dead Theologians Society: The ‘memento mori’ youth group

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 17:12

Denver, Colo., Oct 28, 2019 / 03:12 pm (CNA).- When Eddie Cotter Jr. was a youth minister in the diocese of Orlando, Florida, he had his students watch the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society.”

The movie stars the late and widely beloved Robin Williams, who plays an eccentric and unorthodox teacher that inspires his students to re-found a clandestine club called the “Dead Poets Society.” Members of the club meet in a cave to read and discuss poetry, including their own poems. In 1997, the film inspired Cotter’s youth group to found their own clandestine society.

“Following watching that film, a conversation was initiated by the teens, very enthusiastically, where they talked about, ‘Wow. Instead of learning about poets and writers as they did in the film, let's learn about the lives of the saints who we don't know a lot about.’”

Cotter’s students said they could recognize certain saints’ images in icons or statues, but beyond that, they did not know about their lives. “What were they like? How did they live? How did they die?" Cotter said.

That conversation inspired the founding of the “Dead Theologians Society”, a youth group format that has been used by parishes throughout the United States, now in its 23rd year.

The group thought the name “Dead Theologians Society” was apt not only because of the film, but because “we're learning about people who are only dead by the world's definition of dead, but they're fully alive in Christ,” Cotter said.

“Dead to sin but alive in Christ” became the motto of the newly-formed group, and they decided to meet weekly for two hours to learn about the lives of the saints and to pray for souls in purgatory.

Cotter said a typical Dead Theologians Society (DTS) chapter will meet weekly for two hours. The first half-hour is reserved for socializing, after which the students move into a chapel or a designated prayer space. Taking a cue from the style of Dead Poets Society, the room is typically dark, lit only by candles or smaller lights, and decorated with icons.

“Many parishes...they'll set up a room and make it look like a little monastery. They'll have a crucifix, maybe some Byzantine hanging lights in front of icons, and they make it prayerful. It's not spooky, it's not macabre. It's just a very prayerful and very sacred space,” Cotter said.

Once the meeting in the prayer room begins, a facilitator tells the story of the life of a saint to the group for about 20 minutes, followed by time for questions from the students about the saint or about the faith. This is followed by praying a mystery of the rosary, which is then followed by the group’s signature prayer, the St. Gertrude Prayer for Souls in Purgatory: “Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”

The prayer carries with it a promise that “a thousand souls are released every time this prayer is prayed sincerely,” Cotter said.

The number of souls is not exact, he added, “it’s not like there’s a total board that we have running at the national office. But we know that we have thousands of young people sincerely praying for souls, Lord only knows probably how many souls we have benefited. Padre Pio said, ‘We must empty purgatory,’ and our prayers help that to happen.”

The meeting then concludes with prayers for specific intentions of members of the group, and the Divine Praises. Afterward, parents of the members typically provide snacks. Cotter said many groups try to get as much parental involvement as possible, and that the timing of the meetings allows the parents to have their own holy hour before setting out food for the group.

From its beginning, DTS has had a profound impact on the students and parents connected to the group.

“In the first two years, we had 16 Protestant kids come into the Church, become Catholic, and one was a Protestant minister's kid. That's how effective it was,” Cotter said.

There were also conversions from parents, Cotter said, who hear about the group from their kids, who often bring home a prayer card or a medal of the saint of the week.

Cotter recalled the conversion of a father who, when his daughter (in DTS) went home, “she was talking about the proofs of the existence of God from Saint Thomas Aquinas. And her father actually came back into the church because he thought he was too intellectual to believe in God. And his high school daughter kind of set him straight in a very loving way. But it turned his life around.”

The DTS also gives confirmation students a chance to learn about the saints before they choose one for confirmation, Cotter said.

The group has also inspired numerous vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“In the last six months I've either met or learned of about 15 priests, three seminarians, and a nun, who were all in DTS in different parts of the country when they were teenagers and they all credit DTS as having a major impact in them finding their vocation,” Cotter said.

One of those priests is Father Raymond Snyder, a Dominican friar and priest who serves at St Patrick Church in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

As a teenager, Snyder joined the local DTS chapter at his home parish in Wichita, Kansas. He was not involved in his high school youth group, he noted, because as a Catholic school student he already had several other religious commitments. But DTS captured his attention, he said, and he remembered the saint stories being particularly compelling.

“(The leaders) were very good at presenting the saints in a convincing way and in a powerful way, and using that witness, that story and model of the saints to tell us something about our faith,” Snyder told CNA.

Snyder said that one of the most memorable moments of joining DTS was when he was given his hoodie. The DTS hoodie is only available to members of the group who have come for at least three consecutive meetings and is not sold publicly on the DTS website. They are black, with a small monstrance embroidered on one corner.

“It’s sort of like a habit, like a religious habit almost. It reminds one of that at least,” Snyder said. “It was a sort of a little bit of a rite of passage and something to kind of increase that ownership in the group.”

At the moment of induction, members promise to pray the St. Gertrube prayer for the souls in purgatory. Praying for souls in purgatory is an important practice of the Church, he added, so much so that the entire month of November is dedicated to praying for them.

“We're reminded to pray for not just the souls in general, but to remember our loved ones who have died and gone before us,” he said.

The aesthetic of DTS - candle-lit rooms, icons, a prayerful and sacred space - was important too, he said.

“The more things are bound up with our imagination and vivid memories, the more we remember them, which is part of why the liturgy has such an important place for us, and the practice of the faith to continually be reminded about the realities we cannot see,” he said.

After graduating high school, Snyder made the St. Gertrude prayer a part of his daily routine, “which may not sound all that remarkable,” he said, but over time it shaped his prayer life and vocation.

“It begins to be a practice in one's life, it almost adds to that contour and the shape of one's life and vocation,” he said.

Snyder said he started thinking about the priesthood “around my freshman, sophomore year of high school, which is when I would've been involved in this group, and I began thinking about the priesthood and religious life specifically. It was a part of the whole ensemble of what God had for me at that time and for which I'm grateful now.”

Father Jack Fitzpatrick, who serves as parochial vicar at St. Paul's Parish in Colorado Springs, also credits DTS with influencing his faith formation in high school.

A kid from a small town, he said there wasn’t much going on youth-group-wise in his own hometown, but that he had a few friends from a nearby town involved in a chapter of DTS.

“They were telling me that their youth group was kind of serious, actually, there were a lot less icebreakers...and that really fit me pretty well. I wasn't really looking for games and things like that, I kind of wanted to go deeper into my faith,” he said.

“And so anyway, some of these friends of mine invited me to that Dead Theologians Society and I went and it was just awesome. It was kind of exactly what I was looking for.”

The saint stories told by the leaders were done in a somewhat “dramatic fashion,” he said, and the candle-lit room with holy pictures “lent itself to a more solemn feel...something about the aesthetic really did it.”

“It was supposed to mimic the environment of the catacombs in the early Church,” he said, “And the idea was, a group of Christians coming together to be encouraged by the virtue of other Christians who had gone before. You know, because that's the whole reason why...the early Christians went to the catacombs, because the martyrs were buried there. And they thought, ‘Boy, if we can learn from the courage of these holy men and women who have gone before then we can really be in good shape.’”

Fitzpatrick said he liked the more solemn and traditional feel of DTS compared to other youth groups at the time.

“The Dead Theologian Society really relied on a lot of traditional elements of our faith. Sacramentals were really important. We were all invested in the Brown Scapular. We had this hooded jacket that we wear that the priest would bless when we had earned it. And...there's just a lot of traditional elements in the Dead Theologian Society that honestly, I really didn't find in whatever the standard youth group in 2003 was,” he said.

Fitzpatrick also continues to recite the St. Gertrude Prayer for Souls today.

“I mean, the promise associated with it is that every time you say this prayer devoutly, a thousand souls will be delivered from purgatory. So, why not? Why not say that prayer as many times a day you can? I think what was really wonderful about learning that prayer and making it part of my spiritual life was the fact that I don't know that it had ever occurred to me that certain prayers had different promises attached to them,” he said.

Because Fitzpatrick had never heard of prayers with particular promises, he started researching what other prayers and practices of the Church came with specific promises. It led him down a path of searching for and discovering many treasures of the faith, he told CNA.

“That prayer really did open a door for me to learn about all kinds of other things in the spiritual life that are a significant benefit, and that people my age certainly would not have been exposed to,” he said.

He said he would recommend DTS to any parish looking for a way to get their young people involved and learning more about their faith.

“Think about incorporating Dead Theologians Society as maybe just a part of your overall youth activities that your parish, because for sure kids out there are looking for what DTS has to offer, and if you offer it to them, boy, they will start to grow, and they'll come, and it's just an amazing thing.”

Cotter said that in his experience, teenagers “embrace” the idea of praying for the dead as a way to help them to heaven.

“Most teenagers have lived long enough where they've lost somebody. It could be their grandparents, a sibling, parents of friends. So they've had some experience with death that was painful,” Cotter said.

“And we can tell them, ‘There are things we can do that's very real that can be of great benefit for the one you've lost,’" he added. “They love it and it actually gives great hope. There's an enthusiasm for it. It's a great service.

Cotter said that even though he founded DTS and has traveled the United States and even several countries abroad to spread its mission, few people really know who he is or what he looks like, which is too bad, because he has a pretty incredible bright red mullet.

He said he prefers to keep a low profile.

“There's probably just a handful of teens out of all the (chapters) ever that know who Eddie Cotter is and that's fine because this isn't about me,” he said.

“This isn't like the cult of Eddie Cotter's youth group. If I were to pass tomorrow, I mean I'm glad I have people that'll pray for my soul, from DTS, but the apostolate isn't based on me. And I like that. The teenagers now that are in DTS, they weren't even alive when this thing started,” he added.

Cotter said he thinks what makes DTS so appealing to teens, and why it has lasted for 23 years, is that it relies on the traditions of the Catholic Church. 

“I think it's going to keep going because these treasures of our faith are timeless. The shelf life doesn't have an expiration date on it,” he said.

“Everything we do in DTS is as relevant now as it was 23 years ago, as it was hundreds of years ago, and will be hundreds of years from now. And I think that's one of the many strengths of the program is it's not following trend trying to out-hip the teen culture. We're bringing them to our home field advantage which they're not going to get in the secular world.”

In 2015, DTS became canonically approved as a private association of the faithful by decree of the late Bishop Robert Morlino from the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin. Since its founding in 1997, there have been over 18,000 young people in roughly 550 parishes throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries who have participated in a DTS chapter.

Cotter said learning how DTS has impacted young people is one of the joys of his life. A few years ago, he was at a Catholic conference in Ohio when he was stopped by a van full of nuns who were honking at him. One of them recognized Cotter and had been involved in DTS as a teen.

“I'm blessed far beyond what I deserve because I don't have a theology degree or anything. I was a youth minister at a parish and thought, ‘Wow, we can do this,’” Cotter said.

“And so that's why when I very sincerely say: If Eddie Cotter can do this, there's a lot of people out there that are far more gifted than I am. If they decide to either have a chapter of Dead Theologians Society or do something to help save souls for Jesus, they can do it.”

Kate Olivera contributed to the reporting of this story.