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Flying on Sunday? Many airport chapels offer Mass

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 02:07

Washington D.C., Jun 1, 2017 / 12:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Flying on Sunday and need a place for Mass? A recent study revealed that 40 percent of major US airports have chapels offering Sunday Mass times for travelers and airport employees. 

Taking data from the 30 busiest airports in the U.S., the Pew Research Center identified airports offering Mass and other forms of Christian worship as well as Jewish and Muslim prayer services. 

The 2015 Pew study found that more than half of the largest hub airports in the U.S. contain chapels. Eighteen out of the 30 busiest hubs in the nation have chapels orientated towards some faith, and 14 of those have regular services. Four airports have irregular prayer services and offer rooms for mediation. Additionally, 12 airports offer Catholic Mass. 

Among the airports absent from the list was Los Angeles International, the second largest airport in the nation.

The study only considered data from large hubs, those that handle at least one percent of annual passenger boarding in the US. These airports range from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, where 45 million people travel annually, to Portland International, where more than 7 million travel. 

The first airport chapel was instituted at Boston’s Logan International Airport a little over 60 years ago, according to the Pluralism Project by Harvard University. Titled “Our Lady of the Airways,” it was a Catholic chapel, like many to follow. Airports saw a rise in chapels from the ‘60s until the ‘80s. 

Chapels with services from various different religions became popular in 1990s. Dallas/Fort Worth International has an interfaith chapel for each of its five terminals. 

Some airports, including smaller hubs in Florida and New York, have religiously neutral “mediation rooms,” which offer no services but only a space for prayer or reflection. 

Other airports have places of worship associated with distinct religions. For example, John F. Kennedy International includes a Catholic Church, Protestant chapel, synagogue, and mosque and has services multiple times throughout the day. 


 

Trump admin ponders new religious freedom rule for HHS mandate

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 17:51

Washington D.C., May 31, 2017 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leaked draft of a federal rule that would protect religious organizations from the controversial federal contraception mandate has won the support of religious liberty advocates, who say that it is sorely needed. 

“What the rule ultimately says, is that, given how widely available these products already are, there is simply no need for the government to force unwilling religious groups who serve the poor to provide them or to pay massive fines that would shut down these types of ministries,” said Mark L. Rienzi, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the legal group that represents the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“As I understand it, this rule shows the United States government finally acknowledging that people can get contraceptives without forcing nuns to provide them,” he said May 31.

Rienzi spoke to reporters in a Wednesday conference call about a 125-page draft memo of a religious liberty rule reportedly under consideration at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The rule would add to, not replace, an Obama-era HHS rule, announced in late 2011, that required employers’ health plans to include coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortion. The initial rule’s religious exemption was so narrow it only exempted houses of worship, drawing widespread objections and lawsuits from more than 300 plaintiffs. Among those suing over the mandate is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

Subsequent revisions allowed some changes to the mandate for some other religious entities. However, groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor objected that the rule still required their complicity in providing such coverage, which violates their religious and moral standards. Refusal to comply with the rule would result in heavy – potentially crippling – fines. 

The draft religious liberty rule would allow any employer to request an exemption based on moral or religious objections.

“Expanding the exemption removes religious and moral obstacles that entities and certain individuals may face who otherwise wish to participate in the healthcare market,” said the May 23 draft posted to the news site Vox.

Employers seeking an exemption would have to have a clear statement in their health plan documents that they do not cover contraception or related products. The rule would also allow health insurers to decline to cover contraception and allow individuals to object to participation in a health plan that covers birth control.

During his presidential run, Donald Trump had pledged to aid the Little Sisters of the Poor in an October letter to Catholic leaders.

And in a May 4 executive order, he asked three cabinet departments to consider amended rules that would “address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

The same day, he hosted the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Rose Garden of the White House.

“With this executive order,” he said, “we are ending the attacks on religious liberty.”

However, their legal fight continues. Rienzi said the Little Sisters will still seek a court order to bar the government from imposing similar requirements in the future.

While a new federal rule protecting religious liberty would be “a very good thing,” he said, the Little Sisters have always wanted a court to definitively say that “the government cannot force them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.”

“The alternative would be a world where the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups, every four to eight years, have to be staring at the Federal Register, waiting and worrying to see whether the government is going to try to re-impose this.”

The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision of 2014 ruled that the mandate violated the religious freedom of closely-held private companies, but this did not apply to the Little Sisters’ case, as their organization is a non-profit. In May 2016, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to re-hear the nuns’ case, a decision considered a technical win for the Little Sisters.

One backer of the Obama-era rule, National Women’s Law Center vice president Gretchen Borchelt, told the New York Times she did not know the details of the new rule. Nonetheless, she charged that whatever the rule is, her group thinks it will “allow an employer’s religious beliefs to keep birth control away from women.”

She said her organization was preparing a lawsuit to challenge the proposed rule. Possible grounds for the lawsuit could be inadequate explanation or justification for the rule, which makes it “arbitrary and capricious.” She thought the lawsuit could argue that the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act bars discrimination in health programs that receive federal funds. The act also bars the health secretary from issuing any rule that “impedes timely access to health care services” or creates “unreasonable barriers” for individuals seeking “appropriate medical care.”

Rienzi said such lawsuits would not succeed, given that these groups did not challenge the Obama administration's other non-religious exemptions from mandatory contraception in health plans.

“There’s nothing at all unreasonable about the federal government respecting religious liberty. Congress didn’t impose this requirement in the first place, the agency did,” he said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation said that before the mandate, more than 20 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age paid out-of-pocket for oral contraceptives. After the mandate, that number is now 4 percent.  

According to Rienzi, figures on contraception coverage and contraceptive use ignore that the Obama administration had already exempted about one in three Americans, either on grandfathered plans or other government plans like military families. Big companies like Chevron and Pepsi were exempted by Congress for reasons of finance and convenience.

“About 100 million Americans did not have plans subject to this mandate,” he said.

“Some of the criticisms of the rule, at least that we’re seeing so far, suggest that it will take contraceptives away from many people,” he added. “That is quite inaccurate.”

Rienzi estimated only 120,000 to 130,000 people were employed by religious employers that would qualify for exemptions.

“Obviously this country has a lot of ways to get contraception to people without forcing Catholic nuns to get involved. It’s certainly a big enough country that we have room both for religious Catholic nuns and for people who want access to contraception,” Rienzi said.

Other backers of the draft religious freedom rule included the Susan B. Anthony List.

“The taking of human life is the antithesis of health care,” the group said. “No one, including religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor, or groups like Susan B. Anthony List should be forced to be complicit in the provision of abortion inducing drugs and devices.”

 

Portland archbishop calls for prayer, action following train stabbing

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 16:55

Portland, Ore., May 30, 2017 / 02:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, urged his followers on Facebook to practice Christ-like actions after a stabbing attack on a commuter train Friday left two people dead.

“I ask the faithful in western Oregon and all people to join me in taking some spiritual and practical actions in working towards peace and respect for those who make up this wonderful and diverse community,” Archbishop Sample wrote on Sunday.

Jeremy Joseph Christians, a 35-year-old convicted felon, shouted ethnic and religious slurs at two young women on the train, one of whom was described as wearing a Muslim head-covering, according to a statement from the Portland Police Department.

When three men attempted to intervene, Christian reportedly stabbed them before leaving the train. Ricky John Best, 53, died at the scene, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, died in hospital. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, remains in hospital in Portland with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, according to the police statement. Best was a member of Christ the King parish in Milwaukie, Oregon, according to the Archdiocese of Portland’s Catholic Sentinel.

Christian is currently being held without bail on two counts of aggravated murder and charges of attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

Archbishop Sample urged the faithful, first and foremost, to pray for the victims and their families, for those who may feel unsafe in the city, and for those whose hearts have hardened to the love of God, turning to violence and hatred.  

He also suggested they work with local citizens, government officials and faith-based agencies, such as Catholic Charities, to work to welcome all people to the Portland community.

“It is only through these Christ-like actions that we can truly make a real and tangible change to this continuing and growing disregard for the dignity of every human person,” the archbishop wrote.

 

Why women aren't choosing adoption – and how pro-lifers can change that

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 17:55

Washington D.C., May 29, 2017 / 03:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At 21 years old, Millie Lopus was pregnant and scared. A rising college senior at Loyola University Maryland, she was being pressured into having an abortion by her ex-boyfriend, the father of the child.

But after he drove Millie to a nearby Planned Parenthood to set up an abortion appointment, she recalled having “a sliver of grace,” and she “did not set up an appointment that day.”

“I chose instead to go through with the pregnancy,” she recalled, and gave the baby up for adoption. “I am eternally grateful that I have been spared the abortion experience,” Lopus said at a May 15 panel on “Adopting Life.”

The Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. hosted a three-part panel series on adoption on May 8, May 15, and May 22. The goal was to discuss how the pro-life movement can create a “radical culture of hospitality” for those facing a crisis pregnancy, and for their children.

Lopus’ story reflects countless other narratives of young mothers who are pressured against giving their baby up for adoption.

Today, mothers choose abortion at a far greater rate than adoption. In 2014, there were almost 1 million abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, but there were only 18,329 infant domestic adoptions, according to numbers provided by the National Council for Adoptions.

“Adoption as a real solution is often overlooked,” said Elizabeth Kirk, a writer and researcher who spoke on one of the CIC panels.

There are several reasons for this, she explained. Women have said in studies that “adoption is not a realistic option for them” and that they would suffer more guilt in leaving their child to an unknown future than in terminating the pregnancy.

They may also be facing pressure from loved ones or advisors against adoption. There are reported instances of Planned Parenthood workers “advising women that adoption is more traumatic than abortion,” Kirk said. Even crisis pregnancy centers may be reticent to bring up adoption to a mother because they fear that broaching the topic may “drive her to abort her child.”

Yet if a women is truly incapable of raising her child, and adoption isn’t in the picture, then abortion may seem like “the only real choice,” she said.

As for Millie Lopus? After she decided to carry the baby to term, she returned to school for the fall semester of her senior year. She played the entire tennis season, where she finished first in the conference in the doubles tournament. She left Loyola in the spring to have her baby daughter, and gave her up for adoption to a Catholic family.

Her daughter is now 24 years old, an actor and singer, and Lopus has three other children of her own. She now directs the New Women’s Care Center in Baltimore, a Catholic pro-life crisis pregnancy resource center offering free pregnancy tests, sonograms, and resources for pregnant mothers. For post-abortive women, they also refer for retreats through Project Rachel.

Yet within the pro-life movement, there still exists a debate over how much emphasis to place on the option of adoption. Many mothers may be emotionally or financially unable to raise their child and some, like Kirk, argue that far too little is said to these mothers about their option to give their child up for adoption.

Negative stories from the foster care system may be responsible for much of the stigma against adoption, even though mothers have the choice of offering a child for adoption privately or through a small center. There are almost 112,000 children waiting to be adopted in the foster care system, the average wait time being 31.8 months. Around 55 percent of the children have been placed with families three or more times, Kirk noted.

Studies show detrimental effects on children the longer they stay in the system, deficits in education, relationships, and an uptick in future criminal activity.

As a result, pregnant women “think their children are better off dead than placed with an adoptive family,” Kirk said.

Yet many Catholic parents are waiting to adopt and love a child, especially if they are not able to have any of their own, panel members insisted.

Once the prohibitive costs of the process are removed from the equation, “everyone starts looking at adoption for what it really is, it’s the greatest act of love,” Mary L. Ball, J.D., founder of Holy Family Adoption Agency, said at the May 15 CIC panel.

Birth mothers “want more for their child than they can give them,” she said, while a married couple is also looking to give a child unconditional love.

“I really think that adoption is the missing link in the pro-life movement,” she said. “We don’t talk enough about it.”

Dr. Grazie Christie, a radiologist and a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, agreed, and shared her own decision to adopt after having four children.

“We didn’t need a child. We had plenty of children,” she said of her family, yet “we had so much” and wanted to adopt as “an act of love.” They adopted a child from outside the U.S.

Yet she wasn’t ready for the skepticism and criticism she faced for her decision.

“We got a lot of negativity from people around us,” she said, including questions and observations like “You’re crazy,” “You don’t know what you’re going to get,” “You’re going out to get other people’s problems and bring them home,” and “Don’t you have enough children?”

“I was pained by it,” she said, but when she received her new daughter and began caring for her, “it was hands-down the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me.”

More married couples, upon finding that they are unable to have children, are turning to fertility treatments or in-vitro fertilization, but there are thousands of babies available for adoption, aching for a home, Dr. Christie said.

Ultimately, Christians and pro-lifers should be doing much more to promote adoption even if they themselves can’t adopt children, panel experts insisted.

“We have to very much, very specifically, very purposefully build a culture of adoption,” Dr. Christie said. “It has to be seen as yet another way that God matches children with their parents.”

“We all have a duty to practice this kind of radical hospitality” and “welcome the stranger,” Kirk said. And today’s stranger is the unwanted child in danger of abortion, she added. “Every couple is called to think about what they’re doing to help the orphan, to help the widow.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all couples must adopt a child, however.

For instance, Tina Andrews is CEO of ADORE Children and Family Services, which is a “therapeutic foster care agency” for children who have been neglected or abused. For prospective parents, she promotes “fostering to adopt,” where couples must undergo 40 hours of training and be involved in a foster parent support group before they can be paired with a child. ADORE monitors the placement of the child even after the family takes them in.

Many parents may “want a child,” she said, but they lack the parenting skills or the necessary support system for a child, and so her group looks to make sure that the fit will be the right one.

However, promoting adoption may be as simple as “educating people about the reality of what contemporary adoption looks like,” Kirk said.  Now, a mother has more power to choose the family she will place her child with, and this growth in culture should be talked about.

Dr. Christie said that while going through the adoption process, she was struck by the fact that adoption mirrors God’s relationship with us.  

“In bringing joy to others, in redeeming others” through adoption, “we allow ourselves to be redeemed in the process,” added Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin, resident research fellow at the Tikvah Fund.

“We need to live by example in this area,” he said of pro-lifers. “I think it’s a cultural change that needs to happen.”

 

Denver to provide lockers for city's homeless

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 18:02

Denver, Colo., May 27, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In response to Denver's large homeless population, the city is providing lockers for the homeless to place their belongings so they can take better advantage of local outreach programs.

If the homeless are worried about where to place their belongings and “don't have access to safe, secure storage and those are all your possessions in the world,” then they aren't going to utilize available resources said Julie Smith, a spokesperson from Denver Human Services, to the Denverite May 23.

Ten storage units were added to a street downtown, where many homeless shelters are located. Smith explained the containers will hold about as much stuff as will fit into a shopping cart, and can be reserved for 30 days with the option of an additional 30 day renewal. The sidewalk lockers cost about $3,000 for each installment.

Teaming up with the Saint Francis Center, Denver is also planning on adding 200 more storage spaces at the organizations employment service center, located near the city's capital building. The contract between the city of Denver and the Saint Francis Center will start on June 1 and with $130,000 for the first year of storage space. After that, the center will then be given $100,000 a year if the contract continues.

Smith said the pilot program will measure the use and frequency of the storage systems, and will reassess in year. However, she said in order to access these lockers the person must be actively involved in one of Denver's many homeless services.

Denver's Road Home has over 20 community based organizations aiding thousands of homeless people to find a job, skill train, long term and short term shelters as well as providing food and clothing. According to their website, nearly a thousand people were provided with housing last year.

Part of Denver's many programs is the Saint Francis Center, an Episcopal ministry serving homeless and ex-offenders. It was established in 1983 and has since developed career services and a housing program. An additional program providing permanent lower income housing will be made available in 2017 or 2018.

In 2015, the center served an average of 811 people per day, distributed nearly 90,000 units of clothing, and facilitated jobs for just under 400 people.

Colorado has a large homeless population, and it has increased by over six percent between 2015 and 2016, according to an annual report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Over 10,000 people were considered homeless in 2016, and less than one third of that do not have a shelter.

US bishop says Trump budget at odds with Catholic, American ideals

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 19:22

Louisville, Ky., May 26, 2017 / 05:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The former head of the US bishops decried President Trump's budget plan, claiming its cuts to social services conflict with both the Catholic faith and American principles.

“Whether through Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps or foreign aid, our nation has recognized that our worth is judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky said in a May 24 article published by Courier-Journal.

“The concept is shared by many religions and has become part of the ethos of the United States.”

President Trump issued 2018’s budget proposal, “The New Foundation for American Greatness,” on Tuesday. The proposal would defund many aid programs benefiting the poor, the environment, and the foreign aid, drawing outcry from organizations like Catholic Charities and Catholic relief services.

The budget proposes 4.1 trillion dollars for 2018, with budget cuts expected to affect nearly $19 billion in global aid according to Reuters.

Catholic leaders have applauded that federal funding will be redirected from Planned Parenthood to women's health centers that do not perform abortions. But they lament the decrease in funding to US charitable programs.

“Our church has always said that we fulfill our responsibility to the poor not only through personal charity, but also through our support for just governmental policies,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

“The work of these agencies to serve the most vulnerable people depends on both private contributions and public support.”

Archbishop Kurtz, who served as president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference from 2013-2016, discussed the benefits of foreign aid, especially to schools which provide both food and education.

“Right now in many developing countries, hundreds of thousands of kids get a nutritional meal every day at school … Sometimes that’s the reason they go to school. It’s a win-win situation: They get fed, and they get educated. They benefit. Their country benefits.”

He continued to give the example of Thomas Awiapo, who went to school solely because he was hungry. Receiving an education, he now works at Catholic Relief Services providing similar relief to other children.

After his father died, Awiapo was forced to live with his extended family. The family was already struggling with food, including family members who died from malnutrition. He then saw his friend returning from school with sorghum, a grain often used to feed US cattle. Attending school, he worked was able to receive food and education, and eventually he received his master’s in public administration.

The programs not only work, said the archbishop, but are part of U.S. history and serve to affirm the inherit dignity of the person. He expressed hopes that Congress would consider this and reject the proposal.

The budget cut would affect both Catholic Relief Services, an international aid program established in 1943, and Catholic Charities, a national relief program established in 1910. The programs rely on funding from private and public donations.

A budget cut for the next 10 years will decrease funding to national welfare programs by over $270 billion and $72 billion to disability programs in order to prepare for the increase in national defense.

Included in the proposal is an additional $54 billion to US military funding and $2.7 billion to immigration control. Military funding will have a total of $639 billion. Over $44 billion will go towards the Department of Homeland Security and nearly $28 billion to the Department of Justice.

This parish is hosting a benefit concert for children with cancer

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 18:12

Charleston, W.Va., May 26, 2017 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- A young girl in Charles Town, West Virginia was undergoing treatment for bone cancer when she dreamed about meeting a beautiful princess.

She later identified that princess as St. Philomena, and when she eventually recovered from bone cancer after extensive treatment, her family attributed the recovery to the intercession of St. Philomena, who is known as the patron of difficult situations, especially for youth.

In honor of her experience, the Catholic parish of St. James in Charles Town, West Virginia is holding their second annual St. Philomena Medical Benefit Concert, which will aid cancer victims and their families.

“The people of St. James have done their best to provide support to alleviate the strain that families naturally feel during these difficult times,” stated Angie Cummings, a member of the parish.

“Many have reported that, as they have done their best to exercise the faith during these trials, they have felt the presence of God grow stronger in their lives,” she continued.

Over the years, multiple individuals in the St. James community have experienced cancer, including three children, and many have lost family members to the disease.

St. James Catholic Church will donate all of the proceeds from the benefit concert to the Father McGivney Medical Assistance Fund. Founded by the local Knights of Columbus, the fund will be used to help out with medical expenses for local cancer patients.

The concert will feature the world-famous Irish band Scythian, with other music groups such as New Tides, the Santiago Mountain Band, and Holy Trinity Choir.

The benefit will take place on Saturday, June 10 at St. James Catholic Church in Charles Town. The doors will open at 6:15, and all tickets can be purchased online at Eventbrite.

More information can be found at RadioHeart Media.

Military chaplains help traumatized soldiers, but who helps them?

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 17:02

Washington D.C., May 26, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As military veterans and victims of violence are treated for psychological trauma, the emotional wounds of missionaries and military chaplains might be overlooked, but are just as present.

And with mass shootings, suicides, and acts of terrorism on the rise, more and more first responders like policemen, firemen, hospital workers, and clergy will “continually bear the brunt” of experiencing these horrors.

That's according to Monsignor Stephen Rosetti, a psychologist and former president of the St. Luke Institute, who spoke to CNA.

“The priests are helping others, and the question is who helps them?” he asked.

Monsignor Rosetti led the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., an organization that provides psychological care for priests and religious in need of treatment for mental illness, addiction, and other disorders.

Part of the institute’s ministry is helping military chaplains and missionaries who have served in war-torn areas, but also religious who have ministered to victims of trauma at home – amidst events like natural disasters and mass shootings.

Military chaplains suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental illnesses related to their ministry shared their struggles with the Washington Post last year. Repeatedly serving as a listening ear for the dark problems of soldiers, combined with experiencing the horror of battlefield combat and seeing the dead bodies of friends, can take its toll on a priest’s psyche.

“Just about all” priests and religious returning from a war-torn areas will need “some sort of support,” Monsignor Rossetti noted, like a “detoxing” in their transition from a stressful environment to life back in the U.S.

However, a few will require special attention, he said. These are cases where someone has experienced a particularly appalling atrocity or ongoing violence or stress, “almost too much for the human soul to bear.”

“I think especially of missionaries who are in violent areas,” he said, those who have witnessed “mass murders” or “unbelievable poverty and disease.”

For any clergyman traveling to a poor or war-torn area, “we try to train them as best we can to deal with such trauma” before they depart, the monsignor said, “but sometimes the situation is just so horrible that there’s a real human toll to it.”

Trauma – inflicted especially through acts of terrorism, mass shootings, and suicides – is on the rise, he said. The suicide rate in the U.S. is the highest in decades; the number of mass shootings are also on the rise.

Catholics cannot act as if the first responders like parish priests or military chaplains won’t be affected, he insisted. We must “help train them” to deal with trauma, he said, noting the need for “qualified laypeople” in fields like psychology.

Also, he added, “I think we shouldn’t isolate our chaplains.” Rather, we should be working to connect “first responders” like police, emergency medical technicians, hospital nurses and priests, who can talk about their experiences with each other and “support each other,” he said.

Tragedies can make or break someone’s faith, he added. If a person who has experienced trauma is treated with professional psychological care and a network of support, it can help sustain one’s faith and not break one’s spirit.

“Unspeakable sufferings do challenge our faith, and in times when our faith is a little bit too glib, it kind of bashes that and challenges it,” he admitted. “So these kind of events really challenge us to move deeper into the Lord’s passion and eventually, hopefully, His resurrection.”

“It can build up your faith in a new, deeper way, or sadly sometimes people lose their faith.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA June 5, 2016.

What can we learn from the newest priests? Encourage vocations

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 08:04

Washington D.C., May 26, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Members of the newest priestly ordination class in the United States were closely connected to the Church growing up through their Catholic school or parish, according to a new survey of the 2017 ordinands.

“They’re much more likely than Catholics in general to have attended Catholic school. A third of them have a relative who’s a priest or religious. They come from pretty active Catholic families,” Dr. Mary L. Gautier, co-author of “The Class of 2017: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood,” told CNA.

“They have more opportunity to be aware of and around priests,” she added.

The annual survey of ordinands is conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA).

This year’s survey featured 444 respondents, 343 of whom are entering the diocesan priesthood, from 140 dioceses. 101 of the respondents are entering the religious priesthood. The survey was conducted in March 2017.

According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, CARA compiles data every year for the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

The average age of ordination has continued a slight, yet steady downward trend in age from 1999, as the 2017 class average was 34 years, down from 36 years in 1999. 16 was the average age the ordinands first began considering the priesthood.

Most of this year’s ordinands – 82 percent – were “encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their life,” most often by a parish priest, although others reported being encouraged by a friend, family member, parent, teacher, or parishoner.

That “staggering number” should spur the faithful to be aware of their role in encouraging vocations, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, stated in response to the survey.

“That statistic should motivate all the faithful to be sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, who may wish to use them to extend the invitation to ordained ministry,” he said.

Conversely, almost half the respondents (48 percent), including 60 percent of those in religious life, reported being dissuaded from entering the seminary by someone else.

Encouragement of young men to enter the seminary is indeed a “very important” factor in their decision, Gautier said, encouragement “from family, friends, the parish priest, the teachers in the school, all of that makes a difference.

Seminarians were more likely than the average Catholic child to be involved in their parish and attend Catholic school, according to several statistics taken together.

“Between 40 and 50 percent” of the respondents went to Catholic school at some point in their life – anywhere from kindergarten through tertiary education -- and almost six in ten (59 percent) received religious education at their parish, “for seven years, on average,” the study said.

They were much more likely than the average Catholic adult to attend Catholic school, especially as they grew older.

Half of respondents attended Catholic grade school (K-8), 11 percentage points higher than the national average of 38 percent among adult Catholics. 41 percent of respondents attended a Catholic high school compared to the national average of just 19 percent, and 40 percent attended a Catholic college, much higher than the national average of 10 percent among adult Catholics.

Many ordinands were involved in their parish, either in their prayer life and/or through ministries.

Three-fourths were altar servers at their parish, and 52 percent of respondents served as lectors at Mass. 43 percent were Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Almost four in five regularly prayed at Eucharistic Adoration and almost seven in ten prayed the rosary.

And many were involved in group prayer, as almost half attended a regular prayer group or Bible study. Almost half “participated in parish youth groups,” and 34 percent were part of Catholic campus ministry or a Newman Center in college.

Regarding family life, the ordinands had an average of three siblings in their family, and are “very unlikely to be only children,” Gautier said. They are often the oldest siblings in their family, but in 2017 more respondents were middle children than were oldest children in their families.

Demographically, the class did not reflect an increasingly large Hispanic Catholic population in the U.S., and this is a challenge for vocations directors, Gautier acknowledged.

Seven in ten respondents were Caucasian, while only one-fourth were foreign-born. Meanwhile, the Hispanic Catholic population is growing, making up 34 percent of the overall Catholic population in the U.S. and 46 percent of Catholic Millennials, according to Pew Research in 2015.

“I think vocation directors are aware of the challenge and are actively working to increase vocations in the Hispanic community, but it’s not reflected in the numbers of ordinands, at least this year,” Gautier explained.

43 percent of the respondents listed an undergraduate degree from a college or university as their highest education level before entering seminary, and 16 percent said a graduate degree was their highest level. Those in religious life were on average more highly educated, as the vast majority (86 percent) of respondents in religious life had received an undergraduate or a graduate degree, compared to 52 percent of diocesan ordinands.

Almost one third (28 percent) of the respondents “carried educational debt, which averaged $28,318, at the time they entered the seminary,” the study showed.

Of those who carried such debt into seminary, they “were able to reduce it to an average amount of $25,830 which is 9 percent less than when they entered (unadjusted for inflation),” the study showed.

Respondents who were in religious life were actually able to reduce their student debt by almost half (46 percent) while in seminary, as almost three-fourths of them received assistance for this from their religious community. Meanwhile, the average debt for seminarians preparing for diocesan priesthood increased slightly.

How a nun's home is helping girls freed from sex trafficking

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 05:33

Baton Rouge, La., May 26, 2017 / 03:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The numbers are staggering. Each year in the U.S. alone, some 300,000 minors are victims of sex trafficking.

In Louisiana, state estimates indicate that about 40 percent of juvenile victims are being trafficked by their primary care giver: a mother, father, foster parent, uncle, a mother’s boyfriend.

Father Jeff Bayhi has heard unspeakable stories of sex trafficking victims over the years.

That’s why the pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Zachary, La. has worked to open Metanoia Home, a Baton Rouge-area shelter for sixteen women under age 21.

Caring for the victims are four Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy from India, Nigeria, the Philippines and Madagascar.

“They’re not there as social workers or therapists,” but as mother figures, Fr Bayhi said. “They’re going to be there, and be a safe place for these children to be. To be loved, to be nurtured, to be made felt special again in the sight of God.”

The project is modeled after the initiatives of Sister Eugenia Bonetti. The Milan-based Consolata Missionary sister heads the Slaves No More association. She has trained responders to help trafficking victims. Her former students work around the world.

“We have worked with her a great deal,” Fr. Bayhi said of Sr. Bonetti. “She has been here and addressed our legislature. She’s our model.”

Given the grim reality of human trafficking, thousands more people are needed to follow that model.

Trafficking problems in Louisiana are often attributed to its 15 million annual tourists who visit the state, especially New Orleans. The interstate highway that passes through Southern Louisiana runs across the country from Florida to California.

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services reported that more than 350 trafficking victims were found in 2015, and nearly 450 in 2016. Half of the victims were children, the CBS affiliate WAFB reports.

Young victims come from families that are not intact and have little supervision. Those raised by someone with a drug or alcohol addiction face some of the greatest risks.

Even so, traffickers target girls and women from all backgrounds.

“We have kids being seduced out of our high schools,” Fr. Bayhi said, citing the case of a 17-year-old senior at a white suburban high school who trafficked two 13-year-old freshman girls.

He said traffickers can target their victims through convincing them to engage in “sexting,” sending sexually explicit photos via phone.

“After that stuff gets out, these people own you,” he said. Other forms of blackmail can involve drugging the victim and filming her in a compromising act.

What do trafficking victims need?

“They need a safe place to be made human again,” said Fr. Bayhi. “When you’re 15 years old, and you’ve performed 3,000 sexual favors, you’re no longer a person, you’re nothing more than a receptacle in your own eyes.”

“Our response is the religious sisters who are there,” he said. “These nuns are the heroes. How do you pay people in eight hour shifts to convince a 15-year-old who has been abused that they really love them? You can’t do it. That’s why the nuns are just so incredibly important to this.”

The nuns of Metanoia Home will have the assistance of other professional volunteers including physicians, nurses, social workers and educators to complement their own expertise in helping victims.

“We need to get them stable, we need to get them to believe in themselves. We need to reconnect these children with God,” Fr. Bayhi said, noting that the house is open to anyone regardless of religion.

The potential beneficiaries could have very different experiences. Recovery for a 17-year-old victim who was trafficked for three months will be much different than for a 14-year-old who has suffered for four years in captivity.

“We will want the children to finally have someone in their life that we trust,” said the priest. Metanoia Home aims to help victims recover from their experience and re-integrate into society.

Increasing efforts are being made to work against human trafficking in Louisiana. Anti-trafficking programs in the state include special training for police officers to help them recognize victims of sex traffickers, rather than treat them as criminals. Fr. Bayhi praised the collaborative work between legislators, the governor, law enforcement, members of the judiciary and state agencies.

In January a delegation of Louisiana anti-trafficking leaders attended Pope Francis’ Wednesday general audience, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards led the delegation, which included Fr. Bayhi.

“It’s really a tragic circumstance and we have to really do much better in Louisiana and around the country,” Gov. Edwards told Vatican Radio in January.

Father Bayhi told CNA that the delegation had a very brief moment with Pope Francis, who thanked them and encouraged them to continue. The delegation spent considerable time with Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, whom Fr. Bayhi described as the Pope’s anti-trafficking point man.

The priest commented on inhuman trends in society that he sees as creating a breeding ground for trafficking.

“The sad fact is, there’s a market,” he said. Older men seek out little girls or boys as young as 12.

“One of the things I think you have to understand: human trafficking is not a problem. Human trafficking is a symptom,” he added. “We live in a society where we determine who has the right to be born. We live in a society where we get to decide who dies and when, with our elderly. And now there’s some recent things about Planned Parenthood, we’re talking about selling baby parts and making $52,000/week on baby parts.”

“For God’s sake, we have so devalued the dignity of human life that by and large as a society we see human life as a matter of profit, pleasure or possession,” he said. “Human life has become a commodity. Human trafficking is one more aspect of that.”

In January Fr. Bayhi told Vatican Radio that internet pornography is not a victimless crime.

“Someone is there making those kids do that stuff,” he said. “They are not there voluntarily and you’re paying the money that makes it worthwhile to kidnap these kids and force them into that. You may have never picked up one of these children on a roadside but you make that possible.”

The priest suggested to CNA that the Church and the U.S. bishops’ conference could engage in more education and outreach efforts to help trafficking victims.

“We need to respond to the needs of these kids,” he said, urging people to recognize the signs of trafficking.

“Someone 35 years-old with four 16-year-olds around him, shopping at Wal-Mart, if they’re hanging on him like he’s the best thing since sliced bread, something’s wrong with that picture. Something’s really wrong,” he said.

A Church response could involve the observance of the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, an ex-slave from Sudan. Her feast day coincides with the Feb. 8 International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

Fr. Bayhi suggested priests should be taught about human trafficking and how to preach about it. For their part, the U.S. bishops’ conference could dedicate more resources to anti-trafficking work.

As for Louisiana’s Metanoia Home, the nuns moved in on May 20. They are prepared to be mothers to young women in need.

Metanoia Home’s website is http://metanoia-inc.org.

 

New video shows graphic discussion of aborted baby parts

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 02:42

Washington D.C., May 26, 2017 / 12:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Preview footage released recently by the Center for Medical Progress appears to show participants at a national abortion convention casually discussing the skulls, eyeballs and other baby body parts they encounter in abortion procedures.

“An eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that is gross!” says one panelist in the video, to laughter from the crowd.

“When the skull is broken, that’s really sharp!” another says.

The footage also appears to show a person acknowledging, “We certainly do intact D&Es,” a presumed reference to dilation-and-extraction, or partial-birth abortions, which are illegal under federal law.

Planned Parenthood employees also appear in the footage discussing baby organs that are given to biotech firms for money.

“They’re wanting livers,” one abortion provider says. “Sometimes she’ll tell me she wants brain,” another medical director says.

The Center for Medical Progress – an investigative journalism group – released the undercover footage, which it says was collected at the 2014 and 2015 National Abortion Federation conventions.

It’s the latest in a series of videos the group has released. Previous videos have appeared to show employees in the abortion industry discussing the sale of body parts from aborted babies and talking about altering abortion procedures in order to obtain the best “specimens” of baby parts.

Other videos have also appeared to show employees setting abortion quotas at some clinics, and suggesting that they decide how to handle babies born alive after botched abortions based on “who’s in the room” at the time.

The Center for Medical Progress videos have given great momentum to efforts to end state and federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds annually, about 40 percent of its operating budget. While this money is forbidden by law from funding abortions, critics charge that these rules may not always be followed, and that any federal funding frees up other money for abortions.

In January 2017, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel investigating fetal tissue procurement released its report declaring that there are abuses and possible criminal violations in the area. The procurement of fetal tissue for profit is illegal.

Although a dozen states opened investigations into the organizations involved, they did not find legally admissible evidence of wrongdoing.

Backers of Planned Parenthood have charged that the videos were deceptively edited, a charge Daleiden has strongly contested, releasing the full videos to support his claim.

Daleiden is currently facing criminal charges for filming people without their consent in California. He claims that he is protected as an undercover journalist.

 

 

Can you be pro-life and anti-war? In Pittsburgh, apparently not.

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 20:00

Pittsburgh, Pa., May 25, 2017 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, a “Consistent Life Ethic” group was booted from sponsorship of the Pittsburgh March Against War after Facebook complaints against their pro-life stance.

Rehumanize International, previously Life Matters Journal, is a group that opposes all violence against human beings, including abortion, war, euthanasia, torture, capital punishment and human sex trafficking.

They were invited to co-sponsor the Pittsburgh March Against War, set to take place this summer, and were then removed from sponsorship after a vote of the other co-sponsors, following several complaints on the event’s Facebook page.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Facebook page for the March event had been deleted.

The Pittsburgh March Against War was organized by the Pittsburghers in Solidarity Against War, a coalition consisting of several organizations: the Anti-War Committee of the Thomas Merton Center, Veterans for Peace, CAIR Pittsburgh, International Socialist Organization - Pittsburgh, Socialist Alternative, Party for Socialism and Liberation, ANSWER Coalition, WILPF Pittsburgh, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Redneck Revolt.  

CNA reached out to all of the co-sponsor groups and the March event’s main e-mail for comment on this story, but did not receive any responses, aside from the Thomas Merton Center, by press time.

Aimee Murphy, Executive Director of Rehumanize International, said that she was first invited by one of the co-sponsors to a meeting about the Pittsburgh March Against War, a grassroots event scheduled to take place July 1 at the Schenley Plaza. Murphy previously hadn’t heard about the March, but wanted her organization to get involved after attending the meeting.

Murphy said she introduced herself, as well as the vision of Rehumanize, at the meeting and handed out her card to multiple people before her organization was added to the sponsors of the event.

“I handed out my card and said yeah, we’re kind of new to this, but check us out. So people in the roundtable had ample opportunity to vet us before they ever added us to the event, and they didn’t,” Murphy told CNA.

Once the group was added to the list of sponsors on the Facebook event, attendees began researching the group and complaining about Rehumanize’s pro-life stance in Facebook comments.

While the event page was deleted Wednesday, Murphy saved screenshots of some of the comments.

“...I can’t and won’t march alongside a group that equates my choices as a person with a uterus and my work as a scientist with war and imperialism. It’s dehumanizing and detrimental to the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement overall…” Abby Cartus wrote in Facebook comments on the event.

“I definitely believe Rehumanize was passed off as an anti-war group,” wrote another commenter, who amended her comment to be “an anti-war group only.”

In a Medium post, Patrick Young said that most people involved in Rehumanize “seem like caring and loving people. I do believe that they genuinely intend to be loving and compassionate in their work. They’ve gone to great lengths to separate themselves from the hateful and aggressive anti-abortion advocates that have been so persistent for decades and train volunteers on what they believe is a compassionate approach.”

Nevertheless, he said, they engage in the “abhorrent” practice of approaching women outside of abortion clinics “to guilt and shame women out of choosing to have an abortion,” and therefore he believes they were rightly removed from co-sponsorship of the anti-war march.

The Thomas Merton Center (TMC), which created the event Facebook page, responded that they were listening to concerns and that many of the groups planning the event only became aware of Rehumanize’s ideology “that stand against our human rights” after the Facebook comments.

On Tuesday night, a democratic vote was held with the co-sponsors of the event on whether or not to remove Rehumanize from sponsorship. Murphy said she was included in the call, and the thread of the conversation was whether or not an anti-abortion group could be allowed to sponsor the anti-war March.

As stated on the event page, before it was deleted: "The votes consist of 8-remove, 1-abstain, 2-absent, and 1-remain. Rehumanize International was removed as a member of the organizing group and sponsor of the Pittsburgh March Against War."

A statement on the Rehumanize International Facebook page reads: "Though we know that this is not meant as a personal slight against us, we are disappointed in the decision to exclude pro-life anti-war organizers as we fear it sends a signal to grassroots pro-peace, pro-life people that they are not welcome in the anti-war movement. [As with any social movement dedicated to the abolition of violence,] in order to end the atrocity of war, we need everyone committed to peace."

Murphy said she was “flabbergasted” that a representative of the TMC voted to "remove" Rehumanize, because Thomas Merton was a Catholic, pro-life Trappist monk who believed in a consistent life ethic.

"It seems a little strange that we are so wildly exercised about the ‘murder’ (and the word is of course correct) of an unborn infant by abortion... and yet accept without a qualm the extermination of millions of helpless and innocent adults... I submit that we ought to fulfill the one without omitting the other," Thomas Merton wrote in a letter to fellow activist Dorothy Day on Dec. 20, 1961.

Antonio Lodico, Executive Director of the TMC, told CNA that the involvement of the center in the March was largely through their anti-war committee, which consists of volunteers. Lodico said the TMC did not cast a vote regarding whether or not to remove Rehumanize because they had not had a chance as an organization to meet and discuss beforehand.

The TMC vote was likely a provincial vote cast by a representative of the volunteer group, but one that is considered binding unless the group changes their vote in the future. CNA asked the TMC to be put in contact with their volunteer anti-war committee but did not receive a response by press time.

Lodico added that while the TMC created the Facebook event for the March, they had given admin access to several of the co-sponsor groups and are unsure which group deleted the event.

“You may have received a notification that the Thomas Merton Center deleted the Pittsburgh March Against War Facebook event page. We did not approve deleting this event. A co-host deleted the event. The groups involved in planning this event are just finding out about this now. We acknowledge the labor that went into the education and conversation on the Facebook page and we regret that this effort was lost,” the TMC said in a Facebook post on their page.

This is not the first time that Rehumanize International has been excluded from sponsoring or organizing marches and protests. According to a press release from the group, “leading up to the Women's March earlier this year, they were summarily ignored despite their support of women's rights and nonviolence (while their sister group New Wave Feminists was accepted, then removed as a partner).”

Murphy noted in the press release that Rehumanize will attend the anti-war march regardless of whether or not they are sponsors.

"We are anti-war for the same reason we are anti-abortion: we believe in the inherent dignity of human beings and therefore, that all violence against them is contrary to that dignity," Murphy said.

"Because those who are bombed, aborted, and killed by other acts of aggression cannot afford for us to cease our holistic, human-centered work, we will march on July 1, even if we are unwanted. We will be there, supporting a message for peace and all life."

Following the deletion of the Facebook event, it is unclear whether the March will continue.

Pro-lifers slam Christian school for punishing pregnant teen

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 13:34

Hagerstown, Md., May 25, 2017 / 11:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Students for Life of America had strong words for a Maryland Christian high school that banned a pregnant student from walking at her graduation – a move they say will only deter women from being pro-life.

“Not allowing Maddi to walk in her graduation ceremony sends the message that being pregnant in a Christian school is an embarrassment that should be hidden away,” president Kristan Hawkins wrote in a May 23 letter.

“…this example may be the turning point causing many students to turn away from the pro-life and Christian message.”

The letter was sent to principal David Hobbs of Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. The private school refused to let senior Maddi Runkles walk at her graduation due to violating a moral clause she was obligated to sign.

Eighteen-year-old Maddi had a 4.0 grade point average, was involved in her student council and other leadership programs, and played soccer.

She found out she was pregnant in January this year and entertained the idea of an abortion. However, Maddi encountered the loving support of her parents and the Christian community at her church and chose to keep the baby.

Originally, Maddi was going to be expelled from campus and placed on independent study, but the degree of punishment was lessened after her family and 25 other parents and classmates appealed to the principle in person.

Principal Hobbs had said in a statement on the school's website that “we love Maddi Runkles,” but that the “best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.”

According to Students for life, Hobbs was planning on telling the school that the student had broken the rules, “but Maddi didn't want the information to go through a secondhand source.”

“So instead, she voluntarily got up in front of the entire high school and tearfully told them what she did and that she was pregnant.”

Even with the lessened punishment, Hawkins criticized the school board for deciding that graduation “is too great of an honor…on which to present a pregnant girl with her earned academic achievements.”

Hawkins argued that the public nature of the punishment is unnecessary, given Maddi's suspension and stripped leadership roles – as well as the sheer difficulty of pregnancy.

“It appears that the school is not satisfied that she has repented of and been held accountable for her initial offense, and that satisfaction of such only comes at a public cost.”

She insisted that the public punishment will only work to shame other women who will go or are going through a similar situation. Students for Life was founded with the mission of ending the need for abortion by educating youth, engaging with the students on campuses throughout the U.S., and lobbying for campus pregnancy programs.

A study released by the Guttmacher Institute shows that over 50 percent of women who procured an abortion in 2014 consider themselves to be part of a Christian denomination – nearly half of the group identifying as Catholic.

Another study, according to Care Net, said that 76 percent of women did not feel they were able to discuss their abortion with members of their church. Additionally, 65 percent felt judged by parishioners, and 41 percent did not believe their church was prepared to counsel them through pregnancy decisions.

Religious freedom cited in first US female genital mutilation case

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 05:02

Detroit, Mich., May 25, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A U.S. federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation will be challenged for the first time in a case in Detroit, where lawyers plan to cite religious freedom as a defense of the practice.

In the case, two physicians and one of their wives are charged with subjecting young girls to genital cutting. The three adults are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small Indian-Muslim sect located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), or the cutting or removal of a female’s clitoris and labia, has officially been illegal in the United States since 1997, under the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act.

Until modern times, the cutting or removal of female genitalia was considered a “cure” for various ills - hysteria, excessive sexual desire, lesbianism, etc. and was covered by some insurance providers well into the 1970s.

Now, FGM is widely understood by the United Nations and numerous other international human rights groups as a “harmful traditional practice”. The procedure has no health benefits for women, multiple health risks, and is considered a human rights violation.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the defense “maintains that the doctors weren't engaged in any actual cutting — just a scraping of the genitalia — and that the three defendants are being persecuted for practicing their religion by a culture and society that doesn't understand their beliefs and is misinterpreting what they did.”

Court documents state that the two Minnesota girls in the case had scarring and abnormalities on their clitorises and labia minora as a result of the procedure.

"According to some members of the community who have spoken out against the practice, the purpose of this cutting is to suppress female sexuality in an attempt to reduce sexual pleasure and promiscuity," a Homeland Security Investigations special agent wrote in an April 20 court filing, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Although it is the first case specifically challenging the law on female genital mutilation, experts believe it is unlikely that the religious freedom defense will work in this case.

“I don’t think the religious freedom argument will work. Based on Jehovah Witness cases of denying blood transfusions to children, the court should decide this type of case on the basis of what’s in the best interest of the child,” Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, told CNA.

Religious freedom has failed as a defense in numerous cases where a child has either been abused or denied healthcare, because the government has an overriding compelling interest in what is best for the child, a basic standard in the family law codes or statutes of most Western nations.  
 
A complicating factor in cases of FGM is that it is sometimes presented as the female equivalent of male circumcision.

However, “FGM is very different in purpose in that it is to deprive the woman of sexual enjoyment throughout the rest of her life.  Also unlike male circumcision, there are no health benefits and there are health risks to FGM,” Shea said.  

Some of those health risks include severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

"I can't imagine any court that would say that the parents' right to practice their religion gives them the right to inflict this harm on their daughters," First Amendment expert and constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky told the Detroit Free Press.

"It's going to come down to medicine, and if (the procedure) really inflicts great, lifelong harms on those who are subjected to it — that's what is going to decide this case," he said.

Despite the risks, the practice remains deeply ingrained in some cultures and religions where it is seen as a sort of “rite of passage” for young women, who often opt for the procedure themselves, rather than being forced into it by males in the community.   

Anthropologists have found that even educating mothers about the health risks of FGM is not enough to deter the practice in some areas, where it is a matter of cultural pride and a way of ensuring a girl’s future and acceptance in a society where this has been a long-accepted practice.

“What we're coming to realize is that programs that target individual mothers (about the harms of FGM) are completely ineffective. Mothers are not solely in charge of the decisions for their daughters,” Bettina Shell-Duncan, an anthropology professor at the University of Washington, told The Atlantic in 2015.

“We need to be targeting people who are in the extended family, and we know that we need to figure out who are the figures of authority in these families, and who are the influences on them in the community. We need to do male elders, but also female elders.”

“It’s about a conversation about, What is the best way to secure the future for your children? The future for their girls might not be best secured by being circumcised any longer,” she added.

Stronger religious freedoms in Texas could boost Catholic foster care

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 02:04

Austin, Texas, May 25, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church in Texas will work to promote more foster parenting, following the state legislature’s approval of strong legal protections for religious adoption and foster care agencies.

“Now Catholics can join other people of good will and serve Texas’ children in good faith,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

This fall, the bishops’ conference has said, it will work with diocesan offices on a campaign to encourage Catholic families to be foster parents.

“Most Catholic Charities in the state had withdrawn from serving foster children,” the bishops’ conference said May 22. “The new law removes a significant barrier to Catholics serving children in the foster care system and will trigger greater recruitment efforts by Catholic parishes and ministries.”

The bill, called the Freedom to Serve Children Act, could protect the ability of organizations and individuals in Texas’ foster care system who have sincerely held religious beliefs to remove themselves from actions that would directly violate their faith.

It has multiple applications. It could allow groups opposed to abortion to avoid helping a minor obtain an abortion. It could allow groups that believe children should be placed only with a married adoptive mother and father to provide foster services without facing lawsuits from same-sex couples.

The bill passed the Texas Senate May 22 on a 21-10 vote. Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville joined Republicans to support the bill, saying it would help add more private adoption agencies to Texas’ system: “It's about increasing capacity, it's about providing homes for kids.”

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign the bill.

The Texas House of Representatives had passed the bill by a 93-49 vote on May 10, largely along party lines.

Private foster care and adoption agencies receive about 25 percent of child placement funding in the state, the Associated Press reports. Some groups had suspended services for fear of discrimination lawsuits.

In other states and the District of Columbia, long-serving Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down by laws against sexual orientation discrimination or new state funding rules that would have required them to place children with same-sex couples.

A Texas Department of Family and Protective Services report indicates that 314 children slept in state offices, hotels, shelters and other temporary housing between Sept. 1 and March 31, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The bill drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBT activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, charged that the bill would “prioritize discrimination over the best interest of kids in the child welfare system.”

Critics voiced concern the bill would allow foster parents to prevent children from being vaccinated. Some critics objected to protecting foster parents’ abilities to limit children’s access to contraceptives and abortion.

South Dakota passed a similar bill in March, but no other states currently have similar legislation.

Catholic academics urge protection of undocumented students

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 22:02

Washington D.C., May 24, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of increased government crackdown on immigration, a letter was sent to the Department of Homeland Security voicing Catholic support for programs promoting deferred deportation.

“As leaders of Catholic colleges and universities, we are dedicated to educating students from all backgrounds,” read the May 23 statement with over 65 signatures from presidents of Catholic colleges throughout the U.S.

“In keeping with this commitment, many of our institutions are home to young men and women who are undocumented and have met the criteria for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We are deeply concerned about the futures of our undocumented students.”

The letter was addressed to John Kelly, secretary of the DHS. It requested that he meet with leaders of Catholic colleges to discuss greater involvement and understanding of current immigration policies aimed at protecting undocumented migrants with no criminal activity.

“We would like to better understand how immigration enforcement agencies in the Department of Homeland Security, including ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, approach DACA holders during targeted enforcement actions, police encounters or in public.”

The statement responds to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement which said that the reprieve granted to undocumented childhood arrivals isn't necessarily legally binding, but that they are less of a priority to deport than undocumented immigrants with criminal charges.

“DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority,” the group said in a tweet in March.

Individuals who are registered for DACA are also known as “DREAMers,” since many meet the general requirements of the 2001 Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was a policy put in place by the Obama administration in 2012. The policy promised to defer deportation for two y ear periods to those who qualified underneath the program’s guidelines.

In order to apply for DACA a person must be under the age 31 before June 2012, moved to the US before turning the age of 16, has a high school degree or are aiming to receive one, and has no record of felony charges, significant misdemeanors, or three smaller misdemeanors.

According to a study released in January by the Pew Research Center, over 750,000 undocumented migrants have received either deportation relief or work permits since the program’s establishment.

The current administration has a stricter interpretation of immigration policy than Obama's, but President Donald Trump has stated that he would not revoke the DACA program. He said targets for immigration enforcement will be criminals and not “DREAMers.”

Cracking down on immigration was a major platform of President Trump’s campaign. According to ICE, over 41,000 suspected undocumented immigrants have been arrested this year, a nearly 38 percent increase since this time last year.

However, just because “DREAMers” aren't targeted does not mean they are not affected.

The letter cited that 10 DACA recipients have been arrested and one has been deported since President Donald Trump took office this year.

DACA does not commission legal protection or defines legal status of the individual. But the policy is rather an omission by the DHS in order to ignore legal action, which they may have been carried out as defined by the immigration laws.

The policy does not necessarily bind the government to inaction, and even though the Trump administration has stressed the arrest of DACA immigrants to be of minute importance, there is still a danger that “DREAMers” will still be subject to punishment.

John Kelly confirmed a statement from President Trump that migrants like “Dreamers” will not be targeted, but only the immigrants with criminal records. However, Kelly acknowledged that laws were already broken in illegally crossing the border, and said “Dreamers” may still be subject to negative ramifications.

“People fall into our hands incidentally that we have no choice in most cases but to go ahead and put in the system,” said Kelly in an April 23 interview with CBS.

The letter stated that protecting the vulnerable is a Christian obligation, and applauded the policy’s ability to help undocumented students within the US.

“The DACA policy has enabled our students to continue their studies and pursue careers in their chosen fields, from education to medicine, despite great anxiety and uncertainty.”

Budget proposal draws concern for cuts to poverty programs

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 19:11

Washington D.C., May 24, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump’s budget requests, although applauded for their pro-life measures, were largely met with concern from Catholic aid groups, particularly for their cuts to welfare programs and international aid.

“Rather than balancing the budget on the backs of those who are poor while shoring up military spending, our budgetary policies should reflect compassion for those most fragile and, at the same time, should allocate funds to protect safety and the common good,” Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA, stated on Tuesday.

President Trump released his FY 2018 budget proposal “The New Foundation for American Greatness” on Tuesday, calling for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and an increase in immigration enforcement and border security funding.

To balance the budget over 10 years, these increases would supposedly be offset by cuts elsewhere, including to international aid, the State Department, a $191 billion cut in food stamp funding over 10 years, and cuts to other welfare programs.

The administration also announced a proposed budget increase in fighting the opioid epidemic, including “$12.1 billion for treatment and prevention efforts” and “$10.8 billion in treatment funding.”

In anticipation of the budget proposal, leading U.S. bishops wrote Congress on Tuesday outlining their serious concerns. The goal of reducing the deficit was legitimate, they said, but such deficit reduction must include a comprehensive set of cuts and not just cuts in programs tailored for low-income groups while increasing spending in other areas.

Particularly concerning to them were cuts to international aid programs at a time when conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa threaten to destabilize whole regions, along with droughts and famines. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan, and three other countries are on the brink of famines.

Overall, the proposed cuts to diplomacy and development amount to almost $60 billion, Catholic Relief Services says.

“This budget also shifts attention to short-term ‘strategic’ issues and countries,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president of advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, stated on Tuesday of the proposed cuts. “The danger is that problems elsewhere ignored today become the expensive strategic challenges our military has to address tomorrow.”

“The people who say aid does not work should come stand in my shoes here in Somalia,” said Mohamed Dahir, CRS’ country manager in Somalia. “They should talk to a woman who walked with her children for days and days, trying to escape drought, only to lose some of those children along the way.”

“In previous droughts, people like her found water in the major rivers, but this drought is so bad even the rivers have dried up,” Dahir said. “How can we abandon them – good, hardworking, innocent people who have done nothing wrong? Our aid not only brings them life, it brings them another commodity that is very precious in Somalia – hope."

Cuts to diplomacy are also distressing, CRS and the bishops said, as the international community still has yet to come together to negotiate a peace to end the six year-long conflict in Syria.

 Other Catholic aid groups largely were concerned over the domestic budget proposals.

Catholic Charities, USA “supports efforts to improve vital safety-net programs needed to move people out of poverty and protect life,” Sister Donna Markham said.

Yet “the disastrous, albeit cruel, cuts to anti-poverty programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and jobs training will have a devastating effect on millions of vulnerable individuals and families who depend on them,” she continued.

The Catholic Climate Covenant also expressed serious concerns about Trump’s proposed budget, calling the cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency “dramatic and unwarranted” and saying that they hurt the poor.

This is because the EPA has done “excellent work” for the environment, “yet far too many families, especially in low-income and of color communities, live near heavily polluted areas such as Superfund and brownfields sites, incinerators and coal-fired power plants,” the group explained.

Trump’s budget would cut programs having to do with clean-up of these areas and enforcement of environmental laws, rendering poor people in these communities more “vulnerable” to pollution.

“These cuts threaten the future of our children not only in the U.S. but around the world,” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, bishop liaison to the group’s board of directors, stated on Wednesday, pointing to cuts of programs working “to help reduce greenhouse gases, the major cause of the global warming we are experiencing.”

“Pope Francis has made it clear that the threat of climate change demands that ‘the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay’,” he said, quoting the encyclical Laudato Si’ paragraph 165.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, however, approved of the proposal that funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, would be redirected to community health centers. That funding would be estimated at $422 million.

“We’re encouraged to see that the budget released today prevents federal funds from going to the nation’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated on Tuesday. “Taxpayers should not have to prop up Planned Parenthood’s failing, abortion-centered business model.”

 

St. Louis rule creates legal traps for pro-lifers, lawsuit charges

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 08:18

St. Louis, Mo., May 24, 2017 / 06:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A St. Louis city ordinance that could force Catholic schools and pro-life pregnancy centers to hire employees who support abortion has drawn legal opposition from the Archbishop of St. Louis and several pro-life organizations.

“As Catholics, we know that all life is a gift from God and our parents, and must be protected at any cost,” St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said May 22. “Sadly, legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed by the Supreme Court in 1973.”

“Now, some of our St. Louis politicians have made a protected 'class' out of 'reproductive health,' which is merely a politically correct euphemism for abortion,” the archbishop said at a press conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

He said the archdiocese will not comply with the “vile bill.”

Archbishop Carlson was joined by Peggy Forrest of Our Lady’s Inn, which promotes abortion alternatives for pregnant women, archdiocesan newspaper the St. Louis Review reports. Also present was Sarah Pitlyk, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which has filed the lawsuit seeking judicial review.

The Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of St. Louis, Our Lady’s Inn, and the private company O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC are parties to the lawsuit concerning St. Louis Ordinance 70459, also called Board Bill 203 Committee Substitute. The ordinance, enacted in February, creates a protected status for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even in cases where the abortion was not their own. The protections apply to corporations and all businesses, not only individuals.

Opponents said the bill would bar any individual or entity, including Christian organizations, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or businesses that promote or provide abortions. It could require Catholic schools to hire abortion supporters or potentially be sued.

The lawsuit notes the archdiocesan schools require teachers and employees to sign a statement saying they will not publicly support abortion and will otherwise live in harmony with Catholic teachings in their professional and personal lives. Organizations that require such a statement face criminal fines under the city bill, while individuals who enforce it face a fine and even jail time.

“The passage of this bill is not a milestone of our city’s success. It is, rather, a marker of our city’s embrace of the culture of death,” said Archbishop Carlson.

Pitlyk of the Thomas More Society further criticized the ordinance.

“The City of St. Louis, by pushing an abortion agenda, is clearly out of step with the rest of the state,” she charged. “The city has taken the protections typically granted to prevent discrimination for ‘race, age, religion, sex or disability’ and applied them to those who have made or expect to make ‘reproductive health decisions’,” she said.

Forrest said that the ordinance would bar Our Lady’s Inn from hiring only individuals who support its mission to provide abortion alternatives.

She said that since the ordinance was passed, her organization has received several suspicious calls that seemed like possible legal traps. She said there is a great possibility “that women either pretending to need services or knowing full well they don't want the services that we provide will engage us just to see if they can catch us in violating the ordinance.”

“It’s insincere and takes up time for women who really are interested in our services,” Forrest added. “We support women who have already made a choice for life. And if that's not the choice they’ve made then our services don’t match them.”  

The ordinance would also require businesses to include abortion coverage in employee health care plans, even if owners object. The Thomas More Society said this requirement is unlawful under the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Hobby Lobby’s challenge to a federal rule mandating coverage of contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortion.

The Catholic-owned O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, was also part of the Hobby Lobby case.

The St. Louis legal complaint said the ordinance violates other constitutional protections involving free speech, free association, the religion clauses of the First Amendment, due process rights, and equal protection, as well as several state laws.

Pitlyk also faulted the ordinance’s “extremely limited” religious exemptions for housing and employment, and its lack of exemptions for individuals who have “sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion.”

“That is unconstitutional, and directly violates both federal and state law,” she said.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson defended the law in a statement, saying, “We don’t believe the ordinance infringes on the rights of the Archdiocese,” according to the Associated Press.

While backers of the ordinance said it aimed to address discrimination against individuals who have had, or were planning to have abortions, they could not find examples of such.

Pitlyk said the ordinance was “a remedy in search of a problem.”

 

Cardinal Dolan finds lesson in humility in life of Irish migrant who saw Our Lady

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 02:04

New York City, N.Y., May 24, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Irish immigrant named John Curry passed away in 1943 in New York City after a modest life.

But when he was reburied earlier this month, a large congregation gathered to remember the man who had witnessed the apparition of Our Lady of Knock.

Among those who honored his memory was Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who delivered the homily for Curry’s May 13 reburial Mass at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.

“We remember this sincere, honest, holy immigrant John Curry, who we come to bury today with reverence for who he was, with reverence for the country from whence he came, with reverence for the nation where settled, with reverence for what he saw that August 21, 1879,” the cardinal said in his homily.

On that evening, fifteen men, women, and children, mainly from the village of Knock in County Mayo, saw an apparition at Knock parish.

They ranged in age from 5 to 74 years old. Curry was the youngest, there with his cousin Patrick Hill.

Some of the witnesses reported figures that appeared to be the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John at the parish church’s gable wall. Amid luminous lights, they saw the figure of a lamb and a cross on an altar. In the pouring rain, the witnesses stayed, praying the rosary.

Cardinal Dolan said Curry beheld the apparition “with the simplicity and sincerity of a little five-year-old boy.” Throughout the rest of his life, Curry was “a man whose only quiet boast was that he was an altar boy, from his childhood at Knock to his death at Sacred Heart Home with the Sisters of the Poor, rarely if ever missing daily Mass and Holy Communion.”

Curry would later leave Ireland for the United States, then spent time in London before moving once again to New York. He spent his last years with the Little Sisters of the Poor at Sacred Heart Home and was buried in a donated, unmarked grave at Pine Lawn Cemetery on Long Island.

His reburial at Manhattan’s historic old cathedral drew Irish and Irish-American leaders. Their numbers included a group of Irish pilgrims from Knock, including relatives of the never-married Curry.

As an immigrant who first came to New York at the age of 21, Curry “really only distinguished himself by his simplicity, his humility, his kindness and his piety,” Cardinal Dolan said at the Mass. John Curry’s faith in Christ “animated his tender care for the sick” at the New York hospital where he later worked.

At the age of 63, the cardinal recounted, Curry testified “that he recalled the vision of Jesus the Lamb of God, silently adored by his mother, St. Joseph and St. John, as if it were last night.”  

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph and St. John,” said the cardinal. “They’re here, and the communion of saints, as is true at every Eucharist... as is the spirit of John Curry.”

“Our eyes are on Mary, are they not?” Cardinal Dolan asked. “The mother of Jesus, given by him to us as a parting gift from his cross on Calvary as our own mother too. Our eyes are on Mary as she appeared in that little village in County Mayo, Knock, on Aug. 21, 1879 in company with her spouse, St. Joseph, her spiritual son St. John, all three of them in silent adoration of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

He also reflected on the place of immigrants in the United States.

“Our eyes this this morning as well are on the immigrant, as Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees once in Egypt,” he said.

“John Curry was but one of the millions of immigrants who came here to America, from Ireland to be sure, but from almost every nation in the atlas, to enrich this country mightily, and to make this nation a light to the world, through its embrace of the John Currys of the world--a light, my friends, we can not allow to grow dim today.”

According to Cardinal Dolan, Curry would say the day is not about him, but about Jesus and the Virgin Mary, of whom St. Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s promise to her would be fulfilled.”

The day of the reburial Mass coincided with the May 13 observance of the centenary of the Our Lady of Fatima apparition.

New York City event to discuss how faith, modernity intersect

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:01

New York City, N.Y., May 23, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An event exploring the interaction of the Christian faith with the modern world – in light of the writings of the founder of Communion and Liberation – will take place in New York City this summer.

The June 22 event, titled Christianity: An Encounter that Shapes Life, is the second annual Giussani series on Faith and Modernity. It will be presented by global ecclesiastical movement Communion and Liberation, Crossroads Cultural Center, and the Sheen Center in New York City.
 
The event is free and will focus on the heart of the Christian faith and true human encounter as described by Monsignor Luigi Giussani in his book, “Generating Traces in the History of the World.”

An Encounter that Shapes Life will feature discussions from Father Solanus Benfatti, a professor of Spirituality and Franciscan Traditions at St. Joseph's Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York, and Michael Waldstein, PhD, a professor of theology at Ave Maria University in Florida.
 
Communion and Liberation began to emerge in 1954 by Italian priest, Catholic thinker, and educator Msgr. Luigi Giussani. The movement focuses on the actualization of man's faith by living the Christian presence within community.

In his 1995 book “The Risk of Education,” Msgr. Giussani described the movement as “showing the relevance of faith to life's needs, and therefore – and this 'therefore' is important – showing that faith is rational, implies a specific concept of rationality.”

“When we say that faith exalts rationality, we mean that faith corresponds to some fundamental, original need that all men and women feel in their hearts.”

Crossroads Cultural Center was established in 2004 as an extension of Communion and Liberation. The group's mission is to foster knowledge of reality and life's meaning, as seen through the lens of Christian faith.

The event will be held at Sheen Center located in East Village of downtown New York City. The center is named after the previous archbishop of Rochester, Fulton Sheen, and hosts events which align to the truth, beauty, and goodness as expressed by the Catholic Church.

A life stream of the conference will be made available at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Sheen Center’s website: https://sheencenter.org/shows/giussani2/

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