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Texas senator calls for investigation of Netflix over 'Cuties'

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 14:25

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 12:25 pm (CNA).- US Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, is among those who have called for an investigation into Netflix over its release of Cuties, a French independent film that he said sexualizes young girls.

“I urge the Department of Justice to investigate the production and distribution of this film to determine whether Netflix, its executives, or the individuals involved in the filming and production of ‘Cuties’ violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography,” Cruz wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to attorney general William Barr.

Cruz said the film “sexualizes young girls, including through dance scenes that simulate sexual activities and a scene exposing a minor's bare breast.”

He added that some scenes in the film “in and of themselves are harmful,” and said, “it is likely that the filming of this movie created even more explicit and abusive scenes, and that pedophiles across the world in the future will manipulate and imitate this film in abusive ways.”

The senator said that “Although the First Amendment provides vigorous protection for artistic expression, it does not allow individuals or for-profit corporations to produce or distribute child pornography.”

A spokesperson for Cruz told the AP that the senator has not seen the film.

Cuties, whose original French title is “Mignonnes”, was released Aug. 19 in France, and internationally on Netflix Sept. 9.

Cuties’ director, Maïmouna Doucouré, won an award for her work on the film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Netflix apologized last month for a promotional poster of the film, saying, “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance.”

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii, tweeted Sept. 11 that “child porn ‘Cuties’ will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”

US Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, tweeted Sept. 12 he finds’ Netflix’ “decision to peddle child pornography disgusting”, and called on the Justice Department to act.

Ken Buck, a Republican Congressman from Colorado, has also called for an investigation by the Justice Department.

Doucouré has said she was inspired to make Cuties after noticing that some “very young girls” had hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.

"There were no particular reasons [for the number of followers], besides the fact that they had posted sexy or at least revealing pictures: that is what had brought them this 'fame,’” she said in an interview in August with CineEuropa.

She told CineEuropa that it is “urgent” that this matter be discussed, and that she thinks “a debate be had on the subject.”

US moves to block imports made in China concentration camps

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 13:15

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 11:15 am (CNA).- The Department of Homeland Security has moved to block the import of products made with forced labor in detention camps in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. More than 1 million Uygurs are currently held in concentration camps in the province, and numerous reports by human rights groups and governments have identified instances for forced labor, torture, and other abuses.

Customs and Border Patrol issued five “Withhold Release Orders” on September 14, which direct that ports of entry withhold release on five categories of products. 

“By taking this action, DHS is combating illegal and inhumane forced labor, a type of modern slavery, used to make goods that the Chinese government then tries to import into the United States,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary in a press release.  

The products subject to this order include those made by the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center; hair products made by the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park; apparel produced by Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing Co., Ltd. and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Co., Ltd; cotton made by Xinjiang Junggar Cotton and Linen Co., Ltd.; and computer parts made by Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co., Ltd. 

All companies subject to the withhold release orders are located in Xinjiang, except for Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co., Ltd., which is located in the province of Anhui.

“When China attempts to import these goods into our supply chains, it also disadvantages American workers and businesses,” Cuccinelli said. “President Trump and this Department have, and always will, put American workers and businesses first and protect American citizens from participating in these egregious human rights violations.” 

Per the statement, Customs and Border Patrol has identified various signs of forced labor, “including highly coercive/unfree recruitment, work and life under duress, and restriction of movement.” Customs and Border Patrol alleged that the cotton-processing plants in Xinjiang “are prison enterprises that use convict labor.” 

U.S. law prohibits the import of goods made with forced labor. 

“The series of actions CBP has taken against imports from China demonstrates the pervasive use of unethical and inhumane labor conditions in China, and CBP will not turn a blind eye,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol’s Office of Trade Brenda Smith.

“Allowing goods produced using forced labor into the U.S. supply chain undermines the integrity of our imports. American consumers deserve and demand better,” she added.

Xinjiang is home to the majority of China’s Uyghur population, which is a minority ethnic group. The Chinese Communist Party admitted in 2018 that it operates a network of “re-education” camps in the region that house approximately one million Uighurs. China has claimed that these camps are for terrorism prevention, although reports and leaked documents show that the majority of the prisoners in the camps were imprisoned for “crimes” including the celebration of Islamic holidays, the wearing of traditional garb, and havig too many children. 

In the camps, Uyghurs are subjected to intense education programs meant to force them to reject Uyghur customs and Islamic religious teachings. 

Whistleblowers, including former doctors in the region, say that they have engaged in various population control programs with the Uyghur women, including forced sterilization procedures and forced late-term abortions in a cooridated effort labled “genocide” by various human rights adovcates. 

Earlier this month, a woman who worked as a doctor in China told a British news network that she participated in forced abortions and sterilizations at the behest of the Chinese government.

“The clear intention was ethnic cleansing. We were asked to believe this was part of the Communist Party’s population control plan,” she said.

The new restrictions on products produced in Xinjiang follows a controversy surrounding The Walt Disney Company, who filmed part of its new release “Mulan” in Xinjiang. In the credits for Mulan, Disney gave a “special thanks” to the province’s propaganda ministry, as well as to an organization that administers the network of prison camps. 

Disney has not yet responded to criticism regarding the film’s filming locations.

ICE declines comment on allegations of hysterectomies without consent in detention centers

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 11:32

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2020 / 09:32 am (CNA).- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has declined to comment on allegations that hysterectomies were performed on detained immigrant women without their full consent. A complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General last week, alleging medical neglect at a detention center in Georgia.

After an initial report from The Intercept, news outlet Law & Crime reported on Monday that a whistleblower complaint was filed Sept. 8 with the OIG at the Department of Homeland Security, including testimony from immigrants at the ICE detention center in Georgia and a nurse at the center. The complaint alleges that immigrant women there underwent hysterectomies at an extraordinarily high rate. 

One detainee likened the conditions to “an experimental concentration camp.” Women were reported to be “confused” as to the procedure they had received.

In response to questions from CNA, on Monday night ICE said that it “does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General.”

ICE added that “in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”

The whistleblower complaint was filed on behalf of nurse Dawn Wooten at Irwin County Detention Center, the site of an ICE detention center operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company. Several organizations filed the complaint—the activist group Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and SouthGeorgia Immigrant Support Network.

They alleged “jarring medical neglect” of immigrants at the center, including a high rate of hysterectomies performed on immigrant women—at times without their full consent.

The whistleblower, nurse Dawn Wooten, said in the report that “Hispanics are treated the worst in the facility. I mean literally. They can’t speak English. Even though they [ICDC] have the language line there, if they’re trying to get understanding of their health it’s like take these pills and get the hell on…[Hispanics] hurt and suffer through it.”

Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, alleged that detainees were given hysterectomies at an alarmingly high rate, while under the care of a particular doctor contracted by the facility.

One immigrant told Project South that during a two-month period, she met five other women at the prison who had received hysterectomies, and who “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” 

The detainee related that women were “trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK,” and that she thought of the prison that “this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

Wooten said she noticed a high number of women who had undergone hysterectomies in the course of her duties at the prison, and recalled thinking that “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.” 

She alleged that one doctor in particular was responsible, calling him “the uterus collector.”

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody,” she said, alleging that the doctor once removed the wrong ovary from one immigrant woman and had to subsequently remove the other one and perform a complete hysterectomy.

Wooten agreed with accounts from detainees who said they had undergone hysterectomies without fully understanding what was happening.

“I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going,” she said.

“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them.”

Wooten also reported an alarming communications gap in the detention center, saying that nurses conducting sick calls would often resort to googling Spanish words or phrases in order to communicate with immigrants.

According to the complaint, another detainee was frightened and did not understand what medical procedure she was receiving; she was reportedly given three different answers by three different staffers.

The complaint also alleged a “lack of protection against COVID-19 for detained immigrants,” as well as a lack of testing for the virus and a “general lack of medical care” at the center. Medical records of immigrants were allegedly shredded or fabricated.

ICE says that its detention centers are regularly inspected and that the Irwin County facility routinely met its Performance Based National Detention Standards.

However, a DHS Inspector General report from June of 2018 said that ICE inspections of its facilities—including the Irwin detention center—did not lead to compliance or improvements; the type of inspection used at Irwin was “too broad” in scope, the report concluded, was “not consistently thorough,” and “ICE’s guidance on procedures is unclear.”

A December, 2017 report of the DHS Inspector General of five ICE facilities--not including Irwin--noted the problem of “language barriers” in obtaining proper informed consent for medical procedures on immigrants.

“At times, language barriers prevented detainees from understanding medical staff,” the report stated. “Although it might have cleared up confusion, staff did not always use language translation services, which are available by phone, during medical exams of detainees.”

Advocacy group aims to show Biden agenda 'anti-Catholic' in swing states

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 07:00

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).-  

A political advocacy group led by Catholics said Tuesday it has launched a campaign to reach Catholic voters in swing states to call attention to presidential candidate Joe Biden’s policy agenda on issues of importance to Catholics, and a record of public service the group called “anti-Catholic.”

"We stand with our Catholic bishops in making clear that no person has a right to judge a person’s soul, or relationship with God.  Instead we are fulfilling our obligation as Catholic laypersons in defending the time-honored truths of our Faith, publicly and repeatedly cast aside by Mr. Biden over the past 47 years,” Brian Burch, president of political advocacy group CatholicVote, told CNA Sept. 15.

The group plans to release a “comprehensive report on Joe Biden’s decades-long career in public service from a Catholic perspective,” which it says will assess “where Biden stands today on issues of fundamental importance to Catholics including the sanctity of life, religious liberty, judges, education, the dignity of work, and other core issues.”

The effort comes as both the Biden and Trump presidential campaigns court Catholic voters, both campaigns have made efforts to suggest they represent a commitment to Catholic social teaching. Catholics represent a key voting demographic in several swing states, and Trump won the Catholic vote by six points in 2016.

The candidates differ on several issues important to Catholic voters, among them abortion.

Biden says he would “work to codify Roe v. Wade,” the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion, “as amended by Casey.” The Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upheld Roe, but said that state laws could regulate abortion so long as they did not pose an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Biden supports taxpayer funding of elective abortions in the U.S. through the repeal of the Hyde Amendment; a position Biden adopted last year under pressure from liberal groups. He also opposes the Mexico City Policy, which bars U.S. foreign assistance from funding foreign groups that perform or promote abortions.

And Biden’s health plan would offer public funding of abortions on a mass scale, something that President Obama promised he would not do when the Affordable Care Act passed Congress. Biden says he would set up a public health insurance option which, among other things, would cover contraceptives and abortions.

Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris has questioned judicial nominees over their affiliations with the Knights of Columbus and a Christian adoption agency, and grilled another about briefs he wrote for religious liberty lawsuits against the federal contraception mandate. She also questioned another nominee because he had been endorsed by a Texas pro-life organization.

Trump has expanded protections against taxpayer funding of abortion providers and promoters domestically and overseas, halted federal funding of research using aborted fetal tissue, and announced plans to expand the Mexico City Policy.

Last month, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who leads the Pontifical Academy for Life, told Catholics that “The Church is very clear in this regard. It is a response from the Catechism. It is a great mistake to promote legislation on abortion and euthanasia.”

In October 2019, Biden was refused Communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest denied Biden Communion in accord with a 2004 diocesan policy that prohibits politicians who have been supportive of legal protection for abortion from receiving the Eucharist.

In a statement Sept. 15, Burch said that “Biden’s record makes clear he will not protect our Catholic values or defend our way of life. For Catholics who cherish the faith and their freedom to live it, a Biden presidency represents an existential threat.”

While Biden would be the second Catholic president if elected, Burch said that “Catholics are less focused on Joe Biden’s claims about his personal faith, and instead on what his policies would do to the culture, and their freedom to live out their own beliefs.”

The group is plans to launch a digital advertising campaign, canvass parish neighborhoods, and launch tv ads in swing states, beginning this week in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

CatholicVote is organized as a lobbying organization and both a related political action committee and 501(c)(3) non-profit. In June, Burch told CNA the group aims “to achieve historic turnout among Catholics in the upcoming November election.”

In particular, Burch told CNA this summer, the group is “focused on turning out every active (practicing) Catholic voter.”

CatholicVote says it is non-partisan and aims to encourage voter registration and voting among practicing Catholics.

“These voters, according to polling, are likely to vote for pro-life candidates, which no doubt frustrates some so-called progressives,” Burch added.

Still, the group’s own platform is not completely aligned with either major party platform.

On its website, a section entitled “What We Believe” notes the importance of “a culture that celebrates life,” says that “marriage is between one man and one woman,” notes that “we are all called to help the poor,” calls for environmental stewardship, and adds that “the death penalty is an unnecessary legal penalty in the developed world.”

The group, however, in Facebook and web posts, regularly promotes decisions or policies of President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers, and regularly criticizes Democratic lawmakers.

CatholicVote has run social media posts and spoken in favor of Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski, regarded as one of the last pro-life Democrats in Congress, who was defeated in a recent primary race and will lose his Congressional seat in January.

And while the group has sometimes been characterized as a Trump campaign operation, Burch said that’s not accurate.

In a 2016 column, Burch explained that “CatholicVote members have been clear: secure as many commitments from Trump as possible” on issues that matter to Catholics.

“If he has any hope of getting elected, he needs our votes, and we must work constructively in a very imperfect situation to advance our ideals as best as we can,” he added.

On Tuesday, Burch said the group aimed to point to issues of importance to Catholic voters in November’s election.

“The teachings of the Catholic Church are open to all people of good will.  Our aim is simply to carefully and attentively present the facts, so that every voter might cast a vote, with an informed conscience, based on the truth."


Alabama abortion doctor denied license over claims of application fraud

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 19:53

CNA Staff, Sep 14, 2020 / 05:53 pm (CNA).- The medical director at an abortion clinic in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has had her license to practice medicine suspended, with officials saying she lied on her application.

Dr. Leah Torres of the West Alabama Women’s Center gave fraudulent answers to questions about medical malpractice claims, work experience, and whether her staff privileges have ever been revoked or suspended at a health care facility, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners said.

The forms in question were part of Torres’ application for a permanent license to practice medicine. She had been operating under a temporary license.

In late August, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners denied Torres’ application for a permanent certificate. The following week, the board suspended her temporary license until a hearing on the allegations is held before the Medical Licensure Commission. The hearing is scheduled for December.

Pro-life groups had filed complaints against Torres with the Board of Medical Examiners.

According to, the West Alabama Women’s Center performed about half of the abortions that took place in the state in 2018.

A spokesperson for the abortion clinic told that there must have been a misunderstanding with the application that had been filed, and said the clinic expects to see the situation resolved promptly.


US bishops commend HUD plan to allow homeless shelters to serve on basis of sex

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 19:19

CNA Staff, Sep 14, 2020 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The US bishops’ conference on Friday applauded the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposal to allow single-sex homeless shelters to serve only those whose biological sex aligns with that of their residents.

The proposal would reverse an Obama-era rule that requires single-sex homeless shelters to accommodate clients based on their gender identity.

The bishops issued a statement Sept. 11 highlighting the dignity of all people searching for emergency housing.

“Our Catholic faith teaches that housing is a universal and inviolable right of all persons because it is necessary to live a genuinely human life. This right must be available to all people. Housing is more than a market commodity, it is a basic social good,” they said.

The statement was signed by Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the US bishops’ domestic justice committee; Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the religious liberty committee; and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, chair of the marriage subcommittee.

The bishops said the proposed regulation, “though not perfect nor answering all questions … is a step in the right direction toward improving flexibility while respecting all persons’ right to basic shelter, for which we are grateful.”

According to the proposed rule, a shelter that denies access to a transgender client must recommend the client to another shelter. A shelter may still choose to serve transgender people, but if it does, the shelter must do so consistently.

The USCCB’s office of general counsel wrote to HUD Sept. 11 expressing gratitude “for the flexibility that the proposed rule provides on placement determinations in facilities that provide emergency shelter and other housing. This is important in fulfilling the basic need for, and human right to, shelter.”

“We support the proposal, as it would offer needed flexibility to temporary and emergency shelters in making placement determinations based on sex. This flexibility will help service providers respond to the unique circumstances and needs of those in their care so they can continue to work towards the goal of ensuring everyone has access to safe, decent, and affordable shelter.”

The bishops’ counsel stated that HUD’s 2016 rule “impeded the ability of organizations participating in HUD programs to make housing placements appropriate to persons on the basis of their sex. By removing these impediments and by restoring the flexibility of organizations that provide housing to make admissions and accommodations decisions, the proposed rule furthers the laudable objective of enabling everyone to receive needed housing.”

However, the general counsel suggested that the proposed regulation not condition eligibility for federal funds on compliance with state or local law, which could well work at cross- purposes with HUD’s intention.

“Though it may make sense for the federal government under principles of federalism to not require states to allow shelters to accommodate based on biological sex, it makes less sense for this proposed rule to condition federal assistance on following state and local laws that can contradict its very own goals of flexibility. The federal government should lead by persuasive example here, on the flexibility to define sex biologically, and not require adherence to state and local law with respect to shelters’ policies for determining sex and related decision-making.”

The Hope Center in Anchorage was given as an example by the HUD for the need for its newly proposed rule; the faith-based women’s shelter had faced a complaint refused to allow a biological man who identified as a woman to stay the night.

“Yet … HUD says the policy under the proposed rule will respect religion but that shelters’ policies must abide by state and local law. This means that, despite using the Hope Center as an example to justify the proposed rule, the proposed rule would actually reinforce the local ordinance against the Hope Center,” the counsel pointed out.

“We do not think the federal government should be the indirect enforcer of state law, particularly when that law burdens religious liberty and its application and constitutionality are disputed, as in the Hope Center case.”

The bishops’ general counsel also asked for further clarification in multiple parts of the proposed regulation, suggesting that greater flexibility may be the best course.

“On balance, if these questions do not have clear answers or are insoluble under the proposed rule, then the prudent course may be to simply delete the requirement that admission decisions be uniform and consistent in order to avoid hamstringing shelters and preventing them from making what they regard as appropriate exceptions,” the counsel’s office wrote.

San Francisco Catholics plan Eucharistic processions to ‘Free the Mass’

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 18:03

CNA Staff, Sep 14, 2020 / 04:03 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of San Francisco has called Catholics to participate in Eucharistic processions across the city Sept. 20, and to attend socially distant Masses outside city hall - in part to protest the city’s revised limits on public worship.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a memo to priests Sept. 13 that separate processions would begin at St. Anthony, St. Patrick, and Star of the Sea parishes, and would converge at United Nations Plaza near San Francisco City Hall.

The combined processions will then proceed to city hall, where San Francisco priests, led by the archbishop, will celebrate multiple outdoor, socially-distanced Masses in both English and Spanish.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed had announced this week that starting Sept. 14, houses of worship may have 50 people at religious services outdoors. In addition, indoor private prayer is allowed, but only one person at a time is allowed inside.

Previously, the limit for outdoor services had been 12 people, with all indoor services prohibited. The archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco— where the cathedral is located— as well as San Mateo and Marin counties.

In contrast, hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms are set to reopen at 10% capacity; and most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while malls are restricted to 25%. Gyms operated in government buildings for police officers and other government employees have already reopened.

In addition, Archbishop Cordileone has noted, businesses requiring extended, close one-on-one contact will also be reopening Sept. 14, such as hair salons, nail salons and massage parlors, but “we are allowed only one person in church at a time for prayer.”

While San Francisco Catholics have been gathering outside for Masses, unable to gather inside their churches, the Bay Area is experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world, because of smoke and other pollutants coming from wildfires ravaging the West Coast. Air quality is expected to improve some this week, but worsen over the weekend, as smoke is pushed toward the city by coastal winds.

Cordileone said the archdiocese has ordered 100 banners in English, 15 in Spanish, and 5 in Chinese that read: “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” He asked that parishioners carry the banners during the Eucharistic processions.

The archbishop has noted that the state’s legitimate concern for health and safety does have some bearing on how the Church operates— for example, there are good reasons why church buildings must be built with respect to code.

“But the state does not tell the Church how to arrange the liturgical space—that pertains to the internal life of the Church, over which the state has no authority. The same principle applies to worship services: the state has no right whatsoever to tell the Church it cannot worship, but it has every right and responsibility to tell the Church which practices it must observe to keep people safe during worship,” Cordileone told CNA Sept. 4.

Cordileone said priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.

“The Body and Blood of Christ is the source and summit of our Faith. People are hungry for the Eucharist, and many priests are responding to the call as best they can,” he said.

The City of San Francisco has been closely monitoring Catholic churches in the city and has repeatedly issued warnings to the archdiocese for apparent health order violations.

Cordileone said he himself has noted “very few” violations of the city’s health orders by parishes in the archdiocese, although the few that have occurred have garnered heavy criticism in the secular press.

While Cordileone said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he added that the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which they submitted in May.

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited a recent article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

By following public health guidelines, Catholic Churches have largely avoided viral spread during the more than 1 million Masses that have been celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, the doctors found.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have not yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines.

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, which provides liturgical resources in the archdiocese, shared a petition Aug. 31 in support of Cordileone’s statement calling for the lifting of restrictions on the Mass. To date more than 3,500 people have signed.

A Pentecostal church challenged California’s church service limits earlier this year, arguing that houses of worship were being unfairly treated in a more strict manner than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

In several other states, churches have successfully challenged restrictions against houses of worship, on the grounds that public officials were not able to justify the decision to treat them more strictly than other secular gathering venues.

Milwaukee archbishop reinstates Sunday obligation

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 13:00

CNA Staff, Sep 14, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Catholics in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will once again be required to go to Sunday Mass if they are healthy and not caring for those who are sick. The announcement that local Catholics will once again be obligated to attend Mass follows months of disruption and the suspension of the canonical obligation during the coronavirus pandemic.

In early September, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference announced that the state’s five Catholic dioceses would be lifting the dispensation from the Sunday Mass attendance obligation, but that each diocese would set their own conditions regarding who was still excused. 

“On September 14, 2020, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation will expire, and it will be the responsibility of those who are capable and not prohibited by other circumstances to attend Sunday Mass,” said a blog post published by Archbishop Jerome Listeki. 

“Those who deliberately fail to attend Sunday Mass commit a grave sin.”

Listecki explained that there are “circumstances where the obligation cannot be fulfilled,” such as when churches are closed and public Masses are suspended. Masses will continue to be held in line with archdiocesan guidance on social distancing, and on the necessary sanitization of churches in between Masses.  

The archbishop also detailed those who should continue to absent themselves from Mass to guard their own health, and that of the community.

“If a person is ill, especially during this pandemic, they should remain at home. Likewise, if a person is at risk because of age, underlying medical conditions or a compromised immune system, one would be excused from the obligation. If a person is caring for a sick person, even if they are not sick, they would be excused from the obligation out of charity,” said Listeki.  

Listeki wrote that simply being afraid of contracting the coronavirus is not enough of a reason to skip Mass, unless there are other factors. 

“Fear of getting sick, in and of itself, does not excuse someone from the obligation. However, if the fear is generated because of at-risk factors, such as pre-existing conditions, age or compromised immune systems, then the fear would be sufficient to excuse from the obligation,” he said. 

A September 10 press release from the diocese reiterated that healthy, low-risk Catholics in the archdiocese will be obligated to attend Mass from the weekend of September 19. 

“Therefore, Catholics are obliged to return to Sunday worship the following weekend. A dispensation remains for grave reasons, such as illness or the care of those who are sick,” said the archdiocese.  

The archdiocese wrote that “under normal circumstances, Catholics are already dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for grave reasons, such as illness, care for sick or infants. Today, being in the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19 is considered a grave reason.”

Feedback on Listeki’s decision, including on his own blog page was largely negative, with some calling the decision “idiotic,” branding the archbishop a “stupid monster” and accusing him of guilting people into attending Mass. 

Jerry Topczewski, Archbishop Listeki’s chief of staff, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that there had been no outbreaks connected to Mass attendance and that most parishes were doing well financially. The lifting of the dispensation was more of a concern for spiritual health rather than financial health, he said. 

“The criticism I think is a reaction to — ‘Well, you’re making people go.’ No, people make their own decisions. This isn’t a guilt-trip, this is a decision that you willfully make of your own free will,” said Topczewski. 

Topczewski added that most parishes had donation levels that were roughly the same as previous years, or were “lagging slightly.” No parish has been unable to pay bills, he said. 

Trump administration proposes Mexico City Policy expansion

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 12:30

CNA Staff, Sep 14, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The Trump administration has announced plans to expand the Mexico City Policy, which limits access to U.S. overseas aid by organizations involved in abortions. A new proposed rule, posted to the Federal Register on Monday, would expand the policy to include military and government contracts overseas.

Named for the location of the 1984 UN conference on population and development, the Mexico City Policy bars some U.S. foreign aid from funding foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in abortions. It was first instituted by the Reagan administration. The policy is not law and has been repealed by the Clinton and Obama administrations, but reinstated by the George W. Bush and Trump administrations.

While the policy previously covered around $600 million in USAID family planning assistance, President Trump directed the State Department to expand it to cover “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies” to the extent allowed by the law.

The expanded Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy covers nearly $9 billion in U.S. foreign aid under the State Department, USAID, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Defense. This includes, for example, grants to foreign NGOs under international health programs to fight AIDS and infectious diseases, or to provide maternal and child nutrition.

Two prominent pro-abortion groups—Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation—withdrew from U.S. awards originally granted in 2014 that amounted to more than $70 million for each group, rather than abide by the new requirements that they not perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

In 2019, the State Department also cited the policy to announce reduced funding to the Organization of American States (OAS) because of abortion lobbying by an organ of the OAS. Secretary of State Pompeo said that the administration would also not fund any foreign NGO that financially supported other groups in the abortion industry.

The State Department’s plan also sought to apply the Mexico City Policy to military and government contracts with overseas groups. The rule posted to the Federal Register on Monday seeks to implement this; it was posted by the Defense Department, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

New contracts with foreign NGOs that are funded in part or wholly with U.S. global health assistance could now be subject to the requirement that recipients not perform or promote abortions. Some existing contracts could also be modified to include this new policy, under the new proposed rule.

Interested parties have been given until November 13 to submit feedback on the new rule.

Pro-abortion groups, which have called the Mexico City Policy a “global gag rule,” claiming that it subjects foreign organizations to speech requirements, criticized the administration’s planned expansion of the policy.

Planned Parenthood Global tweeted that the rule is an “unprecedented expansion of a harmful policy” on Monday.  

A senior vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that contracts to NGOs accounted for “close to 40% of global health funding” in recent years.

Recently, several federal agencies reviewed the current state of implementation of the administration’s expanded Mexico City Policy. A report produced by the State Department, HHS, and USAID claimed that the new policy resulted in very few gaps in the delivery of healthcare in U.S. foreign aid.

The report found that, out of 1,340 “prime awardees” of U.S. aid in 2017 and 2018, eight of them would not abide by the policy, and 47 sub-awardees also refused. Of these, there were gaps in the delivery of healthcare in three of these eight declined prime awards, and with 12 of the sub-awardees.

The first 100 days: What Biden-Harris plan for life issues

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 11:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Pro-life leaders have warned that policy decisions and presidential appointments made within the first 100 days of a Biden administration could roll back conscience protections and civil liberties and reverse limits on taxpayer funding for abortion procedures overseas.

While much of the political focus on abortion remains on future Supreme Court nominees and the possibility of revising or overturning Roe v Wade, pro-life leaders told CNA that the president holds sway directly over several key appointments and policy areas related to life issues, and that the effects of a pro-abortion administration would be immediate.

Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that former vice president Joe Biden has taken “the most extreme stance he could on the abortion issue.”

Biden has reversed his previous support for Hyde amendment—which prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion procedures—Meaney said, and “basically signaled with that [announcement] that he was not going to do any pro-life stance in any way, shape, or form.”

“We can expect everything that happened during the Obama administration to happen again,” he said.

Biden has already signaled his intention to reinstitute Obama-era executive action which would remove conscience protections from religious organizations, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, requiring them to provide abortifacient drugs and sterilizations to their employees under health care plans. 

Meaney also predicted that a Biden administration would almost immediately rescind the so-called Mexico City Policy. First implemented under the Regan administration, the policy prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for nongovernmental organizations abroad that perform abortions. The policy has been upheld by each subsequent Republican administration and overturned by each Democratic administration. The Trump administration expanded the policy to include other forms of foreign aid such as global health assistance.

Meaney said an administration’s stance on the Mexico City policy “sort of puts down a marker as to where they stand on the life issue.”

Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA that the reversal of the Mexico City policy would likely be rescinded as a ceremonial action on Biden’s first day in office, if he didn’t “wait for the Roe v. Wade anniversary a week later.”

Meaney said that executive branch appointees will also have “a very broad, far-reaching effect on the orientation of the federal government on the general issue of abortion.”

There would likely be “a very strong litmus test” on candidates, Meaney said, to ensure that they are “in favor of abortion-on-demand.”

“The greatest impact will probably occur at [the Department of] Health and Human Services, particularly the office of civil rights,” Meaney said, pointing to existing laws protecting conscience rights that might not be enforced.

“The different laws that exist, the Weldon amendment, the Church amendments, are federal law, so they don’t change just because the president changes, so it’s more of a question of enforcement,” Meaney said, referring to conscience provisions that protect individuals and health care entities that object to performing or assisting in committing abortions or performing sterilization procedures. 

Meaney said that changes in presidentially-appointed personnel could “severely constrain the help that individuals could expect to receive on some of these conscience issues.”

“It affects the situation on the ground, you know, what is the mentality of the people that are in office?” Meaney said.

McClusky said he would also anticipate executive action to block states from defunding Planned Parenthood, as well as loosening restrictions on the availability of chemical abortions within the first 100 days of an incoming Biden administration.

Meaney said other measures the Biden campaign has indicated its support for—like overturning the Hyde Amendment or codifying Roe v. Wade in federal law—would require the legislature, and would likely take more time to accomplish. But a President Biden “would likely signal his support for such measures quickly.”

McClusky also noted the possibility of an incoming Democratic majority in the Senate next year, coupled with a majority in the House. He said the Senate might - in line with proposals from some Democrats - move quickly to do away with the legislative filibuster, increasing the potential for legislative action on the issue of abortion.

“Once that’s gone, that means the Hyde amendment is gone, the Helms amendment [which also limits U.S. funding for abortion overseas], everything underneath it,” he said. “That is a real threat to pro-lifers.” 

Biden and Trump vie for Catholic votes, disagree on what issues take priority

Sun, 09/13/2020 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).-  

As both the Biden and Trump presidential campaigns court Catholic voters, both campaigns have made efforts to suggest they represent a commitment to Catholic social teaching. But there are marked differences between the candidates’ approaches on issues Catholics say are important to them in the voting booth, especially abortion.

President Donald Trump has received praise for the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) for some of his policies, and criticism for other policies.

Trump’s administration has enacted conscience protections for health care workers, expanded protections against taxpayer funding of abortion providers and promoters domestically and overseas, halted federal funding of research using aborted fetal tissue, and worked to end a government mandate that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

The administration has offered legal relief for Catholic organizations opposing the government’s contraceptive mandate, including the Little Sisters of the Poor.

At the same time, Trump’s administration has also resumed federal executions after a 17-year moratorium, cut down on the number of refugees the U.S. allows each year, has separated migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, and has begun the deportation of Chaldean Christians from the Detroit metro area—all of which earned criticism from the USCCB.

Trump has also been criticized for issues of personal character, an issue the Biden camp says should be front and center in the campaign.

Patrick Carolan is Catholic outreach director for the group Vote Common Good, which is campaigning for Joe Biden.

Catholics should heed the advice of Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Carolan said, that “a person’s character is what’s as important as any of these issues when considering who to vote for.”

Carolan shared an anecdote about a friend he said is Catholic and voted for Trump in 2016.

After watching Biden’s friendly interaction with a stuttering boy at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Carolan said, his friend remembered Trump’s apparent mocking of a disabled reporter in 2015. He reconsidered his preferred candidate, Carolan said.

“Because in those two instances, Joe Biden is definitely more Christ-like than Donald Trump. Not that either of them are Christ-like,” Carolan told CNA, before emphasizing again that he was “not suggesting that Joe Biden is Christ-like.”

Catholics may blanch at Biden’s support for abortion, but the administration will not be as extreme on the issue as critics are charging, Carolan said.

“Despite what the Republicans say, Biden’s not somebody who thinks that women should be able to have abortions even when they’re giving birth,” Carolan said. A Biden administration, he said, would be “willing to have discussions” on policies that reduce abortions.

Amid the 2020 campaign, however, pro-life Democrats have decried the party’s “extreme” support of abortion in its 2020 platform. Biden has not responded to their call for a platform that would welcome pro-lifers to the party.

While Biden was criticized during the Democratic primary by some abortion advocates, the candidate supports pro-abortion policies that would expand even upon those that existed during the Obama administration.

Biden says he would “work to codify Roe v. Wade,” the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion, “as amended by Casey.” The Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upheld Roe, but said that state laws could regulate abortion so long as they did not pose an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Biden supports taxpayer funding of elective abortions in the U.S. through the repeal of the Hyde Amendment; a position Biden adopted last year under pressure from liberal groups. He also opposes the Mexico City Policy, which bars U.S. foreign assistance from funding foreign groups that perform or promote abortions.

And Biden’s health plan would offer public funding of abortions on a mass scale, something that President Obama promised he would not do when the Affordable Care Act passed Congress. Biden says he would set up a public health insurance option which, among other things, would cover contraceptives and abortions.

Biden also says his Justice Department “will do everything in its power” to stop state abortion restrictions, such as parental notification requirements or ultrasound requirements.
Recently, Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate reignited pro-life concerns about abortion policy in his administration.

Harris has been an outspoken proponent of abortion. She grilled judicial nominees on the issue while on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as California attorney general, she supported legislation to force pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients where they could get abortions.

Harris also has connections to Planned Parenthood. Her presidential campaign communications director, Lily Adams, is the daughter of former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. And following Harris’ selection as the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Planned Parenthood spent five figures on a video ad calling her “OUR Reproductive Health Champion,” according to the Washington Post.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that laws protecting the right to life are of primary importance in civil societies.

“The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation,” the Catechism says.

Despite the Catechism’s teaching, Carolan told CNA that abortion should not be the primary issue that Catholics consider in the voting booth, adding that the abortion rate is falling no matter who is in office—and has actually declined faster during Democratic administrations.

“We have to have a discussion about abortion, but it can’t be framed in black-and-white, like some people try to make it. And it’s not the only issue,” Carolan said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age) rose sharply after 1973, the year the Supreme Court struck down state bans on abortion and ruled that there is a right to abortion. The rate jumped from 16.3 to 29.3 between the years 1973 and 1981. It has then declined steadily since to a 2017 rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.

Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, who supports Trump’s re-election, told CNA that the abortion rate, ratio (number of abortions compared to number of live births), and absolute numbers of abortions have all declined, but the drop is due to “complex” factors including increased education on abortion, fewer abortionists and clinics, the rise of pro-life pregnancy centers, sexual mores, and state restrictions on abortion.

Federal and state abortion restrictions will push the number of abortions and the abortion rate down, and not increase it, he said.

Pavone pointed a report published by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute that reviewed more than 20 studies in peer-reviewed journals; the institute concluded that birthrates of women on Medicaid increased when the Hyde Amendment took effect in the 1970s, and that the policy “routinely” saves around 60,000 lives each year and has resulted in more than two million lives saved since 1976.

In conclusion, “the more the abortion industry is funded, the more abortions will occur,” Pavone said.

Regarding Biden’s promise to codify Roe, the abortion rate, numbers, and ratio “skyrocketed” after the Roe decision in 1973, Pavone said, and thus “[i[t stands to reason that a codification of Roe would not lead to a decrease in those numbers.”

Carolan says that a proliferation in free or affordable contraception could also reduce abortions. He pointed to a Colorado program, funded by a grant from Warren Buffett’s family, that provided no-cost intrauterine devices (IUDs) to health clinics throughout the state. According to state officials in 2017, it had resulted in a 64% decline in the teen abortion rate in eight years, state health officials claimed in 2017.

“Of course that opens up another issue then about birth control with the Catholic Church, but those are issues that we have to have discussions about and think about,” Carolan said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says contraception is a moral evil, explaining that any “action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.”

Carolan emphasized to CNA that in his view, and the Biden campaign's, other pressing issues such as the separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the environment, are just as important as abortion.

“Every day 15,000 children die of starvation, of hunger diseases. You think God cares less about those children than those who die of abortion?” he asked.

The U.S. bishops' conference has said that while Catholics should weigh numerous issues in the voting booth, abortion is a priority.

In a 2020 letter, the bishop’s conference said that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

The bishops’ letter adds that “we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

Religious freedom has also been at the center of presidential political debates.

Carolan downplayed the issue, telling CNA that “religious freedom” is a “word that’s misused, and it can be used for almost anything.” He claimed that “religious freedom” has historically been used to justify causes ranging from slavery to churches conducting same-sex marriages before Obergefell.

“We need to stop spreading the myth that our religious freedom is being violated,” Carolan said, noting that there is “not a war against Catholicism.”

During the campaign, Biden has said that he would reinstate the Obama administration’s rules for religious nonprofits on the HHS contraceptive mandate—thus potentially forcing Catholic groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who say the rule violates their religious conscience, to go back to court.

Biden also says he will undo the Trump administration’s “broad exemptions” for religious groups to nondiscrimination laws—thus possibly opening the door to a flood of litigation against religious groups.

Georgia Tech settles with pro-life group over denied speaker funding

Sun, 09/13/2020 - 05:14

CNA Staff, Sep 13, 2020 / 03:14 am (CNA).- The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) has agreed to reverse a policy that barred funding for Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece to be brought to campus as a pro-life speaker.

“The Constitution is clear that public universities can’t discriminate against students for their political or religious beliefs, and we are hopeful that Georgia Tech’s decisive policy changes will set an example for universities around the country to uphold all students' constitutional rights,” Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said in a Sept. 10 statement.

The university’s chapter of Students for Life (SFL) during fall 2019 had invited Dr. Alveda King to speak on campus.

King, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, frequently speaks on pro-life issues and is director of the pro-life group Civil Rights for the Unborn.

Like many public universities, Georgia Tech collects an activity fee from all students, which the Student Government Association uses to fund campus events. SFL requested $2,346 in funding to bring King to campus.

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian law firm representing SFL, the Student Government Association questioned SFL’s leadership about the content and viewpoints that King would present at the event. ADF says the student government voiced concerns about King’s views on abortion and gay marriage, and concern that King’s viewpoints might offend some students.

According to ADF, the student government denied SFL’s funding request, stating in part that because King has been involved in religious ministries, her life was “inherently religious.”

ADF sued the university in April 2020 on behalf of Students for Life. On Sept. 2, the university’s board of regents agreed to settle the case.

As part of the settlement, the school revised its policies to state that student activity funding would be viewpoint neutral. Georgia Tech also agreed to pay $50,000, as well as attorney’s fees.

“Thankfully, Georgia Tech has shown its renewed commitment to [First Amendment] principles by taking quick corrective action to revise their policies so that all student organizations are treated fairly, regardless of political or religious views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer.

“We hope that other universities around the country will ensure their policies meet constitutional muster without the need for a lawsuit.”

‘Give voice to the pain’: New Catholic ministry seeks to help adult children of divorce

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 18:51

Denver Newsroom, Sep 12, 2020 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- Snuffy the Snuffleupagus’ parents were supposed to have divorced in 1992. The brown, fuzzy Muppet-quasi-mammoth, a beloved feature character on the PBS show Sesame Street, was going to chronicle his experience of the split in an episode intended to address a difficult topic with children.

But the episode never aired. Reportedly, during its screening, it “made preschoolers cry” and did not further their understanding of concepts surrounding divorce, and so it was pulled. It wasn’t until a decade later that the kid’s show would again take on the topic of divorce, in a small segment posted only on their website.

Divorce is a difficult topic to discuss with children, even though an estimated 1 million of them experience it every year.

Today, an estimated one-quarter of young adults are children of divorce - and many of them feel they were failed as youngsters in addressing their pain from the experience.

“That can come from messages from society, like a ‘happy divorce talk’,” Bethany Meola told CNA. The messaging of those talks often goes something like: “kids are resilient, you'll be fine.” 

But divorces and separations often cause deep emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds in children that can last well into adulthood - and that are rarely formally addressed. This is why Bethany, along with her husband Dan, co-founded Life Giving Wounds, a Catholic ministry offering healing retreats, talks and resources for adult children of divorce.

“Our ministry looks at a number of the common wounds that children of divorce experience,” Bethany said. She added that the ministry is for adults whose parents divorced or separated when they were children or young adults.

“The first wound we address is the wound of silence,” she said. Children of divorce often feel like talking about the pain caused by the divorce is not allowed - that it just further burdens their parents, or that divorce is normal and therefore should not be a big deal.

“There's a lot of testimonies now from adult children of divorce that they felt like, ‘I don't know how to share this or where to go with this, or even if anyone will care’,” Bethany said.

Bethany herself is not technically an adult child of divorce - her parents separated a few times but got back together, and remained married.

But her husband Dan, co-founder of Life Giving Wounds, is an adult child of divorce. His parents separated when he was 11, but didn’t formalize the divorce until he was 26. That left Dan feeling like he lived in “somewhat of a limbo, though it was pretty clear they weren’t getting back together,” he said.

Dan said as a kid, he felt confused by the separation at first, and then hopeful about his parents possibly reuniting. It pushed him towards God, towards prayer.

“I was praying like crazy for my parents. A lot of rosaries, a lot of Divine Mercy Chaplets in grade school, sixth, seventh, eighth grade.”

But his understanding of those prayers was kind of “cold,” he said. He thought if he just prayed enough prayers, God had to grant him what he wanted. That eventually led to a lot of disillusionment and anger, Dan said, when it became clear a few years into the separation that his parents were not going to get back together.

“You're caught between anger and love with your parents,” he said. “As a kid growing up, even as an's still hard to navigate that - those complex, warring emotions.”

Dan waffled between not wanting to talk about the divorce - because the emotions were just too confusing and because he was worried how his parents would react - to feeling overwhelming anger because it seemed like there was an “unspoken rule,” particularly around his parents or siblings, that the divorce was something that was not to be talked about.

It wasn’t until Dan was a junior in high school that he really started to seek healing through the Church from the effects of the divorce, he said. He went on a retreat and he talked to some priests about what he had experienced for the first time. He told his parents he was seeking healing, and they were accepting of it.

“That really ushered in a path of healing that was going to extend over four more years very intensely,” he said, even though the process was “haphazard.” Not much existed in the Church to address this specific issue, and he had to seek out a lot of resources on his own.

As he studied marriage and family in graduate school at the Potificial John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America, Dan was part of a focus group that studied the effects of divorce on adult children. The project, called Recovering Origins, inspired him to create retreats that would help adult children of divorce - and these retreats would soon become the ministry, Life Giving Wounds.

The name of the ministry is taken from 1 Peter 2:24, “this beautiful passage which is, ‘by his wounds, you are healed’,” Dan said.

“It's Christ teaching us the spirituality of redemptive suffering and helping people live that.”

That healing comes about in several ways, Dan and Bethany said. The first goal of the retreat is to “give voice to the pain,” to let retreatants know that their wounds as a result of divorce are valid, and giving them a place to grieve what was lost.

They share their stories and get their wounds “all out on the table.” Those wounds can take many shapes, Dan added, from protective behaviors like promiscuity and cohabitation, to broken relationships with parents or other family members, to identity crises and strained relationships with God.

Then they bring those wounds to the Holy Spirit in prayer, he said, and invite healing in. They also help facilitate further conversations with parents, spouses, friends, and therapists as needed.

“We also provide them resources on our blog to follow up with a support group. We give them recommended reading, so we give them a lot of the tools that they need in those different avenues, and we're constantly creating more things,” Dan said.

Jennifer Cox was one of the first participants in a retreat for Recovering Origins, when Life Giving Wounds was still taking shape. Cox’s parents divorced when she was 7 in what she said was a kind of “best case scenario” divorce, at least on paper. Her parents were respectful to each other, they lived close enough to one another that bouncing back and forth between them was not too difficult. They both remained very involved in her life, attending her swim meets and other school events. Jennifer graduated college, became a nurse, and owned a home. By all measurable accounts, she was a successful adult.

“When I was in high school or my early twenties, if somebody said to me, ‘Wow, I'm so sorry that your parents are divorced. That must be really hard for you,’ I just would have looked at them like, ‘Okay. Well I mean, thanks, but I'm fine’,” she said.

But Cox started to notice something was wrong around her late 20s, she said. Although her life was seemingly going well, she experienced depression and anxiety, despite having normally been a very positive and upbeat person. She struggled with self-confidence and had an outsized fear of failing. 

She now recognizes that many of those wounds came from a place of not wanting to disappoint her parents and make life even harder for them. She said she also realized early on that she took it on as her “job” in the family to make her parents happy, so that they would not be sad because of the divorce.

“I started therapy, I started really digging into some of my struggles and a lot of the dots connected back to my parents' divorce,” Cox told CNA. “And I was shocked, honestly. I just had no idea, because my parents divorce was a ‘good divorce’ and we had minimal issues. I have good relationships with both of them.”

The beauty of the retreat, Cox said, was being able to unite her wounds to Christ and to realize that she could use them to help others.

“When he was on the cross, Jesus suffered and had the ultimate woundedness of obviously physical wounds, but also the huge woundedness of being rejected,” Cox said. “Then that was redeemed. He rose again...he did that for all of us.”

“So for me, and specifically this wound of my parents divorce, in being able to acknowledge it and share my makes it worth it somehow.”

Cox now volunteers with the ministry and helps coordinate content for their Instagram page. She said she would recommend the retreat to anyone whose parents have separated or divorced.

“If their parents are divorced, I’d want them to really take the time to reflect, to see where they are, did their parents’ divorce affect them. I think there are so many people walking around struggling with all sorts of things, but not realizing that there might be this route to (healing) that maybe we need to focus on. Think about it, pray about it, bring it to the Lord. Don’t ignore it, really lean into that.”

Samuel Russell is another participant in a Life Giving Wound retreat who now volunteers with the ministry, helping edit their blog.

Russell is a convert to Catholicism but grew up in a Christian environment, he said. Two years ago, when he was engaged to his now-wife, there were family issues and wounds that arose as he prepared for marriage.

Russell’s fiancee was the one who found Life Giving Wounds, and recommended that Russell try one of their retreats.

As someone about to get married, Russell said he was struggling with not having grown up with a marriage that lasted.

“It was the question of: Am I able to do this? Is this something I can actually do, live with? The phrase in the vows - ‘To have and to hold all the days of my life’ - not having that modeled, and having actually a broken model of that, it’s like you’re carrying that with you into something where you're planning to say: ‘for the rest of my life’.”

“It was a challenge trying to grapple with the psychological level of, yes I can do this,” he said.

Russell said one thing that really struck him during the retreat was a song, Waiting in the Wound, by Michael Corsini.

The song “helped reframe how I think about Christ because...The song implies that Christ is already there. He's in that wound that you know you have and he knows you have. He's just waiting for you to come so he can heal it,” Russell said.

Russell said he encouraged other adult children of divorce to explore their own healing when they felt ready.

“I want people to know that they're not alone in their suffering or grief on this issue,” he said. “And it's okay to address it now, or address it in the future at a time when you feel more comfortable exploring it.” 

Dan said he hopes that Life Giving Wounds helps spark more conversations about healing from divorce in the Church, where sometimes there can be a stigma attached to the topic.

“I think the stigma is there for different reasons, like ‘Oh, I don't want to bring up woundedness, that’s such a sensitive topic,’ or, ‘I don't want to treat them as fragile,’ or, ‘I don't want to upset their parents’,” Dan said.

“I would just say, I'd rather err on giving voice to the pain than saying nothing at all,” he said. “(Adult children of divorce) are getting the message, by and large, that this is something not to talk about, I can't go to the Church and talk about this, I can't go to the priest to talk about it. I haven't heard many homilies from priests about divorce and the effect on children. I don't know any I've heard in the last four or five years.”

Like countless ministries this year, Life Giving Wounds has had to cancel their in-person retreats for 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the ministry is hosting an online retreat starting in October, the details of which can be found on their website,

Bethany said while they are disappointed to cancel their in-person retreat, they are hoping the online option makes it even more accessible.

“If you're a child of divorce and you have seen ways that it's affected you, it's a retreat to go on. Or, if you're not even sure, if you’re thinking okay, I've never really taken a good look at this, it's a great retreat to go on for that, too. There will be people of all different places on that spectrum,” Bethany said.

“No matter what happened with your parents' marriage, no matter when they divorced, no matter if they ever even were married, if your parents are not together, then the retreat is for you.

“You’re not alone,” Dan added.


Man who went on vandalism spree at Louisiana Catholic church arrested

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 16:57

Denver Newsroom, Sep 11, 2020 / 02:57 pm (CNA).- A man who went on an hours-long vandalism spree on Wednesday at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Tioga, Louisiana has been arrested and has confessed to the crime, according to local authorities.

During the act of vandalism, which lasted more than two hours, the assailant broke at least six windows, beat several metal doors, and broke numerous statues around the parish grounds.

Father Rickey Gremillion, the church’s pastor, told CNA Sept. 11 that the damage took place between 12:30-3:00 am Sept. 9. No one saw or heard anything while the vandalism was occurring, but the entire incident was captured on the church's security cameras. 

Gremillion discovered the damage upon arriving at the church for Mass later that morning.

"Obviously he never realized there were cameras watching him," Gremillion said.

The Rapides Parish Sheriff's Department announced Sept. 11 that they had arrested Chandler D. Johnson. Johnson, 23, has been charged with one count of criminal trespassing and one count of institutional vandalism.

Johnson, shirtless and wearing blue jeans, can be seen on video breaking numerous small flowerpots around the church and knocking over some larger concrete ones.

He beat one of the metal doors with a statue that he uprooted from outside the church, and beat another metal door with another statue. He also threw a statue at part of the church's siding, and broke the heads of Mary and Jesus off of a concrete statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.

Johnson used a hard object to beat a hole in a large fiberglass statue of Mary that had been at the church for many years, the priest said.

The parish recently weathered Hurricane Laura with no major damage, Gremillion said, except for two of the church's security cameras. The two functional cameras that remained were able to capture the act of vandalism on video.

Gremillion said he does not know of Johnson having any ties to the parish, or reason to target it.

Gremillion said Johnson did no damage inside the church building; though he had ample opportunity to enter the church building through the broken windows, he never did.

Most of the glass will be replaced once the insurance company gives him the go-ahead, Gremillion said. A number of parishioners helped to clean up and board up the broken windows the morning the vandalism was discovered.

Gremillion said he is hoping to beef up the security system at the parish after the incident. Despite the incident being captured on video, the alarm system was not triggered.

Catholic teens in US mirror their peers on religious trends

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic teenagers mirror American teenagers overall on many religious trends, a report by the Pew Research Center says.

A Pew report published Sept. 10 examined the religious identities and beliefs and American teenagers and their parents. “U.S. Teens Take After Their Parents Religiously, Attend Services Together and Enjoy Family Rituals,” Pew reported, but added that the teens usually do so “at parents’ behest” and many of them privately hold different beliefs.
The statistics show that Catholic teenagers are more likely to mirror teenagers overall in their religious beliefs than are Evangelical Christian teenagers.
Of teenagers ages 13-17 in the U.S., 24% say that religion is “very” important to them, and 36% say that it is “somewhat” important in their lives. Among Catholic teenagers, they are only slightly more likely (27%) say that religion is “very” important to them.
Substantially more Catholic teenagers (46%) say religion is “somewhat” important, than do their peers (36%). While 18% of teenagers overall say religion is “not at all” important to them, only 4% of Catholic teens answered this way.
And Catholics are only slightly more likely than their teenage counterparts overall to believe in God “with absolute certainty” (45% to 40%), and attend religious services weekly (40% to 34%). Only four-in-ten (41%) of Catholic teenagers say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral, and 31% say that only one religion is true.
Meanwhile, Evangelical Christian teens are far more likely than Catholic teens to believe in God with certainty (71% to 45%), attend religious services weekly (64% to 40%), pray daily (51% to 27%) and say only one religion is true (66% to 31%).
Catholic teenagers also mirror teenagers overall in other trends, such as 54% of Catholics feeling a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being compared to 50% of teens overall, and 50% of Catholic teens thinking about the meaning and purpose of life, compared to 46% of teens overall.
The Pew survey also confirms a growing trend of “nones,” or teenagers and young adults who are religiously-unaffiliated. One-third (32%) of teenagers surveyed are “nones,” with 6% identifying as atheist, 4% as agnostic, and 23% as “nothing in particular.”
The U.S. bishops’ evangelization committee chair, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, has discussed this trend of young Catholics leaving the faith and becoming religiously-unaffiliated.
In a presentation to the bishops at their 2019 fall meeting, Barron noted that many young people do not respond well to the Church’s teachings, especially on sex. However, they do manifest a strong sense of “social justice,” he said, and the Church should “propagate” its social teachings. He also emphasized that the Church should present the beauty in its liturgies, and “stop dumbing down the faith.”
And although teenagers might attend religious services at a similar rate as their parents, they differ from their parents on their religious views.
According to the Pew report, teenagers of parents who are Evangelical Christians, Catholics, or Unaffiliated, are likely to identify as the same. However, children of parents who are part of Mainline Protestant denominations are much less likely to identify as such; they are twice as likely (24%) to be religiously-unaffiliated than are their Evangelical counterparts (12%).
Of the teenage children of Catholic parents, 81% of them identify as Catholic but 15% are religiously-unaffiliated.
Teens are nearly half as likely as their religious parents to say that religion is very important in their lives, with 43% of parents answering that way to only 24% of teens. Of parents who said religion is “very important” in their life, only 45% of their teens answered the same, and 41% of the teens said religion was “somewhat important” to them
However, in households where parents say religion is not important to them, their teenagers are far more likely to hold the same religious priorities. Among parents who said religion was “not too important” or “not at all important” to them, 82% of their teenage children answered the same.
Religious parents are also more likely to desire that their child have a particular accomplishment, such as going to college or being financially successful, than being raised in the same religion, Pew reported.
Religiously-affiliated parents “are more likely to place high importance on their teen being hardworking, independent or helpful to others than they are to say it is very important that their teen is raised in their religion,” the report said.
And among Christian parents, Catholic parents were more likely than their Protestant peers to say it is “very important” that their teen goes to college (83% to 66%) and is financially successful (75% to 67%).
Meanwhile, only 62% of Christian parents answered that it is very important that their teen be obedient, and only 51% of Catholic parents said it is very important to raise their child in their religion, compared to 58% of Protestant parents overall.
As far as the religious education of teenagers, Catholic teens are about as likely as Christian teens overall to have been in a religious education program (72% of Catholics to 74% of Christians). However, 43% of these Catholics said they attend rarely or do not go any more. Meanwhile, 49% of Catholic teenagers answered that they have been part of a youth group.
Older teens are “somewhat less likely” to say they attend religious services regularly, Pew reported.
Political affiliation of households also stands out with respect to religious practice.
“Teens whose parents identify with or lean toward the Republican Party seem to be more religiously engaged by some measures than those whose parent is a Democrat or Democratic-leaner,” Pew reported.

US senators join criticism of Disney for filming Mulan in Xinjiang

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 13:01

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).-  

At least two U.S. Senators have joined the chorus of outrage against The Walt Disney Company after the company revealed it worked with Chinese propaganda departments in the Xinjiang autonomous region during the filming of Mulan.

“The ancient Chinese folktale of Hua Mulan is inspiring,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) in a Sept. 9 letter sent to Bob Chapek, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company. “Disney’s partnership with a genocidal dictatorship is appalling.”

In the closing credits for Mulan, a live-action remake of the 1998 animated film of the same name, Disney gave a “special thanks” to, among other entities, the “Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee,” and the “Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security.” Parts of the movie were filmed in Xinjiang, which is located in northwestern China. The majority of the Uyghur population, a minority ethnic group that is mostly Muslim, resides in Xinjiang.

“The Publicity Department of the CPC Municipal Committee has pushed propaganda justifying the nature and purpose of the ‘re-education facilities,’” wrote Sasse, who noted that the Turpan Bureau of Public Safety is part of a larger entity that was recently sanctioned by the Department of the Treasury for its role in the operation of the detention camps in the region. The camps detain mostly Uyghur prisoners, who can be sent there for offenses such as “celebrating an Islamic holiday” and “wearing traditional religious clothing.”

The Chinese government claims the camps are for terrorism prevention purposes. Women who have been imprisoned in the camps have told stories of forced abortions and sterilizations.
Sasse stated that there needs to be a “deeper understanding of (Disney’s) production process” due to the company’s “willingness to partner with those committing genocide.” He requested additional information regarding when Disney was working in Xinjiang, as well as information regarding the agreements Disney made with the Chinese government when filming, and if the company raised concerns about human rights abuses in the region.

“Can Disney verify that the filming of Mulan did not benefit from Xinjiang-based forced labor,” asked Sasse, along with a request for information regarding any editorial requests made by the Chinese government.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who was sanctioned by China earlier this year, wrote a similarly worded letter to Chapek on Wednesday, noting that China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang were well-documented by the time Disney began production on Mulan in August 2018.

“Disney’s whitewashing of the ongoing Uighur genocide is contrary to all of your company’s supposed principles,” wrote Hawley.

“Just a few weeks ago, for instance, you wrote about the need to ‘confront the inscrutable idea that the lives of some are deemed less valuable—and less worthy of dignity, care and protection—than the lives of others,’” said Hawley. “Elsewhere, Disney has declared its commitment ‘to providing comfort, inspiration, and opportunity to children and families around the world’ and described its ‘commitment to respect human rights’ as a ‘core value.’”

Filming in Xinjiang and working with those committing human rights abuses is a violation of these values, said Hawley.

“How does glorifying the Chinese authorities perpetrating abuses in Xinjiang provide comfort, inspiration, and opportunity to Uighur children—including those who were never born because the CCP forced their mothers to abort them,” asked Hawley. “Disney’s actions here cross the line from complacency into complicity.”

Hawley requested that Disney donate the profits from Mulan to non-governmental organizations that are fighting human trafficking and “other atrocities underway in Xinjiang.”

The Walt Disney Company’s decision to work in Xinjiang and cooperate with Chinese Communist Party entities is interesting given that the company has been outspoken on what it perceives as human rights abuses in the United States.

In May 2018, Disney’s then-CEO Bob Iger said that it would be “difficult” for Disney to continue making movies in Georgia if the state moved to ban abortion after the detection of a heartbeat.
“Many people who work for us will not want to work there" should the law go into effect,” Iger told Reuters at the time. "We will have to heed their wishes."
The law has repeatedly been blocked and cannot be enforced by the state of Georgia.

Jewher Ilham, a Uyghur Human Rights Fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation whose father was abducted by the Chinese government, told CNA that she believes Disney needs to become more aware of what is happening around the world.

“Disney needs to better educate themselves about the human rights abuses committed around the globe, especially in China,” she said. “Egregious human rights violations take place there every day at the hands of the Chinese Communist government. It’s amazing to me to see how the same company has such firm stances stateside but is willing to give in to China in order to make a profit."

“If Disney’s stance on abortion was enough to make them boycott filming in Georgia, then they should have boycotted filming in the Uighur region where some of the world's worst human rights abuses are taking place,” she added.

Denise Harle, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that Disney choosing to film in Xinjiang was “hypocrisy,” and that she believes “consumers should take notice.”

“Disney threatened to halt all plans to film in the state of Georgia over its pro-life laws but does not hesitate to film in China, where egregious human rights abuses are consistently committed, including forced sterilizations and abortions,” said Harle.

“Mulan was filmed in Xinjiang, China, the very region where more than one million Muslims are being held in detention camps because of their beliefs. While some companies put profits over people, Americans should remember that all human life, born and unborn, is worthy of protection,” she said.

The film has also been criticized because its lead actress, Liu Yifei, has expressed support for police in Hong Kong cracking down on protests of the Hong Kong extradition bill last year.

The Chinese government admitted in October 2018 that “re-education camps” for members of the Uyghur population had been established. The camps were first spotted on satellite imagery in 2017.

The highest estimate sets the total number of inmates in the camps at 3 million, plus approximately half a million minor children in special boarding schools for “re-education” purposes.

As California AG, Harris sponsored law targeting pro-life pregnancy centers

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 09:00

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).-  

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who was previously attorney general of California, has a record of legislative and judicial advocacy for laws protecting abortion or targeting pro-life pregnancy centers, many of which are operated by Catholics.

Her political offices have had close, sometimes collaborative, ties with abortion lobbying groups.

The Reproductive FACT Act

California’s Reproductive FACT Act, passed in 2015, required medically licensed pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs advertising the availability of free or low-cost abortion procedures in the state. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018.

Denise Harle, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that the requirement for pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortions “was fundamentally at odds with their mission.”

Harle said that the law also required pregnancy care centers that offer other forms of pro-life help but not medical services “to put large, conspicuous disclosures in all of their advertising materials that implicated that the pregnancy centers weren’t qualified to do what they wanted to do.”

The law, Harle said, “was very clear that it was targeting pro-life viewpoints.”

“In fact it was written right into the legislation that California was concerned with what it perceived as the problem of their being many, many pro-life pregnancy centers in the state, and the state acknowledges that was at odds with California’s—what they called their proud legacy of reproductive freedom,” Harle said. “It was an undisguised attempt at targeting pro-life viewpoints for punishment.”

Harle, who was involved in the NIFLA vs. Becerra Supreme Court case in which the high court overturned the law for violating the First Amendment, said the Reproductive FACT Act was blatantly unconstitutional.

“There aren’t examples where the government forced Alcoholics Anonymous to hang posters that advertise where to get alcohol, and that’s because it’s not constitutional, that’s because the first amendment doesn’t allow this sort of compelled speech and that’s why we don’t see it in other contexts,” she said.

As attorney general, Harris was a vocal advocate for the law. In a 2015 statement, she called herself a co-sponsor of the legislation, and praised then-Gov. Jerry Brown for signing it into law.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates filed a lawsuit challenging the Reproductive Fact Act, which lead to the Supreme Court striking down the law in NIFLA v. Becerra in 2018.

NIFLA’s president Tom Glessner told CNA last week that “the name of the case was initially NIFLA vs. Kamala Harris, because she was the attorney general at that time.”

Harris was elected to the United States Senate in 2016, and was replaced as attorney general by Xavier Becerra, who continued the state’s defense of the law.

Glessner said Harris lobbied for and supported the legislation, working “hand in glove” with NARAL to get it passed.

“Her fingerprints were on it from the very beginning,” he said, adding that Harris’ description of herself as a co-sponsor of the law “shows her enthusiasm for it, tells us of her activism in getting it passed.”

Anne O'Connor, NIFLA's Vice President of Legal Affairs and co-counsel in arguing the case before the Supreme Court, told CNA that “NARAL lobbies against pregnancy centers in states and counties and municipalities to get laws passed that would silence pregnancy centers.”

“That’s exactly what NARAL did in California and with Harris’ support, they had this law passed against us in 2015 that was just on its face clearly unconstitutional, but it took a few years to go up through the Supreme Court, where Harris and her office aggressively defended the law till we finally had the Supreme Court give us justice,” O'Connor said.

“It’s frustrating when someone has an abortion rights agenda that just blinds them to our other rights like free expression.”

O'Connor said Harris’ defense of the law cost the state of California over a million dollars in legal fees upon losing the case.

“She’ll do anything for abortion and against pregnancy centers no matter what the cost,” O'Connor told CNA.

Glessner called the Reproductive FACT Act “a clear violation of the first amendment right to free speech,” and argued “the first amendment gives you the right to speak, but it also protects you from the government compelling you to speak.”

He likened the Reproductive FACT Act to forcing the American Cancer Society to promote cigarettes.

“It’s an outrageous mandate for people to violate their consciences,” Glessner said. 

O’Connor said Harris’ record as attorney general and “her positions throughout her career have been very clear that she is for abortion no matter what and she’s opposed to people who are against abortion.”

She added that she is concerned about efforts at a federal level to pass comparable legislation targeting pregnancy centers.

“I would fear that there would be federal legislation like what we fight in the states that targets pregnancy centers, which really shocks us because pregnancy centers do such great work,” O’Connor said. “They’re there on the front lines serving women day in and day out, providing them the support they need to make an educated choice.”

Glessner echoed O’Connor’s concerns, pointing to the impact of the election on the federal judiciary.

“Instead of us winning NIFLA vs. Beccera 5-4, we would be losing those cases,” he said.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Harris’ advocacy for the Reproductive FACT Act.

Amicus Briefs and Legislative Agenda

Life Legal Defense Foundation, a law firm representing the Center for Medical Progress, published an email exchange between Harris’ Special Counsel for Legislation Robert Sumner and Planned Parenthood’s California lobbying arm, in which Sumner offered to be “helpful where I can” on the organization’s legislative priorities.

As attorney general of California, Harris frequently joined friend-of-the-court briefs at a federal level in support of pro-abortion laws.

One such brief was in the case that became Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a case regarding a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers and for doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of facility.

Harris argued the law “undermines both public health and a woman’s right to choose.” The law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016.

Relationship with Pro-Abortion Lobbying Groups

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Harris’ 2016 Senate campaign—which took place while she served as attorney general of California—received $38,830 in campaign contributions from pro-abortion lobbying groups. Her 2014 re-election bid for attorney general was supported by five California Planned Parenthood PACs.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which has endorsed Biden for president, praised his selection of Harris. In an Aug. 11  statement, Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said throughout Harris’ career, “she has been a steadfast champion for reproductive rights and health care.”

“With this selection, Joe Biden has made it clear that he is deeply committed to not only protecting reproductive rights, but also advancing and expanding them,” McGill Johnson said.


Faced with universal quarantine, Benedictine College turned to Mary

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 05:29

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 11, 2020 / 03:29 am (CNA).- Benedictine College had a problem.

After students returned to campus for the fall semester, 38 of them tested positive for COVID-19. And while none of the students who tested positive had serious symptoms or required hospitalization, Atchison County, Kansas, where Benedictine College is located, was spooked.

So, out of a sense of desperation, Benedictine College President Stephen Minnis told his students to pray and fast for the health of the college from August 28 until September 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The college had already made adjustments, at the behest of the county, to its existing coronavirus mitigation protocols.

“We had a commitment to be open in a safe and healthy environment, but with dynamic campus life, including athletics, with access to a strong faith program--including the sacraments--with in-person classes, all with the intention to stay open and true to our mission,” Minnis told CNA in an interview on September 9.

Minnis told CNA that bringing the students back on campus was necessary for fulfilling the college’s mission statement: “to educate within a community of faith and scholarship.”

“We believe strongly that COVID has attacked our mission directly,” said Minnis. “It’s an attack on our community by forcing our students to stay in their homes or in their dorm rooms and away from people. Humans are social beings, and if you take that away from them, they can’t be fully alive.”

The effects of the pandemic also attacked the “faith” and “scholarship” aspects of the college’s mission, with public Masses being suspended, and students sent home away from campus last semester.

“We had students that came back to Benedictine and had not gone to Mass since March, because of where they were living,” Minnis said. “We wanted to provide a really strong faith experience for them.”

While things were improving on the health front--no Benedictine student has been hospitalized with coronavirus, and the number of active cases continues to drop--this was not the case on the county level. According to local media, the county had four recorded cases of COVID-19 two weeks before school started, but that number had leapt to more than 200 once the students returned.

On September 2, Atchison County announced that all 2,000 college students would be required to isolate in their rooms for two weeks to stop the spread of coronavirus. The order, which was given without “any kind of warning” to Benedictine College, was to go into effect at midnight the next day. Students would be required to stay in their dorm rooms or homes and leave only for meals.

This meant no Mass, no athletics, no going for a walk around outside, no in-person classes. Students living off-campus would not be permitted to even go to the grocery store during that two-week period.

Minnis did not want to subject his students to a strict isolation, nor did he want to tell students they could not go to Mass. The school managed to convince the county to hold off for increased negotiations.

“And the County Commission asked the parties not to have this order go into effect, but ask the parties to begin negotiating and see if there could be common ground,” said Minnis.

Those negotiations began September 3. That evening, Benedictine students took it upon themselves to organize a masked, socially-distant rosary to pray for their school community. Minnis told CNA that he believes the same time the Rosary began, he was told that there would be “no chance” the county would budge on their order to require students to be isolated in their rooms.

Minnis decided to fast starting at the Thursday evening meeting with the county’s negotiation team. The negotiations that night were not ideal, and it did not seem as though Atchison County would change their minds.

But the following morning at 8:15 a.m., when the negotiations started again, he found “a completely different atmosphere” than the one from the previous night.

“There was an atmosphere of unity, not of division,” said Minnis. Officials were now “trying to get this resolved, not trying to punish anyone.”

An agreement was reached on Friday that appeased both the county and the school.

The new agreement, which is titled “Atchison and Benedictine: Stronger Together” was announced in a press release on September 4. It allows for greater movement on campus for students, while seeking to protect the broader community.

The agreement prohibits students living on campus from leaving campus, except for work, essential activities, or for academic requirements, and allows for students living off-campus to come on campus for “authorized athletic practices, religious services, work study, labs, or other necessary academic purposes.”

“By the end of Friday, we had an agreement and, and this agreement allowed us in-person classes. It allows our students to be out and still socialize, still exercise, still go to Mass,” said Minnis. He said the county had a “complete turnaround.”

“And there's no question about it,” said Minnis. “It was Our Lady that did that.”


March for Life reveals 2021 theme, with unity as focus

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 22:31

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2020 / 08:31 pm (CNA).- The March for Life Education and Defense Fund announced Thursday the theme for its 2021 event: “Together Strong: Life Unites.”

Organizers of the event said in a press release that the 48th annual March for Life will take place on January 29th, 2021.

The march occurs every year on or near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as a protest of the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in that case, which mandated legal abortion nationwide.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said Thursday during an interview on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that “every year, we really try to discern well what the theme should be.”

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Describing the March for Life as the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration, Mancini said the theme is “a springboard to communicate and to educate about what the most pressing needs are of our time.”

“This year, with a 2020 that’s been so unusual in many different ways, the idea of uniting together, and how each of us brings something different to the table, how the variety is beautiful and how together we’re stronger - it just seems like the right theme,” Mancini said.

Mancini said that a great deal of prayer on her part as well as other staff of the March for Life goes into the discernment process for the theme, and “anything can happen with God’s grace.”

She said many have asked her if there will even be a March for Life in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Listen, we marched during the blizzard of 2016, we’ve marched during government shutdowns, we marched after 9/11, we will march again this year,” Mancini said. “We’ve marched for 47 years, and no sacrifice is too great to fight this human rights abuse of abortion.”

Mancini said announcements about speakers at the 2021 March for Life Rally will be forthcoming, but said that Matthew West, a Christian singer/songwriter, will perform at the event.

West said in a statement that he is “honored to be performing at the March for Life.”

“This is an important event and I look forward to proudly lifting my voice along with thousands of people from all walks of life as we gather together in Washington D.C. and send this message loud and clear: I believe every life deserves a voice,” West said. “Every child deserves a chance.”


Knights of Peter Claver will host webinar to identify solutions to racial inequality

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 17:13

Denver Newsroom, Sep 10, 2020 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- As part of a five part series on social justice, a historically African-American Catholic fraternity will present a web seminar on the dignity of black lives this Saturday.

The Knights of Peter Claver will host a webinar called “Where is the dignity of black lives? Take your knee off my neck” Sept. 12. It is the first of a five-part series, which will also include webinars on racism, domestic violence, human trafficking, and criminal justice reform.

Rick Sassua, the Knights of Peter Claver national treasurer and an advisor for its social justice committee, said the name relates to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American who was killed in Minneapolis by former police officer Derek Chauvin.

He expressed hope that the event promotes the human dignity of African-Americans and helps establish the next steps to tackle racism in the United States.

“I think the goal is to further the concept of human dignity as it relates to black lives. The goal is to enlighten, educate, [and] engage a meaningful dialogue to produce next steps,” he told CNA.

“We will … have some tools to go back to our respective courts, our councils, our cities, our states, our dioceses, and bring something back as opposed to just listening to a talk and just going home. We [will] have like a call to action to try to peacefully resolve some of the issues we're seeing from these protests.”

The event will include speakers such as Father Norman Fischer, the chaplain for Central States District; Tracy Aikens, the far west regional director for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; Ashford Hughes, executive officer for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Metro Nashville Public Schools; and Gloria Purvis, the host of EWTN’s Morning Glory. Bishop Fernand Cheri, an auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, will also make an appearance.

Sassua said each speaker brings a unique perspective on the racial tensions in the United States, including standpoints on media, college formation, and the next steps to push racial equality forward. He said the Knights of Peter Claver has had conversations with police departments to discuss how to prevent similar deaths from happening again and what training steps could be implemented.

He said Hughes will provide advice on solutions to racial problems and identifying next step procedures actually to resolve these issues. He also said Purvis will offer perspectives about how racial equality problems are an aspect of the pro-life movement.

“Hughes has his own nonprofit organization that deals with racial advice within a national area … We talk about what's going on with the issues; he has been well-versed in identifying next step procedures to actually resolve some of the issues that we see on a daily basis.”

“[Gloria] has a show on pro-life and also the black lives matter issue, where she views black lives matter as being a pro-life issue. She also talks about different ways in which the media and marketing and how that actually [will affect it].”

As a faith-based organization, he said, the discussion will also provide insight into the topic of racial issues with a uniquely Catholic perspective.

He said it has been reassuring to witness the Catholic Church express concern for these issues and take the necessary steps to tackle racism. He pointed to the US bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

“As black Catholics, it's like a sense of belonging to see the Church address these issues because .... we worship with our fellow Catholics who are of all races. If you see a race or a certain subset of people that are being hurt as a Christian, as a Catholic, you want to do what you can to try to make sure that person is [welcome].”

He said it was comforting to see the Church’s involvement in the Sept. 9 National Day of Prayer of Fasting to End Racism, and the engagement of other Catholic lay organizations like the Knights of Columbus. He expressed the importance for Catholics to view racial equality as a problem relating to the pro-life movement.

“The Knights of Columbus taking a stance on that, it makes me feel good,” he said. “I just express my appreciation for them doing something like that, because that's a big step.”

“Being pro-birth is awesome, but we also have to look at the whole spectrum of conception to natural death, because if a person has a child or a woman does not choose to have an abortion at a young age, and that child grows up and the child gets killed in the street ... it sparks some concern for that family, but it should also spark some concern for the Catholic Church.”

The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in Mobile, Ala., in 1909 and is now headquartered in New Orleans. The order is named for St. Peter Claver, the Jesuit missionary priest who ministered to African slaves in Colombia.

Its membership is historically African-American but is open to all practicing Catholics without regard to race or ethnicity. Many of its members played a role in the U.S. civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.

The organization has a presence in about 39 states and in South America. Its six divisions include a Ladies Auxiliary, two junior divisions for boys and girls, Fourth Degree Knights, and their companion group Ladies of Grace.