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Buffalo diocese investigation ends, DiMarzio will send report to Vatican

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 13:48

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 31, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has completed his Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo.

A statement released by DiMarzio’s own Diocese of Brooklyn on Thursday confirmed that the visitation had concluded and he will submit a report to the Holy See. 

The bishop offered no comment on his findings in the scandal-hit Buffalo diocese.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, the Vatican department responsible for overseeing the personal and administrative conduct of bishops. 

The visitation was announced Oct. 3, after nearly a year of controversy in the northern New York state diocese. The Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed that DiMarzio had made a total of three trips, spending a week in Buffalo as he conducted nearly a series of in-person interviews.

“He met with and interviewed close to 80 individuals; both clergy and laypeople,” the statement from the Brooklyn diocese said, “including members of the Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Consultors, Diocesan Finance Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council, Territorial Vicars, and Senior Priests. He also spoke with representatives of outside groups such as the Movement to Restore Trust, college presidents, and other interested parties.”

“Now that Bishop DiMarzio has finished his interviews, he will compile the information and prepare a report which will be submitted to the Holy See,” the statement concluded.

In its announcement earlier this month, the apostolic nunciature to the United States said that the process in Buffalo is “non-judicial and non-administrative,” meaning that no formal charges are being considered against the scandal-plagued Bishop Richard Malone, leader of the Buffalo diocese.

DiMarzio has previously said that he would approach the situation in Buffalo with “an open mind.”

“This is a difficult period in the life of the Church in Buffalo,” DiMarzio said when he accepted the assignment earlier this month.

“I will keep an open mind throughout the process and do my best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in order to fulfill the mandate of this Apostolic Visitation.”

Although he has faced media criticism for more than a year, Malone said earlier this month that he was “committed to cooperate fully” with the investigation, and that he welcomed the visitation which, he said would “improve the local Church's ability to minister to the people it serves.”

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

In August, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

In opioid-hit west Michigan, Catholic Charities plans to open detox center

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 10:01

Grand Rapids, Mich., Oct 31, 2019 / 08:01 am (CNA).- Catholic Charities West Michigan has announced plans to build a $4.5 million detox center, expected to serve 700 people a year recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

The new center in Muskegon, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, will have 14 beds and offer three- to five-night stays, with some 80 employees including a doctor, according to local media.

Chris Slater, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Western Michigan, told CNA that they expect to break ground on the new center before the end of the year, with a 12 to 14 month timeline.

Slater said he used a Community Needs Assessment, released by various agencies active in the city including Mercy Health System, to determine what areas the community needed the most help improving.

The answer, he said, was a no-brainer.

"All throughout all of them, right on the top of the list, is substance abuse disorder treatment. It's ravaging Muskegon county," he said.

"It would have been negligent not to do something about it, in my opinion."

A report from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, released in 2018, found that Grand Rapids, which is less than an hour’s drive from Muskegon, had the second-most total opioid related deaths from 2013-2015 in the state after Detroit, with 138 reported.

The report found that the largest number of drug-related overdose deaths occurred among men aged 26-35, and men aged 46-55.

The county didn't previously have a facility to treat drug and alcohol addicts under the supervision of a doctor. Slater says he hopes the new Catholic Charities detox center will plug holes in the community's ability to care for people in need.

The county also ranks highly for per-capita deaths related to alcohol abuse.

"So when we had patients in Muskegan who wanted treatment, we were shipping them all over the state. And that posed another problem because even if they could find a bed for them, then we had transportation issues, and no way to get these patients there."

He said for the past 18 months, he has worked closely with healthcare providers, social service agencies, the sheriff's department, and the prosecutor's office to get a feel for the community's support for the project, which he says was strong from the get-go and has continued to build.

Slater said there will be opportunities for patients – who will be served regardless of their religious beliefs – to meet with a chaplain and to make use of a chapel being built along with a new office building near the detox center.

"We'll be equipped to incorporate faith into patients' recovery as they request," he said.

WoodTV8 reports that the new detox center will neighbor the Muskegon Rescue Mission, which has its own food pantry, and as a result Catholic Charities will no longer have its own food pantry but will partner with other organizations to support their food services.

Catholic Charities obtained the land for the project through a land swap with the city, which will receive Catholic Charities’ old building, located less than a mile away, once the new center is completed.

A spokesperson for the city said that revitalizing the old building will help make it a “high-quality new asset” in the area.

The hallowed tradition of cemetery Masses

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 06:00

Mobile, Ala., Oct 31, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The end of October and the first few days of November comprise of “Allhallowtide” in the Church--All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. During the month of November, the Church takes special notice to remember, honor and pray for the dead. There are many different cultural traditions around this period, but one of the most consistently honored is the practice of visiting cemeteries. 

Some dioceses mark this tradition in an especially solemn way, by celebrating a Mass on All Souls Day in a cemetery. The Church has a special Mass setting for this expressed purpose, which is called the “Order of Visiting a Cemetery.”  Fr. Stephen Vrazel, the pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Mobile, Alabama, has celebrated Mass in a cemetery for the past several years, since he was ordained a priest in 2011. 

Vrazel told CNA that it is a tradition at the North American College seminary in Rome, where he was a student, to celebrate Mass each year in the college’s mausoleum, the resting place of American priests and seminarians who died while in Rome and were unable to be brought back to the United States. 

Vrazel said he was “incredibly moved” by these Masses, and when he became a priest his bishop asked him to preach the homily at an All Souls Day Mass held at Catholic Cemetery in Mobile. He said that even though he grew up in Mobile, he did not know that the bishop had a tradition of celebrating Mass at a cemetery.

These cemetery Masses “were formative experiences for me,” Vrazel told CNA. The Masses “impressed upon me the value of offering the sacrifice of the Mass - not only for the faithfully departed, but in close proximity to the bodies of the deceased.” 

When Vrazel was moved to his current parish, he asked if he could celebrate Mass in the Catholic section of a nearby cemetery, and was granted permission by both the vicar general and the administrators of the cemetery. Since then, Vrazel has celebrated at least one Mass at a cemetery on All Souls Day. 

“Because a priest is permitted to celebrate Mass three times on All Souls, for a few years I also celebrated Mass at another cemetery,” said Vrazel. “That Mass has since been taken over by another parish.”

The logistics of a Mass at a cemetery are slightly more complicated than for a normal Sunday. 

Vrazel said that his parish’s liturgy committee worked to set up a temporary altar in the cemetery’s Catholic section, which also has a large crucifix. A parishioner volunteered his services as a bagpiper to provide music, and vials of holy water are distributed to those in attendance for sprinkling on graves. As part of the Order of Visiting a Cemetery, graves are sprinkled with holy water during the Mass. 

While the idea of going to Mass in a cemetery may seem possibly off-putting, Vrazel said, there is much interest in the event each year, especially among the recently bereaved. He told CNA that about 100 people usually attend the All Souls Day Mass. 

The practice of praying for the dead is not found in most Protestant traditions, but is a central part of the Catholic faith and justified by the book 2 Maccabees, Vrazel explained. 

“Scripture makes clear that it is a laudable practice to pray for the dead. While most of our protestant brothers and sisters consider 2 Maccabees an apocryphal work, we recognize the sacrifices offered for the dead in 2 Mac 12 as normative,” he said. 

“Disagreements over the appropriateness of praying for the dead are rooted in wider disagreements about the nature of sin, forgiveness, mercy, and the very existence of purgatory,” said Vrazel. He suggested that this particular discussion should be a starting point for any ecumenical dialogue regarding praying for the dead. 

Even though cemeteries may make some people uncomfortable, Vrazel told CNA that he thinks that it is vitally important for Catholics to make regular visits to them.

“Walking through a cemetery you see grave after grave of somebody who mattered to someone. And while they might not have anyone today who remembers them, they still matter to God, and they should matter to us,” he said. 

“People should and honor the remains of their deceased loved ones, and strangers too. The soul is gone, and the body returns to dust, but that body is still the creation of God. We believe that our bodies will rise on the last day.”

Instead of a “horror-inducing space,” Vrazel said he thinks a cemetery should be characterized as more of a waiting room or resting ground for the eventual Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body.  

“Besides, most cemeteries close at sunset, so you don’t really have the option to visit during ‘spooky’ nighttime hours anyway,” he added.

Judge orders police to return some files to Diocese of Dallas taken in May raid 

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 21:00

Dallas, Texas, Oct 30, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Dallas county district judge has ordered Dallas police to return certain documents to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas that were seized during a raid on diocesan property on May 15.

Documents unrelated to the ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations against five priests are to be returned, State District Judge Brandon Birmingham ordered last week after reviewing the files that were taken in the raid, WFAA in Dallas reported.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the investigation is focused on five current or former priests of the diocese: Fr. Edmundo Paredes, Fr. Richard Thomas Brown, Fr. Alejandro Buitrago, Fr. William Joseph Hughes, Jr., and Fr. Jeremy Myers. Paredes is the only suspect to have been formally charged, but he is believed to have fled the United States, WFAA reported.

“Therefore, the seizure of any item not related to these five particular persons, for the specific offense listed, exceeds the scope of the search warrant as written,” Birmingham wrote in his order, according to WFAA.

All five men were included in a list of names of clergy “credibly” accused of sexual abuse released by the dioceses of Texas in January. The Diocese of Dallas released the name of 31 accused clerics, including 24 incardinated in the diocese and seven priests either from other dioceses or religious orders who had worked in Dallas.

On May 15, police conducted a raid on the Dallas diocesan chancery offices, as well as on a diocesan warehouse storage facility and the parish of St. Cecilia in Oak Cliff, searching for evidence and information related to the investigation of the five priests.

At the time, Bishop Edward J. Burns of the Diocese of Dallas called the raid “sensationalism, traumatic, and a waste of resources.” Burns said in a statement that the Diocese had been cooperating with police prior to the raid, and that they had been “combing through” more than 200,000 documents in order to find those relevant to the investigation.

“To imply that these documents were intentionally withheld in any capacity is to truly misrepresent the nature of our correspondence with the Dallas Police Department,” Burns said at the time.

Among the documents to be returned to the diocese are a set of files that were labeled “no sexual assault issues,” as well as those that date earlier than January 1, 1950, according to the order.

“All of these documents exceed the scope of the search warrant,” Birmingham said, according to WFAA. Documents that both the diocese and police agree are unrelated to the investigation of the five priests are also to be returned to the diocese, Birmingham said. If there are documents on which the diocese and police cannot agree, Birmingham will review the documents himself and make a decision.

According to the order, police will have 10 business days to return “all documents that both parties agree are privileged,” “all documents the Court has determined to be privileged” and “all documents the Court has determined ‘exceed the scope of the search warrant,’” WFAA reported.

Both police and the diocese were given until December 6 to complete the review of the files, and Birmingham ordered weekly updates on the progress of the review.

The Diocese of Dallas did not respond to questions about Birmingham’s order by deadline.

Police have been investigating the Dallas diocese since February of 2018, when Paredes was accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys over the course of his time at St. Cecilia’s parish. He was suspended from ministry in June 2017 after 27 years at the St. Cecilia’s, under suspicion of having stolen between $60,000 - $80,000 from the parish.

Paredes fled the diocese and his whereabouts are currently unknown, though Burns has previously said the diocese believes he returned to the Philippines, from where he originally came. Both Meyers and Buitrago were removed from ministry in 2018.

 

 

Biden communion denial was required by diocesan policy

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 18:08

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- A policy in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina requires priests to withhold the Eucharist from politicians and political candidates who support legal protection for abortion.

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

“We declare that Catholics serving in public life espousing positions contrary to the teaching of the Church on the sanctity and inviolability of human life, especially those running for or elected to public office, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any Catholic church within our jurisdictions: the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Dioceses of Charleston and Charlotte.”

“We undertake this action to safeguard the sacred dignity of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to reassure the faithful, and to save sinners,” the decree adds.

The decree, “Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion,” established policy for the Diocese of Charleston, where presidential candidate Joe Biden was denied the Eucharist on Sunday.

At St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, pastor Fr. Robert Morey denied Biden Holy Communion Oct. 27, while the Catholic presidential candidate was campaigning nearby that weekend and had attended Sunday Mass.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey explained in a statement sent to CNA.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he stated.

“Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added.

The 2004 Charleston policy says that “Catholics in political life have the responsibility to exemplify in their public service this teaching of the Church, and to work for the protection of all innocent life. There can be no contradiction between the values bestowed by Baptism and the Catholic Faith, and the public expression of those values.”

“A manifest lack of proper disposition for Holy Communion is found to be present in those who consistently support pro-abortion legislation. Because support for pro-abortion legislation is gravely sinful, such persons should not be admitted to Holy Communion,” the decree continues.

Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Bishop W. Francis Malooly “has consistently refrained from politicizing the Eucharist, and will continue to do so.”

“The Church’s teachings on the protection of human life from the moment of conception is clear and well-known,” the statement said, adding that the bishop’s “preference” is “to interact with politicians individually who disagree with significant church teachings.”

In 2008, Malooly made largely the same point in response to Biden’s public support for abortion as he was campaigning on the ticket with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Malooly said in the Sept. 4, 2008 edition of the diocesan newspaper The Dialog, that he did not “intend to politicize the Eucharist as a way of communication Catholic Church teachings, but would rather “get a lot more mileage out of a conversation trying to change the mind and heart than I would out of a public confrontation.”

Biden, one of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, is a Catholic who represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 2009, and served as vice president from 2009 to 2017. In April of 2019, he announced his candidacy for president.

While Biden served in the Senate, he largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade. He called his position “middle-of-the-road,” saying that he supported Roe but opposed late-term abortions and federal funding of abortions.

Since then, he has supported taxpayer funding of abortions via the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, in his 2020 platform.

Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Biden also favors reinstating taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Debate over the application of the Code of Canon Law’s canon 915 to pro-choice politicians is not a new one. The canonical norm states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

During the 2004 election, the U.S. bishops issued a statement “Catholics in Political Life” that left the decision to withhold Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians to individual bishops.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had sent a letter to Theodore McCarrick, then-Archbishop of Washington, with the expectation that it be read to fellow bishops.

The letter said that pro-abortion politicians—after first being admonished by their pastor on Church teaching and warning them against presenting themselves for Communion—“are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The law’s definition of “manifest” participation in “grave sin” applies “in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws,” Ratzinger said.

McCarrick read some but not all of the letter to his fellow bishops at their summer meeting, omitting key parts and saying that Ratzinger had agreed with the bishops’ decision to leave the judgement about withholding Holy Communion up to each individual bishop. Ratzinger’s entire letter was reported to the public afterward.

It was in August 2004, shortly after that letter was read, that the Archbishop of Atlanta, then Archbishop John Donoghue, along with Bishop Peter Jurgis of Charlotte and Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston jointly set policy for their dioceses.

A law “which legitimizes the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion is intrinsically unjust, since it is directly opposed to the natural law, to God’s revealed commandments, and to the consequent right of every individual to possess life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death,” the bishops wrote.

 

 

Bishop Barron goes to Washington

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers must rediscover their call by God to pursue justice, Bishop Robert Barron told members of Congress and staff on Tuesday.

“In Catholic theology truth itself, goodness itself, justice itself, are simply names for God,” Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, said to an audience of members of Congress, staff, and others at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

The bishop told legislators that they were right to think of their role pursuing justice through public service as a vocation, and they were really called by God to do so. 

“When you were seized by a passion for justice, I would say you were called by God at that moment,” Barron said.

Barron addressed an audience of several dozen people in the Members Room of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill, on the vocation to public service.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) hosted the event, along with Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.). Members in attendance included Sens. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), as well as Reps. Suozzi and Moolenaar, Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), and Andy Harris (R-Md.).

Barron also delivered the opening prayer on the U.S. House Floor on Wednesday, to start the legislative business for the day. In his invocation, he echoed themes of justice that he had spoken about the previous day.

“O God, Source of all justice, You have summoned everyone who works in this chamber to walk the path of righteousness, to foster life and liberty, to care especially for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society,” Bishop Barron said.

“Free these servants of yours O Lord, of all those attachments to wealth or power or privilege or fame that would prevent them from following the course You have set out for them. Make them mindful of the time when they first heard your voice and followed it with idealism and enthusiasm,” he prayed.

In his discourse on Tuesday, Bishop Barron clarified at the outset that he would avoid discussing “hot button issues” with the members, such as abortion or marriage.

Such issues are important, he said, but could ultimately distract from “really deep and abiding points of contact between what I call the spiritual condition and political tradition.”

Barron challenged those in the room to rediscover the time when they found their vocation to public service. He said he asks priests to “remember when you first heard the call,” adding that “you will find, I wager, a moment of extraordinary clarity and spiritual power.”

Such a challenge, he added, involves “everybody in this room,” and a “sense of being called, summoned, sent on a mission, I think applies to everybody in our culture.”

The vocation to public service should be so all-encompassing, he said, that lawmakers should even remember when they were called. The prophet Isaiah, he said, dated his call to the prophetic vocation to “the year King Uzziah died,” Barron said, citing the Book of Isaiah in the Bible.

“In other words, it was burned into his memory because it was the defining moment of life,” Barron said, before asking lawmakers “what was, for you, the ‘year Uzziah died’?”

There are three transcendentals that culture is based upon, Barron said, the “true,” the “good” and the “beautiful.” Politics, he said, is especially connected to the “good.”

Barron exhorted members of Congress “to find it, to fight for it, to propagate it.”

“What animates that work?” he asked rhetorically of the pursuit of the “good” of those in public service. “It’s a passion of justice that lies at the bottom of the soul,” he said.

God called those in public service through a desire for justice, he said, emphasizing the need for “bringing our lives into harmony with the integrity and beauty of that call” where “everything I do is about serving justice.”

That, he warned, might make members “unpopular,” “less rich,” or see them “attacked.” However, he added, “The way you measure life now is how you respond to this call.”

Barron also mentioned the rise of the “Nones,” or those unaffiliated with any religion. Pew Research numbers the other week showed that the “Nones” now make up 26 percent of the overall U.S. population.

“Are we losing a sense of the sacred and divine dimension of life? I think demonstrably yes,” Barron said.

Cleveland Bishop Lennon dies at 72, remembered for love of Church

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 17:00

Cleveland, Ohio, Oct 30, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Gerard Lennon died at the age of 72 on Tuesday, Oct. 29 after receiving the sacraments. His colleagues and admirers praised his service to the Church.

Lennon was until 2016 the Bishop of Cleveland.

His successor, Bishop Nelson J. Perez, praised the bishop’s life.
“In his service to the diocese, Bishop Lennon showed a deep dedication to the faithful governance of the diocese and a tremendous love of the Church and the people he shepherded. May the Lord grant him eternal rest,” Bishop Perez said in a statement from the Diocese of Cleveland.

Lennon was was installed in 2006 as the tenth Bishop of Cleveland after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to the position. He resigned in December 2016, citing poor health. At the time the Cleveland diocese said Lennon suffered from vascular dementia, which causes cognitive impairment due to reduced blood flow to the brain, Cleveland.com reports.

Another Cleveland bishop emeritus, Anthony Pilla, 86, said he was saddened by Lennon’s death and would pray for him.

“I am grateful for his dedicated service to this diocese and for all the good people who have given him such good care during his long illness,” Pilla said.

Lennon regularly invited the Daughters of St. Paul to perform their Christmas concert at Cleveland’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. He often treated them to dinner, the Cleveland diocese said.

Sister Theresa Aletheia, D.S.P., said that when Lennon was a chaplain for their order in Boston he was “a good friend of the community.”

“Once during a terrible blizzard, the sisters were preparing for a Communion service when Father Lennon came riding up the hill on a snowplow,” she said. “He was a good and holy servant of the Church. May he rest in peace and intercede for us.”

The late bishop was a fan of the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team. He was fond of horses, and often offered treats to police horses. Two members of the Cleveland police mounted unit visited his retirement reception.

Lennon was born March 26, 1947 in Arlington, Mass. near Boston. His father served as Arlington’s deputy fire chief. He attended Catholic schools and was an altar boy at St. James Parish. After studies at Boston College, he entered St. John’s Seminary, and was ordained a priest in May 1973 for the Boston archdiocese.

He served as a parish priest, a fire department chaplain, an assistant for canonical affairs and as a rector of St. John’s Seminary. He was named a monsignor in 1998 and ordained as auxiliary bishop of Boston on Sept. 14, 2001, serving in that role until 2006.

After Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston amid clergy sexual abuse scandals, Lennon was interim leader of the Boston archdiocese from December 2002 to July 2003.

After Lennon became Bishop of Cleveland, the Diocese of Cleveland said, he placed a priority on visiting all parishes and schools in the diocese.

He instituted internal audits at parishes and diocesan schools while also establishing norms for Catholic schools and children’s catechesis. The diocese credited his launch of the Rooted in Faith capital campaign for raising about $170 million in donations to strengthen parishes, the clergy retirement fund, evangelization efforts, the cathedral, and Catholic schools.

Following a reconfiguration of the diocese begun before he became bishop, he acted on recommendations to close about 50 parishes and to establish 17 new merged parishes. The closures sparked some backlash and criticism from laity.

He stopped the diocese’s practice of charging $450 for those seeking marriage annulments two years before Pope Francis exhorted all dioceses to do so.

Lennon was a member of the Knights of Malta and the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Cleveland diocese said funeral arrangements are pending.

House votes to recognize Armenian genocide

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass a resolution recognizing the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), sponsor of the resolution, said after the vote that “the House declared that it will no longer be party to the cause of genocide denial.”

“While we can never undo the atrocities of the Armenian genocide, this vote is a commitment that we will never forget and we will never again be intimidated into silence,” Schiff stated.

Schiff’s resolution, cosponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), states that it should be U.S. policy to recognize and commemorate the Armenian Genocide, and to promote education and remembrance of the genocide. It passed the House overwhelmingly, with 405 members voting in favor, 11 Republicans voting against, and three members voting “present.”

The resolution also recognizes the Ottoman Empire’s “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.”

The resolution is non-binding, in that it simply expresses “the sense of the House of Representatives,” but it is still significant as the culmination of an almost-20-year effort in the U.S. House to pass such a resolution.

“This is a vote I have waited 19 years to cast; one that tens of thousands of my Armenian American constituents have waited decades to see,” Schiff said in his remarks on the House Floor on Tuesday.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians released a statement on Tuesday, praising the vote.

“The Christians all across the Middle East were impacted by the Armenian Genocide. In Lebanon, 250,000 Maronites were starved to death by the Ottoman Empire,” Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, stated, noting that by the House’s action, the U.S. shows it “will no longer ignore the Turk’s history of ethnic cleansing.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement following the House vote that the resolution “has apparently been drafted and issued for domestic consumption” and “is devoid of any historical or legal basis.”

The Armenian genocide, recognized as such by many scholars, occurred in the Ottoman Empire - now Turkey - from 1915-1923, with the systematic annihilation of the mostly Christian Armenian minority in eastern Anatolia.

Around 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed, along with Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs. Millions more were displaced. Those targeted by the Ottomans suffered forced displacement, death marches, torture, rape, and mass killings.

Turkey has repeatedly denied that genocide took place, saying that the number of those killed was far less than some have estimated and that deaths were a result of conflicts related to the First World War.

A Vatican archive of documents was released in 2015, on the centenary of the genocide, showing the Holy See’s commitment, along with other Catholics, to help genocide victims in the region. The Vatican also worked to stem the tide of Christian persecution in the Ottoman Empire that had been occurring in the decades prior to 1915.

Pope Francis has referred to the killings as genocide multiple times, using the term at a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 12, 2015, ahead of the centenary.

A year later, speaking at the presidential palace in Armenia in June of 2016, the pope called the “genocide” the “‘Great Evil’ that struck your people” and said that it “was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”

Members of Congress said that Tuesday’s vote was a significant step toward fighting silence and ignorance on the matter.

“Today, we end a century of international silence. There will not be another period of indifference or international ignorance to the lives lost to systematic murder,” Rep. Bilirakis stated on Tuesday. “Genocide is genocide, Mr. Speaker, even if our so-called strategic allies perpetrated it.”

“I found Pope Francis’ words and explicit use of the term ‘genocide’ to be another wake-up call for the world,” Bilirakis said on Tuesday, noting that Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria resulted in “extremely concerning” acts committed against local populations including Kurds.

While U.S. officials have at times referred to the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians as “genocide,” officially recognizing the genocide committed a century ago has proved difficult because of the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and geo-strategic ally.

The U.S. did submit a written statement on the Armenian genocide to the International Court of Justice in 1951, and President Ronald Reagan mentioned it by name in his proclamation on April 22, 1981; two joint congressional resolutions, H.J. Res. 148, adopted in 1975, and H.J. Res. 247, adopted in September of 1984, also recognized it.

Nevertheless, the Tuesday House resolution was the product of almost two full decades of preparation.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired congressional hearings on the Armenian genocide in 2000 and 2015, said that support for a resolution on the genocide was squelched in the House due to pressure by the Clinton administration in 2000. A similar attempt in 2007 was unsuccessful, he noted.

Smith said Tuesday that 28 countries and 49 U.S. states have recognized the Armenian genocide “despite Turkish Government threats—and they do make threats.”

“As Pope Francis said at his Mass marking the 100th year of genocide: ‘Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,’” Smith said.

Meet Jan Benton - leading the charge for inclusion of Catholics with disabilities

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 15:44

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- When Janice Benton, OFS was attending college in Michigan, she answered an ad in her parish bulletin that was seeking someone willing to be a catechist for children with intellectual disabilities.

That response would begin a career spanning several decades, where she would work to improve inclusion for Catholics with disabilities--a career that would lead her to speaking at the Vatican and leading the National Catholic Partnership on Disability for 15 years.

Benton will be retiring from her position this year and will be honored for her work with Catholics with disabilities at a banquet on Nov. 8. She spoke recently with CNA to discuss how the landscape in the Church has changed for people with disabilities since she began working in the field, and how she hopes things will continue to improve in the future.

After volunteering with children at her parish, Benton started a catechesis program to serve young adults with disabilities, and was working at a nursing home. There, she befriended a young woman with cerebral palsy. She told CNA she had wondered why a young adult was living in a nursing home, and sought out the friendship. She also met another volunteer in a catechetical program who had cerebral palsy.

“So I ended up with friends and family members with disabilities,...and I was blessed to work with folks from the Archdiocese of Detroit to get a lot of their training from them,” Benton said. “They had quite a good program there.”

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) was founded in 1982, and Benton assisted with its creation, having previously worked with the U.S. Bishops’ Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities. Benton took over the role of director of the NCPD in 2004.

Benton said she has seen many positive changes regarding the treatment of Catholics with disabilities during her more than 40 years working in that ministry.

“I think people are more engaged in parish life now, and their gifts are really being recognized,” she said. “I think of it as just recognizing their giftedness and that everybody is called to, everyone belongs in the Church. And they’re called as part of the body of Christ to contribute.”

Specifically, Benton said she is happy to see more and more parishes and schools adopt inclusive models to serve Catholics with disabilities.

“There’s more involvement in parish life itself and less just separate programs (that are) just kind of off to the side to serve people,” she said. “There’s just more appreciation of people for who they are, their giftedness and what they can bring to the faith community.”

While Benton is heartened by these changes, she said there’s still much more work to be done. For instance, the NCPD still receives calls from families with children who were told they would not be permitted to receive their First Communion or participate in faith formation classes due to their disabilities. The USCCB approved the Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities in 1995, which Benton called a “beautiful resource that’s easy to put into the hands of pastors and catechetical leaders.”

And although there have been substantial improvements in the Church regarding persons with disabilities, especially with the ever-growing list of Catholic schools that are willing and able to accommodate students with special needs, Benton told CNA that Catholics with disabilities are still often overlooked by other members of their parishes.

“I have a friend who says one of the things that hurts her the most is not being seen as a person, (but) kind of being seen as a ‘person with a disability’ and not as somebody you'd want to go out to lunch with or just have fun with,” said Benton.

“And my friend in my parish says what hurts often the most is that nobody wants to sit near her. They kind of keep a wide berth. And, so I think people still tend to exceptionalize disability, and want to make it special or different or kind of focus on what might be a difference, as opposed to the common humanity of everybody.”

As she prepares to leave her role at the NCPD, Benton said she hopes the organization is able to expand its presence into parishes. She hopes that parishes will make the accommodations needed, and include persons with disabilities into their regular programs.

Doing this, she said, will ensure that “people can participate fully and meaningfully--and not just be taken care of, but really share their gifts with the Church community.”

“I want people to know that the Church is here for them, that the NCPD exists,” Benton said.

“I want people with disabilities to really experience the sense of belonging and really experience people treating them with dignity and respect, and that they really are just vital members of the body of Christ.”

What does Joe Biden think about abortion?

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s denial of reception of Holy Communion in South Carolina on Sunday has renewed scrutiny of his evolving views on abortion.

Over the course of his decades-long career, the Catholic former Vice President has said that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade went too far, but has now pledged to enshrine its full effects in federal law. He has been for, then against, bans of taxpayer funding for abortion and against, then for extreme practices like partial birth abortion.

Biden was denied Communion on Sunday, at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, pastor Fr. Robert Morey denied Biden Holy Communion as the Catholic presidential candidate was campaigning nearby that weekend and had attended Sunday Mass.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Morey explained in a statement sent to CNA. “Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he stated.

“Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” he said.

The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, and that every act of abortion is the wilful taking of innocent human life. In the 2008 “Meet the Press” interview, Biden was asked “as a Roman Catholic” when he thought life began.

He said that he was “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,” but added that to impose that belief upon others through the application of law would be “inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

“There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that's existed. Back in ‘Summa Theologia,’ when Thomas Aquinas wrote ‘Summa Theologia,’ he said there was no--it didn't occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith? And that's the reason I haven't,” Biden said.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II warned of a political mentality where “the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people-even if it is the majority.”

“This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the ‘right’ ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part,” he wrote. “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”

Biden, a Democrat, originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 representing the state of Delaware. He served in that role until 2009, when he was elected Vice President as the running mate of President Barack Obama.

In Biden’s 36 years in the Senate and eight years as Vice President to President Barack Obama, he has reversed himself a number of times on the issue of abortion. 

While largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade, Biden previously said he believed the decision “went too far.” In 1981, he voted for a constitutional amendment allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade; the next year he voted against such an amendment.

In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Biden warned that the opposing ticket would appoint judges who would outlaw abortion, and that the administration he was in would not do that. In the 2008 vice presidential debate, he bragged about spearheading “the fight against Judge Bork,” a Supreme Court judicial nominee in 1987, warning that Bork would have changed Roe v. Wade if he were confirmed to the Court.

In a 2008 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden said Roe is “as close to a consensus that can exist in a society as heterogeneous as ours” in that it left decisions on life to the mother in the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed the states some intervention in the second trimester, and that “the weight of the government’s input” in the third trimester is that the pregnancy is carried to term.

Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”

In 1984 then-Senator Biden supported the Mexico City Policy, which bars taxpayer funding of foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortion as a method of family planning. He was also for years a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions in the U.S.  

Shortly after announcing his candidacy for president in April this year, Biden reversed his support for Hyde when Democrats highlighted his long-time stance, prompting a backlash from other candidates and the progressive wing of the party. He also abandoned his support for the Mexico City Policy, promising to overturn the rule if elected.

Biden also currently favors reinstating taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

In 1995 and again in 1997, Biden voted to ban partial-birth abortion, but was vocally critical of the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld a partial-birth abortion ban, saying that it could open the door for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

A point of consistency for Biden has been his opposition to parental notification laws and laws barring minors from seeking abortions out-of-state, both of which he has spoken against. His 2020 campaign platform calls for ending state “TRAP” laws on abortion, or laws restricting abortion access such as requiring parental notification or mandatory waiting periods.

What to do about Halloween? Catholic moms – and an exorcist – weigh in

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 11:08

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2019 / 09:08 am (CNA).- For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing,” Cunningham told CNA. “People were just out talking while kids were trick or treating, and it had been really nice up until that point.”

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character “Freddy Krueger,” a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cunningham’s youngest at that point was a year and a half, “and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger.”

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn’t alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

“We knew it would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected,” Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas – what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a “baptized” form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast – All Hallow’s Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus “baptize,” the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist’s perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it’s important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that’s all good clean fun,” Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it’s just for entertainment.  

“In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like,” he said, “because it’s a violation of a Church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God.”

“And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil.”

It’s also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

“It’s because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they’re celebrating that day, they’re actually inviting more evil into our lives,” he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said.

“A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we’re not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do.”

Trick-or-treating Catholics

Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she’s found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

“Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?” she said.

“Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It’s just so different from when we were little.”

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

“We let them know that we’re having a party because it’s celebrating the saints in heaven, we’re celebrating them, so when they’re trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it’s because it’s a party for all the saints.”

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it’s important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

“I think as Christians we’re so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us,” she said. “But then we lose the history of it, and we think, ‘Oh well this is the devil’s day,’ just because some people say it is.”

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they’re not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

“I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we’ll talk about different saints,” Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off-limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

“As Catholics it’s important that we don’t become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith,” she said. “If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don’t even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture.”

 

This article was originally published Oct. 31, 2015.

Dia de los Muertos about more than the 'bread of the dead,' bishop says

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 06:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 30, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a primarily Mexican way of celebrating the feasts of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.

The celebration is an expression of Latin American culture and Catholic beliefs, which makes use of some familiar symbols to teach and celebrate the Church’s teaching on the communion of the saints and the souls in purgatory.

Annual celebrations typically involve skeletal costumes and face makeup, parades and processions, as well as traditional foods such as “pan de muerte” (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls (calaveras).

Los Angeles Auxilary Bishop Alex Aclan, a native of the Philippines, celebrated a Mass in honor of Dia de los Muertos Oct. 26 at Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard, California.

The Mass featured pilgrim images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego, as well as over “ofrendas,” or altars, which are traditionally used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations to honor deceased loved ones.

Aclan told CNA the celebrations at the cemetery were very typical Mexican style, he said, with the altars set out with pictures and personal items for the faithful to remember and honor loved ones.

There were more than 100 ofrendas set up throughout the cemetery, and participants took part in dancing, processions and prayers for the dead.

Dia de los Muertos is sometimes popularly thought of as “Mexican Halloween,” and the ofrendas may be seen as a means for people to conjure up their deceased loved ones.

"That's a corruption of the original notion of the celebration of the feast," Aclan said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “all forms of divination are to be rejected” which includes the “conjuring up the dead.”

However, the Church encourages Catholics to pray for the dead as one of the spiritual works of mercy.

Aclan he said he made sure that archdiocesan offices are involved in planning celebrations, to make sure that Dia de los Muertos customs are in accord with Catholicism and the Catholic tradition.

The bishop was quick to point out that the real focus of Dia de los Muertos are the two Catholic feast days within it, not primarily Halloween.

In his native Philippines, Aclan said, celebrations around this time primarily take place on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, which is marked as a national holiday in that country.

"I grew up with that tradition of All Saints Day, and I remember us staying in the cemetery praying all day long for the souls, even though we do it on the day of All Saints rather than All Souls," he said.

In Mexico, the bulk of the celebrations take place from Oct. 31 to All Soul's Day, Nov. 2, incorporating both of the Catholic feasts.

"All Saints Day of course for those who are already in Heaven, and All Souls Day for those who are still on their way to heaven," he said.

Aclan said whenever he preaches or speaks about Dia de los Muertos, he tells people it is a beautiful manifestation of the Church's belief in the communion of saints.

"I think it's a wonderful way to teach people about our beliefs as Catholics on the communion of saints," Aclan commented.

"For Mexicans to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, my experience is the remembering of the dead is really the most important part of it. Making sure that the dead are remembered, that their deceased are remembered, and that we really are one with them even though they're on the other side and we're still here."

"And that's basically our teaching on the communion of saints. The different parts of the Church: the ones in Heaven, the ones that are still on their way trying to find their way to the gates of Heaven, and us here on Earth, and we are still together as one. We are still one Church."

 

In UN address, Holy See voices support for ceasefire in Yemen

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 02:06

New York City, N.Y., Oct 30, 2019 / 12:06 am (CNA).- A nationwide ceasefire is essential to ease the suffering of the people of Yemen, which has been in a civil war since at least 2014, said the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. on Tuesday.

“Children are starving; access to clean water is scarce; the economy continues to struggle severely; those who cannot flee the front lines of war remain cut off from basic supplies and humanitarian workers are impeded to operate in some areas,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, describing the situation in Yemen.

“A nation-wide ceasefire that this Council has repeatedly called for is essential if the intolerable suffering of the Yemeni people is ever to come to an end. Coherence and honesty demand that this call for a ceasefire must be concretely accompanied with a stop to the flow of arms in the region.”

Auza on Tuesday gave a statement at the United Nations Security Council during the Open Debate dedicated to "The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.”

Yemen, located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, has for several years been the site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with about 22 million of the nearly 29 million people in the country in need of some sort of humanitarian assistance. More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes and the number of people facing pre-famine conditions could reach 14 million, the U.N. has estimated.

Auza also addressed other topics, including “glimmers of hope” in the eight-year long conflict in Syria with the announcement of the formation of a Constitutional Committee, scheduled to convene in Geneva on Thursday. The committee, composed of opposition, civil society and government members, will seek to rewrite the Syrian constitution.

Despite this hope, he also echoed Pope Francis’ call for safe passage and humanitarian assistance for the thousands of refugees fleeing northeast Syria as tensions with Turkey remain high.

Auza also addressed the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that “harmful rhetoric, threats, terrorism and violence, including at times disproportionate use of force on the part of the security forces” have exacerbated an already tense situation.

While Israel’s population is predominantly Jewish, about 20% of the country’s 8.5 million people are Arab. About 2% are Christians, though their numbers have sharply declined after decades of emigration.

The Palestinian population is largely split geographically and politically between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants, largely based in Gaza, have engaged in military attacks on Israelis, and the Israeli military has also conducted military action.

Security borders have impaired Palestinians’ ability to work and travel, including travel to Muslim and Christian holy places, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a continuing source of tension.

“While everything must be done to ensure that the Holy Sites are protected in line with International Law and the Status Quo regarding the city of Jerusalem, so that people of all religions can visit and worship without fear, it is of deep concern that native Christian communities feel constrained to abandon these lands, the very cradle of their faith, in search of peace and security for themselves and for their children,” Auza remarked.

The Holy See has long supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on a diplomatic level recognizes and refers to both “the State of Israel” and “the State of Palestine.”

“However, [Christians’] presence and witness in these places is of fundamental importance. More should be done to ensure their protection, not only for their survival but also for them, like all citizens living in Israel and Palestine, to realize their full potential and integral human development,” Auza continued.

“It is high time that decisions taken and mechanisms already in place are used effectively to realize the objective of a Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, within secure and internationally recognized borders.”

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said in May that peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks.

The ordinaries represent a diverse group of Middle East Christians in communion with Rome. They have voiced doubts about the viability of a two-state solution.

“The proposal for a two-state solution has gone nowhere and is repeated to no avail,” they said in May. “In fact, all talk of political solution seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.”

“Therefore, we promote a vision according to which everyone in this Holy Land has full equality, the equality befitting all men and women created equal in God’s own image and likeness. We believe that equality, whatever political solutions might be adopted, is a fundamental condition for a just and lasting peace.”

N. Ireland bishops: Hold politicians responsible for abortion law

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 22:00

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct 29, 2019 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- Voters must hold politicians responsible for failing to stop the British Parliament’s radical expansion of legal abortion in Northern Ireland, the region’s Catholic bishops have said.

“This is a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It is also a sad day for our local democracy,” the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said Oct. 22.

“The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so. It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made.”

“Abortion is a brutal violation of the precious gift of life,” the bishops continued.

“The right to life is not given to us by any law or government. Any human law that removes the right to life is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative. For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith.”

Extremely permissive abortion legislation and the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” became law in Northern Ireland on Oct. 21 under the legislation the British Parliament passed in July. The legal changes will take effect next year.

The Catholic bishops also voiced concern at the redefinition of marriage, saying it “effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children.”

Previously, Northern Ireland’s laws only permitted abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Backers of the law said it had saved over 100,000 lives by avoiding the permissive law that took effect in other parts of the United Kingdom in 1967.

The new law means no explicit legal protections for unborn children up to 28 weeks into pregnancy, compared to legal abortion up to 24 weeks in other parts of the U.K. Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

Critics of the British Parliament’s law incorporated matters of special importance to the region. They said the law violated agreements about the devolution of important decisions to Northern Ireland, agreements enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement that helped bring peace to the violent struggles between nationalists and unionists.

The parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly could have blocked the law from taking effect, but failed to reach any agreement due to a dispute between the two leading governing parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and the second-largest party, Sinn Fein.

The DUP is traditionally strongly Protestant and anti-Catholic, but also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. The nationalist parties including Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic Labor Party traditionally draw support from Northern Ireland’s Catholics.

The Catholic bishops and leaders in the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches had previously called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene to block the legislation.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties. It was not able to do business by Oct. 21. The nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party walked out of the final critical meeting. Sinn Fein, did not participate in the meeting, nor did the Green Party and the People Before Profit party.

Sinn Fein, which also backs abortion rights and same-sex “marriage,” has said that it will not participate in the formation of a Northern Irish government without an Irish Language Act, which would give Irish equal status to English in the region.

Other nationalist parties back such an act, while unionist parties oppose it.

Jim Wells, a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland and a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, has called for referenda to address the new changes.

“I and many others strongly believe that both issues should be made the subject of referenda which will give the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to have their say,” Wells said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

“There is huge concern in the community about the total lack of consultation prior to these changes and a sense of anger that they were unable to have their views considered in advance of October 21,” he continued. “They were forced through late at night by others who had little or no understanding of the values of the people of this part of the United Kingdom.

The Democratic Unionist Party is part of the Conservative coalition U.K. government now headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At the time the legislation passed, Theresa May was Prime Minister.

Wells’ comments drew criticism from pro-abortion rights campaigners such as Naomi Connor, co-convener of Alliance for Choice. She said a referendum would not be legally binding on the grounds that there is no written constitution and it would constitute a plebiscite.

Connor claimed that legal abortion is a matter of human rights.

“Human rights are not an a la carte menu that Mr Wells can pick and choose from and these matters should not be decided by referenda,” she said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

She said that successive Northern Ireland governments “failed women and pregnant people repeatedly by refusing to legislate for abortion provision.” She said his stand forced women to travel to the U.K. for abortions “in stigma and shame.”

Connor said it was “highly insensitive” for Wells to make comments near the anniversary of the October 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of an infection after reportedly asking for an abortion at University Hospital Galway. Doctors refused an abortion because the baby still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar later died of a severe antibiotic-resistant infection.

Pro-abortion rights campaigners have charged she was wrongly denied an abortion that they say would have saved her life.

An inquest found multiple communications failures during her treatment while also recommending changes in guidelines for doctors to save the life of the mother.

 

Brain death diagnosis for second Michigan teen raises questions

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 20:36

Detroit, Mich., Oct 29, 2019 / 06:36 pm (CNA).- For the second time in a month, a family in Michigan is fighting to keep their teenage son on life support after a hospital has declared the boy brain dead and made plans to remove his life support systems.

Titus Jermaine Cromer Jr., 16, was rushed to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak after suffering cardiac arrest, according to local news reports. When he arrived, he could not breathe independently or regulate his own blood pressure. However, after receiving hydration, nutrition, and body temperature regulation, his family’s lawyer says he is showing signs of improvement and can now breathe independently and regulate his own blood pressure.

However, hospital officials have diagnosed the teen as brain dead, after two doctors determined that he had suffered “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

The hospital made plans to remove his life support systems on Oct. 28, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The family challenged the decision and has asked for additional medical opinions on whether Cromer is actually brain dead.

“As a parent, if there's a million-to-one chance that he's going to get better, I'm going to take it,” the family’s lawyer said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “And I'm not going to get two opinions. I'm going to get 20. I'm going to fight for my boy until there's absolutely no hope at all. And then I'm going to fight some more.”

Oakland County Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou ordered the hospital to continue life support until a Nov. 7 court hearing on the teen’s health status.

The Detroit Free Press said the family’s lawyer described them as “very much guided by their faith, and as Catholics, they believe that removing life support would be murder.”

The case is similar to that of 14-year-old Bobby Reyes, who was rushed to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan last month following a severe asthma attack. Repeat tests in the following days indicated that there was no blood flow or electrical activity in the boy’s brain.

The hospital declared Reyes brain dead and made plans to remove him from life support. Reyes’ family fought the decision but ultimately failed to receive relief from a court, due to a jurisdiction dispute. Reyes was removed from life support on Oct. 15.

The hospital said in a statement, “Continuing medical interventions was inappropriate after Bobby had suffered brain death and violates the professional integrity of Michigan Medicine’s clinicians.” Michigan law recognizes an individual as dead if they have undergone “irreversible cessation of all function of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

The two Michigan cases have drawn renewed attention to the diagnosis of brain death and sparked concerns over parental rights in cases where family members question a diagnosis.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) maintains that cases of improvement over the course of months or years generally indicate an incorrect diagnosis of brain death in the first place.

“Stories of people continuing on a ventilator for months or years after being declared brain dead typically indicate a failure to apply the tests and criteria for determination of brain death with proper attentiveness and rigor,” said Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the center, in a 2005 information sheet.

“In other words, somebody is likely to have cut some corners in carrying out the testing and diagnosis.”

In Cromer’s case, the family believes their teenage son has been misdiagnosed. Their lawyer cited his improvements in independent breathing and blood pressure regulation as “very strong indicia that he has not suffered brain death,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Medical criteria for diagnosing brain death, while controversial in some circles, have been accepted by most Catholic bioethicists, provided that diagnostic tests are carried out thoroughly and carefully.

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the international congress of the transplantation society, St. John Paul II stated that using as a criterion for death “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem) … if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

The NCBC has also stated repeatedly that “Health care workers can use these neurological criteria as the basis for arriving at ‘moral certainty’ that an individual has died.”

The NCBC noted that determining death by these neurological criteria typically involves bedside testing to assess absence of response or reflexes, apnea testing to assess the absence of the ability to breath, and “possible confirmatory tests to further assess the absence of brain activity (for example, an EEG) or the absence of blood flow to the brain.”

Similarly, the U.S. bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services indicate that “the determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

And in 2008, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death … 'is' death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that after brain death, “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body. Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life. In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”

Still, some pro-life advocates question the medical criteria used for diagnosing brain death and argue that taking organs from individuals diagnosed as brain dead amounts to homicide. The NCBC rejects that stance as “irresponsible” and “in tension with Catholic teaching,” countering that while a body may appear to be alive due to oxygenated blood being mechanically pumped through the body, thorough and rigorous testing can confirm that an individual is truly dead.

Dr. Alan Shwemon, former chief of the neurology department at Olive View-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, is an outspoken critic of the criteria used to diagnose brain death.

Shewmon had diagnosed some 200 patients as being brain dead throughout this career, according to the New Yorker. But he began to have doubts about the condition, which were intensified when he saw the case of a 13-year-old girl in Oakland who had been declared brain dead but began to show signs of improvement after being given tube feeding and hormone replacement.

Over the next four years, the girl was able to respond to simple motor commands and underwent puberty-related physical developments before dying of unrelated conditions, Shewmon said. His analysis of the situation led him to believe that the girl had not been brain dead, but was instead in a “minimally conscious state,” with brain flow in the brain too low to be detected by imaging technology, yet sufficient to prevent the death of brain cells – a condition known as global ischemic penumbra.

“Her case challenges the claimed infallibility of diagnostic criteria for brain death and supports the hypothesis that global ischemic penumbra can mimic both clinical brain death as well as absent blood flow on radionuclide scans,” Shewmon asserted in a December 2018 article.

Cromer’s family is now seeking additional medical opinions and a long-term care facility that will accept their son.

Will Colorado tax sacramental wine? A legislative committee is studying the idea

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 18:45

Denver, Colo., Oct 29, 2019 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- A bicameral committee in Colorado’s legislature is considering two bills that would tax sacramental wine and insurance premiums paid to fraternal societies, like the Knights of Columbus, that sell insurance to their members.

The Tax Expenditure Evaluation Interim Study Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is tasked with evaluating recommendations regarding Colorado’s tax exemptions and credits from the state’s auditor.

Colorado governor Jared Polis pledged during his 2018 campaign to close “tax loopholes,” which he says lead to higher tax rates for state residents and businesses.

“We pay too much because special interests get too much in tax breaks,” Polis told business leaders earlier this year.

At an Oct. 30 hearing, the legislature’s study committee is expected to review a draft bill “concerning the repeal of the excise tax exemption for sacramental wines.”

The bill would repeal an existing state tax exemption for “sacramental wine sold and used for religious purposes.”

According to the draft bill, the tax exemption for sacramental wine is “claimed by a small number of taxpayers for a total amount of only $2,600.”

“There is no corresponding excise tax exemption for religious organizations that use other goods with excise taxes for religious ceremonies,” the bill says, proposing to eliminate the exemption “to simplify the collection and administration of taxes for the state of Colorado.”

Among other bills the committee will review is a draft bill “concerning the repeal of the insurance premium tax exemption for fraternal societies.”

“Under current law, the insurance premium tax exemption for fraternal societies states that fraternal benefit societies that offer insurance products to their members are exempt from the insurance premium tax. The bill repeals this exemption,” the draft text explains.

A January 2019 report from Colorado’s state auditor explains that 35 “fraternal benefit societies...which are social groups organized around a common bond that offer insurance products to their members.” The groups are exempt from state insurance tax premiums.

Fraternal benefit societies include the Knights of Columbus, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the Catholic Order of Foresters, and other social groups, both religious and non-religious.

The auditor’s report says that fraternal organizations have 116,000 members in Colorado, and received $189 million in premiums during 2017, but added that the use of fraternal organizations for the purchase of insurance is declining.

“In Colorado, as of Calendar Year 2017, about 2.4 percent of all life insurance policies were purchased through fraternals,” the report said. A decline in policies issued decreases the amount of revenue the state could collect by eliminating the tax exemption.

“Despite their decline in membership and insurance market share, we found that many fraternals continue to provide social and charitable benefits to the State,” the auditor’s office added, while noting that ending the insurance exemption would lead to an increase of state tax revenues totaling only around $3.8 million.

Colorado’s budget in 2018-19 was 28.19 billion.

While the draft bill proposes to eliminate the exemption, the bills are still under consideration by the tax committee.

 

Ohio Supreme Court will not hear appeal from abortion clinic

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 18:33

Columbus, Ohio, Oct 29, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- For the second time in three months, Ohio’s top court has refused to hear an appeal from the last abortion clinic in Montgomery County.

On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Women’s Med Center in Kettering, near Dayton. An earlier request to take up the case had been denied in August by the same court and in April by Ohio’s 2nd District Court of Appeals.

The case involves the Ohio Department of Health revoking the clinic’s operating license in 2016 because it had not obtained the required patient transfer agreement from local hospitals. The clinic challenged the decision.

Under a 2013 law, abortion facilities in Ohio are required to have a transfer agreement with nearby hospitals in case of a medical emergency. To be exempt from the requirement, a facility must indicate that it has sufficient backup physicians, and its request must be approved by the state health director.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the clinic has been operating under an exemption waiver that had expired. State Health Director Amy Acton denied the request for a renewed exemption. She said that while Women’s Med Center had four backup physicians, the clinic’s application “does not sufficiently address how coverage by the backup physicians is to occur and in what order the backup physicians should be contacted.”

Acton wrote a letter to the clinic’s attorneys in August stating that “now that the Ohio Supreme Court has declined jurisdiction in the litigation regarding the 2016 revocation, that revocation is final, and (Women’s Med Center’s) license is revoked,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Supporters of the clinic argued that the hospital transfer requirement is unjust. Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, called the law an “an undue burden (that) should be ruled unconstitutional.”

“It is shameful that Premier Health has shirked their responsibility to sign the transfer agreement that would allow the community’s only abortion provider to remain open - especially when you consider that the agreement would not require the hospital to do anything that federal law does not already require of the hospital,” she said, according to The Dispatch.

But Bob Wurzelbacher, director of Respect Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, applauded the court’s decision.

“We are grateful for this decision to close a facility whose operation was not health care but, in reality, a threat to the health of women,” Wurzelbacher told CNA. “We need to continue to be committed to truly helping women in crisis pregnancies, who can be served at several pregnancy care centers available to all women in the Dayton area.”

Archdiocese faces third discrimination complaint over same-sex marriage policy

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 18:00

Indianapolis, Ind., Oct 29, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Indianapolis on Wednesday defended its decision not to renew the contract of a school employee who publicly defended the same-sex marriages of two former colleagues. 

Kelley Fisher, who had worked as a social worker at Roncalli High School for 15 years, lost her job last spring after she publicly defended guidance counselors Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey, two former guidance counselors who were both dismissed last academic year for being in same-sex marriages, the Indianapolis Star reported. 

Fisher, who has said she identifies as straight, was an employee of Catholic Charities of Indianapolis, an entity that is also overseen by the Archdiocese. Fisher was contracted as a social worker by the school through Catholic Charities and reportedly received multiple warnings from the school before her contract was not renewed. 

In a statement made following the filing of Fisher’s complaint and provided to CNA, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis defended its decision to not renew Fisher’s contract.

“If a school’s leaders reject core aspects of the Catholic faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its mission,” the Archdiocese stated. “Because of that, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.” 

The statement added that parents rely on the Archdiocese to ensure that their students are receiving an authentically Catholic education. 

“Many families in our community have sacrificed so their children can attend schools where they will learn the Catholic faith. They rely on the Archdiocese to uphold the fullness of Catholic teaching throughout its schools, and the Constitution fully protects the Church’s efforts to do so,” the Archdiocese said. 

Fisher filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Roncalli and the Archdiocese, both of which are also facing a recently filed federal lawsuit from Fitzgerald, who claimed her firing was discriminatory in nature. 

Fitzgerald entered a civil same-sex marriage in 2014. According to the Indianapolis Star, after her civil marriage was brought to the school’s attention, Fitzgerald was asked to resign of her own accord, dissolve the civil marriage, or to maintain discretion about the situation until her contract expired. She refused these options and was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of the last school year, and remained on leave until her employment contract expired.

David Page, Fitzgerald's lawyer, argued in the lawsuit that his client was treated differently than heterosexual employees who have disobeyed other Catholic teachings.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Fisher said she was let go after she made two public Facebook posts in support of Fitzgerald and Starkey and advocating for a change in the archdiocesan contracts that require employees to adhere to Catholic teaching in and out of the classroom. 

“As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,” Fisher told the Indianapolis Star.

“Our job is, as a counselor or social worker, that we don't bring our values or judgment into a session,” she added. “And I feel very strongly about that.”

Fisher and three anonymous employees also told the Indianapolis Star that they were told by Roncalli that they needed to get permission to attend an event for Shelly’s Voice, a non-profit founded by Roncalli students in support of Fitzgerald after she was placed on leave.

The Archdiocese of Indiana said in its statement that these employees were “mistaken.”

“No teachers or counselors were told they need permission to attend outside events or civil weddings of any kind,” the Archdiocese said. “The expectations for all teachers and counselors at Roncalli are clearly laid out in the school handbook, and the superintendent of Catholic schools meets with any employees who have questions.” 

The Archdiocese has been the subject of multiple recent complaints and lawsuits due to its policy on same-sex marriages for school employees.

A Jesuit high school in the archdiocese, Brebeuf Prep, appealed to the Vatican after the archdiocese revoked its Catholic status earlier this year when it would not terminate an employee in a same-sex civil marriage. That appeal is still pending.

In August, Joshua Payne-Elliot, a teacher dismissed from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, filed suit after he was dismissed for contracting a same-sex civil marriage. In September, the federal Department of Justice said the school’s decision was protected by the First Amendment. 

Despite these challenges, the Archdiocese reported that “staff retention at Roncalli High School was 88 percent this past year, which is Roncalli’s highest staff retention rate in the past five years.”

“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis remains committed to providing high quality, holistic Catholic education and formation so that young people recognize the many gifts with which they have been blessed, and in turn strive to make God known, loved, and served,” the statement added.

“We invite anyone seeking a Christ-centered, student-focused learning environment where young people are supported in being the best versions of themselves to check out one or more of the 67 Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana.”

 

Catholic groups warn of assisted dying risks in House palliative care bill

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Oct 29, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed a bill late Monday to support palliative and hospice care—but Catholic groups are concerned that a key omission could allow federal funding of practices they say amount to assisted dying.

On Monday, the House passed the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (HR 647) by voice vote; the bill funds efforts to increase palliative care faculties at medical schools, as well as palliative care and hospice training and education.

Palliative care involves pain management and physical, psychological and emotional care for those suffering from a serious illness, and can be provided alongside medical care. Hospice care is when palliative care is given to patients with a terminal diagnosis, who do not wish to unnecessarily prolong their life through extraordinary means of medical care but who wish to remain as comfortable as possible.

The bill requires that federally-funded palliative care be in accord with Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, in that it cannot promote “assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

However, language that is not included in the bill that has some Catholic groups, including the U.S. Bishops Conference, concerned. 

The House bill omits language contained in the Senate version of the legislation, introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) in July. 

The Senate bill states: “As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.”

This clarification is significant, supporters say, because it offers an unprecedented definition of palliative and hospice care that specifically excludes any act that would hasten or bring about death. It refers to certain controversial practices which some in the medical community recognize as a legitimate part of palliative care, but which may cause or assist in causing the death of the patient.

Catholic organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), supported the Senate bill. Only CHA supports the House bill as well.

“We support the Senate version, and we made it clear to both the House and the Senate that we want the Senate version to prevail,” Greg Schleppenbach, associate director to the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

The language in the Senate bill is key to providing a sound definition of palliative care, he said, as some in the medical community are advocating practices that are contrary to the Church’s teaching on palliative and end-of-life care.

CMA, an association of Catholic individuals in health care with independent chapters throughout the country, supported Baldwin’s bill because it saw a need to promote “good palliative care and hospice care” as a means to “accompany” a sick patient and offer them a “life-affirming response” instead of promoting “euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

Both CHA and the USCCB cited current “barriers” to the provision of palliative care in the U.S. to argue in favor of Baldwin’s legislation, in a July letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

Such barriers include a lack of health care professionals trained in palliative care and a lack of patient education on palliative care options, the groups said in the letter.

In addition, the groups praised the Senate bill for requiring that federally-funded palliative care be in accord with Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, in that it cannot promote “assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.”

The House version contains this funding prohibition as well, but the Senate bill goes one step further. It contains an additional clarification: “As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.”

Doxing state Rep. Brian Sims apologizes, five months later

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 16:00

Harrisburg, Pa., Oct 29, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvanian state lawmaker who offered money in exchange for the identities and other personal information of pro-life activists, including two minors, has apologized to the family, five months after his actions.

Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), the subject of an unrelated ethics investigation, wrote a card to the Garecht family of Pennsylvania in late October apologizing for recording them outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia in mid-April.

Sims had recorded Ashley Garecht, two of her daughters, and one of their friends while the group were praying out the Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia. Sims posted the video on his Twitter account and said that he would pay $100 for information about their identities.

In the video, Sims called the girls “pseudo-Christian protestors” who were “shaming young girls.” In other videos published later, Sims can be seen shouting at an elderly woman who is praying outside the same clinic on a different day. When pro-life group Live Action tweeted the post, he responded by saying the organization, founded and run by women, were “misogynists.” 

“Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and broken values,” he said in May in response to Live Acton’s tweet. In the following weeks, Sims continued to tweet pro-abortion rhetoric and defend his actions. 

Joe Garecht, whose wife Ashley was targeted by Sims, told the Washington Examiner that Sims had finally apologized months after the fact, and had sent the family a handwritten note. Previously, Sims had only apologized to Planned Parenthood, offering his regrets that his attempt to dox teenage girls had reflected poorly on the abortion provider. 

"Rep. Sims sent a short handwritten note, apologizing for his actions. We take him at his word, and we have already forgiven him," said Garecht to the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.

Following Sims’ apology, Pennsylvania Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Coaldale) withdrew his resolution seeking to censure the Sims for his conduct on Twitter and after the incident. In a press release, Knowles said it was “sad” that it had taken more than five months for Sims to make the apology.

“But he finally did apologize to the people he bullied, harassed, and doxed at the Philadelphia abortion clinic,” said Knowles. 

The resolution to censure Sims was never brought to the floor.

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