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Supreme Court rejects church funding case

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court will not consider a case which would have raised questions about the separation of church and state. The court ruled unanimously against granting certiorari in the case The Presbyterian Church in Morristown v. Freedom From Religion Foundation on Monday, March 4.


The case concerned the question of whether churches or other active religious buildings in New Jersey were eligible for taxpayer money designated for historic preservation.


Although all nine justices voted against hearing the case, three of the justices--Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch--issued comments saying the court would have to consider the issue at some point in the near future.


Kavanaugh, the newest member of the Supreme Court, issued an opinion in which he said that preventing religious organizations from accessing grants for historic preservation was “pure discrimination against religion,” and raised “serious questions under this court’s precedents and the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee of equality.”


In 2018, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that Morris County could not issue historic preservation grants to 12 churches located in the county. The county appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court.


The county had previously issued such grants until 2015, until a suit was filed arguing that the practice was a violation of the Establishment Clause, since government money was granted to repair actively operating churches.


The plaintiff in that case was represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a self-described “National non prophet nonprofit” that promotes the separation of church and state.


Attorneys for the foundation argued that the New Jersey State Constitution forbids taxpayer dollars from going to religious organizations.


In a press release published on its website, the foundation called the Supreme Court’s decision a “big triumph for the rights of hardworking New Jersey folks.”


In his opinion, Kavanaugh said that “the court will need to decide whether a government that distributes historic preservation funds may deny funds to religious organizations simply because the organizations are religious.”

Fat Tuesday pancake race: People flip out to show off their skill-ets

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 18:11

Dodge City, Kan., Mar 4, 2019 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- Fat Tuesday celebrations have included parades, carnivals, and parties. But have you ever heard of a pancake race?  

Olney, England, and Liberal, Kansas, will compete against each other March 5 in the International Pancake Race, a 415-yard competition involving pancakes, skillets, and some serious flipping skills.

This is the 70th race since the friendly feud began in 1950. Last year, Liberal beat Olney with the victory of Gaby Covarrubias, a local parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.

“It was an awesome experience. My first time running and winning was not what I expected. I had always wanted to race but never had the courage to sign up,” she told CNA.

“I didn’t enter the race with intentions of winning. I just wanted to be a part of the tradition,” she said. “This is a huge value to our community. It makes our community unique and brings us together each year.”

Although the competition has only been observed in Kansas for the last 69 years, the race itself is actually much older, said Greg Bird, general chairman to the Pancake Day Board. The committee runs the Pancake Hall of Fame, which is located at the finish line.

Originating in Olney in the 15th century, the tradition stems from the tale of a woman, who was so late to church she ran with pan in hand and apron still tied around her waist.

Like other pre-Lenten observances, the event is traditionally a means for Christians to purge their kitchens of provisions which would be surrendered during the 40 days of fasting and abstinence.

“Getting ready for Lent, everyone was trying to use up all their fat before Lent started. So there was a [woman] in Olney cooking up pancakes trying to use up her fat, when the Church bells started ringing for the shriving service,” Bird told CNA.

“The story is she got there a little bit late, the door was closed so she had to knock on the door of the Church to get permission to come in and the minister had to open the door, give her a kiss of peace, and let her come into the service.”

The race still clings too many of the old traditions. It is only permitted for women, 18 and older, who must compete in an apron, a headscarf, and a skirt. Once the race begins, the women must flip the pancake, run on an “S” shaped course similar to one in England, and complete the race with a pancake flip. As tradition demands, the winner of the race then receives a “kiss of peace.”

Numerous other activities surround the event. Over the weekend, a pancake eating and flipping contest was held, and Sunday concluded a talent show. Tuesday morning will kick off with a large breakfast, expecting to feed over a 1,000 people.

The event will include speeches from dignitaries and ministers. Since the race is international, officials from the either community will also speak at the event if they are visiting the opponent’s home town. In the spirit of unity, Liberal will perform both the US national anthem and God Save the Queen. This year, the Liberal Lutheran pastor will give a homily.

The race in Liberal has only 15 spots available for competitors, but the whole day contains races inclusive to the whole community, like kid races, a shorter race for women over 50, and a men’s race.

“We have a pacers' race, which is for the guys. The intention was, at the starting line, the guys would take the ladies coats and run the race a head of them so when the ladies did the race they would have their coats at the end,” said Bird.

After the contest, the town gathers for a service at the First United Methodist Church put on by the community’s ecumenical group, the Liberal Ministerial Alliance. Pancake Day then concludes with the awards ceremony, a video call with Olney to determine the victorious town, and a parade.

The competition is not only a financial benefit as a tourist attraction, but it is also a time for camaraderie and spiritual preparation. Pancake Chairman Mike Brack told CNA that it prepares the community for the Lenten sacrifice.

“It’s a great way to celebrate the tradition of Pancake Day and the beginning of Lent – the importance of preparing for Lent,” he said.

“It’s a coming together of our community, that’s what it was designed to do. The Lenten message of reminding of ourselves of the sacrifices that we have to make and doing that as a community…It’s very significant,” he further added.

Father Jacob Schneider, parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua parish, told CNA the event is an extension across Christian denominations and ethnic lines. He said the event is an ecumenical experience and a unification of the entire town, which, because of the county’s factory work, includes large portions of immigrants and ethnicities.

“It does, even for the very least because of pancakes, bring people together, who normally would never cross paths. In that regards, it is a really communal activity,” he said. “This is one of the few overreaching activities that has somehow transcended all the different cultures.”

Mobile archbishop: Victims of deadly tornadoes need your prayers

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 17:47

Mobile, Ala., Mar 4, 2019 / 03:47 pm (CNA).- Various storms spawned deadly tornadoes on Sunday, killing at least 23 people in central Alabama and causing more destruction through Georgia and Florida.

“Priests were present at the hospital yesterday to minister to the injured and their families,” Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile said in a March 4 statement to CNA.

“I am asking for prayers for all who lost their lives in the catastrophic tornadoes which occurred yesterday in the Archdiocese of Mobile and for those who have suffered from the devastating damage to homes and businesses,” he said.

Lee County, Ala. suffered all the reported fatalities, the New York Times said. More than ten people were unaccounted for, and the death toll is expected to rise.

“I would describe the damage that we have seen in the area as catastrophic,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said at a Monday press conference. “Complete residences are gone.”

Between three and five tornadoes hit Alabama. At its worst the main storm produced a tornado measuring as high as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds measuring perhaps 170 mph. Its path was at least 24 miles long.

“Almost a mile wide,” Meteorologist Chris Darden estimated, according to the website “A monster tornado as it moved across the area.”

Catholic Social Services has been in contact with local pastors and is “ready to help with the recovery efforts,” said Archbishop Rodi.

The Alabama tornadoes struck just miles from the town of Auburn. Local Catholics there reacted.

“Our continued thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the disastrous storms that took place yesterday,” St. Michael Parish in Auburn said on its Facebook page March 4.

The parish is circulating information about relief services and donations. It is collecting gift cards to give to agencies to distribute to families in need.

A tornado that touched down near Cairo, Ga., damaged dozens of homes and businesses.

“We have a lot of trees down, debris and power lines,” Cairo mayor Booker T. Gainor told The Tallahassee Democrat. “We have trees completely through houses. You would think a hurricane came after this, the way it looks.”

In 2011, storms spawned over 60 tornadoes that killed over 230 people in Alabama. The disasters prompted storm shelter upgrades and increased attention to the threat of bad weather, the New York Times reports.

Former NJ prosecutor named to top role in Metuchen diocese

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 16:30

Metuchen, N.J., Mar 4, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Metuchen has named a former public prosecutor as its new chancellor, Bishop James F. Checchio announced on March 1.


Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq. will begin his new role on April 12.


Kearns previously served as the Hunterdon County Prosecutor and a former Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey. In his new office, he will oversee the diocese’s corporate structures, supervise diocesan directors and their offices, support the diocese’s Catholic schools and Catholic Social Services, and will maintain the diocesan archives and records.


In a statement released by Metuchen announcing the hire, Bishop Checchio said that he had “consulted many” people over the appointment and had carefully considered the decision.


Checchio said Kearns “will bring much knowledge and experience to the position,” and that his “broad skillset” would “guide us further especially where civil and Church matters intersect.”


According to canon law, the chancellor of a diocese is responsible for maintaining the diocesan records, including confidential files often known as the secret archive. In many dioceses in the United States the role has been expanded, with the chancellor sometimes functioning as a virtual chief operating officer of the diocese.


The appointment of the former prosecutor comes shortly after the release of the names of “credibly” accused clergy in all the dioceses of New Jersey, and the creation of a special statewide compensation program for abuse victims.


The Diocese of Metuchen was erected in 1981. Its first bishop was Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was laicized, removed from the clerical state, on February 16, after a canonical process found him guilty of several charges of sexual abuse involving both adults and minors.


Prior to the installation of Cecchio in 2016, the diocese had been led since 2002 by Bishop Paul Bootkoski, previously McCarrick’s auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Newark.


In August 2018 former Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Vigano, accused Bootkoski of covering up McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians and priests. Bootkoski disputed the Vigano claims, and said that he had handled all abuse allegations against McCarrick in a timely manner.


The Diocese of Metuchen was one of three dioceses to agree a settlement with one of McCarrick’s adult victims. That settlement, paid in 2005, was not made public until the summer of 2018.


In addition to his legal career, Kearns is a trained family and adolescent therapist. He has also worked with survivors of domestic violence, both men and women.


In his announcement, Checchio praised Kearns for his “active faith and dedication to the Church,” and said that he was “especially grateful for his personal faith and integrity as a Catholic citizen” in accepting the position.


Kearns is married and has four children. He is a native of Hunterdon County, in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Commentary: Abortion, extremism, and the need for dialogue

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 4, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Last week, 44 U.S. Senators voted against legislation that would ban the willful or negligent homicide of babies -born alive after a botched abortion.
The bill would not have placed any restrictions on abortion in this country. It would simply have clarified in law that it is illegal to directly kill or withhold necessary life-saving medical care from a newborn baby who survives an abortion attempt. Yet nearly half of the Senate opposed this legislation, saying that they did so on the grounds of supporting women’s reproductive rights.
The vote last week demonstrated just how far supporters of abortion are expected to go in the name of women’s rights. But it also sheds light on the broader polarization of our country on the issue of abortion. Amid speculation that Roe v. Wade could soon be overturned, activists on both sides of the issue are working adamantly to gain ground, particularly at the state level.
Last month, New York enacted a law permitting abortion in all nine months of pregnancy if deemed necessary for the sake of the mother’s health, a provision that has been interpreted by courts so broadly as to essentially allow for abortion-on-demand. Illinois and Vermont are considering even broader legislation that would openly allow abortion for any reason at any time in a pregnancy. Expansive abortion bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Mexico.
Meanwhile, pro-life states are also working to pass laws that would protect life if Roe v. Wade were overturned. In both Missouri and Kentucky, lawmakers have advanced bills to ban abortion after a baby’s heartbeat can be detected. Iowa is considering an amendment to declare life as beginning at conception. The Arkansas House has passed a bill to limit abortion to the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. In North Dakota, House legislators passed a ban on the most common method of second-trimester abortion.
The stage is set for an intensified cultural confrontation over abortion, one in which each side thinks the other is a threat to fundamental human rights.
For those of us on the pro-life side, abortion is an issue of the utmost moral significance. Because we understand the humanity of the unborn person, we recognize abortion as the murder of the most vulnerable, helpless, innocent human life, something that can never be justified.
But to those who support abortion, the issue is also critical. Planned Parenthood’s new president, Leana Wen, said in an interview last week, “We should be approaching healthcare from a social justice lens, valuing each person and their choice. Only then can all people be free and equal.”

Those who believe legally protected access to abortion is necessary for freedom and equality see restrictions on abortion as a real repression of women’s basic and fundamental rights.
Abortion politics are a zero-sum game, in which neither side is content to agree to disagree. And with nearly two dozen abortion-related cases just one step away from the Supreme Court, it is clear that this issue is not going away.
A reversal of Roe v. Wade- a crucial first step-will usher in state-level fights in which supporters of abortion will not quickly give up.

In fact, a legal victory at the Supreme Court level would yield an unprecedented flood of money, manpower and determination for Planned Parenthood and its allies, who would broadcast immediately the message that women’s essential rights are in grave danger.
What, then, is the solution for pro-lifers? It cannot be a solely political back-and-forth, a tangled and vicious cycle of legislation and court rulings. If nothing else, pro-lifers are at a strategic disadvantage, and likely to remain so unless something changes: we can be outspent by the abortion lobby because of the extraordinary financial resources at the disposal of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and others.
The people speaking up most vocally about abortion tend to be those with the strongest views – either for or against. But polls consistently show that the majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle. They do not think abortion should be completely banned, nor do they think it should be completely unrestricted. They are uncomfortable with abortion – despite efforts by Planned Parenthood to depict it as something normal and even empowering – but they see it as an unfortunate solution to an unfortunate problem.

To win the abortion battle, at the federal and state level, we will need to change the hearts and minds of those people in the middle. And to do that, we need to learn how to dialogue with people who disagree with us on important issues- politicians, perhaps, but more important, ordinary people who have not been engaged meaningfully on the topic. We need to see them as human persons to be encountered.

The “us vs. them” mentality that leads to bitter, vitriolic arguments in Congress – or, more frequently, on social media – is only doing damage to the pro-life cause. That’s not how hearts and minds are changed.
Because these people “in the middle” often haven’t given a lot of thought to the issue of abortion, they have the potential to shift their views in a more pro-life direction, if they are presented with both scientific facts about unborn human life and compassionate solutions to difficult pregnancies. Especially if the pro-lifers presenting those things are open to patient and respectful conversation that recognizes the human dignity of those with whom we disagree.
Next month, the movie “Unplanned” will be released in theaters nationwide. It tells the true story of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood employee who underwent a powerful conversion and is now a pro-life activist. For Johnson, the conversion process included several key moments that led her to question her underlying assumptions about the abortion industry, and ultimately to have a profound change of heart.
Johnson’s story is a reminder that many of those who support abortion are well-intentioned. They want to help women. They’ve seen the challenges that an unexpected pregnancy can present. They believe, in the words of Planned Parenthood’s current president, that abortion is necessary for women’s equality and freedom.
Many of them also believe that pro-lifers are sexist bigots or religious zealots who want to repress women and stifle equality and freedom. Those stereotypes are purposefully disseminated to demonize pro-lifers. But we can’t overcome them without dialogue and encounter.
Nearly 25 years ago in Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II called for “a new culture of life.” It would be “new,” he said, in part “because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties.”
Almost a quarter-century later, the need for “dialogue among all parties” is perhaps even greater. And it is Catholics who should be leading the charge.


Tennessee bishops oppose 'Heartbeat Bill' over legal concerns

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 12:00

Nashville, Tenn., Mar 4, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Tennessee have voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law being considered in the state and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges.


The leaders of the state’s three dioceses released an open letter Feb. 26 stating that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge.


“We believe that the sanctity of human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception to natural death,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville in a letter that was originally punished in the Tennessee Register.


Although Kurtz’s archdiocese is in Kentucky, he currently served as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Memphis.


“While we wholeheartedly support the intention of the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ being considered by the Tennessee Legislature, we must also be prudent in how we combat the pro-abortion evil that dwells in our society,” said the bishops.


Despite enjoying majority support in both houses of the state legislature, and the endorsement of Gov. Bill Lee, the bill is also opposed by Tennessee Right to Life, the state's leading pro-life group.


In 1973, the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade found that a woman had a constitutional right to abortion throughout pregnancy. This, the bishops noted, created a legal precedent that must be considered when framing legislation that seeks to restrict abortion.


The bishops cited similar laws in other states that were passed, but never went into effect because of legal challenges. In those cases, the laws were found to be unconstitutional, and the state was forced to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.


“Given the field of legal realities that we must consider, we believe it would not be prudent to support the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ knowing the certainty of its overturning when challenged, in addition to the court ordered fees that would be paid to the pro-abortion plaintiffs,” they said.


Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest chain of abortion providers, has already said they would file suit against Tennessee if the Human Life Protection Act were to become law.


If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, it would free up states to enact their own restrictions on abortion.


The bishops said they would prefer to see pro-life legislation less likely to face legal challenges and more likely to be found constitutional. They voiced “urgent support” for an alternative Human Life Protection Act which would, in the event that Roe were overturned, trigger an automatic ban on abortion in the state.


Tennessee currently prohibits abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, and requires a woman wait 48 hours before receiving an abortion. Americans United for Life ranked the state as the 18th-most friendly to life in their 2019 Life List.


In 2014, voters in the state approved a constitutional amendment to the state constitution that said "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or the funding of an abortion.”


This constitutional amendment was approved by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018.

Trump joins pro-life activists to address CPAC

Sat, 03/02/2019 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump has accused Democratic politicians of pursuing a “extreme” abortion agenda that would lead to the “execution” of newly born children. The president joined prominent pro-life activists Saturday to address the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.


In a nearly two-hour long speech, Trump accused the Democratic party of taking a “radical” position on life issues.


"Democrats are embracing open borders, socialism, and extreme late-term abortion,” said Trump, to a chorus of boos from the reported crowd of more than 9,000.


Referencing the recent failure by the Senate to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, Trump said the pro-abortion agenda had become “extreme.”


Trump also pointed to recent comments by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and the passage of the New York Reproductive Health Act as evidence that there was not little to distinguish pro-abortion support from infanticide.


“Weeks ago, lawmakers in New York cheered as they passed legislation to allow babies to be ripped from the womb of their mothers,” the president said in his speak Saturday.


“They will execute the baby outside the womb,” said the president. “They will execute the baby after birth. This is a radical agenda by the Democrats."


Trump’s comments came amid a day in which several pro-life activists and leaders addressed CPAC. Earlier Saturday morning, conference attendees had heard from Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now works as a pro-life activist.


Johnson’s change of views on abortion is the subject of the upcoming film Unplanned, set for release later this month.


Following the president’s speech, pro-life and disability rights activist Gianna Jessen joined Live Action founder Lila Rose for a panel discussion titled “Left for Dead: Are There No Limits to the Progressive War on Humanity?”


Jessen spoke about her own personal experience of late term-abortion and the perspective it gave her on recent debates. She was born alive following a failed saline abortion on April 6, 1977. Her biological mother was 17 years old and 30 weeks pregnant. Jessen’s birth certificate was signed by her abortionist, who had not yet arrived to work that morning.


“Had he been there, he would have ended my life with strangulation, suffocation, or leaving me there to die,” said Jessen. “I always say, if abortion is about women’s rights, then what were mine?”


Due the circumstances of her birth, Jessen has what she calls the “gift” of cerebral palsy. Despite doctors believing that she would be unable to ever walk or hold her head up, Jessen has completed two marathons and will be climbing a mountain in Italy.


She said that she does not consider herself to be a victim, and finds her strength in her faith in Jesus Christ.


Jessen said she was “grateful” for her life, and “absolutely horrified” by what was going on in the United States. She credited the growing legal push for late-term abortion to a culture that has rejected God and does not understand the inherent worth of human life.


“I think that is a fundamental issue in the culture now: is that nobody knows why they are valuable. Because there’s no longer any God to honor,” said Jessen.


Unlike the president and several of her co-panelists, Jessen placed blame on both major political parties for the status quo on life issues in the United States.


“We have some bloodthirsty Democrats and leftists, and apathetic Christians and conservatives,” said Jessen, theorizing that because “many, many, many” conservative women had themselves suffered through abortions, they found it difficult to speak for fear of offending others.


“We reap the consequences,” Jessen said, of four decades of legal abortion - including a wider media which portrays pro-life Americans as beyond the mainstream of public opinion.


To this point, Rose noted that “a lot of people who are pro-choice want abortion restricted,” and pointed to recent polling that showed the number of Americans identifying as pro-life had jumped by nine points over a single month.


“When people actually learn these facts, when they learn what abortion actually does to that child,” minds change on the issue, Rose explained.


Rose also said that children are naturally pro-life, and that people “are not made to look at a new life as a negative thing, but as a gift.”


Life, she said, should be viewed as “an opportunity, not as a threat.”

Where do Ash Wednesday ashes come from?

Sat, 03/02/2019 - 17:03

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2019 / 03:03 pm (CNA).- “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Or, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

On Ash Wednesday, millions of Catholics throughout the English-speaking world will hear one of these two blessings as a priest applies ashes to their forehead in the sign of the cross.

But where exactly do the black or grey powdery ashes come from?

Per the instructions of the Roman Missal, ashes are typically supposed to be made from last year’s Palm Sunday palm branches.

These branches are then burned down into a fine powder and, in the United States, are mixed with holy water or chrism oil to create a light paste. In other parts of the world, sometimes dry ashes are sprinkled on the head rather than made into a paste.

BYOA - Burn Your Own Ashes

Fr. Dan Folwaczny is a priest with the Archdiocese of Chicago and serves as associate pastor at St. Norbert and Our Lady of the Brook parish.

He told CNA that the parish burns their own palms from previous Palm Sundays.

“We have an order of palms that comes in, and some of them are handed out on Palm Sunday but some are leftover, and those we usually store away in the garage until the following year,” he told CNA.

“And then also we have some that people bring back, so people have had them in their houses in the lead-up to Lent, and we’ll tell people to bring them in to the church,” he said.

Then on the day before Ash Wednesday, all of the old palms are placed in a fire pit on the church steps.

“And then the school kids come out and we have a little prayer service and light it on fire,” Folwaczny said.

While some priests order palms from religious goods suppliers, Folwaczny said he has always had plenty of palms and ashes to spare.

“We actually still have plenty in reserve from previous years,” he said. “We could actually not [burn additional palms] for a couple of years and still be fine.”

A similar procedure for the burning of ashes is followed in many parishes and dioceses.

Fr. Harrison Ayre, with the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, told CNA on Twitter that he burns his own ashes for Ash Wednesday in a metal garbage bin “and they reduce to ashes quite nicely.”

Ash buyers

While many parishes use Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to use up last year’s palms, the Church also allows for the buying of ashes from religious goods suppliers.

Fr. Joseph Faulkner, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., told CNA on Twitter that he buys his ashes from religious goods suppliers to avoid sub-par or “stabby” ashes.

For Catholic parishes in Colorado, one of the most-used such suppliers is Gerken’s Religious Supplies.

“There is quite an art to (burning ashes),” Mike Gerken, the co-owner, told the Denver Catholic in 2017.

“To get the good ash, you can’t just burn them. You have to let them smolder with no oxygen, and that’s where it gets the real charcoal black.”

Religious goods suppliers such as Gerken’s typically get their Palm Sunday palms, and sometimes the palm ashes as well, from palm suppliers in the warmer parts of the United States, such as California, Texas, Florida and other parts of the South.

Why Palm Sunday palms?

There is liturgical significance in the use of the palms from Palm Sunday, as opposed to other materials, to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

Father Randy Stice, associate director for the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, told CNA that the ashes made from palms remind us of what Lent is all about.

“Those branches herald Holy Week, the suffering death and resurrection of Christ,” Stice said. The feast of Palm Sunday occurs the beginning of Holy Week, which leads up to Easter. “Then that helps us identity with (Jesus) in connects us with events in Christ’s own life,” he said.

Ashes have also long been a symbol of repentance and conversion, even in the Old Testament, Stice added.

“It’s an Old Testament and a New Testament symbol of repentance and conversion, sorrow for our sins, awareness of our frailty and mortality - [symbols] that have been taken up by the Church from the earliest stages.”  


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 14, 2018.

Thousands of unaccompanied minors allege sexual abuse in government custody

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Thousands of migrant children and teens have reported being sexually abused or harassed while in government custody during the last four years, according to recently released government figures.

According to reports made public by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) earlier this week, between October 2014 and July 2018, there were 4,556 reports of sexual misconduct made to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement Of those reports, 1,303 were deemed serious enough to be referred to the Department of Justice.

"These HHS documents detail a staggering number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in their custody," Deutch said in a statement. "Together, these documents detail an unsafe environment of sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied minors."

The Office of Refugee Resettlement began keeping statistics on sexual abuse reported by “unaccompanied minor” migrants and refugees in the fiscal year 2014 - 2015. While the figures showed a rise in the number of complaints over time, the cause for rising and falling numbers in different years were not apparent.

The number of sexual abuse claims rose after the Trump administration began the practice of separating minor children from their parents at the border during the summer of 2018.

851 of the 1,303 claims referred to the Department of Justice involved allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment alleged to have occurred between two unaccompanied minors.

178 of the referred claims accused a staff member of assault or harassment of an unaccompanied minor. Among those claims were allegations that staff members had sexual contact with unaccompanied minors, showed minors pornography, or otherwise engaged in inappropriate relationships with them.

19 claims were made against adults who were not staff members; an additional 254 claims did not identify the alleged assailant.

According the data released by Deutch, at least two staff members accused of sexual misconduct were arrested and charged. More than a dozen additional accused staff members were terminated from their positions.

In a Feb. 26 hearing discussing the report, Commander Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps told Deutch claimed that the “vast majority of (sexual abuse) allegations proved to be unfounded.”

Speaking earlier this week about immigration, Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville encouraged Catholic to be attentive to the experiences of migrants, calling them “people the world often does not have time to talk to.”

“We create policies without talking to people who are affected by them,” Flores said.

“It’s so important for us as pastors to be in contact with the very concrete experiences of families,” he continued. “It is the work of the church to be hospitable,” he continued.

On Thursday, Caitlin Oakley, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the website Axios that the department treated allegations of abuse seriously, and required background checks for employees. She underscored that “ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond” to any allegation.

“The safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program,” said Oakley.


Temporary protections for some immigrants in US extended to 2020

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- About 250,000 U.S. residents from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua will have their provisional residency status extended to January 2020 as the Department of Homeland Security complies with a federal court order.

Since Congress established temporary protected status in 1990, U.S. immigrants with the designation from countries suffering natural disasters, armed conflict, or other major problems are not deported.

There are about 200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, 2,500 Nicaraguans and 1,000 Sudanese who have temporary protected status, the Washington Post reports.

The Trump administration had determined this status was no longer merited and it was set to lapse.

Plaintiffs challenged this decision in a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California, charging that the Department of Homeland Security was engaging in discrimination and violated rulemaking procedures. In October, plaintiffs in the case Ramos v. Nielsen won a preliminary injunction.

The Trump administration said the residents from the four countries no longer merited TPS, arguing that natural disasters from years previously should not continue to justify irregular residency. The U.S. regularly sends back other deportees to countries with citizens on the TPS list.

The decisions drew objections from several quarters. Some U.S. diplomats believed the countries were not in a situation to receive many deportees.

In response to one legal challenge, the October ruling from U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said plaintiffs raised “serious questions” about whether DHS officials’ actions were “influenced by the White House and based on animus against nonwhite, non-European immigrants in violation of Equal Protection guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Several U.S. bishops have spoken on behalf of the various expatriate communities.

In April 2018 a group of Salvadoran bishops and other Church officials visited the U.S. and asked the Trump administration to reconsider its decision ending the protected status for Salvadorans, who received TPS status after a massive earthquake in 2001.

The situation in El Salvador is still dangerous due to gang violence and severe poverty, they said. It is unsafe for people to live in the country and there are very few employment opportunities. The influx of people returning to El Salvador from the United States could overwhelm the already-fragile economy, they warned. Additionally, many Salvadorans living in the United States send remittances to El Salvador, which provides a boost to their economy. These remittances would end if they were forced to leave.

The rejection of TPS for Haitians was “a sad decision,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told CNA in November 2017. Haitians “cannot go back to a situation that still is very difficult,” said Tomasi, who has served as the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva and as a counselor for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The Haitian population with protected status arrived in the U.S. after the massive 2010 earthquake killed 200,000 and displaced 1 million people. The landfall of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 “destroyed half the island.”

At the time, Tomasi said, there were still not enough resources to support a return of tens of thousands of people.

A different lawsuit seeks to extend TPS for about 55,000 Hondurans and 9,000 Nepalese.

Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, in November 2017 said that Hondurans with temporary status have “deep ties to our communities, parishes, and country.”

“They are businesses owners, successful professionals, home owners, parents of U.S. citizen children, and most importantly, children of God,” he said.

Vasquez cited major problems in El Salvador related to violence and security threats, poverty, and environmental degradation that justify continued protections for Salvadorans in the U.S.

Medicare for All Act would fund abortion

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life and pro-abortion advocates have responded to a bill introduced Thursday which would transform radically health care in the United States and provide government funding for abortion services through Medicare expansion.


The Medicare for All Act of 2019 was introduced February 28 by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI). The bill is co-sponsored by more than 100 House Democrats. Jayapal is also the co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus.


In a statement published to her website, Dingell said that “the time is now to ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health care,” and that this bill is a “critical step in this long journey.”


If the bill were to become law, the federal government would effectively remake the healthcare system, banning private insurance plans. Under its provisions, all citizens would be covered and would receive most primary care free at the point of use, not paying costs out-of-pocket for care including vision, dental, and long-term care.


The bill also aims to introduce universal “comprehensive reproductive health" coverage for women, including abortions. It is unclear what the scope of abortion provisions would be, or if doctors would be able to refuse to participate in abortions if they are morally opposed to the procedure.


Representatives from Dingell’s office did not reply to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.


Currently, federal law prohibits Medicare money from paying for abortion services via the Hyde Amendment, but some states have programs that assist low-income women with affording abortions. Some private insurance policies cover, or partially cover, abortion services.


The Medicare for All bill would require the Hyde Amendment to be repealed.


Abortion advocates have expressed enthusiastic support for the bill’s inclusion of abortion services.


“Representative Jayapal has been an unwavering champion for women and reproductive freedom and we applaud her leadership today,” NARAL Pro-Choice America president and CEO Ilyse Hogue said in a statement.


“Rep. Jayapal’s Medicare for All proposal recognizes the simple truth that women will never be equal members in society until we have full access to reproductive healthcare. Put simply, a right is not a right if you cannot access it.”


Tom Shakely, the chief engagement officer at Americans United For Life, underscored the need to retain the Hyde amendment and prevent government funds from being used for abortions. He also told CNA that he was concerned by the bill’s aim to ban private insurance, noting the it could have serious consequences for healthcare choice and accountability.


"Every American of goodwill endorses medical care for all persons who need care, but Medicare for All’s regressive approach would create a single and unaccountable government monopoly on healthcare,” Shakely told CNA in a statement.


“We would never want the U.S. Postal Service to be granted a monopoly over the delivery of all goods in America. Take that principle and apply it to healthcare, if you’re not certain of how you feel about Medicare for All.”

St. Katharine Drexel's tomb at Philadelphia cathedral named an archdiocesan shrine

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 05:06

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 1, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced that the recently constructed tomb of St. Katharine Drexel at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul has been declared an archdiocesan shrine.

“We are the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and the Archdiocese Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel,” the cathedral’s rector and pastor, Father Dennis Gill, explained. 

“The tomb [had] already taken on a level of importance in the life of our local Church being here at the cathedral,” he told CNA.

Drexel’s sacred remains were transferred to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia last year. Previously, her body was buried at the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Motherhouse and Shrine in Bensalem, Pa. That shrine closed at the end of 2017, about 18 months after the sisters announced that they intended to sell the property. The smaller number of sisters found it difficult to maintain the relatively large property.

Drexel and her family had attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica when she was a child.

A solemn celebration for the tomb’s installation was held in November and led by Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Gill said the Cathedral quickly saw an increase of pilgrims seeking to visit and pray at the saint’s tomb. The priest then suggested the idea to the archbishop, who welcomed the decision and granted the decree on Feb. 19.

“We noticed very quickly that people where coming in larger numbers with each week to come and visit the tomb and pray,” he said.

“Once it was established that the tomb had become a place of significant pilgrimage, visitation, and prayer, that was sufficient enough to warrant the title of archdiocesan shrine.”

The site is now a shrine at the archdiocesan level, but Gill hopes it will be soon considered a national shrine. He said this title has steeper qualifications – including a program of devotion to the saint and catechesis about the saint – and must be petitioned by a bishop to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Gill said the shrine has already achieved nearly all of the requirements for designation as a national shrine. He expressed hope that a petition for this title will be submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the coming months.

The shrine is important to the community’s faith, he said, because it recognizes someone who grappled with the faith and chose Christ. He said the shrine is a light, proving to pilgrims that this Christian obedience is possible, no matter the generation.

“I think what it does is it makes available to people someone who lived the Catholic faith in a very sincere way, and [it] is an inspiration” he said. “I feel like it’s this real bright spot.”

Drexel was canonized in 2000 and is only the second saint to have been born in America. Having come from a wealthy a family in Philadelphia, she gave up her life of privilege to serve the needs of racial minorities.  

During a trip to Rome when she was 20, she was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. There, she explained that missionary priests were needed to evangelize and serve those in need. The Pope then asked her to become a missionary herself, which solidified her own desire to join religious life.

She entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in 1889 with the idea of beginning her own congregation to specifically attend to the needs of the Native American and African American communities. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891.

More than 30 mission foundations were established and 400 sisters served across 17 states by 1940.

Drexel’s order opened 50 schools for African American children, 12 schools for Native American children, and over 140 missions for these populations.

Her order founded what would eventually become Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Catholic university in the United States. Today, a school named after her stands on the site of the original college.

She died in 1955 at the age of 96, and the canonization process began 11 years later.

At the tomb’s installation last year, Archbishop Charles Chaput highlighted the saintly qualities of Drexel. He said her life teaches Catholics many things, especially a dedication to compassion and charity, even at a young age.

“Katharine Drexel teaches us that holiness, which means total generosity of one’s life, is for the young and not just the old,” he said. 

“[She] is a model for young adults of our time…Would that they would follow her example of commitment to justice, would that they wanted to follow in her footsteps of holiness.”


Vandalism at Brooklyn parish being investigated as hate crime

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 02:15

New York City, N.Y., Mar 1, 2019 / 12:15 am (CNA).- New York police officials have declared an act of vandalism against a statue at a local Catholic church last week to be a hate crime.

The incident occurred at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“At approximately 12 p.m. noon on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt entered the Church, removed the statue of Our Lady of Cisne and threw it in the trash across the street, causing damage to the statue,” the Diocese of Brooklyn said in a statement.

A parish staff member retrieved the statue, and the police were notified.

The police department has released a surveillance video showing the vandal taking the statue. Police are still looking for the suspect. The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is heading the investigation, the diocese said.

Our Lady of Cisne is the patroness of Loja, Ecuador. The Virgin Mary is depicted holding the baby Jesus. Many Ecuadorean immigrants in the United States have a strong devotion to Our Lady of Cisne.

Last week’s incident was the second act of vandalism at the church over the past month, the diocese said.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn strongly condemns this incident of religious hatred and is fully cooperating with the New York City Police Department’s investigation,” said parish administrator Father Willy Kingsley Ndi.

He said in a statement that the act of vandalism “has not deterred, but only strengthened, the resolve and faith of the parishioners.”


As LGBT push fails, Methodists reaffirm marriage, sexuality teachings

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 21:34

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 28, 2019 / 07:34 pm (CNA).- A major gathering of the United Methodist Church has reaffirmed its teaching on homosexuality, rejecting same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals, prompting predictions that some American congregations who reject this teaching will leave the denomination.

The international gathering, called a Special Session of the General Conference of the UMC, drew over 800 ministers and lay leader delegates to St. Louis Feb. 22-26.

The debate drew out different approaches to the authority of Scripture, marriage, and sexuality, but ultimately left the ecclesial community's official teaching unchanged.

Scott Jones of the Methodists’ Texas Conference said the decision resolves a longstanding debate and is consistent with the ecclesial community's teachings on human sexuality, which it has listed in its Book of Discipline since 1972.

That teaching states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination.

“We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons to our churches and affirm their sacred worth,” said Jones, according to the United Methodist News Service. “I pray we, as a denomination, can now move forward, working with each other in the spirit of Christian love and joining together as one. We are stronger together in serving God’s mission as a diverse body of Christ.”

The United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant ecclesial community in the U.S., where it has about 6 million members. Almost one-third of its membership is from Africa. Non-U.S. speakers from countries like Liberia and Russia were among the strongest backers of the successful proposal called the Traditional Plan.

“The progressive groups are loud, but they don’t have the numbers,” said Jerry Kulah, head of the UMC Africa Initiative, who said he was sorry so much time and money was spent debating homosexuality.

A pro-LGBT vote would have made the ecclesial community a “laughingstock” in Africa, he said, according to the Washington Post. “I’m happy to go back to old ladies and old men in villages who received the Bible from missionaries and let them know that the Bible hasn’t changed.”

UMC rules have officially barred same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. However, many American congregations perform same-sex ceremonies and ordain sexually active LGBT people as clergy.

The approved plan strengthened some disciplinary action against ministers who reject it. A minister who attempts to perform a same-sex wedding faces a minimum one-year suspension without pay for the first offense, and permanent removal for the second offense.

The plan now goes to the ecclesial community's top court, the Judicial Council, to address constitutional issues. The delegates also adopted a minority report on how congregations may disaffiliate from the community.

A different proposal, the One Church Plan, was recommended by the denomination’s Council of Bishops. That plan would have allowed local congregations, conferences and clergy to make their own decisions about whether to conduct same-sex marriages and ordain LGBT pastors.

This plan was rejected with opposition from 53 percent of delegates, after failing a previous day’s committee vote.

An alternative “Simple Plan” would have removed all teaching regarding sexual relations limited to husband and wife. This would have removed teachings against premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual behavior. About 60 percent of delegates rejected this plan.

Some foes of the Traditional Plan attempted various delaying tactics, including amendments stating that according to the Bible any candidate for pastor or bishop who is divorced or remarried is as ineligible as a practicing homosexual.

One critic, Rev. Dr. Mark Holland, executive director of the group Mainstream UMC, lamented the decision, saying “No way around it, this hurts. My heart breaks for all the LGBTQ persons in our connection.”

In a statement on his group’s website, Holland said the plan’s felt like the ecclesial community had “shattered” and “spilled.” He contended that the general conference is a “charade” that is “completely controlled by a well-funded, well-staffed, U.S. based advocacy group.”

“Our church was hijacked from the inside out,” he said, charging that the Traditional Plan was “gutted” and its unconstitutional parts were not fixed. Describing the exit plan as “fatally flawed and unconstitutional,” predicting it would be “dead on arrival” at the judicial council in April.

“They have a symbolic victory only. We are essentially at status quo,” he said.

John Lomperis, United Methodist Director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, backed the Traditional Plan. Writing at the blog Juicy Ecumenism, he said the conference showed “the very deep divides in our denomination.”

“There was plenty of loud, angry protesting. So much hurt all around. It was a rather stressful day,” he said.

In his view, the failure of the One Church Plan was a “dramatic rebuke” of the leadership efforts of the UMC leaders and if it could not be passed at this general conference it is difficult to see how it could pass in the future, when American delegate numbers will likely decrease and overseas delegates increase.  

The Reconciling Ministries Network called the passage of the Traditional Plan “deeply unjust and painful.” It attributed its passage to “the efforts of organized opponents to gospel inclusion who have funded and promoted the demise of Christian witness across denominations who have dared to call out a white nationalist strain of Christianity.”

“For decades, they sought the decline of biblical justice-rooted Christian traditions and have built the infrastructure and narrative that has now risen to power in The United Methodist Church.”

The network said the 1972 teaching is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and has been “so harmful to so many lives.” It said harm is done when “LGBTIQA+ lives” are not affirmed.”

The network dates back to 1982, when its founders sought to encourage congregations to affirm gays and lesbians. It claims 900 “Reconciling Communities” and over 35,000 members.

The future of some American Methodist schools of higher education is also in doubt. Jan Love, a dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, said Feb. 26 she and the other heads of the 13 official United Methodist theological schools believe “unequivocally” that the Traditional Plan threatened the future of the UMC in the U.S.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group within the UMC, backed the successful Traditional Plan but still might leave, association head Keith Boyette told The Atlantic.

LGBT advocacy within Christian denominations and Churches has external support. The Arcus Foundation has long backed LGBT advocates within Christian denominations and Churches.

A $150,000 grant to Church Properties Reimagined, Inc. in 2018 backed the Inclusive Coalition’s Project advocacy to “influence pro-LGBT Church policy,” while a 2017 grant of $30,000 aimed “to bring together moderate and progressive church leaders to develop shared strategies on LGBT issues” ahead of the 2019 special session of the general conference.

The foundation’s Spring 2018 grant announcement said the group’s grant aimed to deepen support for LGBT inclusion as an official UMC policy. The group has “recruited a group of well-connected individuals to provide leadership to the project.”

Since 2011 the Arcus Foundation has given $1.9 million in various grants to the group Reconciling Ministries Network for LGBT advocacy within the UMC.

Specifically, a 2017 grant of $220,000 backed “work to win over religious leaders in the Southern United States, Liberia, and Cote D’Ivoire, three crucial conservative strongholds within United Methodism.” A 2014 grant backed “clergy who engage in acts of ecclesial disobedience in the name of LGBTQ justice and work with coalitions for policy change” within the UMC.

The Arcus Foundation also funds dissenting Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition. Some of this work has targeted Catholic Church synods.

CNA contacted the Arcus Foundation, Reconciling Ministries Network, and Church Properties Reimagined but did not receive a response by deadline.

Omaha, Lincoln dioceses push back on subpoenas for child sex abuse records

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 19:07

Omaha, Neb., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln intend to ask a Nebraska court to suspend subpoenas compelling the Catholic institutions of the state to provide all records related to child sex abuse, CNA learned on Thursday.

The state attorney general's office issued subpoenas Feb. 26 to more than 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

Last year, the office had requested that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses have indicated their cooperation with that request.

An official of the Omaha archdiocese told CNA Feb. 28 that that archdiocese, along with the Lincoln diocese, are preparing to apply for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope.

The attorney's general office announced Tuesday that “The Nebraska Department of Justice has appreciated the voluntary cooperation demonstrated by the churches. However, the Department believes that subpoenas are necessary in order to ensure all reports of impropriety have been submitted to the appropriate authorities.”

“It is our goal that all reports of abuse are subject to complete law enforcement review and investigation as warranted.”

The subpoenas, issued to institutions such as parishes and schools, as well as the dioceses, “request all records or information related to any child sexual assault or abuse that has occurred by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not.”

Each of the state's dioceses have indicated their cooperation with a request made by the attorney general in September 2018 voluntarily to provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct since 1978.

The Archdiocese of Omaha announced Nov. 30 that it had submitted to the attorney general “documents pertaining to church personnel accused of criminal sexual misconduct since 1978.” The documents included information on alleged abuse or misconduct with minors that dated back as far was 1956, but was not reported to the archdiocese until 1978.

In the Omaha archdiocese, documentation regarded 38 clerics with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of or misconduct with minors since 1978. Of these, four were deacons, and 34 had offended before 2002. Information about the offenders was also made public, and the release noted that seven deceased priests were accused, but the claims could not be substantiated, and five former seminarians were dismissed for substantiated claims of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The Diocese of Lincoln stated Feb. 26 that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

It added that it was reviewing the subpoena it had received.

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island said Feb. 26 that his diocese had received the subpoenas, noting that they are “a commonly used legal tool to define the parameters of the inquiry.”

“While we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion,” Bishop Hanefeldt continued. “The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The Diocese of Grand Island had also noted in November that it was completing a review of clergy files regarding sexual abuse of minors.

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

Sex abuse in the Church has been a matter of national attention since last summer.

In mid-August the Pennsylvania attorney general released a grand jury report following an 18-month investigation into the files of six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. The report included allegations against 300 priests of abusing over 1,000 victims over a 70-year period.

And in June, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. He was laicized in January after being convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on charges of sexual abuse of minors and adults and solicitation in the confessional.



J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest.

Bishop Olmsted finds roots of abuse scandal in poor priestly formation

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 19:01

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 28, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- In face of the sex abuse scandals in the Church, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued a column this month asking the question: “What went wrong in priestly formation?”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted highlighted in his Feb. 17 column at The Catholic Sun three factors that contributed to the clerical sexual abuse scandal: the sexual revolution, weak seminaries, and clericalism.

He said the sexual revolution, which in the 1960s challenged the ethics of sexual behaviors in the West, had sought to promote a false idea of “free love.” With the surge of an overly sexualized culture, he said, the movement created long-lasting problems.  

“This revolution promised ‘free love,’ happiness and liberation from purported encumbrances of religion and tradition, particularly the Commandments,” he said.

“Sadly, the over-focus on sexual pleasure, the reducing and labeling of persons to their attractions (LGBTQ, etc.) and the viewing of persons as objects for pleasure have led to unprecedented numbers of infidelity, divorce, loneliness and abuse in the greater culture.”

He said the crisis was worsened by inadequate responses from the Church, citing silence and “harsh moralizing.” This only strangled the message of God’s love and distorted a full understanding of the human person, he said.

However, the bishop said there were also appropriate responses, including St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. He said this answer promoted a greater comprehension of true love alongside responsibility.

“Related to the general confusion about human love caused by the sexual revolution, we also suffered from an insufficient understanding of priestly celibacy,” Bishop Olmsted noted, adding that Pope Francis has affirmed the value of celibacy for the priesthood.

“Indeed, in a world that believes that sexual pleasures must have free reign, even at the cost of innocent unborn children, there is need for those men and women who proclaim by their lives that ultimate love and fulfillment come from God and that self-mastery is certainly possible with God’s grace. Chaste celibacy, received as a gift of God and formed through spiritual and human direction, is a needed response to a false idea of 'free love.'”

Amid the confusion caused by the sexual revolution “Church leaders faild to adequately screen applicants” to seminary, he said. “It was often assumed that the human and the spiritual qualities of the man were present and sufficient. This was a poor assumption, and it led to too little consideration of a man’s human virtues and of his relationship with Jesus Christ. As a result, some candidates unfit for ministry were accepted.”

Dissent from orthodoxy was present in many seminaries in the 1970s and '80s, he said, especially regarding sexual ethics.

“For example, the masculine spousal dimension in which a priest is called to love as Christ loved His Bride the Church (Cf. Eph 5) was not taught much at all. As a result, the priesthood was too frequently seen, not as a life of masculine love, but merely pertaining to certain ministerial functions. It was erroneously thought among some that the nature of the priesthood itself would change.”

Bishop Olmsted added that “some seminaries became places with not only men who lacked a true calling from Jesus to the priesthood but even where a homosexual subculture sprang up.”

“It is difficult to deny this problem considering the high percentage of abuse cases that occurred between men and post-pubescent boys.”

“On several occasions, our Holy Father has stated that clericalism played a part in the current scandals as priests and bishops sought to cover up abuses,” the bishop noted. He added that “disproportionate esteem for priests by the faithful, at times, was (and still can be) problematic.”

He said the priest, like any man, is a sinner in need of redemption, but the state is one of service.

“One should enter the priesthood through a calling from Jesus to share in His mission. That mission is to proclaim Christ Crucified and Risen from the dead,” he recalled.

“Especially in this country, Church leaders have been slow to embrace this mission and settled for simply maintaining her membership rather than boldly evangelizing the culture.”

The bishop noted that “instead of being Catholic out of conviction and a deep relationship with Jesus, the faith has become for too many something merely cultural,” and he recalled Archbishop José Gomez' statement that Christ “did not come to suffer and die so that He could make ‘cultural Catholics'”.

“Cultural Catholicism”, Bishop Olmsted said, “lacks true conviction to follow Jesus when His teachings differ from ways of the culture.”

He said that many of the concerns in priestly formation “are now being addressed well,” and recalled that St. John Paul II was “convinced that the answer to these scandals is great fidelity.”

“Like other times of storms in the Church, Jesus continues to renew His Mystical Body through holiness,” Bishop Olmsted concluded. “You and I are called to be saints.”

Missouri lawmakers closer to passing expansive pro-life bill

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 17:09

Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 28, 2019 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- The Missouri House of Representatives voted 117-39 Wednesday to send the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act to the Senate.

The bill approved by the House Feb. 27 would ban most abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

State Representative Nick Schroer, the bill's sponsor, told CNA in an interview that his bill started out as a simple "Heartbeat Bill" that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. He said courts have thrown out similar bills in the past in other states, including last month in Iowa. Still, he expressed confidence about this bill’s chances.

"The climate has changed to encourage bills like this to be refiled," Schroer said. "And we've seen that throughout the nation, with strong pro-life bills being filed."

For this reason, Schroer, a Catholic and an attorney by trade, said he worked with fellow lawyers to craft the bill so that it would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

"We looked at a bunch of case law and worked with attorneys on this," Schroer said.

"What we tried to do is craft legislation which, number one, would save as many lives as possible; number two, continue to help promote the betterment of the health, the well-being of the mother and everyone involved; but number three, if this were to go into the courts, which we are fairly confident that [Democrats] are drafting their petition right now, we wanted something that is going to withstand judicial scrutiny and be upheld in our courts."

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman's amendment to the bill modified it to include either heartbeat or brain function, roughly at the eight-week period, which would prevent abortions if either can be detected in the fetus. Schroer said if for some reason the district court throws out that provision, then the bill would still include a 14 week ban. He said roughly two-thirds of abortions in Missouri take place before 10 weeks.

If the court were to throw out the 14 week ban, then the bill would still be able to prevent abortions at 18 weeks, Schroer said, because at that stage a doctor must certify that the baby has not reached the stage where they can feel pain. If that provision is then thrown out, then abortions would still be banned at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Other provisions included in the bill would change the law on parental notification to require that both parents be notified about a minor seeking an abortion. In addition, another provision would prohibit certain "selective" abortions relating to a diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or even the race or sex of a baby.

"For me as a Catholic, for me being pro-life, this is common sense to me," Schroer said.

In terms of the bill's next steps, Schroer says he is confident about its chances in the state Senate. The Democratic minority has the power to filibuster the bill, he said, which they are likely to do, but the Republican supermajority could invoke the so-called "nuclear option" to counter a filibuster.

"I think [the nuclear option] should be administered when we have lifesaving measures on the table like this," Schroer said.

He said he has seen some support among Missouri lawmakers for abortion legislation, similar to what has been passed or proposed in New York and Virginia, radically to expand access to abortion.

"The majority of people in Missouri have made their voice heard loud and clear when it comes to pro-life issues by electing these pro-life legislators that I serve with," Schroer said.

"For those that aren't pro-life or have no is the most important aspect of what we do down here in Jefferson City. Everything we do impacts life in some way. shape, or form. For this bill, which protects life at the very early stages, I think that should be important to anyone."

Rep. Steve Butz, a Democrat from St. Louis, was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying that the bill would not eliminate abortion in Missouri because women could simply cross the border into Illinois. Planned Parenthood of Illinois recently said they have no plans to drop any of its services in the state, after the Trump administration implemented a new rule to place restrictions on the use of Title X funds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that since peaking at more than 20,000 per year in the 1980s, in 2017 the annual number of abortions in Missouri had dropped to fewer than 7,000. Missouri is down to one abortion provider in the state, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia is still blocked from performing abortions, with a U.S. District judge last week refusing to allow abortions to resume at that clinic. Abortions ended there during October 2018 after the facility failed to adhere to state rules, and its state license to perform abortions expired Oct. 3.

Missouri passed regulations in 2017 which granted the state attorney general more power to prosecute violations, and required stricter health codes and proper fetal tissue disposal. The new rules also required that doctors have surgical and admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. The local hospital in Columbia has since 2015 refused to grant admitting privileges to Planned Parenthood.

The effort to restrict the practice of abortion in largely Republican-led Missouri come amid pushes in other states, such as New York and Vermont, to pass laws expanding abortion access, amid prospects that the Supreme Court may soon overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

Circuit Court nominee passed by Senate Judiciary Committee

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Feb 28, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Neomi Rao was given and affirmative vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. She is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Dictrict of Columbia.


Rao cleared the committee on a party-line vote of 12 to 10. Her nomination will now head to the full Senate.


Earlier in the week, Rao’s nomination seemed to face an uncertain future as questions about her suitability arose on both sides of the aisle and it was not clear if she could garner enough support from committee members.


Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), a freshman senator from Missouri, raised concerns about Roa’s judicial philosophy, particularly her views on judicial activism and substantive due process. But on Thursday morning, Hawley issued a statement saying he had met one-on-one with Rao on Wednesday, and said that he was no longer opposed to her advancing to the full Senate.


“In our discussion, Ms. Rao said she would interpret the Constitution according to its text, structure and history, not according to changing social and political understandings,” said Hawley.


“She said the text of the Constitution is fixed and the meaning must follow that fixed text,” he added, and that “she rejected the idea of ‘common law constitutionalism.’”


Hawley also said he was pleased that Rao told him she did not think there was textual support for substantive due process in the Constitution.


Concerns about Rao's commitment to an originalist approach to the Consitution also reflected anxieties of pro-life campaigners who had concerns she may be philosophically sympathetic to a consitutional right to abortion, rather than merely committed to defering to it as established precedent.


Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was also concerned with Rao, particularly her college newspaper op-eds concerning sexual assault and women. In some of the writing’s Rao made observations about the context in which assaults could take place which some observers said came close to victim-blaming.


Ernst, herself a survivor of sexual assault, said that she found the writings to be “abhorrent,” but also said she had since been satisfied about Rao’s suitability and agreed to vote her through to a final confirmation vote in the Senate.


During Rao’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is now running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, quizzed her about her views on morality, gay marriage, and sin.


Booker asked Rao to comment about whether she believed marriage only could exist between a man and a woman, or if two she thought men in a sexual relationship was immoral. Rao declined insisted that it was not her place asa  judicial candidate or judge to opinion on the nature of sin, and said she would follow precedent if she were confirmed to the bench.


Currently, Rao is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and has taught law at George Mason University. She previously served in the White House counsel’s office under president George H.W. Bush and as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.


The final confirmation vote is expected in March.

Illinois Planned Parenthood announces new program to replace Title X funds

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 15:30

Chicago, Ill., Feb 28, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Ahead of a loss in federal funding, Planned Parenthood of Illinois have said they have no plans to drop any of its services in the state. The funding loss is expected to follow the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule, which places new restrictions on the use of Title X funds.

The Protect Life Rule was finalized on Feb. 22 and will come into effect in April. The policy forbids Title X family planning funds to be channeled to clinics that perform abortions, prohibits fund recipients from referring patients for abortions, and barrs funded programs from co-locating with abortion clinics.

The rule has been severely criticized by abortion providers and advocates, who have called it a “gag rule.”

Nine Democratic governors, including Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, co-signed a letter addressed to the Department of Health and Human Services demanding that the rule be rescinded. The letter also threatened legal action if the rule remained in place.

Pro-life advocates have welcomed the new measure. Marjorie Dannefelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the move, saying that it was targeted at abortion provision alone and would not reduce other family planning services by “a single dime.”

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars,” she said in a statement.

Under the current arrangement, family planning centers that received Title X funds can co-locate with an abortion clinic, and fund recipients were required to offer the option of referral for an abortion.

Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide currently receive about $60 million in federal funds annually from this program, more than 10 percent of the half-billion dollars in total federal funding it receives per year.

Over the last six months, Planned Parenthood of Illinois received about $2.5 million in Title X funds--about 40 percent of the total Title X funds distributed in the state--despite operating only 17 of the more than 70 clinics that received funds. In 2017, about 112,000 people in Illinois acquired birth control through Title X.

“We will not violate our own medical ethics, and because of what the gag rule does, which blocks patients from getting accurate information about their care, we won’t accept the money,” Julie Lynn, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

Lynn make it clear that Planned Parenthood of Illinois would adjust to ensure that their patients were still able to receive contraception, and forgo Title X funds.

Six days after the Protect Life Rule was finalized, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced a new initiative, dubbed “Access Birth Control” (ABC), that would distribute contraception pills or devices, including IUDs, condoms, and Depo-Provera shots, free of charge to eligible persons.

It was not immediately clear as to how the new initiative is to be funded.

On its website, Planned Parenthood of Illinois said that the program will run through January of 2021, the end of President Donald Trump’s first presidential term, in apparent expectation of a victory for an opposition candidate more favorable to abortion.

In addition to the nine state governors, the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights have also indicated that they plan to sue the administration over the new rule.

The current policies were put in place during the Clinton administration in 1992, but the Supreme Court had previously upheld similar Title X rules in 1991.

Naumann praises federal rule that will strip $60m from Planned Parenthood

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference pro-life committee praised Wednesday a new federal rule that will prohibit abortion clinics from receiving federal funding aimed at subsidizing some medical services for low-income women and families. The rule is expected to strip Planned Parenthood of about $60 million in federal funds.

“I applaud the Trump Administration for reaffirming that abortion is not family planning. Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann in a Feb. 27 statement.

“Although the USCCB continues to have strong objections to government promotion and funding of contraceptives, we have long supported enforcement of the abortion funding restrictions in Title X, and we are pleased to see that the Administration has taken seriously its obligation to enforce those restrictions.” The “Protect Life Rule,” amending rules for federal Title X funds, was announced in a  Feb. 22 press release from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations. While the program has not directly funded abortion, critics have complained that abortion providers who received Title X funding did not adequately distinguish between  

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

“We are also grateful that this rule eliminates the requirement that doctors in Title X clinics refer and counsel for abortion, which previously ensured that all Title X clinics and staff had a close connection with abortion,” Naumann said.

Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City, was elected to chair the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee in November 2017.