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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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What does it take to renew marriage? This archdiocese plans to find out

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 05:02

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a new initiative on marriage and family life: a three-year course which will be offered to both the clergy and lay people throughout its parishes.

“There is a serious need to shift our previous approach to marriage and family life which ignores the consequences of poor catechesis and the lack of personal encounter to a more evangelical and relational approach,” the archdioceses said in a press release.

The extensive program, titled Remain in My Love, will direct its focus at a different target audience every year for three years. The outreach will begin in May 2017 and will end in December 2019.

The first year will specifically address the staff members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, and will focus on the theme of “renewing our mission in service to married couples and families.”

“These gatherings will help us rediscover our shared mission to support, heal, and strengthen the married couples and families who have been entrusted to our care in the local Church of Philadelphia,” reads the archdiocesan website.

“As the pastoral arm of his leadership and ministry in the service of all the Archdiocese, a reinvigorated…understanding of marriage and family life becomes a lens through which to encourage the same understanding in our parishes and institutions.”

Year two will begin in January 2018, and will cater to the staff of archdiocesan institutions such as parishes or schools. Their theme will focus on “renewing our mission of pastoral care of married couples and families.”

“It will be designed as an opportunity for growth and transformation as well as mutual support, encouragement and discussion fueled by study materials, dynamic presentations, and beautiful videos.”

The third and final year is aimed at all married couples and families within the archdiocese, beginning in January 2019. This program will highlight the goal of “rediscovering the mission of marriage and the family.”

“Married couples and families of the Archdiocese will be invited to encounter the splendor of what Christ has revealed about marriage and family life through large and small group gatherings.”

Each year is made up of three sessions, covering theological material such as the sacramentality of marriage, the goods of marriage, and the family as the domestic church. The classes will underscore the institution of marriage, the threats to marriage, and the mission of the family in the world.

In addition, the participants will also be involved with a 12-session small group class called CanaVox. These small group sessions will read and discuss relevant topics about marriage and the family through Church documents and current events.  

“The project, for all three years, moves in two directions, inviting a committed investment on the part of all.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is hoping that this new program will reach out to couples after their marriage, as a continuation of the conversation that marriage prep started. Pope Francis has also recently spoken out about marriage, calling for better marriage prep, and pointing to the need for a “new catechumenate in preparation for marriage.”

Remain in My Love will aim to “reinvigorate our understanding, practices and celebrations of Christian marriage and family life,” to “every member of the clergy, lay faithful, and to every parish and institution” within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

More information about Remain in My Love can be found at www.archphila.org/remain

San Francisco archdiocese to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 02:08

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the centennial year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will consecrate his archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“I am confident that the archdiocese will receive many graces through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary if we are spiritually prepared and properly disposed,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “For this act of consecration to bear fruit, we must prepare ourselves spiritually and with catechesis for this significant day.”

Archbishop Cordileone said the consecration comes in response to “numerous requests from the faithful.”

The Oct. 7 consecration falls on the same day as the archdiocese’s Annual Rosary Rally, which takes place on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

It comes in the 100th year since the 1917 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions took place from May 1917 to Oct. 13, 1917 when tens of thousands of people who had gathered near Fatima witnessed the sun dance.

The Virgin Mary apparition delivered a message to the children, asking for prayer and reparation for sins throughout the world.

The archdiocese website has a section dedicated to the upcoming consecration that includes Marian prayers and explanations of Our Lady of Fatima.

It describes the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a devotional name for the internal life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including “her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people.”

The archdiocese website lists several activities and suggested prayer intentions for each month leading up to the consecration. It is holding art contests and writing contests for students and has plans for a Marian retreat May 6.

 

How California Catholics hope to fix the teacher deficit

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 22:02

Sacramento, Calif., Mar 28, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The California Catholic Conference has announced that it is sponsoring a bill to help attract and retain teachers in response to the state's shortage of K-12 educators.

“Additional measures are needed in order to assure that our new teachers are given the appropriate preferential option that supports their development and commitment in their noble profession,” the conference said in a March 16 statement.

This “in turn translates to better service and better education of our youth.”

The conference, tied to the state's Catholic conference of bishops, is the official voice of the Church in California's legislative arena. It is proposing a bill which would give greater tax breaks to new teachers in the process of receiving their permanent credentials.  

Besides paying back student loans and serving at the lower end of the salary scale, new teachers must “enroll in costly induction and professional development programs aimed at converting their preliminary credential to a permanent or 'clear' credential.”

California has suffered from a lack of educators since the recession hit in 2007. The conference says easing a teacher’s financial difficulties would incite greater quality and quantity of new blood to the profession.

The state requires teachers to complete the “clear” credential within the first five years of being employed, but schools or districts are not required to pay for these programs. Local educational agencies have an average annual fee of $2,000, and universities or colleges may charge up to $5,000 yearly to complete the induction programs.

New teachers are forced to pay out-of-pocket, and the legislative groups says the financial strain ultimately affects their students.

The bill, AB 516, would either give teachers working towards a “clear” credential a tax credit or a deduction for professional expenses. Newly accredited teachers would have the option to either claim up to a $500 credit or deduct $2,500 from their state income taxes to balance the fees required for these programs.

Over 310,000 teachers were employed in California, but after the economic recession in 2007, it has dropped to less than 296,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a study in 2013 reveals that California's student-teacher ratio was 24 to 1 and is the highest ratio in the nation compared to the national average of 16 to 1.

The conference cited a study from the Learning Policy Institute that “the number of intern credentials, permits, and waivers it has issued” has nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016. These permits are issued to teachers who have not yet finished their permanent credential. The study also stated that the greatest growth occurred “in emergency-style permits known as Provisional Intern Permits (PIPs) and Short-Term Staff Permits (STSPs),” which are only issued when classrooms have an immediate need.

California not only needs an increase of teachers but a better system “to support, develop and retain qualified teachers,” the conference added.
 
“The most effective way to achieve this goal of offering a good education is to have qualified and prepared teachers in the educational work force committed to their profession.”

US Anglican ordinariate expands to include prominent Texas parish

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 17:54

Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See directed last week that the oldest Catholic parish of the Anglican Use, located in San Antonio, will be transferred from the local archdiocese into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.

“Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and its school, the Atonement Academy, have been transferred to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, effective March 21,” read a statement. The ordinariate of St. Peter's chair is a special ecclesial jurisdiction for Catholics in the United States and Canada who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the Ordinariate.

“At the direction of the Holy See, all parishes of the Pastoral Provision are to be incorporated into the Ordinariate,” read the March 21 communique.

Our Lady of the Atonement parish had been founded in 1983 as part of the “pastoral provision” established by St. John Paul II to allow former Anglicans to form Catholic parishes within existing United States dioceses. Until last week, the parish was part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Subsequently to the pastoral provision, Benedict XVI established ordinariates, which effectively provided former Anglicans with their own dioceses within the Catholic Church.

“With the establishment of the North American Ordinariate in 2012 and the ordination of its first bishop in 2016, the Holy See now expects all Pastoral Provision parishes in the U.S. to be integrated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter,” the ordinariate's statement explained.

“The Ordinariate expresses its deepest gratitude to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for welcoming and caring for Our Lady of the Atonement since its inception, and for the Archdiocese’s ongoing commitment to the Church’s care for the unity of Christians. Through continued collaboration in the coming months, the Archdiocese and the Ordinariate will remain dedicated to supporting the natural evolution of this Pastoral Provision parish into the Ordinariate.”

While the ordinariate's statement only includes Our Lady of the Atonement by name, the transferral would also presumably apply to the Congregation of Saint Athanasius, a pastoral provision parish located in a Boston suburb and heretofore part of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Vatican's directive that Our Lady of the Atonement should be transferred to the ordinariate is the outcome of several months of conflict between the parish and the San Antonio archdiocese.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio had in January begun proceedings to remove Atonement's pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips, who had been pastor from the parish's founding.

In a Jan. 19 letter the archbishop cited “pastoral concern” about Fr. Phillips relating “to expressions in the life of the parish that indicate an identity separate from, rather than simply unique, among the parishes of the archdiocese.” Another priest was appointed administrator of the parish, and Fr. Phillips was asked “to dedicate some time to reflect on certain specific concerns.”

Late in 2016, Fr. Phillips had sought to join the ordinariate.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the ordinariate's spokesperson, Jenny Faber, indicated Fr. Phillips will remain at the parish as pastor emeritus, and a new pastor will be appointed in due time.

The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter includes more than 40 parishes and communities. Its ordinary, Bishop Steven Lopes, was appointed in November 2015 and had previously served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The North American ordinariate is one of three such bodies; it has counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia.

New HHS official has strong background in religious freedom, civil rights

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 17:53

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2017 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new high-ranking official at the Department of Health and Human Services could give the agency a significant shift in how it treats religious freedom and life issues.

“Roger Severino, a seasoned champion of religious liberty and the pro-life cause, is just the right person to correct the course of HHS’s efforts at enforcing anti-discrimination principles in federal law,” said Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.

Franck spoke to CNA following Severino’s appointment as director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

Severino, a Harvard Law graduate, comes to HHS from the Heritage Foundation, where, according to his bio, he worked on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues and directed the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity.

He wrote about concerns over the Pentagon’s radical new gender policy, his disagreements with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hellerstedt abortion case, and religious freedom concerns in the Little Sisters of the Poor case at the Supreme Court, among other issues.

Severino brings with him a strong background in the field of civil rights law. Prior to his work at Heritage starting in 2015, he served as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division for seven years.

There, Severino litigated cases including HIV discrimination, racism, and housing discrimination.

One of the cases he worked on was United States v. Birdie Wren, where a 26 year-old mother – who was HIV-positive – and her four year-old son were denied consideration for an apartment lease in Chicago because of the woman’s medical condition.

In another case he worked on, United States v. Stonebridge at Bear Creek LLP et al, an apartment complex and the management company had systematically screened out persons of perceived Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and segregated them into separate buildings from the rest of the tenants.

The Justice Department successfully sought fines and damage payments for violations of the Fair Housing Act.

Before his time at the Justice Department, Severino was chief operations officer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

He will be needed at HHS because of the agency’s recent bias against pro-life groups, Franck argued:

“During the Obama administration, HHS became an aggressive discriminator against employers, insurers, and health care providers who only wanted to be left alone to act on their moral principles in favor of innocent human life, and on their religiously informed consciences against cooperation with evil.”

For example, when the state of California forced employers – including churches – to include abortion coverage in health plans, the HHS office for civil rights would not honor a challenge to that mandate from churches and religious freedom advocates.

Then-director Jocelyn Samuels said the mandate did not violate the Weldon Amendment, which bars federal funding of states and localities that discriminate against health providers who refuse to perform or assist abortions. Samuels said the entities bringing the challenge were not themselves health providers.

The U.S. bishops’ conference called the office’s decision “shocking.”

Franck predicted that Severino could help in such cases, and that his appointment “is very good news for the advancement of that office’s true mission.”

 

Supreme Court rejects Texas' standards for executing the intellectually disabled

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 16:43

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2017 / 02:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a death penalty case with national implications, the Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a Texas court ruling that a man with possible intellectual disabilities was eligible for execution.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network hailed the Court’s ruling in Moore v. Texas as “the needed step towards justice for some of the most vulnerable in our society” and a “victory for life.”

“In affirming a person with intellectual disabilities should not be executed, the Court made it clear that states must uphold the needs of all of its citizens,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the network. “CMN applauds the Court for calling attention to this grave injustice and demanding that we do better to provide justice for all involved in the legal system.”

In Moore v. Texas, a man Bobby James Moore had been convicted in 1980 – and again in 2001 on a retrial – of robbing a convenience store and killing an employee. He was given a death sentence.

A state habeas court, however, said that Moore met the clinical criteria for being intellectually disabled – which would exempt someone from execution under the Eighth Amendment, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.

With Moore, the habeas court used the standard “three-prong” test to determine intellectual disability, which is part of the clinical consensus on the matter, the Supreme Court found.

This test looked for “intellectual functioning deficits,” or an IQ score of around 70 adjusted for error, “adaptive functioning deficits,” and whether these deficits began to show when the person was still a minor.

A Texas criminal appeals court, however, disregarded five of Moore’s seven IQ scores that factored into the habeas court’s ruling, keeping only scores of 74 and 78 that Moore received in 1989 and 1973, respectively, and “discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with those scores,” as the Supreme Court’s opinion noted.

The appeals court ruled that according to an earlier medical standard of intellectual disability – which was in place before Moore was convicted in his 2001 re-trial – as well as according to the state’s “Briseno factors” test, Moore was eligible for the death penalty.

The Briseno factors test is a standard used by Texas in addition to the three-pronged standard for disability. The test includes questions like whether someone is able to lie, and if their neighbors thought they were disabled as a child. Critics have insisted that the factors are non-clinical.

Critics also note that the Briseno factors are not used to determine one’s eligibility for other state programs like social services. They have been used to deem others in Texas fit for the death penalty, including, in 2012, a man who scored a 61 on an IQ test.

Moore’s case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-3 decision on Tuesday, the Court overturned the criminal appeals court’s decision, saying the Briseno factors were outside of the clinical consensus means of evaluating one’s mental capacity and adding that the appeals court strayed from Supreme Court precedent in its decision.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that although the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing an intellectually disabled person violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, states could still determine one’s eligibility for the death penalty so long as their standards were within the clinical consensus.

Some states, however, thought this decision gave them broader discretion than was warranted to determine disability, he said. States like Texas and Florida used non-clinical standards, which led to later cases like Moore and Hall v. Florida where the Court found those standards unconstitutional.

“I think what the Court intended in Atkins, that discretion was not set up so that states could nullify Atkins by creating inappropriate hurdles for proving intellectual disability,” Dunham noted.

The majority opinion in Moore, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, “said the state’s discretion is not unfettered,” Dunham said.

“All the members of the Court agreed that the intellectual disability determination needs to be informed by the diagnostic framework.”

Texas’ Briseno standard for evaluating intellectual disability is “an invention of the CCA [Criminal Court of Appeals] untied to any acknowledged source,” the Court stated, saying the standards were an “outlier” as other states had not adopted them and Texas did not even use them for cases other than the death penalty.

“Not aligned with the medical community’s information, and drawing no strength from our precedent, the Briseno factors ‘creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed’,” the opinion stated.

“Mild levels of intellectual disability, although they may fall outside Texas citizens’ consensus, nevertheless remain intellectual disabilities,” they insisted.

The dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, admitted that the Briseno factors “are an unacceptable method of enforcing the guarantee of Atkins.”

However, Roberts added that he did not think the appeals court “erred as to Moore’s intellectual functioning.”

Furthermore, the Court majority set about determining what was the “medical consensus about intellectual disability” when that judgment should be left to “clinicians,” Roberts insisted.

Ultimately, the Court sent a strong message not only to Texas but to other states who craft their testing for intellectual disability outside of the clinical consensus, Dunham said.

“This case, Moore and Hall read together, sends a clear message. That is, if you follow the clinical definitions of intellectual disability, you aren’t going to have these kinds of problems. When you start substituting lay stereotypes and myths for the clinical criteria, you’re risking having your court judgments overturned.”

“This decision sheds light on one of the many broken aspects of the death penalty. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is another step towards justice for all life,” Clifton stated.

 

Arizona strengthens conscience protections for health care workers

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 02:02

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 28, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Health care providers and institutions opposed to assisted suicide gained more legal protections under a new Arizona law that aims to help ensure doctors and nurses aren’t fired for their beliefs if the practice is ever legalized.

Senate Bill 1439 was “an important rights of conscience bill,” according to the bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference.

“S.B. 1439 will help protect health care providers not wanting to participate in services causing the death of their patients,” the state’s four bishops said March 24, adding they were grateful that it has become law.

The bill lists assisted suicide, euthanasia, or “mercy killing” as some activities that a doctor, nurse or health care entity may decline to participate in.

Bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Barto said the bill would help ensure that individuals would not lose their jobs if they have objections to these practices.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation on Friday.

The Arizona bishops’ conference said federal law already protects health care providers who decline to participate in assisted suicide or similar actions, but the bill adds state-level protections and clarifies that providers cannot face discrimination in employment.

The bill bars discrimination against state health care providers and facilities if they refuse to assist in services that result in a person’s death or if they refuse to provide items that result in a person’s death.

Assisted suicide is illegal in Arizona, though the conscience protection bill comes at a time when several other states have legalized the practice.

This historic black Catholic grade school could get shut down

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 22:02

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After 111 years of serving the community of Birmingham, Alabama, the city's only African American Catholic elementary school could close due to financial struggles.

Over its long history, Our Lady of Fatima has become an integral part of the community, serving students from all backgrounds: of its 64 children, 11 percent are Catholic, and 89 percent are non-Catholic.

“It's looked at as a community school,” the school's principal Al Logan told the Birmingham Times.

“Most of these children are neighborhood children and their parents are struggling to send them here for a Catholic education,” staff member Cynthia Pinkard noted, according to CBS WIAT.

Closing the school “would really hurt the neighborhood,” she said.  

Our Lady of Fatima is the oldest Catholic elementary school in Birmingham, serving students from pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade. The school is located in the Titusville area, and is also connected with Our Lady of Fatima parish in the Diocese of Birmingham.

“We've seen a decline in enrollment,” Logan said. “It's just because of the way our housing market went a few years ago. It all plays into that same arena. I don't think it has personally anything to do with Catholic or non-Catholic (schools); it just happens.”

Logan believes that the school can raise the necessary funds to keep the school open for at least another year. The school is asking for $150,000 in donations for the 2017-2018 academic year, which needs to be raised by August. The Diocese of Birmingham has chipped in over the years, but the school will need more to keep its doors open.

“I really think we will be able to keep it open,” Logan said, saying that they have already received donations from all across the country from places like Indiana and Florida.

“With the support of everyone who's interested in seeing a good, Catholic education be afforded to the kids, we'll find a way to keep the school open,” he added.

However, Our Lady of Fatima is not the only school on the chopping block. Across the country, private and Catholic schools in particular have faced financial trouble due to lower enrollment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there has been a two percent enrollment decrease in private schools over the past 20 years for elementary or secondary students. Over 1,000 Catholic schools have also been forced to close or team up with other schools since 2006.

Looking to the future, Logan is hopeful that the school will receive the money necessary to keep the school open and asked for continued donations.

“We would like for the community to step up and to give us whatever they can donate, and likewise, anyone who would like to (donate) from any city or location in the country.”

Donations to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School can be received by phone at 205-251-8395 or through the mail at 630 1st Street S., Birmingham, AL, 35205.

In NYC, admissions error excludes Catholic school students

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 20:09

New York City, N.Y., Mar 27, 2017 / 06:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid charges that a selective public high school excluded Catholic school students from admission, the principal insists it was due to a clerical error but still faces heavy criticism.

Maspeth High School, in the New York City borough of Queens, gives admission priority to students who live nearby and attend information sessions or open houses.

The school selected about 250 prospective students out of 1,000 applicants in its lottery.

However, the principal had failed to mark for priority status 207 students of Catholic schools who had attended an information session for Maspeth. Priority status would have placed them in the random lottery.

Instead, none of those 207 students were accepted, the New York Post reports.

Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir told parents the omission was due to a “clerical error.”

“There was an error. There was a problem,” the principal said at a March 16 meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association, the Queens Chronicle reports. “So there is no vast conspiracy against any of the parochial schools. Some of our best students come from parochial schools.”

As controversy grew, New York City Department of Education officials then entered 207 of the applicants from parochial schools into a second lottery. It offered seats to 66 of these students, who would make up about 15 percent of the freshman class.

Critics of the system charge that it is vulnerable to abuse by principals who want to exclude or favor certain students.

The president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, Bob Holden, told the New York Post that the principal had in a phone call described parochial schools as “a problem” because “many of the students opt out and don’t go to my school,” which costs the school funding.

Holden called for an investigation.

Parents may ask the city to re-do the entire lottery for the high school.

Among the parents critical of the school was Jimmy Guarneri, whose son Michael was not accepted. “We’re very angry,” he told the New York Post.

His son will go to a Catholic high school, but only received a partial scholarship. “I’m working two jobs as it is,” he said.

The second lottery meant many students were rejected twice, including the son of parent Santo Vicino.

“I haven’t seen my son cry before and he’s cried twice this past week,” Vicino told the New York Post.

“I need this school for my son’s health, safety and well-being,” he added. “I’m demanding a seat. I want what’s right.”

Mother Angelica: A female powerhouse in a supposedly sexist Church

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 18:01

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It was September 1987, and Pope John Paul II had just arrived in Los Angeles after traveling around the United States. The Pope was greeted in the City of Angels by a closed-door meeting with a group of progressive bishops who had a bone to pick with several Church traditions.

One of four chosen representatives, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, spoke to the pope about female ordination:

“Women seek…(a church) that teaches and shows by example the co-discipleship of the sexes as instruments of God’s kingdom. They seek a church where the gifts of women are equally accepted and appreciated...where the feminine is no longer subordinate but seen in a holistic mutuality with the masculine as forming the full image of the Divine,” he said.

Meanwhile in Alabama, a woman of the Church named Mother Angelica had just thrown her cable network, which reached more than 2 million homes at the time, into 24-hour coverage territory. During the 1987 papal trip, the EWTN Network took on the then-unprecedented task of live, unedited, constant coverage of the Holy Father’s visit.

And when word reached the spunky nun of the Milwaukee bishop’s remarks to the Pope during the trip, she couldn’t help but chime in with her opinion.

“Women in the priesthood, that’s just a power play, that’s ridiculous,” Mother Angelica said the next day.  

“As it is women have more power in the Church than anybody. They built and run the schools. God has designed that men be priests, and we can’t afford to deny God his sovereign rights,” she said, as recalled in her biography by Raymond Arroyo.

If anyone has any doubts as to whether ordination is necessary for leadership and influence in the Church, they need look no further than the media mogul nun herself to be proven wrong, said Catholic talk show host and media consultant Teresa Tomeo.  

“Not only was she a prominent international media personality, because of her work on air and her great shows, but she was a foundress of a major religious network and she was a CEO of that network while being on the air, which is something that few women in the secular world accomplish,” Tomeo told CNA.

“And here she is accomplishing this in the Catholic Church, which is supposedly so sexist and backward according to the world. She’s breaking barriers that these powerful women in secular media can’t even touch.”

In 1981, at a time when women were still struggling for places of prominence in the world of broadcasting, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation launched Eternal Word Television Network, which today transmits 24-hour-a-day programming to more than 264 million homes in 144 countries. What began with approximately 20 employees has now grown to nearly 400. The religious network broadcasts terrestrial and shortwave radio around the world, operates a religious goods catalog and publishes the National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency, among other publishing ventures.

She’s breaking barriers that these powerful women in secular media can’t even touch.

Besides founding EWTN, Mother Angelica is also credited with building a monastery, a shrine, and establishing two religious orders.

Mother Angelica passed away on March 27, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.

After her passing, the praises of Mother Angelica were sung from both the secular and Church media, with many recognizing her as a strong example of female leadership.

In his tribute, John Allen of Crux wrote:  

“Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, remembered her as a “devout believer and media pioneer" in a statement following her death.

"Mother Angelica reflected the Gospel commission to go forth and make disciples of all nations, and like the best evangelists, she used the communications tools of her time to make this happen. She displayed a unique capacity for mission and showed the world once again the vital contribution of women religious," he said.

Her vigorous leadership and vision in a Church with all-male clergy came from her security in knowing her identity before God, Tomeo added.

“Bottom line is that she knew who she was in Christ, she knew that she was designed in the image and likeness of God, that we’re male and female, we’re equal but we’re different,” she said.

“And she knew that God has a special role for her, and that he chose her for a specific reason, and that you can do all things through Christ as St. Paul tells us.”

Mother Angelica doesn’t stand alone in the line of formidable female figures in the Church, either, Tomeo noted. She succeeded other spiritual giants like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena, and is joined by other women in the contemporary world, who are working to make a difference in the Church.

For years to come, Mother Angelica will be remembered for her authenticity and punchy humor, and her ability to preach the Gospel with love, Tomeo added.

“She was funny, she always gave me hope that no matter how many mistakes any of us make, God is always going to allow us to come home,” she said.

“I think that we have just begun to unpack her wisdom. I think...for decades and centuries, she’s going to be seen as one of the greatest evangelists in America.”

 

This article was originally published April 1, 2016.

How the 'pirate nun' changed a gay man's life

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 14:02

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- Paul Darrow went to his first gay beach when he was 15.

Soon after, he hitchhiked his way to New York, where there was a thriving gay scene and where he could pursue a career in modeling. Once there, he landed a high-end job as an international model and rubbed elbows with celebrities at clubs in the city.

When he wasn’t at the studio or at the gym, Darrow spent his time looking for partners. He found himself going through dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of lovers.

“It became frantic, and it was never my intention...but I became insensitive to what it means to be with a partner, both body and soul,” he said in the documentary film, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.”

But after the AIDS epidemic claimed around 90 percent of his friends, a disease he himself narrowly and miraculously escaped, Darrow decided to move to San Francisco for a fresh start. He met his partner, Jeff, there and they moved to a cabin in Sonoma County.

It was in their shared home that Darrow accidentally discovered a one-eyed, straight-talking “pirate nun” wearing an eye-patch who would change his life forever.

“It was so strange that I said 'Jeff Jeff come in here! You gotta see this!'” he said, pointing to the image on the T.V.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, it was Mother Angelica on EWTN. She had just had a stroke, which pulled the left side of her face into a slump and required her to wear a black eye patch over one eye.

“So (Jeff) comes in and I'm laughing mockingly at this nun with a patch over her eye, a distorted face…and a complete old fashioned habit,” Darrow said. “We both mocked her and laughed at her, you know, 'Gosh these crazy Christians.'”

Jeff left the room and Darrow was about to change the channel, when Mother Angelica “said something so intelligent, so real, and so honest, that it really struck me,” he said.

“You see God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next,” Mother Angelica said through slumped lips, her good eye still twinkling behind her glasses.

Mother Angelica's words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got.

“He cares for you. He watches your every move. There's no one that loves you can do that.”

Mother Angelica's words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got.

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away on March 27, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.

“She really had…a huge influence on my life, and I learned to love her,” he said, “but at the same time, I had to hide her.”

“So when I turned off the TV, I would always change the channel so that when Jeff or whoever was watching that TV came in, they would never see that I was watching Mother Angelica. And it reminded me as I was doing this of when I used to turn the channel when I was watching porn because I didn't want Jeff or anyone else to see a porn station come up.”

Eventually, Mother Angelica's influence convinced Darrow to go back to church after decades of absence. It was a move that made Darrow very wary; he was sure he would lose friends and clients if they saw him going into a Catholic Church.

And in some ways, he was right.

“I lost clients, I lost friends,” he told CNA in a 2014 interview, at the premiere of the documentary.

“People were in shock that an educated, relatively intelligent man could believe in Jesus Christ. These were the few friends that were aware that I was back in the Church.”

But it's a move that he’s never regretted. Since his conversion, Darrow has shared his experience through talks and conferences. Mother Angelica also led Darrow to discover Courage International, the
Vatican-approved apostolate that reaches out to Catholics with same-sex attraction with the goals of growing closer to God, engaging in supportive friendships, and learning to live full lives within the call to chastity.

It was through Courage International that Darrow became involved with the film “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which he saw as a chance to share his story and to give others the same hope that he found in the Catholic Church.

“I was not discriminated against at the beginning of my journey back to the Catholic Church, I was never told that I was a bad person, that I was doing something wrong, even in confession,” he said.

“The Catholic Church really is, according to its teachings, open to everybody.”

Darrow said he felt he owed it to God to share his story through courage and through the film because of all that God had done in his life.

“I wanted to express my love to God and my appreciation for all that He has done for me,” Darrow said, “that He had never forgotten me during the decades that I had forgotten him or turned against him.”

The full documentary is available for free online at: https://everlastinghills.org/movie/

 

This article was originally published March 29, 2016.

What's the most convincing argument against porn? Science.

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 18:02

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 26, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2013, Beyonce Knowles topped GQ’s list of “The 100 Hottest Women of the 21st Century.”

That same year, the “definitive men's magazine” that promises “sexy women” along with style advice, entertainment news and more ran a shorter listicle: “10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.”  

The list included reasons such as increased sexual impotence in men that regularly viewed pornography, and a reported lack of control of sexual desires. It was inspired by an interview with NoFap, an online community of people dedicated to holding each other accountable in abstaining from pornography and masturbation.The site clearly states that it is decidedly non-religious.

Matt Fradd, on the other hand, is a Catholic. Fradd has spent much of his adult life urging people to quit pornography, and developing websites and resources to help pornography addicts.

But even though he’s Catholic, Fradd’s new anti-porn book, “The Porn Myth,” won’t quote the saints or the Bible or recommend a regimen of rosaries.

“I wanted to write a non-religious response to pro-pornography arguments,” Fradd said.

That’s not because he’s abandoned his beliefs, or thinks that faith has nothing to say about pornography.

“Whenever I get up to speak, people expect that I’m just going to use a bunch of moral arguments (against porn). And I have them, and I’m happy to use them, and I think ultimately that’s what we need to get to. But I think using science...is always the best way to introduce this issue to people.”  

“In an increasingly secular culture, we need arguments based on scientific research, of which there’s been much,” he said. It’s why he cites numerous studies on each page of his book, and why he’s included 50 pages of additional appendixes citing additional research.  

Fradd is careful to clarify in his book that it is not a book against sex or sexuality. What he does want to do is challenge the way many people have come to think about pornography, and question whether it leads to human flourishing.

“This book rests on one fundamental presupposition: if you want something to flourish, you need to use it in accordance with its nature,” Fradd wrote. “Don’t plant tomatoes in a dark closet and water them with soda and expect to have vibrant tomato plants. To do so would be to act contrary to the nature of tomatoes. Similarly, don’t rip sex out of its obvious relational context, turn it into a commodity, and then expect individuals, families and society to flourish.”

But why dedicate a whole book to the scientific effects of pornography?

Fradd said that the sheer volume of pornography consumption makes this an especially urgent book - and it’s at least two decades too late. According to one survey, about 63 percent of men and 21 percent of women ages 18-30 have reported that they view pornography several times a week - not to mention those viewing it slightly less often.

“If we have an iPhone we have a portable X-rated movie theater. And some studies suggest children as young as 8 are being exposed to it, so if I meet someone who’s 14, I know that they have looked at porn or are looking at it regularly,” Fradd said.

Fradd recalls in his book a study done by Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education. When Farley’s team set out to do a study about men who buy sex, they had a difficult time finding men who don’t do so.

“The use of pornography, phone sex, lapdances, and other services has become so widespread that Farley’s team had to loosen their definition of a non-sex buyer in order to assemble a hundred-person control group for their research,” Fradd wrote.

Throughout the book, Fradd uses scientific research to debunk numerous and prevailing “myths” or arguments about pornography, including the ideas that pornography empowers women, that it isn’t addictive, and that it’s a healthy part of sexuality and relationships.

One of the most commonly believed myths is that pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, Fradd said. But he has found that pornography harms people personally, relationally, and societally.

On the personal level, a 2014 study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found that frequent pornography use in men was associated with decreased brain matter in certain areas of the brain.

The abstract explained that the association may not be causation, but correlation, “which means that if porn isn’t shrinking your brain, it would mean that people with small brains like porn more,” Fradd said.

“It’s not a feather in your cap, either way.”

As for whether or not pornography empowers women, Fradd said that while he agrees that a woman who consents to producing pornography is in some sense “better” than a woman who is forced or coerced, but not by much, because pornography is still being used by the consumer to treat another person as a means to an end.  

“No matter the level of consent, it is a manly thing to treat a woman who has forgotten her dignity with dignity nonetheless,” Fradd wrote.

Fradd also quotes Rebecca Whisnant, a feminist theory professor, who once refuted the myth of porn as female empowerment in a talk:

“Feminism is about ending the subordination of women. Expanding women’s freedom of choice on a variety of fronts is an important part of that, but it is not the whole story. In fact, any meaningful liberation movement involves not only claiming the right to make choices, but also holding oneself accountable for the effects of those choices on oneself and on others,” she said in a 2007 talk.

These women are also perpetuating a system that robs women, as a group, of empowerment, Fradd said, such as women who are sex trafficked while participating in the porn industry. By some estimates, two million women and girls are held in sexual slavery at any given time.

It’s part of the reason why Fradd is donating all of the proceeds of “The Porn Myth” to Children of the Immaculate Heart, a non-profit corporation operating in San Diego, Calif, whose mission is to serve survivors of human trafficking.

Porn also disempowers the women whose relationships are destroyed by men caught up in pornography addictions, Fradd noted.

“Ask the millions of women whose husbands habitually turn to porn. Do these women feel empowered by pornography?” Fradd asked.

Pornography use in marriage is one way that porn harms relationships. According to Fradd’s research, a survey of 350 divorce lawyers reported in 2003 that pornography was at least part of the problem in half of all divorce cases they saw.

Another commonly believed myth is that marriage will solve a porn addiction, which shows a misunderstanding of the psychology of addiction in the first place, Fradd explains.

But pornography can also damage the relationships of a single person looking for love.

A 2011 TED talk by psychologist Philip Zimbardo said that studies showed a “widespread fear of intimacy and social awkwardness among men,” and an inability to engage in face-to-face conversations with women, Fradd wrote.  

“Why? Zimbardo says this is caused by disproportionate Internet use in general and excessive new access to pornography in particular. ‘Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way, for change, novelty, excitement.’”

And Zimbardo is not alone in his observations. As Fradd notes, neuroscientist William Struthers wrote in 2009 that “With repeated sexual acting out in the absence of a partner, a man will be bound and attached to the image and not a person.”

In other words, men can start preferring pixels to people. According to NoFap’s statistics in 2013, about half of their users had never had sex with a real person, meaning their only experience of sexual intimacy has been digital.

That reason alone has been why many people, men especially, have sought to kick their porn habits, Fradd said.

“I know agnostics or atheists who quit porn literally because they couldn’t have sex with people they were hooking up with. That’s why they quit porn. And these guys are fit, good-looking young men, who couldn’t get an erection around a young woman. But they realized if the woman left and they opened up their laptop they’d get an immediate erection.”

Studies have also shown that pornography addiction is driven by the increase in amounts, and varieties, of material readily available to anyone with access to the internet.

“People find themselves viewing more and more disturbing pornography, and the reason for this is because of a decrease in dopamine in the brain, which happens because of the addiction one has, and they end up seeking out more graphic, violent forms of pornogrpahy just to boost the dopamine enough to feel normal,” Fradd said.

“People don’t wake up when they’re 30 and decide to look at child porn or feces porn or something disgusting like that. These are big things that people spiral into, and the industry has to keep pushing the envelope because it’s addictive,” he added.

While the statistics of pornography can be disturbing and depressing, Fradd stressed that there was still hope. He devotes several chapters in the book to protecting children from pornography, dealing with pornograpy in marriage, and getting help for those addicted to pornography.

Fradd himself has spent years in ministry to those with pornography addictions, and helps run the site Integrity Restored, which offers numerous resources to help those struggling with addictions and those in ministry to them.

The most effective steps for someone to follow for someone addicted to porn?

“They should find a spiritual director, they should go to therapy, and they should find a 12 step group (like Sexaholics Anonymous),” Fradd said. “With those three things together, we’ve seen the most success.”

Often well-meaning Christians will relegate pornography addictions to the spiritual realm, telling people that they simply need to pray more, Fradd said. And while prayer isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t address the psychological aspect of addiction.

“When people do things like put a picture of Mary on their laptop or pray more, it doesn’t actually usually work. It’s not a solely spiritual problem, so what we don’t need is a solely spiritual answer,” he said.

Just as you should encourage a clinically depressed person to seek counseling and therapy, you should also encourage someone experiencing addiction to seek professional help, he added.

Fradd said he’s also been encouraged by the number of celebrities who have recently spoken out against pornography, such as Pamela Anderson, British comedian Russell Brand, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rashida Jones, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews, to name a few.

Slowly, he said, society is catching up to the science that shows how harmful pornography can be.

“We’ve reached a tipping point in our culture such that everyone either struggles with porn and/or knows someone who does, and we all see the negative effects,” he said.

“So the porn industry’s cronies can tell us that pornography is healthy for well-rounded adults,  but they now sound like the tobacco apologists sounded like in the 80s. In light of the evidence, their assertions seem increasingly ridiculous.”

Fradd’s book is available at: https://www.thepornmyth.com/

How an American bishop became a Korean martyr

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 10:01

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2017 / 08:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Patrick James Byrne was born in the United States, but he died on a forced march in the harsh Korean snows under the watch of communist soldiers.

Now the Catholic bishops of South Korea are considering whether he should beatified among a group of Korean martyrs.

“Bishop Byrne is one of the unsung heroes of Maryknoll,” Father Raymond Finch, Superior General of the Maryknoll Society, told CNA. “We remember him as an example of a missioner who stayed at his post.”

As a newly ordained priest in 1915, Bishop Byrne joined the Maryknoll Society, just four years after its founding. He led the society's mission to Korea in the early 1920s, and he served as prefect apostolic of Pyongyang from 1927 to 1929.

In the 1930s he was transferred to Japan, and during World War II he was held under house arrest.

After the war's conclusion, he was named the first apostolic delegate to Korea, in April 1949. He was promptly ordained a bishop, at the age of 60.

His ordination came at a portentous moment early in the Cold War. Korea was splitting between the North Korean communists, backed by China and the Soviet Union, and the U.S.-backed South Korea.

With the rise of communism in northern Korea, many of the Catholics in the north, including Maryknoll clergy, had to escape to the south in order to continue to practice their Catholic faith.

But not Bishop Byrne.

“It was then, remaining at his post, that he was taken with many other religious priests and members of the Church, taken prisoner on a forced march,” Fr. Finch said. “And he died on that march.”

In July 1950, after the capture of Seoul by North Korean forces, Bishop Byrne was arrested by communists and put on trial. According to Glenn D. Kittler’s history “The Maryknoll Fathers,” he was threatened with death if he did not denounce the U.S., the United Nations, and the Vatican. He refused.

He and other priests were put on several forced marches with Korean men and women and captured American soldiers.

Bishop Byrne was known for trying to help others on the marches through the cold, wet Korean weather, Fr. Finch said.

Aiding others was risky. Some of the prisoners were shot for dropping out of line, while others were executed for aiding those who had become immobilized. Nonetheless, the bishop would help others. At one point he gave his entire blanket to a Methodist missionary who was suffering worse than he.

During a four-month-long forced march, suffering from bad weather and a lack of food and shelter, he began to succumb to pneumonia at Chunggan-up, not far from the Yalu River on the border with China.

He knew he was dying.

“After the privilege of my priesthood, I regard this privilege of having suffered for Christ with all of you as the greatest of my life,” he told his companions.

He received absolution from his secretary, Father William Booth, the bishop’s biography at the Maryknoll Mission Archives website says.

He died Nov. 25, 1950. News of his death took two years to reach the world, when U.N. prison camp inspectors found survivors of the march.

Bishop Byrne was buried by Msgr. Thomas Quinlan, an Irish-born Columban Father who placed his own cassock on the bishop. The monsignor was later named Bishop of Chunchon, South Korea.

Now, a special commission of South Korean bishops has begun a process that could make Bishop Byrne a candidate for beatification. The bishops have grouped him with Bishop Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho of Pyongyang and 80 companions, who were killed in persecutions from 1901 to the mid-20th century.

Fr. Finch said the launch of the beatification process for Bishop Byrne was “a tremendous honor” and showed he was an example for the Maryknoll Society to follow.

“He answered the call to mission, from the very beginning, and stayed with it, and gave his life to that,” he said. “That’s what we want to do, one way or another, whether it’s through a lifetime, or in a moment in which supreme sacrifices are asked for.”

“We’re inspired,” the Maryknoll superior general said. “We’re inspired by him, and we’re inspired by a number of other Maryknollers who have given their lives over the years in Asia, in Latin America and in Africa.”

Other victims of the Korean conflict include Maryknoll Sisters like Sister Agneta Chang, who was kidnapped by the communist military in late 1950 and is believed to have been martyred.

“I believe they never found her body,” Fr. Finch said.

While the context of the conflict was very difficult, it led to “tremendous Church growth” in South Korea after the war from people who were dedicated to the Church.

“Korea is one of the tremendous success stories of Asia: a Church that started out with 20-25,000 of people of the faith at the start of the last century and ended up with 10 percent of the population today,” Fr. Finch told CNA.

Meet the monks who decided to go green years before Laudato Si

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 17:20

Arlington, Va., Mar 25, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship.

“This really is a re-founding,” Fr. James Orthmann of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. told CNA, a “real renewal and a re-founding, and in a real sense getting back to our traditional roots.”

Since 2007, the community has taken concrete steps be better stewards of the earth in the tradition of the Cistercian Order, while also reaching into the outside world to draw more Catholic men to their monastic life.

The abbey was founded in 1950 after a planned Trappist abbey in Massachusetts burned down. The Diocese of Richmond offered to accept the monks and they procured 1200 acres of pasture on the Shenandoah River in Northwest Virginia, just in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

However the community has shrunk along with the overall number of religious priests and brothers in the U.S., which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1965. The community’s Father Immediate – the abbot of their mother house – suggested in 2007 they start planning how to sustain the abbey for the long-term.

The monks discussed their most important resources and “literally everybody talked about our location, our land,” Fr. James recalled. “As monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, we have a vow of stability. So we bind ourselves to the community and to the place that we enter.”



The Trappists have a long history of settling in valleys and caring for the land, dating back to their roots in the Cistercian Order and their mother abbey in Citeaux, France, founded in 1098. Monks at Holy Cross Abbey began farming the land in 1950 but as the community grew older, they leased out the land to local farmers and made creamed honey and fruitcake for their labor.

“We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land,” Fr. James explained. “The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”

So what specifically have the monks done to become better environmental stewards? First, they reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could be more environmentally sustainable in the Cistercian tradition.

A group of graduate students made the project their master’s thesis. The result was a massive 400-page study, “Reinhabiting Place,” with all sorts of recommendations for the monks. With these suggestions as a starting place, the monks took action.

First, they turned to the river. They asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease 600 acres of their land to stop his cattle from grazing in the river. This would protect the riverbanks from eroding and keep the cows from polluting the water, which flows into the Potomac River, past Washington, D.C., and eventually feeds the massive Chesapeake Bay.

They fenced off tributaries of the river and planted native hardwoods and bushes on the banks as shelter for migratory animals and to attract insects and pollinators to “restore the proper biodiversity to the area,” Fr. James explained. They also leased 180 acres of land to a farmer for natural vegetable farming.

Most of the abbey’s property was put into “conservation easement” with the county and the state. By doing this, the monks promise that the land will forever remain “fallow,” or agricultural and undeveloped, and they receive a tax benefit in return. The county provides this policy to check suburban sprawl and retain a rural and agricultural nature.

The community also switched their heating and fueling sources from fossil fuels to propane gas. They had a solar-fed lighting system installed in two of the guest retreat dorms, and they pay for the recycling of their disposable waste. The monks stopped making fruitcake for a year to install a new more energy-efficient oven and make building repairs.

The have even started offering “green burials” at Cool Spring Cemetery in the Trappist style.

Normal burials can cost well over $7,000 with embalming fluids and lead coffins that can be detrimental to the soil. A Trappist burial, by contrast, is “rather sparse” and “rather unadorned,” Fr. James explained. A monk is wrapped in a shroud and placed directly on a wooden bier in the ground.

The Trappist burials, while quite different from a typical modern burial, actually have an earthy character to them that’s attractive, Fr. James maintained.

After the “initial shock” at seeing such a sparse burial for the first time, “oddly enough, it’s very cathartic and you have a real sense of hope,” he said. The burials are “a lot less formal” and “people [in attendance] are more spontaneous,” he noted, and there’s “even a certain joyfulness to it.”

With their “green burials,” the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container like a wooden coffin, and buried in the first four feet of the soil. By one year, just the skeleton may be left, but it’s a harkening back to the Ash Wednesday admonition, “Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

And this contrasts with the complicated embalming process of normal funerals where chemicals like formaldehyde can seep into the ground.



The monks have already touched lives with their example of stewardship.

Local residents George Patterson and Deidra Dain produced a film “Saving Place, Saving Grace” about the monastery’s efforts to remain sustainable, for a local PBS affiliate station. The affiliate’s general manager had looked at the story and thought everyone needed to hear it.

The monastery has been an “example” to the county’s leadership with its care for the land, Patterson said. Dain, a retreatant at the monastery 15 years ago, is not Catholic but found her time at the abbey “inspiring” and as a lover of nature praises their sustainability initiative.

All in all, the communal effort for stewardship is “helping to renew our life,” Fr. James said of the community.

Papal statements on the environment have given a boost to their efforts. “There was a lot of supportive stuff from the time of Pope Benedict about the environment,” Fr. James recalled, particularly in his 2008 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which upheld the responsibility of man to care for the environment.

This “helped bridge” any gulfs that kept certain members of the community from fully embracing the sustainability initiative, Fr. James said.

Parts of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment Laudato Si are “so sophisticated in (their) grasp of environmental teaching,” he continued, and it’s quite a support to have popes promoting environmental stewardship amidst the bureaucratic tediousness of upgrading the abbey’s land and facilities.

“At the end of the day, I can open up Laudato Si and say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done’,” he said.

The community hopes too that it can be a sustainability model for developing countries that might not be able to afford high-tech and expensive solutions to environmental problems. Their facilities are simple by nature and not sophisticated, and the monks’ consumption is already low because they take a vow of poverty.

Plus, retreatants at the monastery can observe first-hand the changes made and consider what they can do in their own lives to be more caring for the environment.



However, in its “re-founding” efforts, the community has also explored ways to attract more vocations to the abbey.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost most of our seniors first to illness, aging, and then death. So in a sense, the community has a whole new profile right now,” Fr. James said. The abbey was founded to be “separate” from the cosmopolitan world, but young men are not actively seeking out the monastic life like they did in the 1950s and 60s.

So the community created a new website and continuously update it with new posts. They started hosting “immersion weekends” where men come and live with the monks for a weekend, praying with them. They expanded their local profile in the community by hosting teenagers to earn their school community service hours. “Only two students had realized we existed here,” Fr. James recalled in a telling moment.

“We’re reaching out to men of all ages, and it’s probably even more likely, given the limits of our way of life, that nowadays it’s going to be older men who are coming to this vocation,” Fr. James admitted. “This way of life and its limits make much more sense to people who have tried their quote-unquote dream, have been disillusioned by the result, and they’re yearning for something more.”

What distinguishes Holy Cross Abbey and the Trappist way of life? Their vocation to community life, Fr. James answered, “the silence, the discipline of silence, and daily familiarity with the Scriptures.”

The monks follow an intense daily schedule of prayer, contemplation, and work that includes 3:30 a.m. prayer and a “Great Silence” beginning at 8:15 p.m. They don’t leave the abbey grounds and don’t own private property.

“It’s a lifestyle that very much will develop one’s interiority, spirituality, relationship with God,” he said. “It’s a vocation of adoration, done in community, and offered to the world around us through hospitality here in this place.”

And the modern world offers special challenges to a man discerning this vocation, he admitted.

“There’s not much in the pop culture to invite a person to even think about interiority. And in fact it can be rather threatening to people,” he said. “Initially,” when one begins to seriously cultivate an interior life, “it’s the negative stuff that comes up.”

However, “with guidance you realize that’s the negative face of very important, unrecognized resources. And our vulnerability is perhaps the greatest resource we have in life. (Even if) that’s not the message you’d get from watching Oprah.”
 
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 2, 2015.
 

Texas pro-lifers target 'wrongful birth' lawsuits, Planned Parenthood

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 08:01

Austin, Texas, Mar 25, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the targets of Texas pro-life advocates are so-called ‘wrongful birth’ lawsuits and Planned Parenthood’s alleged involvement in the sale of unborn baby parts. Both are finding some success in the State Senate.

In some cases, parents of a child born with a disability such as Down syndrome have filed lawsuits against doctors claiming that they were not informed of a disability in time to procure an abortion. Such claims aim to secure the costs of raising the child, even lifetime costs.

Senate Bill 25 would prevent parents of children born with disabilities from suing their physician.

The bill, which has the support of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, passed the state senate by a vote of 21-9 March 21. It now heads to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration.

“We are thrilled that the Senate has passed S.B. 25, because it reverses a decades-old injustice and bad public policy that devalues babies, both unborn and born, who have a disability,” Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, told CNA March 23. “In our view, S.B. 25 eliminates wrongful birth lawsuits while holding doctors accountable to practicing good medicine.”

While opponents of the bill charged it would allow doctors to withhold information from parents about an unborn child, Pojman said the bill’s text explicitly excludes such a possibility.
 
He added that the bill is consistent with tTexas’ policy of promoting childbirth over abortion.

Meanwhile, Texas Alliance for Life’s top priority is the passage of S.B. 8, provisions of which would, in Pojman’s words, “shut down Planned Parenthood's harvesting and sale of body parts harvested from the bodies of aborted babies.”

The bill passed the state senate March 15 by a bipartisan vote of 24-6. The House considered its own version March 22.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had called for such a bill in his January State of the State Address.

The bill follows an undercover investigation from the Center for American Progress which found Planned Parenthood staffers and leaders appearing to encourage the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby body parts for profit.

A Dec. 7, 2016 letter from the Select Investigative Panel of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce referred an unnamed Houston abortionist to the State Attorney General for alleged violations of a federal partial-birth abortion ban.

S.B. 8 would also bar partial-birth abortion, creating a criminal penalty for the physician and a cause for civil action for the father.

The bill has the support of the Texas Catholic Conference.

Another bill, S.B. 415, passed the state senate by a 21-9 vote.

The ban on “dismemberment abortions” would bar “dilation and evacuation” procedures, which use surgical instruments to grasp the unborn baby and remove his or her parts while he or she is still alive. The procedure is the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.

However, the Texas Alliance for Life opposed it.

“We look forward to the day when laws protect all unborn babies from abortion and the courts uphold those laws,” Pojman said. “Unfortunately,  a ban on dismemberment abortion would never be enforced, and it would save no lives.”

He said the bill had zero chance to survive a federal court challenge and could create a precedent to make overturning Roe v. Wade more difficult.

“We believe it to be naive and harmful to pursue such legislation this session given the makeup of the Supreme Court now and for the foreseeable future. Since these bills will set the pro-life movement back rather than moving us forward, we cannot support these bills.”

A loss in federal court would also fund the abortion movement, as the state is required to pay plaintiff attorney fees if the plaintiff wins on constitutional issues.

Pojman pointed to the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case, which successfully challenged parts of a Texas law requiring more safety regulations at abortion clinics.

The abortion providers are asking for $4.5 million in legal costs.

“We do not know what they will end up receiving,” Pojman said. “We do know, however, that whatever the attorneys for the abortion providers receive will be used to attack other pro-life laws in Texas and in other states.”

Gorsuch praised for record of building unity on religious freedom

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 14:06

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch received a strong voice of support Thursday from a lawyer at a major religious liberty firm, who said that he shows a record of consensus building and protecting religious freedom for all.

In addition to ruling on some high profile cases, Gorsuch also defended the religious freedom of religious minorities and prisoners, “some of the most politically powerless in our society,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Smith testified about Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Gorsuch sits on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was nominated by President Donald Trump in February to be an associate justice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In her testimony, Smith pointed to Gorsuch’s ruling in favor of a Native American inmate’s request to have access to a sweat house at his prison, for religious use.

Gorsuch wrote in that Yellowbear case, “While those convicted of crime in our society lawfully forfeit a great many civil liberties, Congress has (repeatedly) instructed that the sincere exercise of religion should not be among them – at least in the absence of a compelling reason. In this record we can find no reason like that.”

He also was “a remarkable consensus-builder,” Smith added, “in an area of jurisprudence that can be quite contentious.”

Smith said she studied 40 religious freedom cases where Gorsuch, appointed to the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush, either wrote an opinion or took a position. She found that “judges appointed by a Democratic president agreed with him in 80 percent of those cases.”

Where Gorsuch authored an opinion in a religious freedom case, she added, he “produced a unanimous decision every single time.”

“My assessment is that Judge Gorsuch, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, would be a jurist committed to protecting this vital freedom,” Smith said of religious liberty. “None of his religious liberty opinions has ever been reversed by the Supreme Court.”

Judge Gorsuch was a Marshall Scholar who received his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University, studying under Natural Law scholar John Finnis while there. He clerked for Supreme Court justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy before working as the principal deputy associate attorney general at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

In 2006, President Bush appointed Gorsuch to the Tenth Circuit. In his time on the circuit, he weighed in on major religious freedom cases including those of Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

He was nominated by President Trump on Feb. 1 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Senate Democrats, however, have announced their intent to hold up his confirmation through filibuster, which would require the votes of 60 senators to override.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, have not yet announced if they will invoke the “nuclear option” where the Senate rules would be altered to allow for a simple majority vote in the 100-seat chamber rather than a three-fifths, or 60-seat, vote.

Smith, in her testimony on Thursday, also pointed to Gorsuch’s rulings in recent prominent religious freedom cases.

As a judge, Gorsuch wrote a concurrence with the majority decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, and joined the dissent in the case that went against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, saying they were exempt from the contraceptive mandate, which “substantially burdened” their religious exercise and was not the “least-restrictive” means of ensuring access to contraceptives.

Later, in the middle of deciding the Little Sisters case, the Court called for the nuns and the government to outline alternative ways of allowing cost-free coverage of contraceptives while respecting the religious freedom of the nuns. After both parties submitted their answers, the Court sent the case back to the lower courts and instructed the parties to come to an agreement.

Ultimately, Smith said, Gorsuch’s record makes it clear that he will uphold the religious liberty of all people.

“His jurisprudence demonstrates an even-handed application of the principle that religious liberty is fundamental to freedom and to human dignity,” she said, “and that protecting the religious rights of others – even the rights of those with whom we may disagree – ultimately leads to greater protections for all of our rights.”

 

Americans agree: Moms and dads should have paid parental leave

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 10:56

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2017 / 08:56 am (CNA).- A new report by the Pew Research Center has found that the overwhelming majority of Americans support paid family and medical leave for workers.

More than 80 percent of adult Americans surveyed believe that women should have paid maternity leave, and just under 70 percent support paid paternity leave.

When it comes to paid leave for new fathers, there are significant generational differences. Of those under 30 years of age, 82 percent believe dads should get paid leave after a birth or adoption. Support drops to 76 percent among respondents from 30-49 years of age, and 59 percent for those 50 and older.

Support for paid family leave was a rare issue of agreement between both candidates in the last presidential election, although Democrats and Republicans have general disagreement on the extent to which the government should be involved in ensuring this benefit.

The study, based on two surveys conducted late last year, found that there is currently a drastic difference in leave opportunities between higher and lower income workers.

Some 60 percent of leave takers with annual household incomes from $30,000 to $74,999 received at least some pay when they took family or medical leave. The same is true for 74 percent of those with incomes of $75,000 or more. But that number drops to 37 percent for leave takers with incomes under $30,000.

For those who take unpaid or partially paid leave, the shortfall in income often proves to be a significant financial strain. The report found that 41 percent of people in this situation cut their leave short, 37 percent took on debt, and 33 percent put off paying bills.

Among lower-income workers who took unpaid or partially paid parental leave, nearly half went on public assistance to cover lost income.

Meanwhile, a little more than half of those who took parental leave said they took less time off than they needed or wanted to take. Lost income was the top reason cited, followed by concerns about the impact that additional leave would have on their jobs.

One in four women who took maternity leave in past two years say it negatively impacted their job or career.

Another area of strong agreement: about three-quarters of respondents believed that employers who offer paid leave are more likely to attract and keep good workers than employers who do not offer paid leave.

 

California priest found guilty of embezzling donations

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 08:38

San Jose, Calif., Mar 24, 2017 / 06:38 am (CNA).- A priest in California has been found guilty of diverting $19,000 in donations to his personal account.

Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 57, was found guilty on 14 counts of bank fraud by U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman of San Jose, CBS San Francisco reports.

The donations, made between 2005 and 2007, had been intended for the Vietnamese Catholic Center in San Jose. Fr. Nguyen had served as the center’s director from 2001-2011. He has also served as a pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, now called Our Lady of La Vang.

The priest previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion for the years 2008-2011. He faces sentencing for all convictions on June 30. He could face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for each bank fraud account, and a maximum sentence of five years for each tax evasion count.

Fr. Nguyen has been a priest of the Diocese of San Jose since 1995. He has been on a personal leave of absence since December 2013. Fr. Nguyen was born in Vietnam and fled to the U.S. as a boy during the Vietnam War.

 

New campaign highlights Catholic services in Michigan

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 02:14

Detroit, Mich., Mar 24, 2017 / 12:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new television ad campaign launched by the Michigan Catholic Conference is featuring commercials that spotlight the hand of the Catholic Church in health, education, and charitable systems throughout the state.

“The Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services, education, and health care after the government itself,” stated David Maluchnik, vice president of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), in a recent press release.

“This advertising project aims to reinforce the notion that faith-based health care, charitable, and educational entities here in the state are an inclusive and diverse component of our local communities that serve all in the spirit of ‘loving thy neighbor,’” Maluchnik continued.

Entitled “Freedom to Serve,” the ad campaign is the product of collaboration between the Michigan Catholic Conference and the media firm Minus Red. The commercials were originally produced as three short films, and were extracted from the films for television commercials.

The goal behind the commercials is to underscore how the Catholic Church is “free to serve” the community in Michigan through various outlets, such as the fields of health, education and charity. Currently, there is a Catholic presence in 222 schools, 33 health centers, 88 social service centers, and 73 specialized homes.

These commercials are being shown on 28 cable and network stations throughout the state, and will run from February through May. There are currently two commercials, titled “Little Simple Things” and “Hands of Service in Healing.”

Each commercial tackles big issues such as palliative care and how organizations, such as Catholic Charities, are providing much-needed water for the city of Flint. One commercial notes that Catholic Charities is “one of the largest suppliers of water in Flint,” and that they give water away for free to those who need it.

While there are only two commercials on air currently, new ads will debut over the next few months that will spotlight Catholic health centers and Catholic school systems.

“For over one hundred years, the Catholic community in Michigan has played a vital role providing our most vulnerable brothers and sisters with the material and spiritual care necessary to uphold their dignity as human persons,” Maluchnik stated.

According to the press release, the Catholic school system educated about 52,000 students during the course of 2016. The Church has also provided various social services and charity work for over 480,000 citizens in the state. Additionally, Catholic health services in Michigan have cared for over 5.5 million individuals, “all without regard to race, religion, or income.”

“Catholic institutions are administered and staffed by persons who do not leave their faith at the doorstep when serving others – it is who they are from morning until night,” Maluchnik noted.

There are about 1.8 million Catholics in the state – 18 percent of the Michigan population. The Michigan Catholic Conference is hoping that these commercials will highlight the many ways the Catholic Church is serving the greater Michigan community, and also bring light to recent government mandates which have put up roadblocks to serving those in need.

More information about the “Freedom to Serve” project is available at www.CatholicsServe.com

 

Baltimore mourns Cardinal Keeler, former archbishop

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 19:10

Baltimore, Md., Mar 23, 2017 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal William Henry Keeler, who was Archbishop of Baltimore from 1989 to 2007, has died at the age of 86, archdiocesan officials say.

He died early in the morning of March 23 at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville, Maryland, a home administered by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The cardinal's funeral Mass will be held March 28 at Baltimore's Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, after which his body will be interred in the basement crypt at the city's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said in a statement that getting to know Cardinal Keeler was one of “the great blessings in my life.”

Archbishop Lori added that after he was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore in 2012 “I became more aware than ever of his tremendous ministry in the City of Baltimore and in the nine Maryland counties that comprise the Archdiocese.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, also offered his “prayers of gratitude for Cardinal Keeler’s return to the Lord he so dearly loved,” in a statement.

“As a priest, Bishop of Harrisburg, and Archbishop of Baltimore, the Cardinal worked to bring the hope of Christ to people’s lives. He also built bridges of solidarity to people of other faiths as a leader in ecumenism and interreligious affairs,” Cardinal DiNardo continued.

“Cardinal Keeler was a dear friend. The most fitting tribute we can offer is to carry forward his episcopal motto in our daily lives: ‘Do the work of an evangelist.’”

Cardinal Keeler was born in San Antonio, Texas March 4, 1931. After growing up and attending Catholic schools in Pennsylvania, he joined the seminary and then attended the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained there as a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1955, at the age of 24.

During the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Keeler served as secretary to Bishop George R. Leech of Harrisburg. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Harrisburg in 1979, and in 1983 became bishop of the same diocese. In 1989 he was named the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore, the oldest diocese in the United States.

Archbishop Keeler was also elected as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992, where he helped coordinate 1993’s World Youth Day celebrations in Denver, Colorado.

Archbishop Keeler was appointed a cardinal by St. John Paul II in 1994.

He retired in 2007, at the age of 76.

Cardinal Keeler was very involved in both interreligious and ecumenical activities, as well as the pro-life movement.

At the USCCB, he served as the moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations as well as the Chair for the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs between 1984 and 1987. He served on the International Catholic Orthodox Commission for Theological Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches over the years. He also served twice as the Chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

In Baltimore, Cardinal Keeler worked hard to secure funding for at-risk children and youth to attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Today, the fund that bears his name has awarded over 16,500 scholarships and has raised more than $70 million dollars in funding.

Other efforts of Cardinal Keeler include his hosting of both Sts. John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta during their visits to Baltimore, and his efforts to restore the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sean Caine, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told CNA that “the cardinal served the Archdiocese of Baltimore for 18 years,” a feat which made him third longest -serving bishop in the historic see. “He did so with great distinction, great clarity of vision and fidelity to the Church.”

Caine continued to explain the cardinal’s meaning to the city and the deep significance of his leadership over those nearly two decades.

“He was probably best known for his work in interfaith and ecumenical relations, which probably drew him close to Pope St. John Paul II, and that relationship bore particular fruit for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

During the Holy Father’s 1995 visit to Baltimore, the Pope “was the first and only sitting Pope to visit the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Caine explained.

“He was a champion of Catholic education” and helped organize the local Catholic Charities’ comprehensive Catholic social services program, the Our Daily Bread Employment Center, Caine added. “It really is the cornerstone of Catholic Charities here in Baltimore.”

Archbishop Lori expressed that the city will feel the impact of Cardinal Keeler’s loss.

“Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed,” Archbishop Lori wrote. “I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the Cardinal. May his noble priestly soul rest in peace!”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore asks that, in lieu of flowers, well-wishers make contributions to the Cardinal William H. Keeler Endowment Fund of the Catholic Community Foundation.

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