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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.
Updated: 37 min 51 sec ago

Gonzaga students worked at on-campus home of accused priests

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 17:20

Spokane, Wash., Apr 29, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Gonzaga University students were hired to serve as aides at an on-campus retirement home in which lived several priests accused of sexual abuse.

Between 2000 and 2015, students at the university were hired for positions in food service, maintenance, gardening, and direct with residents in the Jesuit retirement home, Cardinal Bea House, at which at least 20 Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse and misconduct were sent to live, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Some student-workers were assigned to accompany retired Jesuits on errands during the course of their employment.

The students in food service positions were hired through the university’s employment office. The rest were hired directly by the Jesuit province that had assigned the accused priests to residence at Bea House.

“Before being hired, the students were briefed by the community’s superior that there were Jesuits at Bea House on safety plans who were monitored and restricted,” Primrose told the Spokesman-Review on April 9. “None of the students reported any inappropriate behavior by the Jesuits to the superior or the nurse/healthcare coordinator who helped supervise their work.”

The credibly accused priests living at Cardinal Bea House were reportedly subject to “safety plans” which forbade them from engaging with students, though it is not clear whether they had interaction with the student-workers at Bea House.

From 2003 to 2016, several Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse were housed at the Cardinal Bea House on the campus of Spokane’s Gonzaga University, according to a series of investigative reports published in December 2018 by Northwest News Network, and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The sexual abuse accusations against the priests living on Gonzaga’s campus were not made known publicly by the university, the Jesuit province, or the diocese. Most of the accused priests were reported to be living at the Gonzaga residence in retirement or due to their declining health.
 
The house is a residence owned by the West Province of the Society of Jesus, and not overseen by the university.

According to the media reports, at least some credibly accused priests had regular unsupervised access to the university campus and unsupervised visits with students, and were permitted to lead prayer services in other settings, including Native American reservations.

No priests known to have been accused of abuse are now living in the campus house.

 

‘I am a pastor at heart’ Seattle coadjutor tells press conference

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 16:30

Seattle, Wash., Apr 29, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The new coadjutor archbishop of Seattle promised Monday to be a pastoral leader to Catholics in Washington state, noting that his ministry will focus on the principles of dialogue and accompaniment, in imitation of Pope Francis.

Archbishop Paul Etienne was welcomed to Seattle April 29, during a press conference hosted by Seattle’s Archbishop James Peter Sartain. Etienne was appointed to serve as coadjutor of Seattle earlier the same day. As coadjutor archbishop, Etienne will immediately succeed Sartain upon his retirement.

Speaking to journalists at the archdiocesan chancery, both archbishops spoke of their gratitude to the Holy Father for making the appointment and of their enthusiasm for working together in the coming months.

Sartain said he had looked forward to “this happy news” for some months.

The current archbishop explained that he had presented a request to the pope last September, asking for a coadjutor to help him lead the Seattle archdiocese following several major back surgeries, most recently in 2016, that had taken their toll on him physically.

“As the people of the archdiocese know, six or seven years ago I developed some severe spinal problems,” he said.

“Following the last surgery, despite its great success, I began to notice very soon that even though the surgery was successful, my stamina and my energy had not returned to where they were.”

Sartain said he began praying and discerning about his future 18 months ago, before concluding that he would likely need to retire earlier than the usual age of 75 and to ask the pope to appoint a coadjutor.

Archbishop Sartain is currently 66 years old.

“I was very grateful that Pope Francis agreed, positively, and set in motion the process which led to the very happy announcement today.”

Speaking after Sartain, Etienne described his “excitement” at his new appointment. Since 2016, the Indiana native has served as the Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska. He said he was notified of his appointment by the apostolic nuncio in Washington two weeks ago and that it had been a “pretty quick transition.”

“It is only in the last couple of days that I have begun to allow this new reality to set in,” Etienne told the press conference.  “My heart is just filled with a lot of gratitude.”

“I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about my entire life journey that got me here,” Etienne said, as he paid tribute to his family and also his “family of faith” in his native Indiana, noting that it was the culture of faith in which he was raised, one which made it possible for four of six siblings in his family to enter the religious life or clergy.

The new coadjutor, who will be formally welcomed into the archdiocese on June 7, also reflected on the years he had spent in mission territory and dioceses within the U.S., including in Alaska and Cheyenne, Wyoming, praising the “profound faith” and “generosity” which he had encountered there and which he believes prepared him for his new position.

“I am very grateful to Pope Francis for inviting me to be a part of the journey [of the New Evangelization], and helping to lead the Archdiocese of Seattle,” Etienne said, while listing “dialogue” and “accompaniment” as key priorities for him in his ministry.

“Fundamentally, what the people of Seattle need to know is: I’m a pastor at heart.”

Both archbishops stressed their eagerness to work together in the coming months, with Etienne saying that he would have to “learn as I go” from the “good mentor” he has in Sartain.

Sartain said that a decision about the timing of his retirement and Etienne’s succession would be made in the coming months.

‘Our country should be better than this’ says DiNardo after synagogue attack

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference has condemned the shooting at a synagogue near San Diego on April 27, and offered prayers for those affected.

“I, along with my brother bishops, am greatly saddened and deeply concerned over the news that another house of worship has been subjected to violence,” said USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

“Our country should be better than this,” DiNardo said in a statement released April 28.

“Our world should be beyond such acts of hatred and anti-Semitism. This attack joins an all too long list of attacks against innocent people, people of all faiths, who only want to gather and to pray,” he said.

Saturday’s shooting at Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California, killed one and injured three others. The shooter has been arrested and charged with murder. This is the second deadly shooting at a synagogue in six months. The shooter, John Earnest, wrote and published an anti-Semitic manifesto prior to the attack.

Earnest has also claimed responsibility for a March arson attack on a mosque in Escondido, California.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy also expressed his closeness to the local Jewish communittee.

“Our hearts go out to everyone at Chabad House Poway for the senseless violence that took place earlier today. Houses of worship should be places of peace. Know that the entire Catholic Community of San Diego and Imperial Counties is keeping you in our prayers,” McElroy said in a statement.

The bishop asked that all the parishes of the diocese offer a special prayer for the victims of anti-Semitism at Sunday Mass, and circulated a draft for inclusion in the prayers of the faithful. 

"For the victims of the Chabad shootings and their families; for the Jewish community, our elder brothers in faith, who are once again subjected to the evil of anti-Semitic hatred and violence, this time in our own diocese; and for our world, so consumed by anger and division, that we might understand that the gift of peace you give in today’s Gospel is a command for us to love every man and woman in the human family; we pray to the Lord.”

Cardinal DiNardo said that violence in the name of religion or or committed against people of faith was was always and everwhere intollerable.

“Unfortunately," he said, "both in the past and today, too many preach such hatred in the name of God. This cannot be abided; it must end.”

The cardinal's statement echoes last month’s message from Pope Francis condemning anti-Semitism. In March, speaking to representatives from the American Jewish Committee, said that for Christians, anti-Semitism is “a rejection of one’s own origins” and a “complete contradition.”

At the March audience, Pope Francis referred to interfaith dialogue as an “important tool” in increasing understanding between Judaism and Christianity, and stressed the importance of forming new generation of young people who are committed to interreligious dialogue.

Citing the “rich spiritual heritage” shared by Christians and Jews, the pope said that members of both faiths should seek each other out during this time of “depersonalizing secularism” in the Western world.

The shooting follows the devastating attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue last year.

On Oct. 27, 48-year-old Robert Bowers entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue equipped with an assault rifle and three handguns. Shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Bowers killed eight men and three women. He also injured six others, including four policemen. After a shootout with Pittsburgh Police and SWAT, Bowers was wounded and eventually surrendered.

Following that attack, several Pennsylvania bishops issued round condemnations of the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that “Religious and ethnic hatred is vile in any form, but the ugly record of the last century is a lesson in the special evil of anti-Semitism. It has no place in America, and especially in the hearts of Christians.”

Scranton’s Bishop Joseph Bambera, who is the head of the Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB, issued a statement on Sunday, claiming the act of violence to be cowardly.

“Anti-Semitism is to be condemned and has to be confronted by our nation. The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this time of great distress. May God grant peace to the dead, healing to the injured, and comfort to the families of those hurt and killed and to all the Jewish Community.”

Self-evident truths now require ‘air quotes’ senator warns

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The founding principles of American politics are at risk, Utah’s Senator Mike Lee told CNA April 26.

“There's the problem of people's reluctance these days to recognize truth--when it's not accompanied by air quotes,” the senator told CNA.

“There really are some truths that are self-evident, and they exist not because any government declares them to exist, but because God made them that way,” he added.

Speaking to CNA about the launch of his new book on the Declaration of Independence, the senator said he is concerned that public respect for objective truth and basic freedoms has been lost in the face of an expanded role of government in American society.

Lee said that an erosion of freedom in American society is fueled by a growing ignorance of the nation's founding documents, as well as a cultural shift away from the meaning of truth, including those which the Declaration held as self-evident: the equality of all people under God, and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

He told CNA part of the inspiration behind his new book, “Our Lost Declaration,” was his desire to recover the self-evident truths laid out in the Declaration, and what they mean for civil society.

Lee said that individual liberties require space to be exercised, a space he claims expanding government structures are beginning to monopolize. To fix this, the senator proposed a cultural reset focused on a closer study and adherence to the country’s founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, which he described as the “older sister” of the U.S. Constitution.

The loss of a common recognition of objective truth, according to Lee, has led to an over-reliance of government to take its place - expanding to absorb what were once non-political areas of society. This expansion, he argues, will have the unintended consequence of crowding out the exercise of individual rights.

Stephen White, Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public policy Center in Washington, said that Lee's vision has some similarities to the Catholic understanding of political thought.

“Catholic social teaching is full of stern warnings about what happens when government and the civil law are not bound to higher truths,” White told CNA. 

“Pope John Paul II, for example, warned that, unless democracy was rooted in the right understanding of the human person, it could easily turn into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism. He knew this from history and from his own experience.”

Lee cautioned that losing an objective understanding truth and freedom to a subjective definition through government action could become “the high road to tyranny.” “That worries me,” Lee said.

“Whenever government acts, they do so at the expense of the liberty and the dignity of individual human beings--and of families, of neighborhoods, of synagogues and churches, and other communities,” said the senator.

“When we allow government to get too big, this is the kind of thing that gets harmed--our most fundamental rights, including our religious freedom — they get trampled,” he said.

The senator said oversized government influence does accidental harm even when it seeks to act positively. “I sometimes explain it as when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man steps on your house, it's not because the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man necessarily hates you or singled out you for an attack,” said Lee.

“It's because he's huge. He's the size of Godzilla, and your house happens to be in the way.”

The senator said that valuing the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence means respecting the freedom of individuals to live according to their beliefs and the dictates of the conscience, something constricted by a political culture which prioritizes the government’s right to intervene.   

“We assume that government has the first right to act, rather than have to justify their actions,” explained Lee.

“If we reconnect with these founding documents, as my book helps people to do, I think culturally, we can get to the point where we can reclaim the rights and get back the kind of government that we need, that we want, that we deserve, and that will respect our religious and our other freedoms."

While government can be harmful when it detaches from a proper understanding of human dignity and freedom, White told CNA that there was a risk of viewing government as necessarily opposed to the common good and individual liberty.

“The Catholic Church—even long before there was such a thing as ‘Catholic social teaching’—has always insisted that political authority has a natural and necessary role in ordering and governing human society for the common good,” White said.

“Government exists to be a guarantor of precisely that space in which true human freedom—freedom in solidarity, freedom for the good—can flourish.”

“Like all good things, government can be made to serve wicked ends. But government itself isn’t an obstacle to a healthy human society; it’s a necessary prerequisite of it.”

Religion 'less important' to most people than 20 years ago, surveys find

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Participants in a study spanning 27 countries say that religion plays a less important role in public life than it once did, though in many parts of the world, participants said that religion’s importance is on the rise, or that they would like to see an increased role for religion in society.

In the study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, 37% of respondents say religion plays a “less important role” in their countries than it did 20 years ago, while 27% say it plays a more important role.

Nearly 40% of respondents said they favor an increased role for religion in society.

In addition, Pew studies suggest that although fewer people in the US and Canada believe that religion plays an “important role,” a majority of respondents in several Asian and African countries say religion’s role in their lives has become more important in recent years.  

Fifty-eight percent of Americans surveyed and 64% of Canadians say religion has a “less important role” than 20 years ago, Pew says. Roughly half of Europeans said the same thing, and 1 in 5 Europeans said there has been no change in the role of religion over the past 20 years.

By contrast, more than half in Indonesia (83%), the Philippines (58%) and India (54%) believe that religion has a bigger impact on their country today than it did 20 years ago, Pew says.

In the Philippines, young adults are 15% more likely to favor an increased role for religion than older people.

Sixty-five and sixty percent, respectively, of people in Nigeria and Kenya favor a greater role for religion in society. In addition, 96% and 93% respectively in those countries said religion is “very important” in their lives.

In contrast, people tended to say religion has become less important or there has been no change in South Korea, Japan and Australia.

In Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims have clashed in recent years, a majority of Nigerian Muslims— 88%— are in favor of a more important role for religion, while a smaller majority of Christians— 61%—say the same, Pew says. However, more Christians than Muslims are inclined to say there has been no change in the relative importance of religion in Nigeria.

The Pew authors noted that some countries have a large majority of respondents “concentrated at one end of the question of how important religion is to them,” which makes a reliable analysis of the question difficult.

“For example, so many survey takers in Indonesia, Kenya, Tunisia and Nigeria say religion is very important to them that there is a lack of respondents who say religion is ‘somewhat’ or not too important,” the authors wrote.

“The reverse is true in countries with less religious publics. An overwhelming majority of Swedish and Japanese respondents say religion is less important to them.”

 

After order to vacate residential area, McAllen Catholic immigration center to move downtown

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 21:00

Brownsville, Texas, Apr 26, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- After a close vote, McAllen, Texas officials approved a new downtown location for a Catholic immigration relief center that was ordered by the city in February to leave its location in a residential neighborhood.
 
On Monday, the city commissioners voted 2-3 to move the Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley during a contentious public meeting in the border city of less than 150,000. The center will have to move to a new location downtown by June 15.

Following complaints from several residents, the immigrant service center was notified earlier this year that it would have to abandon its current location at a former nursing home. Neighbors claimed that foot trafficking from the Respite Center was disturbing the area’s peace.

Before moving to the residential area, the center had functioned downtown for a few years - first at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and then at a rented space near the courthouse.

Overseen by Sister Norma Pimentel, the Respite Center has helped an estimated 150,000 migrants since 2014, sometimes up to 300 a day. Most of the clients are women and children who are waiting on court dates in asylum hearings.
 
The center provides temporary housing to people who often move onto find families or sponsors in cities throughout the US. It also offers food, medical attention, and hygienics. The facility even has a chapel where the clients can pray.

Asylum seekers are dropped off at the McAllen center shortly after being released from the custody of federal authorities. Located right on the Mexican-U.S. border, McAllen is a hub for immigrants and concerns have been expressed by locals about the transient population of asylum seekers and other immigrants in the town.
 
“The need for care and support has far outpaced the capacity of the current facility,” said a statement from CCRGV.

According to The Monitor, City Manager and Police Chief Victor Rodriguez has also expressed concern about the city’s immigration. He said he has requested federal authorities to release immigrants at the nearby towns of Harlingen and Brownsville.

Although the city is overwhelmed, he said, it is still the responsibility of the town to keep everyone safe.

“Nobody would be happier than people here at city hall for somebody else to be responsible for this,” he said.

“It’s our responsibility not only to keep those immigrants safe, but to keep the people that don’t want them here safe,” he further added.

In response to the immigration crisis, Catholic Charities plans to build a new humanitarian respite center on a piece of land already purchased by the organization. To fulfill this initiative, an architectural design competition is currently underway.

“In this time of crisis, providing migrants with hope for their future and working to restore their human dignity has become a national imperative,” read CCRGV statement.

“To continue to effectively serve, CCRGV plans to build a new Humanitarian Respite Center capable of serving all those who come to its door and bring respite to the most vulnerable.”

 

Second judge issues injunction against pro-life Title X rule

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 17:00

Spokane, Wash., Apr 26, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Washington state issued a nationwide preliminary injunction April 25, blocking a rule which would deny government funding to health clinics co-locating with abortion facilities. The ruling comes just days before the Protect Life Rule was due to go into effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District of Washington state ruled Thursday that the Protect Life Rule represented “no public interest” and that the Department of Health and Human Services acted unlawfully in pursuing the policy. The suit was brought by the state of Washington.

The Protect Life Rule prohibits the distribution of Title X family planning funds to clinics that are co-located with facilities that perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, was set to lose about $60 million in federal funding due to the rule change. Planned Parenthood receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds each year, including money from Title X.

Bastian made his ruling one day after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said he would  issue a preliminary injunction against the same policy, finding that the ban on abortion referrals would prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals.

 

In a case brought by twenty states and the District of Columbia, McShane ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, but said he was unlikely to issue a national injunction.

Two further suits, brought by California and Maine, are still pending. The policy was due to go into effect on May 3.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson welcomed the ruling by Bastian, and said that the injunction “ensures that clinics across the nation can remain open and continue to provide quality, unbiased healthcare to women.”

The Protect Life Rule did not reduce the amount of federal funding available through the Title X program, but only restricted how the funds could be allocated.

At least one state Planned Parenthood organization had already put into place a contingency plan to provide birth control without Title X funds.

Shortly after the Protect Life Rule was formally announced, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced the “Access Birth Control” program, which would provide contraceptives free-of-cost for eligible persons.

Lent is over. Now what?

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 05:18

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps have graced the shelves of U.S. stores for weeks in anticipation of Easter, but now that the actual Easter Season has begun, how should Catholics observe it?

“We cannot, as Christians, walk out of Easter liturgy and wash our hands of the business. Our life is forever changed, and it can never be what it was, if we believe that a man has walked out of the tomb,” said Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, director of the Institute of Catholic Culture.

Easter Sunday begins the liturgical season of Easter, which continues through the celebration of the Ascension to Pentecost Sunday, 50 days in all. Each day of the Octave of Easter, the first eight days of the season, is a solemnity, ending on the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Easter Triduum follows the 40-day penitential season of Lent, which is marked by penance, prayer, and almsgiving.

However, once the Triduum is over and Catholics cast off their Lenten penances, what comes next? Was Lent just one big detox program, and is the Easter Season a marathon of steak dinners, chocolate eggs, Netflix binges and bigger bar tabs, while practices of daily Mass and prayer are neglected?

Not so, said liturgical experts, who stressed that Catholics can both celebrate Easter and also grow in their spiritual life.

How do we do that? First, Catholics must remember the spiritual focus of the season, which is on Christ’s Resurrection and the evangelization that immediately follows from it, Fr. Chrysostom Baer of the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, Calif., told CNA.

“The apostles were trying to convert the world because Jesus rose from the dead. And they really got the impulse to go at Pentecost, but the message is ‘Jesus died and rose’,” he said.

This evangelization was powered by a type of “evangelical poverty,” he said, pointing to the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.”

While Easter is not a time for hairshirts and fasting, he clarified, Catholics shouldn't feel like they must abandon good Lenten practices during Easter, if those practices help them be better Catholics – especially if they gave up things that were occasions of sin for them.

The Resurrection should change everything about our lives, Fr. Hezekias insisted, because in the words of St. Paul, since Jesus rose from the dead, “death no longer has dominion over Him.”

“It’s no great mystery that God is not able to be controlled by death. The great mystery is that a man walked out of the tomb that day. He was filled with Divine life. He’s the God-man. His divinity destroyed the power of death, but destroyed the power of death over us,” he said.

“We can say now, we who have been baptized in Him, death no longer has dominion over us,” he said. “Easter, Pascha, is the Christian life. Death no longer has dominion over us.”

This means that the created world has been brought back “into communion with God,” he said, and that realization should change how we see everything.

“I would think the first best way to celebrate the season is to go to daily Mass. That is bar none, the best,” Fr. Chrysostom said. “Because it really puts you in the mind of the Church, with regard to the season. The prayers change every day, but they’re all focused on the Resurrection.”

Catholics should also continue any good practices they fostered during Lent like prayer or almsgiving, he insisted, and should give attention to virtues they cultivated from Lenten penance.

“The Easter Season is for fostering those virtues that you’ve planted during Lent, and allowing them to grow,” he said. This requires taking “concrete steps” and not just vague promises to ensure that good habits are maintained, he added.

For instance, if someone gave alms during Lent, they could resolve to give money to the poor a certain number of times per week, he said.

However, Easter shouldn’t just be lived at church, but “it’s got to live out in our everyday lives,” Fr. Hezekias told CNA. There must be a “more intense realization that every aspect of my life has come into communion with God.”

“What about reading the Gospel in our homes or singing the Gospel in our homes before we bless the food at the dinner of that Sunday?” he suggested.

Another way to do this is for Catholics throw a party, he said, which we can enjoy in a new way having first fasted during Lent.

“The reason the Church has us set aside meat [during Lent] is because we’ve become dependent on those things,” Fr. Hezekias explained. “The key to the celebration of Easter and Pascha is the re-ordering in our life, that now I eat meat as a gift from God,” he said.

If someone has given up meat for 40 days, he explained, they will appreciate its goodness all the more: “Suddenly they take a bite of meat, and what do you say? ‘Thank you, God!’”

And Catholics should party together.

“I think what makes a feast really a feast is that it’s shared, with friends,” Fr. Chrysostom said, and where drinks served “heightens the conviviality and the joy.”

“Everyone should be asking themselves right now, who should I invite to my home [during the Easter Season]?” Fr. Hezekias said. They should also consider inviting the newly baptized at their parish over to their homes.

“We’ve forgotten our ability as Christians to go out and really have a party,” he said. “Our society is starving because of that. We’re the ones who are supposed to be showing everyone else what true joy is, but unfortunately we’ve forgotten it ourselves.”

“We’ve got to re-discover that for the sake of society.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 18, 2017.

‘Lay co-agents essential for Church leadership’ Detroit archbishop says

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The role of the laity is crucial to the Church’s efforts to combat clerical sex abuse, Archbishop of Allen Vigneron said Thursday morning.

Speaking at The Catholic University of America on April 25, the Detroit archbishop explained that in his own ministry he had seen how lay collaboration is essential in Church governance, and has a natural place with the Church’s hierarchy.

“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” said Vigneron.

These “co-agents” take the form of both members of the clergy and laity, he explained, and could even include non-Catholics.

Vigneron was speaking at an event titled “The Way Forward: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” part of a series organized by The Catholic Project, Catholic University's progam dedicated to helping shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The archbishop identified three particular areas in which co-agents were crucial to his own ministry, including the review board and finance council, and the archdiocesan synod which was convened in 2016.

Recalling that when he arrived in Detroit in 2013 the archdiocese faced a financial crisis, Vigneron said it was his lay advisors who were crucial in rescuing the situation.

“Without the wise advice of the [finance] council, I would not have been able to endorse the course that enabled us to avoid financial disaster,” said Vigneron, adding that the experience  gave him confidence that lay co-agents had an equally important role to play in solving the present sexual abuse crisis.

Vigneron also identified “victim-survivors” of clerical abuse as indispensable guide to helping him understand the trauma of abuse.

Meeting abuse survivors had, he said, “provided a unique and painful perspective of the enormity of the sins perpetrated against these innocents.”

“I hear incredible anger and disappointment, especially from those victim-survivors who have been driven away from the sacraments for the rest of their lives,” he said, while expressing gratitude and admiration for the many who had told him they remained committed to the Church.  

One of the key points of discussion in the ongoing debate about enhanced lay participation in Church accountability is the strain it could place on the hierarchical nature of the Church. The office of bishops to lead and govern the Church is divinely instituted, and many - including in Rome - are reluctant to pursue reforms which could be seen to undermine episcopal authority.

Vigneron rejected the idea that effective lay involvement would necessarily supercede or undermine his role as a bishop.

“It is the final firm determination of the bishop that secures the stable basis for consistent acting,” he said. “And no healthy approach to lay-clergy collaboration can contradict this aspect of Christ’s constitution of his Church.”

Collaboration would be most fruitful and effective, explained the archbishop, when “any actions taken to respond to the challenges of the current crisis are parts of a greater whole” which is in harmony with the Church’s essential nature. The “greater whole,” he said, is the entire work of the Church for the salvation of souls, final responsibility for which rests with the bishop.

“It is the particular competence of the diocesean bishop to be the trustee of this common good and to ensure that all particular ecclesial acts contribute to this end.”

Speaking after the event, Vigneron told CNA that he was preparing for the release of a report into clerical sexual abuse by the Michigan attorney general and that "there will be a great involvement of the lay faithful helping us as this unfolds.”

While the laity could play unique and expert roles in many areas according to their skills and experience, Vigneron said that it is vitally important that all the faithful maintain their prayer lives and work to hold people accountable for inaction.

The archbishop told CNA that healing the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church was a spiritual as well as structural labor.

"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.

“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."

CUA president applauds students' decision to block porn

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 17:40

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- The president of The Catholic University of America has voiced his support for a student government resolution that asked the university to block the 200 most popular porn sites from its internet system.

“I am so proud of our students,” CUA president John Garvey wrote in an op-ed for the Arlington Catholic Herald April 24.

“This month the student government association, the body that represents our undergraduates, passed a resolution asking the university to prohibit access through the campus network to the 200 most frequently visited pornography websites. I told them we'd be happy to.”

The non-binding resolution was passed by a vote of 13 to 12, and student body president Jimmy Harrington signed it April 1.

Student Sen. Gerard McNair-Lewis, a junior at the university, was the resolution’s sponsor.

Garvey noted that pornography has become more accessible than it once was; where in the past it could only be found in “leather-bound books in gentlemen's clubs and private libraries,” today “any 6-year-old can find it on a cellphone.”

In addition, pornography has become more graphic, and advances in technology not only make pornography more addictive, but also make it easier for people to slip into the mindset of: “We don't need one another for sexual fulfillment. We can summon imaginary partners at the touch of a button.”

“I think that basic human urges are fairly constant from one generation to another. But technology can change our stimuli and the way we respond. That's happening here,” Garvey said.

Reproductive technology such as artificial contraception have reinforced the idea, Garvey asserted, that if sex is merely a form of recreation, then “any partner will do: even a virtual one.”

“Our students are right to be concerned about the trend in this direction, because the digital revolution's ambition is to make virtual reality indistinguishable from life,” he noted.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.
 
“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Of course, Garvey acknowledged, blocking pornography on the university’s internet system will not solve students’ appetite for porn—they can still use their phones or access a site that is not yet blocked.

But, “it does communicate a point of view that our students say they want to hear,” Garvey wrote.

“It says that this is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for, and we're not going to lend our system to help them find it.”

Garvey’s op-ed did not include specific details about how and when the university would implement the pornography ban, but a spokesperson for the university told CNA that the block on top porn sites should go into effect “within weeks.”

“Our students asked President Garvey to block the top 200 porn sites, and he told them that he’d be happy to do so,” Catholic University spokesperson Karna Lozoya told CNA on Thursday.

“We are working on implementing those blocks, and should have the top sites blocked within weeks.”

When the university last considered banning porn from the network, they found it would have been both expensive and ineffective. Now, due to advances in technology, it is now more affordable to implement this kind of filter, Loyoza told CNA earlier this month.
 
While students may work around a firewall and continue to access porn, “the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the University network sends the right message to the student body.”

One of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Alexandra Kilgore, told CNA that she was surprised to learn action had not already been taken.
 
“I was honestly shocked to learn that such a ban wasn't already in place. Even my public high school blocked inappropriate content on its wi-fi, so I knew The Catholic University of America could do better,” she said.
 
“As a woman, I thought it was important to be a cosponsor to bring to light that pornography is not just a men's issue. Not only does the industry exploit and prey upon primarily women and girls, but females can struggle with addiction and consumption just as much as males.”
 
Kilgore described the resolution as a positive expression of corporate concern among the student body, not a condemnation.
 
“Our resolution is not intended to shame anyone or to make pornography addiction more isolating than it already is. Rather, it demonstrates the Student Government Association's commitment to the well-being of the student body and the University's continued demonstration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
 
Harrington rejected the idea that blocking pornography amounted to censorship or a violation of personal freedoms, saying “it is a regulation that the national University of the Catholic Church or any private institution ought to enact.”
 
Harrington pointed out in his statement that many secular organizations ban pornography from their networks, not only out of moral concerns, but also because such websites often contain viruses and other malware that can damage machines.
 
“If a secular company can block these sites from their networks and computers, then I am even more convinced that The Catholic University of America ought to be able to and should regulate these sites on its own network,” Harrington said.

Injunction against Title X funding rules draws pro-life criticism

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 17:32

Portland, Ore., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates have lamented a federal judge’s preliminary injunction against the federal Protect Life Rule, which bars family planning funds for clinics at the same location as abortion providers and for those which refer for abortion.

“Abortion is not healthcare, and that’s how we evaluate these kinds of decisions,” Todd Cooper, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, told CNA.

“Coming from that perspective, it’s troubling,” he said. “I ask myself: why would medical professionals want to refer women to something that would cause untold harm and result in the death of a child?”

Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, agreed.

“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” she said April 24 statement, characterizing abortion as “big business.”

“Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way,” she said. In her view, the new regulation would not cut any money from family planning, and “reflects the original intent of the program: helping people plan their families.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family planning, including contraception and other health screenings, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The Protect Life Rule, finalized in February, requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “non-directive counseling” about abortion can still receive funds, but cannot refer for abortion.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds due to its intention not to comply with the rule change, which would make it ineligible for funds for its family planning work.

On April 24 U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a preliminary injunction against the new rule’s ban on taxpayer funding for clinics that refer for abortion, calling it a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy,” The Oregonian reports.

Twenty states, including Oregon, and the District of Columbia, have challenged the rule change, joined by Planned Parenthood affiliates and the American Medical Association.

Fourteen other states back the rule change, which had been set to take effect May 3.

The plaintiffs in the case had sought a national injunction, but McShane said he was reluctant to set “national health care” policy. He said he would describe the injunction’s scope in a forthcoming formal written opinion.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked that the injunction apply only to the plaintiffs. There are four similar lawsuits pending in other states.

In his discussion of the case, McShane said the ban on abortion referrals prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals. He ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, and would likely increase abortion numbers due to more unwanted pregnancies, The Oregonian reports.

The rule’s prohibition on federal funding for family planning clinics housed in the same location as abortion providers will also be the subject of an injunction, the judge said.

Attorney Andrew Bernie argued on behalf of the federal government, saying there was no proof of “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs. The administrative record did not show a political motive for the changes.

Further, the changes are in line with the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision Rust v. Sullivan, which upheld federal regulations barring abortion counselling by employees of federally funded family planning facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services holds that the new rules best reflect a Title X section which bars abortion as a family planning method, said Bernie.

McShane, however, said “good health outcomes” are the standard.

“Are these rules going to bring about good health outcomes?” he asked Bernie, according to The Oregonian.

The judge said the government hadn’t provided data to counter medical experts’ claims that the rule’s restrictions on medical professionals regarding abortion referral would result in unwanted pregnancies, ineffective contraceptive use, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

Cooper, of the Oregon Catholic Conference, questioned the judge’s conclusion.

“Abortion is not a good health outcome,” he told CNA, asking for more evidence for the claim that the rule could result in more abortions.

Attorney Alan Schoenfeld, who represented Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, said all Planned Parenthood providers would leave the Title X program because the rules, which they consider a “gag rule,” require unethical health care practice. Planned Parenthood operates about 40 percent of health care clinics in the U.S. If they reduce or close operations, Schoenfeld argued, some communities could not replace the resulting vacuum in health care, which would reduce low-income women’s access to cancer screening and other health services.

Anderson of Oregon Right to Life, however, rejected this argument. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to comply would mean the money would go to federally-qualified healthcare clinics, of which there are over 13,500 across the U.S., she said.

“In Oregon alone, there are 24 (federally-qualified healthcare clinics) for every single Planned Parenthood clinic,” said Anderson. “The idea that there would be a dearth of providers should this rule take affect is an outright lie.”

Enacting the rule, she said, “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argued against the rule in court, saying that Title X funds are “a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers.”

After the finalized rule was announced in February, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised the Trump administration for “reaffirming that abortion is not family planning.”

“Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said the archbishop.

Previous regulations, written under President Bill Clinton’s administration, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions. That rule kept some organizations opposed to abortion from applying for grants.

Cooper gave an overview of the pro-life cause in Oregon, which he described as “difficult territory.”

“It’s just a challenge out here, because abortion supporters really want unfettered access to abortion,” he said. “They want to force this on society, they want to force this on women, they even want to force this on medical professionals.”

“For Catholics and many others here in Oregon that do not support abortion for different reasons, this is a battle that we are never going to give up on, regardless of where it goes in the near future. This is something that we’ll be relentless in fighting because of the harm it does to women.”

“Who wants a world where only certain children are welcome?” Cooper asked. “That’s not a world that is a good place to be.”

He pointed to efforts like the Renew Life Oregon coalition, which includes Oregon Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Portland.

“There are a lot of very committed people who are working in the trenches to support life, and ultimately help people recognize and understand the harm that abortion causes society and women in particular, and obviously the children who are being killed in their mothers’ wombs.”

According to Liberty Pike, communications director for Oregon Right to Life, almost 50 percent of abortions in the state are taxpayer-funded.

State law required all insurance plans to cover abortions without any deductible. A Catholic health care provider only secured an exemption after it threatened to leave the state.

“We are already spending an exorbitant amount of tax dollars on abortion,” she said.

Pike argued the new rule would not even force Planned Parenthood out, given it has a choice to give up the Title X funding or to comply with the funding rules.

IRS grants Satanic Temple recognition as a 'church'

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A satanic group has announced they have been granted recognition as a church by the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement published Thursday, the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple said that they have received notice from the IRS and that the decision would grant the organization equal legal footing with other religious groups.

“This acknowledgement will help make sure the Satanic Temple has the same access to public spaces as other religious organizations, affirm our standing in court when battling religious discrimination, and enable us to apply for faith-based government grants,” the statement said.

The IRS has not commented on any conferral of status for the group, but guidance published on its website confirms that churches benefit from special tax rules, including automatic exemption from federal income tax.

IRS regulations draw a clear distinction between “churches” and other religious organizations. A church must have certain characteristics, according to IRS requirements, including: a recognized creed and form of worship; distinct ecclesiastical government; formal code of doctrine; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; established places of worship and regular religious services.

Despite its overtly demonic allegiance, the Satanic Temple was founded by professed atheists and articulates a set of secular humanist beliefs. Its satanic imagery appears to many to be a deliberate provocation in response to what the group perceive as interference by religion in the public square.

In a 2013 interview, the group’s spokesman, Douglas Mesner, described their intention to be a “poison pill in the Church-State debate.” They have previously mounted lawsuits to display satanic images and statues on public property alongside traditional Judeo-Christian symbols, such as the Ten Commandments.

In February of 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against a self-professed member of the Satanic Temple who claimed that a state law on “informed consent” before an abortion violated her religious beliefs.  

Mary Doe, as the plaintiff was listed in that case, argued that a booklet distributed to all women seeking abortion in the state was a violation of her religious beliefs and an articulation by the state of an alternative religious creed.

The case focused on the booklet’s statement that “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The apparent recognition of the IRS comes after members of the Satanic Temple have had to defend themselves against accusations that their “church” is essentially a political stunt. A recent documentary entitled “Hail, Satan?” presented the group as sincere, despite ongoing suggestions that the temple was founded to make a “mockumentary” film and is essentially performance art and political theatre.

Whatever the sincerity of its founders, its conflict with the Catholic Church have been real.

In May 2014, the Satanic Temple was part of an attempt to organize a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University. A spokesman for the group initially told the media that a consecrated Host would be desecrated during the event, although the temple and the Harvard club hosting the event both later denied this.

Following sustained outcry from Catholics and other religious groups, the event was first moved off campus and eventually cancelled.

Should Catholics care about poetry?

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 05:51

Denver, Colo., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:51 am (CNA).- Do you remember the last poem you read, or heard?

Statistics suggest it has probably been since high school that the average American took the time (or was forced by a teacher) to read a piece of poetry. The rise of the internet and the correlating decline in the number of people who say they’ve read a poem in the past year has fueled an ongoing debate among those who still care: is poetry dead? Whether it is dead, or dying, or not, should Catholics care?

“Yes, emphatically they should,” said Joseph Pearce, the director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute in Denver, and editor of The Austin Review and of the Faith & Culture website.

“Up until relatively recently in the history of Christendom, poetry was the main form of literature that people enjoyed and read,” Pearce said. “The best-selling works of literature up until Shakespeare’s time were poetry...so you can’t talk about the legacy or the heritage of Christian literature and leave poetry out of the equation without doing violence to what Christian literature is.”

What happened to poetry?

Poetry used to be memorized in schools and was a central, normal part of people’s literary lives - something they would just “bump into” on a regular basis.

“I can remember growing up...we would get Reader's Digest at home and it would have poetry in it, so would the newspapers, and The Christian Science Monitor...there were a lot of places where you would just bump into it,” said Tim Bete, who serves as poetry editor for the website Integrated Catholic Life (ICL). ICL is a website that provides articles, spiritual reflections, blogs and resources that strive to help Catholics better live lives of faith, according to its description.

So what, exactly, has contributed to its decline?

Pearce blames the so-called “death” of poetry on the “rather pathetic culture in which we find ourselves,” with decreased standards of literacy and decreased attention spans brought on by technology.

“The thing about our modern culture is that most of us spend most of our time wasting it in the dust storm and the desert of modern secular social media,” he added.

Dana Gioia is a Catholic by faith and a poet by trade, and has served as the Poet Laureate of California since 2015.

Gioia spent much of his career as a poet in the secular world, but told CNA that he has become an increasingly vocal Catholic, as it has become harder to be a Catholic in the world of poetry and literature.

The decline of Catholic poetry in the United States, for example, is in part because of Catholicism’s “very complicated position” in American literature since the beginning of the country, he said.

“Catholics were initially banned from coming to the U.S., and then they enjoyed very little rights where they were allowed at all for a long time,” he told CNA.  “And there persisted to be - persists to this day - a kind of anti-Catholic prejudice in the U.S. for a variety of religious, cultural, economic and political reasons.”

“American Catholics largely represent poor, immigrant communities from Europe, Latin America and Asia, and to this day if you go to most Catholic Churches you are sitting among the poor,” he added.

For these reasons, there was no “significant” Catholic American poetry (that is still being read today) until the 20th century, Gioia said. Then suddenly, around the 1950s, there is an explosion of Catholic literature in the United States, he said.

Writers such as Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walker Percy, William Tate and Brother Antonitus were leading the way (many of them converts from Protestantism), Gioia said, and Catholicism was being taken seriously for the first time in American cultural life.

“You have a huge list of these really significant thinkers who reshaped American intellectual life...a moment in the 1950s when Catholicism is part of the conversation of American literature,” he said.

But by the early 2000s, that was already gone.

“By 2000 it had fallen apart. In 2010, Catholics are marginalized in American literary lives,” he said.

The reasons for this were several, Gioia suggested: firstly, as Catholics became accepted into American society, they became increasingly secularized. Secondly, the world of art became increasingly anti-Christian, and finally, Vatican II caused “schisms” in the Catholic Church in America, turning her focus to internal debate rather than to an external, unified identity.

“I’m the uncomfortable truth-teller in the room,” Gioia added as an aside. “The contemporary Catholic Church in America, and everywhere, lost its connection with art and beauty.”

“For centuries, millennia really, the Church was a patron of the arts, and understood that beauty was an essential medium for its message,” he said.

“Now the Church is so caught up with practical necessities, that it considers beauty an unaffordable luxury. But beauty is not a luxury, it is a central and essential element of the Catholic faith. And we know this, because if we have anything at all to say about creation, it is that it is beautiful - nature is beautiful, the world is beautiful, our bodies are beautiful. So we’ve lost this essential connection because we’re so busy funding the parish school, keeping the homeless center running, and paying the mortgage on the church - all good things, but useless if the message of the Church is not heard among its own congregations and secondly in the modern world,” he said.

It’s a problem that has been identified by many in the Catholic Church who are concerned with the New Evangelization - Fyodor Dostoevsky’s maxim “beauty will save the world” has become the battle cry of many Catholics who want to reconnect the Church and the arts.

But “healthy” Catholic culture has two cultural conversations going at once, Gioia said - one internally, and one that reaches out to the world - “and both of those conversations have become greatly diminished in the last half-century.”

What poetry has to say to Catholics

The thing about being Catholic, Bete noted, is that if you’re going to Mass and reading the Bible, you are probably are more immersed in poetry than you realize.

“About 30% of all scripture is poetry,” Bete said. “Even (Catholics) that say oh, I never read poetry, well, if you're praying the Divine Office (a Catholic form of prayer centered on the Psalms), it's almost all poetry.”

“We're hearing poetry preached at Mass every week,” he added, and so becoming familiar with all kinds of poetry “helps you understand scripture better because it gets you in tune and trains you to think about metaphor.”

“So much of (scripture) is poetry but I think we kind of race through it sometimes and we don't really kind of appreciate it for being poetry,” he said.

“In my mind, one of the reasons that there's so much poetry in there is it's so difficult to define who God is, and God is so much greater than any author can put down on paper, but poetry...it provides a different type of truth.”

Bete added that poetry is often the fruit of silence and prayer, and vice versa - one can lead into the other. An example of this in scripture, he said, is the Canticle of Mary, when the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary is visiting her cousin Elizabeth and bursts into poetic song about how God has blessed her by calling her to be the mother of Jesus.

“When Mary really has to explain to Elizabeth what is going on, what does she do? She speaks in poetry. It's very powerful...and so one of my hopes is that if people read current poetry, it trains them to look at things differently and will translate back to scripture and really help to bring the scripture alive for them,” Bete said.

Pearce said another reason Catholics should engage with poetry is because God himself is a poet.

“The word ‘poet’ comes from the word ‘poesis’ which means to make or to create,” he said.

“So when we are being poets in that broader sense of the word of being creative...it’s God’s creative presence in us, so we’re actually partaking in the divine when we write poetry or read it and appreciate it.”

Many great works of literature, from Beowulf to The Divine Comedy to The Canterbury Tales and the works of Shakespeare, are works of Christian and Catholic poetry, Pearce said.

Many saints, too, have written great works of poetry, Pearce said, such as St. Patrick’s breastplate poem or St. Francis of Assissi’s Canticle of Brother Sun.

Bete, a secular Carmelite, said he loves to read poetry by Carmelite saints - “it's actually hard to find one who was not a poet,” he said.

“Elizabeth of the Trinity, Therese the Little Flower, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, they all wrote poetry,” Bete said, including some that was prayerful and some that was more lighthearted.

“Almost always it came out of their prayer life,” Bete added. “I think it has to do with the closer that you get to God, especially if you're a writer, I think it just comes out.”

“I would say poetry is like going to Mass or saying your prayers,” Pearce said. “The writing of it and the reading of it is time taken and not time wasted, its something which is worth doing in its own right, as is prayer.”

Poetry 101: How can Catholics start a poetry habit?

Pearce has made it easy for Catholics who are looking for an introduction to Catholic poetry, with his book “Poems Every Catholic Should Know.”

“That book is very popular, and I think it’s popular because people are very aware that they don’t know poetry very well, because they haven’t really been taught it, and they are perhaps intimidated by it or they have misconceptions about it,” he said.

“So they see a book called ‘Poems Every Catholic Should Know’ and they think well, I should at least own one book of poetry and perhaps this is it,” he added.

The book goes through 1,000 years of Christian poetry, from the year 1,000-2,000, Pearce said, from both well-known and lesser-known poets, and it includes short biographies of each poet and how they fit into the broader context of the Christian poetry and literary world.

“A personal favorite of mine is a 20th century war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who was a convert to the Catholic faith, so we published some of his post-conversion poetry in the book which I’m very fond of,” Pearce noted.

It was because of the sharp decline in the reading and writing of poetry that Bete pitched the idea for Integrated Catholic Life to start publishing poetry, to provide a new opportunity for visitors to the site to once again “bump into” poetry.

“The response has been great,” he said. “I think it just goes to show that when people see...beauty, and they see something that is of interest to them,” they respond, he said. “It doesn't take a huge time commitment. It's not like reading War and Peace or anything.”

Bete said he thinks it’s important for Catholics to come up with new and creative ways to reintroduce people to Catholic poetry.

“On Instagram where you're seeing some of these Instagram poets who are up and coming, and I haven't seen any Catholic ones yet, but I think what they're doing is they're putting poetry where people already are,” Bete said.

Another innovative concept that brings poetry to the people is the “Raining Poetry” project in Boston, Bete said, which paints poetry on the sidewalk with clear paint so that it only shows up when it rains.

“And I love that as a concept. Where are people, and then how do we find ways to get poetry in front of them? And I don't think we've been very good or innovative at that.”

Gioia said the most important thing Catholic creatives can do is to create communities for Catholic artists.

“This country is full of Catholic writers and artists who feel isolated,” Gioia said. “If we can create communities for them, they will understand their own art and its possibilities much better. We are stronger together than we are alone.”

Pearce, Bete and Gioia all said they have been heartened by what seems to be the start of a Catholic cultural revival, in which Catholics are talking more about the need for the Church to reconnect with beauty and the arts and to create great Catholic art again.

“I find this very encouraging,” Pearce said. “One of the things I’m doing with ‘Faith and Culture’ at the Augustine Institute and with the magazine The Austin Review...is to try to engage this new Catholic revival in the arts that we see going on. Certainly there’s a Catholic literary revival going on, so there’s an increase not just in the quantity, but more importantly in the quality with Catholic literature written today in the 21st century.”

Gioia said that while he’s encouraged by these movements, he would also caution against the notion of “homemade” culture.

“I worry that they sometimes have a kind of homemade version of culture that needs a shot of energy and perspective you only get by studying masterpieces, especially contemporary masterpieces,” he said. “Any serious writer must engage with the broader literary culture.”

“So I think one of the things to do is we need to identify the very best contemporary writers. What that doesn’t mean is saying here’s a list of 65 writers. It’s - who are the three or four best fiction writers? Who are the three or four best poets?”

“If we had a (Catholic literary) community, we’d invite everyone in, because that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But when we write about literature we have to be ruthlessly discriminating, because the best work is what will speak most loudly. That’s what a critic does, that’s what an editor does, that’s what an anthologist does. Right now we do not have enough anthologies, or magazines; we do not have enough Catholic writers conferences. We need to build the infrastructure.”

Gioia started the first Catholic Imagination Conference for this reason - to bring together serious Catholic writers as a community.

“Four hundred people came, and they looked around and they were astonished and heartened by how many serious writers they saw in the same room,” he said. “Each one is bigger than the one before, and some of the people who came to the first conference created magazines, book clubs, discussion groups, and so once again, we’re stronger as a community than we are separately.”

The third such conference will be held at Loyola University this fall.

Ultimately, Gioia said, while he is concerned about the state of Catholic poetry and literature in the U.S., he has hope.

“I believe that our Church and our tradition embodies in it a great central truth of existence. And so if you believe that, how could you not be optimistic?”

Abortion language nixed from UN resolution after Trump admin threatens veto

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- Language referring to abortion was removed from a United Nations resolution on the care of sexual abuse survivors in wartime, after the Trump administration threatened to veto the measure.

U.S. officials said they oppose the UN Security Council resolution on the grounds of a phrase that implied support for abortion, according to the BBC. They threatened to veto the resolution if the abortion language was not dropped.

The phrase that was opposed by the U.S., and by Russia and China, was: “Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, in line with Resolution 2106,” the BBC reported.

The phrase was dropped, and the resolution passed 13-0 without any references to sexual or reproductive health services, with Russia and China abstaining.

While the original resolution had been met with widespread support, council members and international leaders from various countries accused the U.S. of diluting the measure by removing the phrase.

“And we regret that the language on services for survivors of sexual violence, recognizing the acute need for those services to include comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care, including safe termination of pregnancies, did not meet with all the council members' support,” British diplomat Tariq Ahmad told NPR.

French UN ambassador Francois Delattre said it was “intolerable and incomprehensible” that the council “is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict, and who obviously didn't choose to become pregnant, should have the right to terminate their pregnancy,” according to the BBC.

Jonathan Cohen served as acting ambassador for the United States at the meeting.

The move is the latest from the Trump administration to oppose the funding and promotion of overseas abortions. Efforts have focused largely on reversing Obama-era measures to expand abortion funding.

Within days of taking office, Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, ensuring that U.S. tax dollars are not funding the provision or promotion of abortion overseas in any U.S. global health spending. His administration has also defunded UNFPA on the grounds that it supports coercive abortion and sterilization in China.

Commentary: Sri Lanka, martyrdom, and the light of faith

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 19:35

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- On Saturday night, the Church celebrated its most solemn and joyful liturgy.

As it does every year, the Vigil Mass of Easter began when the paschal candle was lit from a fire burning outside the church.
 
That candle led the assembly in silent procession into the darkened church. The priest turned toward the faithful and announced “The light of Christ!”
 
“Thanks be to God,” responded the assembly, as the light of the paschal candle was passed throughout the assembly, flooding the darkened room with the new light of the resurrection, aglow in the small flames of hundreds of candles.
 
At the same time I attended the Easter Vigil Saturday night, a series of suicide bombs exploded in churches across Sri Lanka, killing nearly hundreds. The attacks were timed to coincide with Easter Sunday celebrations.
 
The transition of the vigil liturgy, from darkness to light, reflects the procession of the Church from death to life, illuminated by the light of the Resurrection.

The Easter Exsultet, sung across the world as the bombs detonated in Colombo, hailed the arrival of the “night in which Christ has destroyed death.”
 
Of course the blood-spattered walls and ceiling of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Sri Lanka offered what appeared to be a macabre juxtaposition to the empty tomb of the gospel. But through the eyes of faith, and of the Church, the horrific violence was a witness to the Resurrection of Christ.

Those Catholics mourning in Sri Lanka know that light — the light —  has come into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it.
 
Sri Lanka is not the only place where churches are burning and Christians are dying. From Mosul to Cairo, to France, to Kaduna and Columbo, Christians, the world over, face violence and persecution. But somehow, in many parts of the West, that reality goes unseen.

The reason is complicated.
 
The Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mountstephen, has been charged by the British government with reviewing its foreign policy failures to address the persecution of Christians worldwide.

Ahead of the publication of his conclusions, and before the Easter bombings, he told the Times that there is an indifference in the secular liberal establishement to the plight of Christians around the world. It is, he suggested, a studied indifference, which misunderstands the Christian faith as “an expression of white western privilege,” undeserving of protection.
 
In a western secular culture defined increasingly by anti-Christian moral norms, the slaughter of Christians – or “Easter worshippers” to those too squeamish to use the word – presents a paradox: how can the religion of white western wealth and privilege be the faith of poor minorities around the globe? Can the suffering of Christians be legitimately understood as persecution?
 
“Actually,” Mountstephen observed, “the Christian faith is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the global poor and people who, by their very socio-economic status, are vulnerable.”

Pope Francis has spoken often of his desire to see “a poor Church of the poor.” In reality, this is what the Church already is.
 
The killing of the Sri Lankan Mass-goers, like the execution of the Coptic martyrs in 2015, is a sign of contradiction to a world ready to believe – and in some cases to print – that Christianity is inseparable from a kind of capitalistic white supremacy. But the Church is called to be a sign of contradiction, and such a sign can bear great fruit.
 
The first Easter vigils in Rome were held in catacombs not cathedrals; an empire was converted by the witness of uncounted martyrs, whose unshakable confidence that Christ had risen, destroying death, was a sign of contradiction to the pagan world.
 
In his recent essay on the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis, the pope emeritus noted the “today's Church is more than ever a ‘Church of the Martyrs’ and thus a witness to the living God.” Joseph Ratzinger also famously recalled looking around the Vatican as a young priest and foreseeing a time in which the signs of wealth and status would be stripped away.
 
Caught between the hammer of violent oppression in many parts of the world and the anvil of a secularized West suspicious if not downright hostile to the Church, many Catholics see a besieged faithful fighting for survival.
 
But in reality, in the gathering darkness, the light of the faith - like the hundreds of candles light during the Easter vigil - becomes ever brighter. The violence of persecution stokes the fires of faith.
 
Many alive now may live to see Ratzinger’s prediction come true: Francis’ poor Church of the poor once more gathered in the catacombs, real or metaphorical.

While the world will, like the pagan emperors before, scorn her seeming defeat and irrelevance, the Church will instead draw renewed strength as she becomes ever more truly herself.

The witness of its suffering – as in Sri Lanka – offers the same witness the martyrs of the early Church offered pagan Rome, and it will achieve the same result. The experience of the Church in the first centuries of the third millennium will likely come to resemble that of the first centuries AD. And from the forge of persecution will come a New Evangelization to rival the old.
 
Wedded to her risen spouse and called to share in his glory, those now confidently burying the Church as a remnant of history are destined to find her tomb empty. Through death, Christ has already conquered death, and with him the Church rises victorious.

 

Arlington diocese launches addiction support for families

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 19:19

Arlington, Va., Apr 24, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- At the request of Bishop Michael Burbidge, the Diocese of Arlington has launched a multifaceted program to get parishes involved with the healing of addicts and their families.

Organized by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, the project is composed of five parts – clinician training, workshops, addiction resources, family support, and prayer.

Art Bennett, president of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington, told CNA that the apostolate comes as the damages of opioid abuse have extended into the suburbs. Fairfax County, a generally well-off area, has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in Virginia, he said.

“Bishop Burbidge has long been concerned about the opioid problem in our diocese; we cover 21 counties in the northern part of Virginia,” he said, noting that parishes have seen an increase in funerals for people who have overdosed.

After the bishop challenged the diocese to respond to the opioid crisis,  a conference was held in September to gather interested parties and to brainstorm. A psychologist was brought in to speak on the challenges faced in addiction recovery.  

There are four parishes involved: St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Good Shepherd in Alexandria, St. Bernadette in Springfield, and St. John Neumann in Reston.

As part of the program, 17 mental health clinicians have already been trained on the opioid crisis, its growing impact in the United States, and the best means to respond to it. These clinicians are now able to travel and run workshops for other parishes and Church staff.

Arlington's Catholic Charities has also piled together a virtual collection of resources for immediate intervention, including crisis intervention hotlines, case management services, and evaluations for treatment.

The new ministry will seek to add resources for families of addicts, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, and parent support groups. It will also offer literature and the contact info of therapists.

“Catholic Charities has been asked to focus on providing clinical support to those secondarily impacted by the opioid crisis – providing counseling to the children, families, and loved ones of those struggling with addiction. This is a broadly under-served population in the current response to addiction,” Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Arlington's Catholic Charities, told CNA.

Bennett said two of the major components of this apostolate are the prayer teams who intercede on behalf of addicts, and parish resource committees to support families. Both will be discussed in upcoming workshops, he said.

The next seminar will take place April 29 at St. John Neumann and will continue at a different parish every quarter. Here, Bennett will give an overview of the project, and former nurse Sandi Sale will discuss the boundaries volunteers should put in place.

Susan Infeld, a parent of an addict and a parish nurse in charge of the project at St. John Neumann, will also discuss both successful measures and those that have failed in the past.

Bennett said prayer, while a simple way to support the addicted and their families, is “also the most powerful thing that can be done.”

The apostolate may bring about new opportunities for prayer, but it could also be tacking on the intentions to already-established prayer groups.

“Any parish can have that; they might already have Eucharistic adoration or rosary groups and they just add on the intentions of the families suffering from the opioid crisis so that healing power in prayer and Christ can be involved with them,” he said.

The parish committee programs will provide opportunities for the laity to be supportive of the families of addicts. “That support could be encouragement, referrals, or someone to talk to if there kid is in jail or very sick,” he said.  

Addiction is especially rough on the family, as young people are sometimes forced out of the house when they start supporting their addiction with thieving. The family of addicts is an untapped area for ministry, he said, noting that many parents feel ashamed and ostracized from the Church when a child is going through addiction.

“The families pretty much felt like they are hung out to dry,” he said. “They feel very harshly judged, they feel weak,” and he emphasized the importance of compassion in the situation.

At the Arlington Catholic Herald, Infeld gave insight into her own struggles as a parent of alcoholic. She said addiction ministry is an opportunity to share the message of God’s mercy and to promote healing.

“Families are being destroyed by this disease. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren in retirement because the parents are addicts. Parents are going into debt trying to pay for rehab not just once, but sometimes multiple times. Families most often suffer in silence, not getting the tremendous support and tools that a (ministry or support group) can offer,” she said.

Pro-life group launches targeted campaign for Born Alive bill

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List has launched a new campaign to pressure members of Congress to sign the discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

If 218 members of the House of Representatives sign the discharge petition, the bill will move to the floor, where it will be considered. Presently, 199 members have signed, including all but two Republican members, but only two Democrats: Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).

The petition opened for signatures on April 2.

In an April 2 statement, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, called for the bill's passage.

“Our nation is better than infanticide. Babies born alive during the process of abortion deserve the same care and medical assistance as any other newborn. To not provide care is a lethal form of discrimination against the circumstances of the child’s birth.”

“I strongly urge all representatives to sign this petition, and then vote for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This bill would add specific requirements to help ensure that babies born alive after an abortion attempt can have a fair shot at life,” he said.

"The purpose of this campaign is to really focus on the House," SBA List Vice President of Communications Mallory Quigley told CNA. "This is where the pressure point is now because the Senate's already voted. We think this should be bipartisan."

Quigley said that signing the petition would not present an electoral problem for Democrats, “especially for people who were elected in Republican-leaning districts."

The new campaign, which will feature digital ads and events aimed at explaining what the Born Alive bill is, is focused on representatives in what SBA List considers to be persuadable districts.

Reps. Cindy Axne (IA-03), Collin Allred (TX-32), Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Conor Lamb (PA-17), Lucy McBath (GA-06), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Haley Stevens (MI-11) have been singled out for attention, with each of them representing states won by President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

“This is a very moderate proposal that we think they ought to support,” Quigley told CNA. She said the timing of the ad campaign was centered around the Congressional recess, when the members would be in their districts.

“Many Democrats who represent Republican-leaning districts have not yet signed the discharge petition to hold a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in the press release.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), said that her legislation was “a measure that has passed with bipartisan support in the past.”

Presently, 26 states have some sort of legal protection for babies who survive abortions. Wagner said that it was important that this be extended throughout the entire country.

Dannenfelser said the bill "is urgently needed" as lawmakers in New York, Virginia, and other states push a "radical agenda of abortion on demand through the moment of birth and even infanticide."

"The overwhelming majority of Americans – including 70 percent of Democrats – want Congress to protect vulnerable babies who survive abortions, yet Speaker Pelosi and House Democratic Party leaders have repeatedly blocked this compassionate, common-ground bill.”

She referred to the Democrats blocking the legislation as “extremists” who are out of step with their own party.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Americans, including Democrats and even those who call themselves pro-choice, are opposed to late-term abortion.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would criminalize doctors who do not provide age-appropriate medical care to an infant that is born alive after an abortion. It also would provide the mother of the infant the ability to file a civil suit against her doctor. It does not criminalize abortion nor add any new restrictions on abortion.

Ending isolation key to fighting assisted suicide, Catholic heath group founder says

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The founder of a Catholic health-share group has said that battling loneliness is crucial to opposing the growing acceptance of assisted suicide in popular culture.

Chris Faddis, co-founder of Solidarity HealthShare, spoke to CNA about the importance of respecting the dignity of all patients at the end of life.

Speaking to CNA during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, Faddis said that a rising social and legal acceptance of assisted suicide is exacerbated by a lack of healthcare options that are both ethical and affordable, but is ultimately driven by loneliness and despair in the face of suffering.

“When you see no way out, something like a pill seems tempting,” he said.

Solidarity helps patients and their families find other options to assisted suicide to ease suffering and, Faddis said, expressed a kind of communion in its structure. In a health-share system, members of the organization help to pay each other’s healthcare costs. Members are self-pay patients who can see the provider of their choice while Solidarity helps to negotiate a lower rate, which would then be paid by the group of members.

“We're just there to facilitate and to kind of direct them,” said Faddis. “The affordability is there because there's no profit in it. We're a non-profit, we're just kind of facilitating that sharing."

“In all ways, we lead our members to the options that are going to respect life, that are going to promote their dignity. We provide care management, we provide services. And we encourage them."

Faddis, who serves as the Catholic health-sharing company’s chief operating officer, told CNA that the experience of suffering and death in his own family had formed his commitment to protecting human dignity at the end of life and led to his founding Solidarity. He served as a caregiver for his wife as she was dying of cancer, and experienced first-hand the importance of dignified and respectful hospice and palliative care.  

The experiences like his, Faddis said, needed to be shared in the wider battle to resist a culture of death in which suffering has no meaning.

“If we don't tell [an alternative view of suffering], the other side's telling the horror stories of suffering all day long."

Approaching death with dignity, Faddis said, is important for patients and families alike. “It’s worth taking time over,” he said, noting that his family benefited “in ways too many to count” from the care and support his wife received from their own community.

Solidarity does not pay for health services that are contrary to Catholic teaching, such as abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. When members are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, Faddis said that his organization works to ensure that members are directed to specific palliative care physicians who will not encourage assisted suicide.

Faddis said that an approach that underscores the value of life is especially important for terminal patients who are often feel as though they are a burden on their family and community. Terminal illness was, he said, a painful experience, but one that can be lived with dignity and meaning.

"When people are cared for well, then they can suffer well. So as they're going through those difficult times, or just those difficult decisions, people can help them just by caring well for them,” he said.

Assisted suicide is now legal in eight states, and is being considered by an additional four. New Jersey’s Catholic governor recently signed it into law in his state, after “careful prayer.”

Faddis said that in the United States, there is a general fear of suffering, which has resulted in an embrace of a quick death.

"I think we have a responsibility to console and give solace to the dying,” he said, stressing that preventing isolation was a vital part of respecting the dignity of human life.

“And I think if we do that well, we've solved the problem. I mean, if you're dying alone, you want the pill."

US House asks court to block funding for border wall

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 14:40

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- Lawyers representing the US House of Representatives on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court to block funding for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, which President Donald Trump had planned to fund primarily using Department of Defense money.

“Absent this Court’s timely intervention, defendants are poised to begin construction on the border wall next month, using funds that Congress declined to appropriate for that purpose,” the motion reads.

“This Court should therefore issue a preliminary injunction to prevent that irreparable injury to the House.”

Trump had planned to fund the wall’s construction using money appropriated under an emergency declaration he issued in February. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing Trump’s emergency declaration.

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” read a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall is a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

Following Trump’s emergency declaration, the Democrat-controlled House sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the executive branch, claiming the president’s decision to transfer Defense Department funds to fund the border wall violated the clause of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to designate federal spending.

Congress passed a spending package earlier this year— which Trump signed, ending a 35-day government shutdown— appropriating $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley sector. Trump had requested $5.7 billion.

The House’s motion notes that the Executive Branch has already transferred $1 billion in Defense Department money to the military’s Drug Interdiction and Counterdrug Activities fund, with plans to transfer $2.5 billion more. In addition, $3.6 billion will be reallocated to fund the wall from Department of Defense military construction projects, as well as $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. The Executive Branch has already awarded contracts for construction of the wall, set to begin next month.

The motion asserts that the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act only authorizes transfers for “higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements” and “in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress.”

“The House is unaware of any other instance in American history where a President has declared a national emergency to obtain funding after having failed to win Congressional approval for an appropriation,” the motion reads.

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden has not yet set a date for a hearing on the House’s motion.

There are at least two lawsuits against Trump’s funding decision still pending. In one, 16 states are challenging the president’s actions, while another suit was brought by the Sierra Club and a border-communities group, according to Politico.

A judge in Oakland, California has agreed to hear motions for injunctions in those suits May 17, Politico reports.

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas wrote in 2017, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

 

Supreme Court to hear sexual orientation, gender identity employment cases

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 05:30

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA).- In a decision that could have potentially far-reaching consequences, the U.S. Supreme Court has said it will hear cases involving claims that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included under current federal protections barring sex discrimination.

One case involves a male employee who identifies as a woman and was fired from a funeral home for deciding to wear women’s clothes to work.

John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at the religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the court should uphold current federal law.

“Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender identity’—a change with widespread consequences for everyone,” he said April 22.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear the cases in the upcoming court term, with decisions and opinions possible in 2020.

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the funeral home at the center of one case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The family-owned funeral home, owned by Tom Roost, has operated since 1910 and now has several chapels.

In 2007 it hired a male employee who agreed to follow the company’s policies, including its sex-specific dress code. The ADF summary of the case said the dress code is “crafted to emphasize professionalism and keep the focus on those mourning the loss of a loved one.”

In 2013, the employee told Roost that he intended to begin dressing as a woman at work.

“Tom determined that allowing this would not be in the best interests of his clients processing their grief,” Alliance Defending Freedom said on its website summary of the case. “He offered the employee a severance package, which the employee refused.”

The employee, who now goes by Aimee Stephens, wrote to colleagues that year: “What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster... I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness.”

Stephens filed suit on legal grounds including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law which bars discrimination on categories including race, religion, national origin and sex.

In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan backed the funeral home. However, the EEOC appealed the case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit then ruled that the dress code was discriminatory against a male employee who identifies as a woman.

“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” said the appellate court, according to the New York Times. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

Bursch, who served as solicitor general of Michigan from 2011 to 2013, said the funeral home wanted “to serve families mourning the loss of a loved one.” He charged “the EEOC has elevated its political goals above the interests of the grieving people that the funeral home serves.”

“Businesses have the right to rely on what the law is—not what government agencies want it to be—when they create and enforce employment policies,” Bursch added.

The Supreme Court accepted the funeral home case on the limited questions of whether Title VII bars discrimination against self-identified transgender people based on “their status as transgender” or “sex stereotyping” under a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation “undermines the primary purpose for banning discrimination based on sex,” namely to ensure equal opportunities for women and to eliminate workplace inequalities that have held women back.

If the lower court’s interpretation holds, it said, employment reserved for women like playing basketball in the WNBA or working at a shelter for abused women “now must be opened to males who identify as women.” Such a definition would also undermine Title IX efforts to advance women’s participation in sports and educational opportunities, it said.

“Substituting ‘gender identity’ for ‘sex’ in nondiscrimination laws also threatens freedom of conscience,” the ADF petition added, saying that such interpretations have forced doctors to participate in surgical efforts to alter sex “in violation of their deeply held beliefs” and best medical judgment.

“In sum, the Sixth Circuit ushered in a profound change in federal law accompanied by widespread legal and social ramifications,” the legal group charged.

Two other cases, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express, Inc. vs. Zarda, will also go before the Supreme Court. They were consolidated because of similar claims regarding employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, National Public Radio reports.

The case Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda involves the late New York skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, who said he was fired because he was gay. He was fired after a female customer complained. She had voiced concerns about being tightly tied to Zarda during a tandem dive, and Zarda tried to reassure her by telling her he was “100% gay,” the New York Times reports.

Zarda was killed in a skydiving accident in 2014 but his estate is continuing to pursue the case.

A divided 13-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.

Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, writing the court’s majority opinion, said “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” Sexual orientation discrimination is “predicated on assumptions about how persons of a certain sex can or should be, which is an impermissible basis for adverse employment actions.”

“(S)exual orientation discrimination—which is motivated by an employer’s opposition to romantic association between particular sexes—is discrimination based on the employee’s own sex,” Katzmann’s decision added.

The case Bostock v. Clayton County involves a Georgia child welfare services coordinator who said he was fired for being gay, the New York Times reports.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2018 issued an unsigned opinion citing a 1979 5th circuit court decision ruling that firing for homosexuality is not barred by Title VII.

Most federal courts do not consider sexual orientation discrimination to be a form of sex discrimination, the New York Times reports.

EEOC publications on the commission website hold that “sex stereotypes” like “the belief that men should only date women or that women should only marry men” constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of sex. They say that the 1964 civil rights legislation against sex discrimination in the workplace includes discrimination “based on an applicant or employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

However, those opinions lack Congressional approval. Proposed legislation known as the Equality Act would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories under federal law.

Critics have warned that the legislation explicitly rejects religious freedom protections and would open the gates to anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious believers and institutions who disagree with the bill’s broad view of what constitutes LGBT discrimination.

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