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US bishops stress compassion, clarity in immigration panel

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 09:45

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 / 07:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In their discussion Wednesday on spiritual, pastoral and policy support for immigrants, the U.S. bishops highlighted the need for compassion, while also clearing up misconceptions about their views.

“There was a desire to express solidarity with and pastoral concern for those at risk, but also a desire to avoid encouraging exaggerated fears,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who has worked for several months to head the bishops’ working group on immigration.

Archbishop Gomez presented on the efforts of his working group at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general meeting this week in Indianapolis.

Kicking off the discussion was a talk by Fr. Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., Ph.D., of the University of Notre Dame.

In introducing Fr. Groody for the first segment of the panel, conference president Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo indicated that the talk would focus on the “spiritual rather than political perspective.” The event program referred to the talk as discussing the “Spirituality of Immigration.”

Fr. Groody began by speaking about the Mass Pope Francis celebrated at Lampedusa in July 2013, saying that he “would like to reflect a little bit on migration and the Eucharist,” and “to see how we can foster a Eucharistic imagination in our people.” He linked the Mass at Lampedusa, which was celebrated using an altar, lectern, and chalice crafted from the boats of refugees, to the border Mass at the United States-Mexico border.

From discussing this pair of Masses, he moved into his reflection on moving “from otherness to communion.”

Discussing the “Age of Migration,” he described the exploding statistics of displaced people, noting that the twenty-first century has seen more refugees than even World War II, and that migrants (even those within their own country) and refugees today comprise one-seventh of the global population.

“The first thing I want to say is that migration is an incredibly, incredibly complex issue,” Fr. Groody said, and “those who don’t understand its complexity either aren’t listening or they don’t understand.”

Moving into what he described as a “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody outlined various groups who interact with immigrants in the United States. These include “vigilantes” living and operating at the border, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), political leaders, corporations, Church leaders, and human rights activists. He then detailed how these groups interact in legal, economic, and humanitarian capacities.

Turning to the legal aspect of the discussion, he considered Thomas Aquinas’ four kinds of law: natural, civil, divine, and eternal. “The goal for us for a just society is to have some sort of connection and participation between these laws.”

From this “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody reflected further on the Eucharist at Lampedusa, telling the story of the carpenter who created the liturgical instruments out of the wood of refugee’s boats.

During a question-and-answer session with the bishops, Fr. Groody mentioned the “risk of deporting our souls” as rumors about the increase in deportations fly. He also summarized his “central theological point,” namely that “God in Jesus Christ so loved the world that he migrated into the far and distant territory of our sinful and broken existence, and there he laid down his life on a cross so that we could migrate back to our homeland… it is no longer the ‘other’ who is the migrant, but it’s all of us.”

After Fr. Groody spoke, the panel moved into its second session, a summary of the tasks completed by the bishop’s working group on immigration issues, commenced at the November 2016 General Assembly. Wednesday’s session marked the final presentation of the group, whose work will now be integrated into the conference’s existing committees on immigration.

The presentation was conducted by Archbishop Gomez along with Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops’ migration committee. After the presentation, which lasted about half an hour, the panel transitioned to a discussion session.

Archbishop Gomez gave a summary of the group’s work, noting that they had been formed in anticipation of the incoming presidential administration’s likely moves on the issue. As such, much of their work consisted of making public statements on behalf of the USCCB against measures such as the executive orders issued in the first days of the nascent administration.

He also summarized the resources the group had produced for dioceses, namely materials for prayer, pastoral accompaniment, action alerts, legal memoranda, and policy reports.

Bishop Vásquez then addressed where the conference intends to move from the group’s work. He expressed the desire to continue the collaboration strengthened over the course of their work, and highlighted the continuing good work of Justice for Migrants, an advocacy group of the USCCB.

He also spoke of the need to counter the false images presented of the bishop’s work on the topic, such as the misconception that they are advocating for “open borders,” and highlighted the five principles presented in their 2003 joint document with the bishops of Mexico, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”


Hartford archdiocese works to guide faithful through parish merger

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 08:13

Hartford, Conn., Jun 15, 2017 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Important decisions loom ahead as the Archdiocese of Hartford preps its reorganization plan, a reconstruction and consolidation of parishes throughout much of Connecticut.

Under the new plan, 144 parishes in the archdiocese will be merged into 59 new parishes. Each new church community will be made up of two to six old parishes.

The reorganization, which will officially begin on June 29, will cut the number of parishes nearly in half, from 212 to 127.

Only 68 parishes will go untouched in the reorganization.

Saint Margaret of Scotland in Waterbury is the only church scheduled to be deconsecrated thus far, with no announcement from the archdiocese as to what will happen with the building itself. Additionally, 26 church buildings will close, and will not hold regularly scheduled Mass times.

The archdiocese has developed a 200-page manual to help ease the process, which includes 26 sections offering suggestions on the transition of employment, cemeteries, parish records, and a check list for merging parishes.

Questions have been raised about what to do with some of the items donated to specific churches. The manual mentions that any sacred objects, like tabernacles, monstrances, and chalices, are not to be become an individual’s property.

The manual suggests establishing sub-committees, with representatives from each merging parish, to aid the transition, including the turnover of objects and parish archives. Developing a strategic plan is also encouraged to help create a guiding mission statement, and an assessment of the risks and goals surrounding the transition.

Not only do the archdiocese’s guidelines map out programs to facilitate the physical changes, but they also offer personal and community-led prayers to help with anxiety and stress over the move.

The pastor of Saint Rosa Lima in New Haven is one of the over 40 priests who are being reassigned in the new project, and he has established a transitional team, creating an opportunity for prayer and dialogue to help prepare his parishioners for the adjustment.

Saint Rosa of Lima will be joined by Saint Francis Parish in New Haven, adding more people to the nearly 1,300 families already attending the church.

Father James Manship served as Saint Rosa of Lima’s pastor for 12 years, and, although he sees his parish as strong, he understands the upheaval is upsetting and uneasy.

“The parish has been such a foundational part of their life and for that to have to be morphed and changed from the outside, by the restructuring, is tough,” he told the Hartford Courant.

Other parishioners are excited about the transition. Members of St. Bridget’s and St. Bartholomew’s are joining together in the new St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

“We agree that now we are moving forward as a stronger community, with Mother Teresa as a patron, is so beautiful, that we can go forward and proclaim the gospel of the Lord. This is what our point [is] here,” Father Marcin Pluciennik, who had been pastor of Saint Bridget Parish, told the Hartford Courant.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford has said that the reorganization is not just for financial reasons or due to declining membership, but is also for a rejuvenation of the community’s spiritual life.


US bishops: Next synod must address disillusioned, indifferent youth

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 17:13

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 14, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Next year’s synod, which will focus on young people, must address their most pressing problems, including indifference and disillusionment, U.S. bishops said at their annual meeting on Wednesday.

“The synod indeed comes at a critical time,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told fellow U.S. bishops of the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, to be held in 2018 at the Vatican.

Cardinal Tobin cited today’s pressing concerns, like the “rise of the Nones” – or young people with no religious affiliation. An “increased amount of disconnected Millennials is certainly a concern for us, as is the decline and delay of marriage among young people,” he added.

The U.S. bishops discussed the upcoming synod at their annual spring general assembly, held this year in Indianapolis from June 14-16.

Among the agenda items for the morning of June 14 was an address from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, to the bishops, where he called for “missionary discipleship” in the Church to “go to the peripheries” of society.

Afterward, Cardinal Tobin, along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, led a discussion about the upcoming synod, an international gathering of bishops which will focus on “young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.”

“Through every phase of this Synod, the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception,” a preparatory document for the 2018 synod released in January stated.

“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them,” the document added.

Both Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Tobin exhorted their brother bishops to promote a survey of youth available online at It is intended for those between the ages of 16 and 29, both active Catholics and “indifferent” Catholics. The feedback of those working with youth – like youth ministers – is also vital, they insisted.

“This is a time to learn from youth and young adults,” Cardinal Tobin said. “They must have as much at stake in this as we do.”

According to a 2015 Pew Research report, 35 percent of those in the Millennial generation (born 1981-1996) were religious “Nones.”

However, there are also positive trends among young people, which include a high interest in the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, he added, and positive results of parish outreach ministries.

Other bishops weighed in on issues pertinent to young people.

Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Fla. said that the youth have been drawn to Eucharistic Adoration and have a “renewed appreciation for silence and desire for silence which manifests a thirst for spiritual life, for growth in the knowledge of the Lord.”

“We need to develop more the theology of gift,” he added, in a culture of “pragmatism” and “functionality.”  Meditation on the gift in the Cross “needs to be internalized in the discernment of a vocation,” he said.

Many young people are struggling with racism prevalent in society and are “angry and disconnected from the political process,” Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento added.

The Church should think of “how to engage” these disaffected youth, who “feel in many cases disowned by the more traditional institutions and organizations that were important to their parents and grandparents,” he said.

Invitation needs to be a theme of evangelization at the synod, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA. He insisted that active Catholics need to invite their peers to prayer and to the Mass.

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire ministry, pointed to intellectual objections or challenges to the faith among many young baptized Catholics, like struggles with believing in God and perceived conflicts between religion and science.

The language of missionary discipleship and the sacraments is “opaque” to them, he said, insisting that “we have to clear the ground in a significant way” through a “new apologetics.”

The bishops must “think through this issue of addressing some of these real intellectual difficulties young people have before we can plant the seed of effective evangelization,” he said.

Dr. John Cavadini, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, started the discussion by addressing the bishops on the centrality of the sacrament of Baptism to vocational discernment.

In addition to being a theology professor at Notre Dame, Cavadini is also the director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the university, and previously served on the International Theological Commission from 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, until 2014.

“We hear lots of exhortations for young people to change the world,” he noted, but “this can actually verge on secularizing the baptismal vocation” in making it “a vocation of the world.”

Rather, he said, discussion must emphasize the “mystery of the Church.”

“Meditating on the mystery of the Church” is not thinking about it as a charter or a constitution of some club, he insisted. Rather, it is about meditating on the “wounds of Christ from which His most previous blood flowed” which is the real birth of the Church.

“Meditating on one’s dwelling near, and even in, the wounds of Christ,” he said, brings about an “intimacy of love,” to which “one’s only response can be ‘Thank you, Lord, for this love’.”

Catholics should also see Christ’s example of “self-emptying love” which is reflected in the Church, Cavadini said.

“The one who loves the Church loves the love who had no contempt for anything human, but did not spare Himself,” he said, noting that Jesus reached out to sinners.

“He didn’t back away from that solidarity” even when the penalty for it was death, Cavadini said. Rather, He “received the blow, and so transfigured the whole of human solidarity” from “solidarity in sin” to solidarity “in His love.”

“The Church is the sacrament of that solidarity in the world,” he added, “a solidarity which the world cannot give itself, which does not come from the world” but is “for the world.”


Bishops pray for Catholic Congressman shot at baseball practice

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 10:44

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2017 / 08:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, 51, was among multiple persons shot in an incident at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday morning.

Scalise, a Catholic, was shot at the hip and was transported to surgery. He is reportedly in stable condition.

“Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone,” Scalise’s office said in a statement. “He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues.”

After hearing about the shooting, House Democrats at a separate baseball practice started a spontaneous prayer for the victims.

.@HouseDemocrats praying for our @HouseGOP @SenateGOP baseball colleagues after hearing about the horrific shooting.

— Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen (@RepKihuen) June 14, 2017 A total of five people were “medically transported” from the scene, according to authorities.

Shots were fired around 7:15 a.m. Wednesday morning while Republican lawmakers were practicing for Thursday's Congressional Baseball Game.

U.S. Capitol Police shot and apprehended the gunman, who was taken to the hospital. Alexandria Police tweeted that the “suspect is in custody and not a threat.”

Congressman Scalise is a Republican who was elected to represent Louisiana in 2008. Before running for Congress, he had served in the Louisiana state senate for four months and in the Louisiana House of Representatives for 12 years.
He is married to the former Jennifer Letulle and they have an 8 year-old daughter, Madison Carol and an 8 year-old, Harrison Joseph.  

Scalise is a life-long Catholic. He and his wife are members of the St. Agnes Catholic Church. Two years ago he tweeted a photo of his daughter’s first communion.

Madison had her First Communion yesterday. Jennifer, Harrison and I are so proud of her. #Beaming

— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) April 20, 2015 The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which started its Spring General Assembly this morning in Indianapolis, opened their conference with a prayer for the victims of the shooting as well as the victims of a massive apartment fire in London last night. USCCB Vice President Archbishop Jose Gomez gave the prayer, which was also posted to Twitter.

The bishops begin their meeting with a prayer for those impacted by violence in Alexandria and London. #USCCB17

— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) June 14, 2017 Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. also tweeted that he was praying for the congressman.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, head of the diocese of Arlington, Virginia released the following statement:

"I am profoundly saddened by the tragic shooting at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria earlier this morning. Today I call on the faithful in the Diocese of Arlington and all people of good will to join me in prayer for Rep. Steve Scalise and the others who were wounded in this senseless attack. May the Lord grant them swift healing and consolation. As we pray for God’s mercy, we also ask Mary, our Mother, to intercede for us, so that our world will know the peace of her Son."

"Today as the Church invites us to begin a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I ask Catholics of our diocese to pray the novena with a specific intention for peace," he concluded.

Roughly 15-25 people were at the practice, including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Paul told MSNBC that “it would have been a massacre” if Capitol Police weren't there.

Update 11:00 am Central: U.S. President Donald Trump has said the suspected gunman — identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson III, 66, from Illinois — was killed in a shootout with police, two of whom were wounded in the gun battle.

What can priests practically do to combat the porn epidemic?

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 04:59

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2017 / 02:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Online pornography is one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, on par with cocaine and gambling.

Once confined to the pages of a smuggled Playboy magazine, pornography can now be in the hands of anyone with a smartphone, and is more prolific and anonymous than ever.

PornHub, one of the world’s largest sites with porn video streaming, reports that it averages 75 million viewers per day, or about 2.4 million visitors per hour. In 2015 alone, the number of hours streamed from the site was double the amount of time human beings have populated the Earth, according to TIME Magazine.

And while pornography used to be a simpler problem for priests to address in the confessional – consecrate yourself to Mary, go to weekly adoration – the growing level of addiction makes it a much more complex problem for the Church to address.

That’s why Fr. Sean Kilcawley, the program directory and theological advisor for pornography ministry Integrity Restored, has started to put on intensive trainings for clergy, providing them resources and practical tips for how to address the growing crisis of pornography addiction.

How the trainings work

For an intensive training, Fr. Kilcawley takes a dozen or so priests for 3-4 days and immerses them in resources and training for the porn-addicted in their fold. He also facilitates shorter, one-day conferences.

“We try to equip the priest to get that person to come talk to them outside of confession, just to bring that into the light, so that the priest can then become the first responder in the field hospital of the church,” Fr. Kilcawley told CNA.

Smaller groups work best, he added, because it allows the priests space to process the information and to be more vulnerable with one another.

During these trainings, Fr. Kilcawley tackles the subject from an anthropological and theological standpoint, while Dr. Todd Bowman, a Christian psychologist and director of the SATP Institute, addresses the issue from a psychological viewpoint.

Modeling the relationship between a priest and a sex therapist during the trainings is key, Dr. Bowman said.

“I know that sounds like the start of a joke: a priest and a psychologist walk into a conference,” Dr. Bowman told CNA.

“But (it’s important) to demonstrate this relationship between soul care and care of the psyche or the mind, this process of healing often requires psychological care,” he said.

“So we’re trying to give priests the experience that not all psychologists are anti-church, or anti-Catholic. At the same time, not all Christian or Catholic therapists are equipped and qualified for this, so we’re trying to…(show them how to be) intentional in selecting therapists who will honor church teaching but who will also have the competence to do this work well with porn or sex addiction.”

Preventative action: Stopping porn addictions before they start

Practical things priests can do to address pornography addiction generally fall into two categories: preventative and interventional, Fr. Kilcawley noted.

One of the key things a priest can do to stop pornography addictions is to ensure that the parents of the parish are being provided with education and resources they need for pornography prevention in the home.

“We’ve always said that it’s the parent’s job to educate their children, but as a Church we haven’t done a great job teaching the parents how to educate their children,” Fr. Kilcawley said.

“And we now live in a world where it's no longer optional to have those conversations.”

No longer optional, because studies show the average age of first exposure to pornography is 8 years old – and any kid with access to a phone or a tablet could accidentally stumble upon pornography, he said.

One thing he recommends is that parishes hold mandatory meetings for parents of children who are either receiving the sacraments or religious education at the parish, where they can give parents an overview of Theology of the Body, as well as tips and resources for internet safety and how to address pornography.  

It can be especially difficult to know how to talk about such a mature topic with such a young age group. However, several books have been written in the past several years to help parents know where to begin, Fr. Kilcawley said, and some parishes hand them out during meetings with parents.

One of his recommendations is “Good Pictures Bad Pictures,” a read-aloud picture book that helps parents address the issue with very young children.

Starting at the 4th grade level, Fr. Kilcawley recommends the book “Wonderfully Made! Babies” which puts the content within the context of theology of the body and the sacrament of marriage.

For the junior high and high school level, he recommends “Plunging Pornography,” a book to leave in the bathroom for teens to find that can serve as a conversation starter.

Fr. Kilcawley said in some parishes, groups like the Knights of Columbus have paid for some of these books to be handed out to every parent.

He also recommends internet filters like Covenant Eyes, which sponsors a special service for parents, parishes and schools.

Interventional: What to do about those who are already addicted

Probably the most common place a priest will first find out about a pornography addiction is in the confessional.

When someone confesses viewing porn, Fr. Kilcawley said one of the best things a priest can do is to ask a few guiding questions to help them make a good confession.

“Ask questions like, ‘How frequently do you fall into porn and masturbation in general?’” Fr. Kilcawley said. The question is not meant to pry – it helps determine whether the person needs additional help.

It’s also helpful to ask when the problem started.

“If it started before puberty, which is most common now, almost everyone who started before puberty is going to need extra help stopping, they might need counseling or group support, and spiritual direction,” Father said.

A third question to ask would be if they’ve tried to remove porn from their life – are they already using filtering software? Are they seeing a therapist or going to a 12-step group?

And then finally, Fr. Kilcawley advised priests in the confessional, ask them if they want to stop.

“Just to help them make a good firm purpose of amendment,” he said, adding that when they answer yes, that’s a good opportunity to offer them more resources.

But it’s important that the help be personal. Simply handing the person a flyer and telling them to call a therapist or a group typically doesn’t work, Father noted. It should either be the priest, or someone involved in that specific ministry at the parish, who is the first point of contact for that person, and can help them get in touch with additional resources.

Another thing priests can do is start a porn or sex addict support group in their parish. Fr. Kilcawley said he started one in his office once a week, with a small group of men who were all struggling with porn addictions.

“Most people who are stuck in addiction, they need a support group, whether it’s a 12-step group like Sexaholics Anonymous or a spiritual support group, where they are open and vulnerable and accountable about their lives. They need that, plus a counselor, plus a spiritual director that they’re working with regularly,” he said.  

Thou shalt not: The don’ts of porn ministry  

A mistake often made by untrained clergy in pornography addiction ministry is that they may suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that a pornography addiction is the fault of the spouse.

“It’s not the spouse’s lack of sexual interest that’s to blame for her husband’s sexual addiction,” Dr. Bowman said. Addicted persons will often try “blame shifting,” he added, which creates “a spiritual crisis that compounds the betrayal trauma” of the spouse.

The next mistake clergy could make would be to minimize the impact of the addiction on the spouse. Most people who find out their spouse has a sex addiction will experience varying levels of feelings of betrayal, Dr. Bowman said.

“There’s significant trauma in that loss of identity – but the Church can speak about identity as sons and daughters of God into that space,” he added. It’s when identity is only being informed by brokenness that bigger problems arise.

Another mistake would be to abandon those in recovery. If a priest commits to setting up support groups in his parish, he needs to follow through, Dr. Bowman said.

“If you are setting yourself up as a support that means take the phone call, schedule the meeting, even if it's inconvenient, you’re going that measure and not abandoning folks in recovery,” he said.

Not a fringe ministry – this is evangelization 101

The biggest cardinal mistake that clergy can make in regards to pornography addiction ministry is never mentioning it, Dr. Bowman said.

It’s usually a more “omissive than commissive” problem, he commented. “It’s not like (clergy) are actively avoiding talking about this, but they may think, ‘My parishioners don’t want to hear about this, there are other things that are more relevant and important.’

But, according to Dr. Bowman, “There may be no more pressing topic for parishioners and priests alike...the only mistake would be not to bring it up.”

It may be helpful for priests to view this as part of evangelization, and not as a fringe ministry, Fr. Kilcawley said, because very likely, someone who is stuck in addiction is unable to have a good relationship with the Lord.

“Most people who are stuck in addiction believe they’re unlovable, and that if people really knew them they would reject them, and they don’t trust other people to meet their needs and so they have to meet their own needs, and their addiction is the best way to meet their need,” he said. “So if someone has those core beliefs, they can’t really know our Lord.”

“So anti-pornography work and anti-porn apostolates, they’re really the first stage of evangelization.”

Both Dr. Bowman and Fr. Kilcawley said they hope that increasingly, priests become aware of the urgent need to reach pornography addicts in their pews.

“We live in a culture where statistically, about half of Christians report looking at porn at least monthly,” Fr. Kilcawley said.

“So if that’s the case then, yeah we need a lot more (pornography ministry). It’s not a ministry for a few people, it’s more of a ministry for everyone.”

Kentucky native appointed Archbishop of Indianapolis

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 14:01

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 13, 2017 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican announced Tuesday Pope Francis' transfer of Bishop Charles Thompson from the Evansville diocese to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Archbishop Thompson fills a vacancy left since the November 2016 appointment of Cardinal Joseph Tobin to the Archdiocese of Newark,

“I cannot begin to fully express my deepest gratitude and affection for those whom I have served in the Diocese of Evansville,” Archbishop Thompson said in a press conference in Indianapolis June 13. “These past six years I have been very blessed, very blessed.”

“Drawing on my episcopal motto, ‘Christ the Cornerstone,’ it is first and foremost my prayer to remain Christ-centered in all aspects of our identity, mission and witness, proclaiming the joy of the Gospel.”

Msgr. William Stumpf, administrator of the Indianapolis archdiocese, introduced Archbishop Thompson at the press conference by saying: “When Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Tobin as the Archbishop of Newark last November, there was, understandably, among all of us here in the archdiocese, a great deal of sadness.”

“And ever since then, we have been fervently praying that God would send us a wonderful new shepherd. And certainly, he has.”

Archbishop Thompson, 56, was appointed in March 2017 to the USCCB Committee on the Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, and as a Region VII representative to the USCCB Administrative Committee and Committee of Priorities and Plans for three year terms.  

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 11, 1961, Archbishop Thompson received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Bellarmine College in 1983, and graduated from St. Meinrad School of Theology with a Master’s of Divinity in 1987.

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville on May 30, 1987.

Archbishop Thompson obtained his licentiate in canon law from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada in May 1992. He served as Promoter of Justice and Judge of the Tribunal in Louisville and as priest-chaplain of Sacred Heart Academy from 2004-2011. In 2002 he began serving as visiting professor of canon law at St. Meinrad School of Theology.

He served as vicar general of the Louisville archdiocese from 2008 unti l his appointment as a bishop.

He was appointed Bishop of Evansville on April 26, 2011.

Archbishop Thompson’s Mass of Installation in Indianapolis will be said July 28.

“Drawing on the inspiration of Pope Francis, may we strive to ever more diligently embrace the call to dialogue, encounter, mercy, accompaniment and missionary discipleship,” Archbishop Thompson said.

“All of you in southwest Indiana, have helped to form and educate me as a successor of the Apostles, as a shepherd of the local church. Thank you for your patience and understanding in breaking in a rookie bishop,” he continued. “The people of southwest Indiana will always have a special place in my heart.”

Former slave Julia Greeley first to be buried at Denver’s cathedral

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 19:01

Denver, Colo., Jun 12, 2017 / 05:01 pm (Denver Catholic).- In what was a historic first for the Archdiocese of Denver, the exhumed remains of a potential saint were laid to rest at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception June 7.

The canonization process for the Servant of God Julia Greeley was opened Dec. 18, and as part of the process, her remains were exhumed from Mt. Olivet Cemetery May 26-31. After careful examination by an anthropologist, her remains were transferred to the cathedral, where they will remain permanently.

A transfer ceremony, presided over by Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez, was held to honor the laywoman, who is the first person to be buried at the cathedral. The ceremony took place on the 99th anniversary of Greeley’s death.

“[Julia Greeley] will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral. Not a bishop, not a priest – a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?” Bishop Rodriguez said to an applauding congregation.

Greeley exemplified three qualities of holiness throughout her life, Bishop Rodriguez said: humility, perseverance and faith. She was known for walking the streets of Denver, handing out Sacred Heart pamphlets to firefighters and delivering goods to poor families. What wasn’t known, however, was that she suffered from arthritis – a fact revealed by the exhumation and examination of her bones.

“We know from the stories passed on to us that Julia Greeley was tireless in her charity and in spreading the faith,” Bishop Rodriguez explained. “What we didn’t know until the exhumation is that Julia suffered from arthritis in her hands, feet, back…almost every joint that could have hurt, probably did. Nevertheless, she never stopped practicing and doing and showing love.”

Dr. Christine Pink, the forensic anthropologist responsible for the exhumation of Greeley’s remains, confirmed that Greeley did indeed suffer from arthritis.

“The finding of arthritis was special just given what we know about her walking to all the fire stations and doing what she did. She likely was in pain, and joyful despite that,” Pink said.

The bishop spoke of the hope that the ceremony represented – hope that because of Christ’s conquering of the grace, the dead will one day, too, be resurrected.

“Our ceremony today is just a very small confession that we believe in resurrection of the body and in the communion of saints. This is why we are here in this place,” he said. “We are saying those bones will rise on the last day, and today, we are particularly united to Julia Greeley.”

The remains of Julia Greeley were placed in a custom made wooden funerary box, and the faithful were invited to view them. As people came up, they would bow in reverence, kiss the funerary box and even place cloths, rosaries and other items on the case that housed her remains. Those items could become third-class relics should Julia Greeley be canonized a saint.

After the viewing, the box was screwed shut by a carpenter, sealed with gold wax and placed underneath the Sacred Heart statue in the side chapel to the west of the main altar.

The day had come sooner than expected for some.

“This is a great day. We never thought it would come so soon when we started to move things, but God certainly had his own plan,” said Capuchin Friar Father Blaine Burkey, whose book In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart: The Life and Virtues of Julia Greeley is likely the most extensive volume compiled about Julia Greeley’s life.

Mary Leisring, president of the Julia Greeley guild, was overjoyed to see the cathedral full of so many devoted to Greeley.

“Whether she gets to be a saint in Rome or not does not matter to me, she’s already my saint,’ Leisring said.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Catholic June 9. Reprinted with permission.

Immigration arrests stun Detroit's Chaldean Catholics

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 17:29

Detroit, Mich., Jun 12, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Dozens of Chaldean Christians were arrested by federal immigration officials over the weekend in the Detroit metropolitan area, leaving the local Church community with sadness and frustration.

“Yesterday was a very strange and painful day for our community in America,” Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit stated Monday in a Facebook post.

“With the many Chaldeans that were awakened by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and consequently picked up for deportation, there is a lot of confusion and anger,” he added.

Fr. Anthony Kathawa of St. Thomas Chaldean Church in West Bloomfield, Mich., told CNA June 12 that “As a community, we’re all suffering seeing the loss of our loved ones.”

On Sunday, the Detroit Free Press reported that ICE made around 40 arrests of Chaldeans in the Detroit area, according to community leaders.

ICE explained in a statement that Iraq, in negotiations with the U.S., had “agreed to accept” the individuals, who had criminal records.

“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” ICE stated.

A federal judge had also “ordered them removed,” ICE said, noting that their previous criminal offenses included homicide, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, and “weapons violations.”

A “majority” of those detained are now at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio.

Many of those with criminal records have served their time in prison and have since become good citizens and members of the community, local Church leaders insisted.

“We understand that maybe there was a problem in the past, but there’ve been a lot of people moving forward,” Fr. Kathawa told CNA. “They’ve changed, become better, made families in this great country of opportunity and peace.”

“And now with them leaving, it’s causing chaos within our community, within our families, within our Church,” he added.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who is a Chaldean Catholic of Assyrian and Armenian heritage, called the reported arrests "deeply troubling."

"Chaldeans have been targeted by ISIS and subjected to genocide, as have other religious minorities.  Their deportation represents a death sentence should they be deported to Iraq or Syria," Eshoo said in an email statement to CNA.

"It has also been reported that the individuals have criminal records. If the offenses they committed have already been 'paid for' by serving an appropriate sentence, facing a death sentence via deportation is disproportionate and unjust," she added.

Bishop Kalabat wrote that “The Church does not oppose justice, all hardened criminals that are a danger to society should be picked up. Many who were picked up are not hardened criminals but for the last decades have been great citizens.”

Regarding Sunday’s arrests, the local Church has been in touch with the State Department, members of Congress, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the matter, the bishop added.

Chaldeans are an Iraqi indigenous community and speak Aramaic. The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church which uses the East Syrian rite.

The Chaldean Catholic community in Detroit dates back to the early 20th century, and an apostolic exarchate was established in 1982. There are around 150,000 Chaldeans in the Detroit area, which is the largest Chaldean diaspora community living outside the Middle East, according to the Chaldean Community Foundation.

Around 30,000 refugees were re-settled in Michigan since the Iraq War began in 2003, and more Syrian refugees are expected to be re-settled there in the coming years, the foundation noted.

Martin Manna, president of the locally-based Chaldean Community Foundation, told the Detroit Free Press that deporting the Chaldeans to Iraq “is like a death sentence.”

The U.S. State Department declared in March of 2016 that the Islamic State had committed genocide against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.

The fight to dislodge the Islamic State from Iraq is ongoing as parts of Mosul are still under the group's control. Although the villages of many Christians in northern Iraq have been liberated, many are still not yet able to return to their homes. Many families are still dependent on aid groups for their livelihood.

There have been efforts in Congress to designate groups targeted for genocide, like Christians in Iraq and Syria, as P-2 refugees, which would expedite their resettlement process in the U.S. as refugees.

Contrary to rumors, the local Church had not signed off on any of the deportations, Bishop Kalabat insisted in a Facebook post on Monday.

“It has been rumored that our Church signed documents regarding the deportation issue. To my capacity, as a permanent member of the church synod, I would like to formally state that this is NOT true, and that was no signed document or any type of agreement made with the Iraqi government or anyone else, that would allow the deportation of Chaldeans to Iraq,” he stated. “There was no such thing discussed, signed, or issued.”

The arrests follow a spike in ICE immigration arrests that began with President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration at the beginning of his presidential term.

In the first 100 days after that order was signed, ICE reported in May that immigration arrests were up 40 percent in comparison with that same time period in 2016.

The new celibacy? How porn may be destroying the impetus for sex

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 18:07

Denver, Colo., Jun 11, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- One of music artist John Mayer's most signature songs is “Daughters,” a sweet and simple tribute to the importance of parents' influence on their little girls. Here's the refrain:

“So fathers, be good to your daughters, Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”

But when John Mayer isn't crooning about your beautiful daughters, he's looking at naked pictures of them, sometimes hundreds at a time before he gets out of bed in the morning. In fact, he often prefers that to an actual human being, according to his wildly controversial 2010 interview with Playboy magazine.

“You wake up in the morning, open a thumbnail page, and it leads to a Pandora's box of visuals. There have probably been days when I saw 300 (naked women) before I got out of bed,” he told the magazine.

Unfortunately, Mayer's morning routine is not unique to him. Studies show that easy access to free internet pornography is having devastating effects on real-life relationships.

Preferring pixels to people

“For many individuals, the more porn they consume, the more likely it is that they can end up preferring the fantasy to reality, they can end up preferring the pixels to a person, and that's really messing up relationships, as you can imagine,” said Clay Olsen, co-founder of the internet movement “Fight the New Drug” (FTND).

The FTND movement, so named because of porn's addictive properties, aims to raise awareness of the harmful effects of pornography through creative mediums such as blogs, videos and infographics. The website includes personal stories as well as scientific studies to illustrate pornography's effects on the brain, the heart (relationships), and ultimately on the world.

“Our goal is to change the conversation from 'Dude, check this out,' to 'Dude, that's messed up,'” Olsen told CNA.

The longstanding, pervasive cultural narrative surrounding pornography is that it is a healthy sexual outlet and can improve sex lives. However, science begs to differ. Several studies cited in FTND's article, “Porn Ruins Your Sex Life,” found that pornography not only leads to dissatisfying sex, it can lead to less sex with actual human beings.   

In a series of studies examining pornography use, “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” published by the Witherspoon Institute, researchers found that those who viewed pornography became less satisfied with their sex lives, and that viewing porn just once can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction towards a human partner.

According to an article in Psychology Today by clinical psychologist Tyger Latham, Psy.D, erectile dysfunction, while once considered an issue plaguing old men, is cropping up more in young men who rely heavily on pornography to become sexually aroused. A study by the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine surveyed 28,000 men on their internet porn habits, and found that porn use over time led to a lower sex drive and an eventual inability to become aroused at all.

“As soon as they try to actually get close to someone and commit to somebody and have an intimate relationship with somebody, it's in those moments that the harms of pornography show their full colors and truly manifest themselves,” Olsen said. “The unrealistic expectations are completely exposed…

And we now see people in their 20s having porn-induced erectile dysfunction because they cannot get excited or aroused without the presence of pornography.”

A decline in marriage rates

Not only is pornography use destroying the physical sexual life, it may be impacting the number of people pursuing marriage or committed sexual relationships.

In the fall of 2013, an article in The Guardian sounded the alarm that fewer people in Japan were having sex, citing as evidence numerous statistics on the country's declining birth rate, marriage rate, and even rates of young people who are dating or who are interested in dating.

A follow-up article on Slate found that while the actual number of people having or not having sex might not be definitively pinpointed, the statistics on falling marriage and birth rates only mean Japan is leading a world-wide trend, rather than bucking one. While it's not clear whether porn is directly influencing these numbers, many have speculated that it is.

Researchers with The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany found an increase in free Internet pornography is at least correlated with a significant decrease in the percentage of young married men, and it may even be contributing to the trend. A 2013 Pew study found that 71 percent of single Americans were not looking for a committed relationship. Another study found that nearly 40 percent of American women had never been married.  

“The results in this paper suggest that such an association exists, and that it is potentially quite large,” the study notes, as reported in the Washington Post.

The study used General Social Survey (GSS), a comprehensive, nationally representative survey which analyzed internet use of 1,500 men ages 18-to-35, between the years 2000 and 2004. The researchers studied the number of hours spent on the internet per week, how often internet pornography was used in the past 30 days, as well as other activities such as use of religious sites.

Even when adjusted for variables such as age, income, education, religion and employment, the study found that generally, the more a person used the internet, the less likely they were to be married. Additionally, it found that the more a person used internet pornography, the less likely they were to be married. On the other hand, the use of religious websites was positively correlated with marriage.  

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Catholic who has studied religion and sexual behavior, cautioned against assuming that correlation equals causation in such studies – but said that pornography use is likely part of a more complex reason for dropping marriage rates.

“We know that both things are occurring, but it's difficult to establish a causal connection,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “A variety of things are contributing to the declining marriage rate.”

“I don't think porn use necessarily causes that, but contributes to it (together with diminished earnings power, diminished confidence, etc.),” he added. “To be sure, porn use doesn't help build confidence in men, something that's pretty necessary (but not sufficient) to be considered marriageable. So I'd say porn use is a suspect here, but connecting the dots is hardly straightforward.”

Increasing awareness

Only in the past few years and months has a conversation countering the “it's healthy, it's normal” narrative been emerging in mainstream media about pornography. Several celebrities are speaking up, and there are an increasing number of websites dedicated to helping people fight pornography addictions.

In 2015, the release of the controversial “50 Shades of Grey” movie sparked a conversation on social media about sexual violence against women in media, with the hashtag #50dollarsnot50shades encouraging people to forgo the movie and instead donate to places that help victimized women.

The movie sparked a response from an unlikely source – British comedian Russel Brand, whose short video about the problems with pornography went viral, generating over 500,000 views on his YouTube channel and over 2 million views on FTND's website.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another celebrity who has been outspoken about the negative impact of pornography, most notably in his 2013 movie “Don Jon,” which he wrote, directed and co-starred in along with Scarlett Johansson. The film explores the unrealistic expectations of love and relationships that come from pornography addictions and from the media at large.

“I think that there's not a substantial difference between a lot of main-stream culture and pornography. They're equally simplistic, reductionist,” Gordon-Levitt said in an interview with NPR about the film.

“Whether it's rated X or 'approved by the FCC for general viewing audiences,' the message is the same. We have a tendency in our culture to take people and treat them like things.”

But the internet has been around for decades now – why has it taken society so long to catch on to the fact that pornography is harmful?

“Science has caught up with the fact that pornography's harmful,” Olsen said, “but society is still catching up.”

It often takes years for something that was once culturally accepted as true to be flipped on its head as science proves otherwise, Olsen said, so Fight the New Drug knows they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

“We're very excited to see some of this progress and some of these mainstream media outlets kind of following suit and starting to talk about the negative impacts, we couldn't be more excited about it, but we still have a long way ahead of us.”

Some other websites that are also trying to raise awareness and give help to those struggling with pornography include The Porn Effect and Covenant Eyes, and internet filtering and accountability system.

The best way to kick a porn habit? Keep fighting it and lean on the sacraments, Regnerus said.

“(My) advice: don't give up hope; pursue confession regularly; recognize and avoid the contexts which give rise to temptation. That's a start.”


This article was originally published on CNA April 16, 2015.

Detroit archdiocese challenged to 'Unleash the Gospel'

Sat, 06/10/2017 - 18:07

Detroit, Mich., Jun 10, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of Detroit has issued a pastoral letter for his local Church which aims to encourage evangelization as an “outward, mission-focused” Church through proper formation and evangelical charity.

Issued June 3, the Vigil of Pentecost, Unleash the Gospel is the fruit of a diocesan synod held in 2016.

The missionary conversion at which the letter aims “entails making one’s relationship with Jesus and alignment with his will the central guiding principle of every aspect of life,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron wrote.

The letter was written in preparation for the coming years and is a reflection on the Detroit diocesan synod which met Nov. 18-20, 2016.

Encapsulating the prayers and discernment of the laity, clergy, and religious who gathered for synod, Archbishop Vigneron expressed hope that this project may help bring “every person at every level of the Church” to share the Gospel.

Unleash the Gospel deals with a foundational conviction, catechesis, 10 “guideposts” to guide the new vangelization, and propositions for action in families, parishes, and the archdiocese as a whole in being evangizers.

The archbishop identified vices of the local Church, the foremost of which was to see the Church as a wholly human institution, “a life enhancer” which is reduced to a social program. The root of the crisis facing the Church, he said, is the view that God is uninvolved in the world and that mankind is unable to know him.

Other bad habits within the archdiocese identified in the synod were a “status quo mentality”, being guided by fear, spiritual lethargy, and a an attitude of complaint.

He said the new evangelization is neither a “membership drive, nor is it an effort to shore up a code of conduct,” but is rather an invitation “to encounter Jesus and let their hearts be captured by him.”

This, he said, includes the involvement of all the members of the Church, there are no “bystanders” who do not participate in fostering a relationship with Christ as well as leading others to that same love.

The archbishop laid out the vision of an “outward, mission-focused church,” emphasizing a reconstruction of how people encounter Christ in parishes and ministries.

“For families this means that every family embraces its role as the domestic church and, in connection with other families and single persons, actively seeks the spiritual and social renewal of its neighborhood, schools and places of work. For parishes and archdiocesan services it means the renewal of structures to make them Spirit-led and radically mission-oriented.”

The guideposts map out various focuses, including proper tools to “evangelize the evangelizers,” a greater availability of the sacraments, and joyful attraction within parish life.

“This missionary conversion entails a strikingly countercultural way of living grounded in prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments; unusually gracious hospitality; a capacity to include those on the margins of society; and joyful confidence in the providence of God even in difficult and stressful times.”

Archbishop Vigneron wrote that “The Gospel is most effectively shared in person-to-person encounters. Such personal, on-the-spot evangelization can be prepared for and enhanced by programs and processes and media, but it cannot be replaced by them.”

He emphasized that the new evangelization “cannot be accomplished from within the walls of our churches,” and requires a “going out.”

The archbishop added that “Our service to the poor and marginalized needs to be a clear witness to Jesus our Lord, not mistaken for humanist philanthropy.”

“In recent decades, however, there has been a tendency for Catholic charitable work to become separated from our primary calling to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is time to overcome that distinction.”

The pastoral letter outlined “concrete action steps” for implementing new evangelization in the Detroit archdiocese, including a re-examination of the appropriate age for Confirmation, improved marriage preparation, encouraging Eucharistic Adoration and Marian devotions at parishes, and ongoing formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

Archbishop Vigneron concluded, writing that “I am firmly convinced that the graces bestowed upon the Church in Detroit in Synod 16 are a great spiritual treasure, riches which the Holy Spirit has poured out upon us for the monumental task that lies ahead.”

“With the help of God I will be a true and faithful steward of these gifts that are the common property of us all for the work that has been entrusted to us all.”

Could US tax reform drive down charitable giving?

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 17:42

Washington D.C., Jun 9, 2017 / 03:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As President Donald Trump and Congress get set to undertake tax reform, some are concerned that Republican tax proposals could lead to drastic reductions in charitable giving.

“I don’t think that it was intended, by any means, that they want to harm charitable giving,” Brian W. Walsh, executive director of the Faith & Giving Coalition, told CNA of research that claims GOP tax reform proposals could give Americans less incentive to make tax-deductible charitable donations. Religious charitable groups like Catholic Charities, USA are coalition members.

Yet, he added, “unintended consequences can be just as damaging as those that are intended.”

Walsh referred to two Republican tax proposals for his claim – Trump’s proposal released in April, and another “blueprint” by House Republicans last summer.

Both feature two policies, doubling the standard deduction and decreasing the highest marginal tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.

Taken together, these “would decrease charitable giving, including giving to religious institutions, by as much as $13.1 billion (4.6 percent),” research by the Independent Sector predicted.

One reason why this might be, the report explained, is that most Americans use the standard deduction on their taxes because it usually offers them a better rate of return than itemizing their deductions. Charitable giving, if written off on one’s taxes, is part of the itemized deductions.

If the standard deduction is doubled, therefore, even more Americans would take advantage of it and fewer taxpayers would choose to itemize their deductions. This could disincentivize charitable giving.

Religious organizations could see the highest drop in charitable giving under these proposals, the research claimed, as much as a 4.7 percent decrease.

“There remains on Capitol Hill some fuzzy assumptions that religious givers don’t pay any attention to their tax bills,” Walsh explained, adding that “if they have the ability to give more, and the tax code allows them to do so, they’re likely to do so.”

Doubling the standard deduction could bring economic relief to households, The Faith & Giving Coalition concedes. So rather than simply scrapping the proposals, the President and Congress could instead extend charitable tax deductions to everyone, and not just “itemizers.”

That, the report added, “erases that $13.1 billion deficit” and could actually increase charitable giving by as much as $5 billion.

This could decrease tax revenue, Walsh admitted, but in his estimate the change would be small, less than one percent.

Such a policy would be fairer, he said, than the proposed one, because it would enable more lower-income households to make charitable donations.

“Those who tend to be in the lower to lower-middle income classes who don’t itemize today, they right now don’t get any tax relief for their charitable deductions,” he said. Expanding the charitable deduction to everyone would help lower-income households “get the same tax relief for their charitable deductions that people who are in the higher income brackets get.”

And this scenario is advantageous, he argued, because charities do the best work of serving the poor and taxpayers are further empowered to reward those which do the best job.

“The money remains in the hands of individuals who can determine who’s doing the best job providing services to the impoverished, the homeless, and other needy people,” Walsh explained.

Behold, Catholic beard balm (yes, it's a thing)

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 14:03

Seattle, Wash., Jun 9, 2017 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- What do you do with an excess of chrism and a plethora of Catholic men with beards?

Tony Vasinda, a director of faith formation at a Catholic parish in Seattle, Wash., was faced with that dilemma three years ago when he ordered some of the fragrant, liturgical oil for his confirmation students.

“I love it when people can actually engage with the materials of the sacrament in advance, so I wanted to have some non-blessed chrism we could use for the candidates to smell and help cement in their memory the different lessons we were teaching,” Vasinda told CNA.

When he went to order essence of chrism, Vasinda only needed an ounce. But the minimum amount he could order was enough to make three gallons.

“So I had a little bit of an excess of chrism,” he joked.

Around that same time, Vasinda had been making beard balms for himself and his bearded friends, and he had an idea for what to do with his surplus.

“I thought hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I made some chrism-scented Catholic beard balm?”

That’s how Catholic Beard Balm got its start. Vasinda, and his friend and fellow Catholic beard balm creator Michael Marchand, soon started selling their handmade, natural balms in small batches with five signature scents. According to the website the balm has a myriad of beardly benefits including conditioning, nourishing, and promoting a fuller appearance.

And the great thing is, all the proceeds benefit Tony and Michael’s ministry, ProjectYM, a resource hub for Catholic youth ministers.

Tony and Michael sat down to chat with CNA about all things follicular and fragrant:

How did you recognize that Catholic beard balm would even have a market?

Tony: We had a conference coming up, and I thought we could take it there and sell it to other Catholic Youth ministers. We knew a lot of those guys have beards...So that was kind of how it started.

Michael: It’s funny, Tony brought like one hundred beard balms to that event, and we all kind of laughed at him and said there’s no way we’re gonna sell those, there’s no way people will buy those. And within a matter of hours, we sold all of them. So it was sort of like oh wait a minute, there is a market for this.  

What’s up with Catholic guys and beards? So many Catholic guys I know have a beard going right now.

Tony:  I don’t think it’s a new thing, I think the real question is kind of like, what’s up with the lack of facial hair? That was really the change that happened at some point in the last couple hundred years – men stopped growing beards.

(Beards are) kind of a unique signifier of manliness. There’s not a lot that men get to do that show off our masculinity in a way that’s easy for us to do in our daily life. Like I have zero desire to go chop down a tree and cut it up into lumber, I’m not working in a coal mine. So there’s a little bit of it that comes down to a desire to display our masculinity in a way that’s appropriate for who we are today. Plus beards are just awesome and they look great.

Michael: I started mine because I was lazy and my wife somewhere along the road told me hey, you either need to grow it out all the way or you need to shave it. There was no larger plan in my mind.

Tony: There was always a larger plan in my mind. I always wanted my beard to be larger and larger.

Tell me about the different scents your balms have.

Tony: We have five different aromas, the original three were chrism, Franciscan, which is the unscented, natural ingredients, it’s a nod to the simplicity of Francis and the Franciscan community and their close connection with God’s creation.

The next one was Lectio, which was supposed to be evocative of the sweet smell of old books or old bibles, so it’s got amber, vanilla, and sandalwood in it.

We’ve got Holy Smokes, which is the incense one, so that’s frankincense, a little bit of myrrh and a touch of woodsmoke. I actually had somebody the other day who was wearing it on their beard and their pastor was like, did we get the good incense? But it was because the beard balm smelled better than the incense they normally buy.

We also did one that’s kind of (a nod) to Chesterton that is called Orthodoxy, that is pipe tobacco and hops, it’s a lighter scent but it smells really good.

Who are your favorite bearded saints?

Michael: I’m a big John the Baptist fan, he’s kind of a throwback. He was willing to be radical and out there, I think he’s probably top on my list.

I’m also a big fan of Cyril and Methodius, I’m somebody who really values evangelization, and I think St. Cyril and Methodius are perfect examples of that mission.

Tony: It’s hard to choose, but St. John Chrysostom, I knew he had a beard but his statement on fasting particularly is a modern concept that most Catholics understand very poorly. He has this (reflection) on fasting and not just fasting from food or meat but fasting from sin, really taking the time to remove sin from our life in an intentional way.

Padre Pio – amazing beard, amazing saint. Such a surprising saint I think for young people to hear about.

And then St. Max Kolbe is another one that I think is phenomenal, he grew his beard so that he could gain more respect in the culture that he was trying to minister to, and as soon as the Nazi’s came to attack he knew his beard would offend them, but he knew his habit would offend them more, so he offered to sacrifice his beard because he wasn’t going to sacrifice his commitment to God.

What has the overall response to Catholic Beard Balm been like?

Tony: It’s really been a cool extension of the New Evangelization. It’s fun how oftentimes humor and mirth lead us into that place of evangelizing in a way that the culture responds to.

Michael: One of the things I think that surprised us I think initially and going into Lent was how strong the devotion is of men through their beard. It’s part of who they are, so the fact that they can identify with other Catholic men through something they share I think has been really cool.

I think sometimes it gets dismissed as being superficial, but I think it’s really interesting that an attribute of their masculinity, an attribute of who they are is something that they can connect with other men through that.

Do have other products besides the beard balm?

Tony: We had a lot of women who were really upset that we didn’t have any products for women, so we made Little Flower lip balm. We have three handmade lip balms that are rose, citrus or peppermint flavored, and we use really high quality essential oils in those, and we try to avoid anything that’s not a natural ingredient wherever we can.

We're launching our third product line – I would say it’s more geared towards women, but it could work for men as well, just like beard balm could work on a woman’s beard as well.

We’re selling a lotion bar called Lumina, my wife came up with the idea, in honor of st. Philomena, just like the Little Flower in honor of St. Therese, and four different aromas for that. And then also soap.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Michael: Our heart for ministry trumps our desire for beard balm to be successful, so we love that beard balm has been so successful because it empowers and enables the ministry that we’re doing.

Tony: The dialogues we get to have online with people has been amazing – I got to explain the difference between adult and infant baptism through Catholic Balm Company on Facebook, so there’s a lot of really big things that come into it.

A lot of people don’t know that we’re an authentically Catholic company run by guys who have a real passion for ministry, but we’re not just making money, we’re excited about all the ways it’s allowed us to do more. 


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 28, 2016.

Iraqi Christians endure despite persecution, Chaldean bishop says

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 08:04

Washington D.C., Jun 9, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Iraq’s Christians have suffered persecution for centuries, yet their faith has survived and the community will remain, provided their material needs are met, a Chaldean Catholic bishop has said.

“The story of suffering of Iraqi Christians is an ongoing phenomenon,” Bishop Bawai Soro, auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego, told CNA in an interview. “For two thousand years, it’s a story of suffering, a suffering Church,” he added, a “Church of the martyrs.”

Bishop Soro, a native of Iraq who came to the United States as a refugee in 1976, related of how his grandparents had told him of the massacre of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in the region around the time of World War I, where hundreds of thousands of Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire were killed or dispersed by the new progressive government.  

“The same thing, the whole story was repeated again after 100 years,” he said. “But amazingly, if my grandparents survived this difficulty and were able to hand their faith to the next generations, this suffering generation will do the same.”

Bishop Soro spoke with CNA June 7 after a press conference on Capitol Hill for the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, a bill that would let the U.S. distribute humanitarian aid directly to churches in Iraq and Syria so that it reaches Christian genocide victims there.

There have been many reports that U.S. aid is not reaching Christians, because either they are not in the U.N. refugee camps or the aid gets swallowed up in the bureaucracy of the Iraqi central or local governments. The bill, supported by Bishop Soro, would look to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most. The bill passed the U.S. House on Tuesday and will move to the Senate.

“The current situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria remains very fragile,” Bishop Soro stated at the press conference. “As a religious minority, Christians still suffer from remaining elements of radical Islamist groups and their policies.”

Christians in Iraq have drastically dwindled in number since the U.S. war in Iraq began in 2003, dropping from around 1.5 million to below 300,000.

After the Islamic State swept through northern Iraq in 2014, killing and displacing those Yazidis, Christians, Muslims, and others who refused to submit to their theocracy, refugee families fled east to Kurdistan, and have lived in temporary shelters around Erbil.

Their situation is an emergency, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House panel on global human rights, stated at Wednesday’s press conference, as the private aid has been stretched to its limits and, according to Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, they are expected to face “severe food shortages.”

Christians have also been “undercut” by aid groups that “would like to be politically correct” and believe in helping all persons equally, Bishop Soro said. Christians and other minorities need more aid from these groups, he insisted, because they may not receive any international aid from the UN or countries like the U.S.

“I think the American Church has a mission to go out of the political correctness when helping Christians is concerned, and to address the needs of the Christians,” he insisted to CNA.

Christians in America also need to “continue the political pressure” and hold the U.S. government accountable on the equitable distribution of aid and “directly help the Christian communities,” he said.

Yet, although it is vital for the immediate needs of Iraq’s Christians, they must also have the means to support themselves and live comfortably in the future with their homes rebuilt and with access to water, electricity, and health care.

Also, as citizens of Iraq they must be able to enjoy all the rights they are entitled to, he continued. “After the short-term financial needs are met, constitutional freedom and liberties are needed in stabilizing the Christians in Iraq and Syria for the long-term,” he said.

It is vital to keep Christians in Iraq because they “are, and have always been, the founders of educational and health care institutions” in the region, he stated on Wednesday.

“They often were the peacemakers and the catalysts of reforms,” he continued.

“As a religious minority and as a peace-loving people, they, and they alone, can once more bring together all the major segments of the Iraqi people, Shiites, Sunni, Yazidis, the Kurds, and the rest of the minorities. As a helping agent that delicately and serenely heals the present and offers a promising future.”

Oregon's advance directive bill is deceptive and deadly, critics warn

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 02:08

Salem, Ore., Jun 9, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Oregon Senate has passed an advance directive bill that critics say would allow the starvation and dehydration of patients who have dementia or mental illness.

Earlier this week, Oregon Right to Life executive director Gayle Atteberry said the bill was “written in a deceiving manner.” She said its goal was “to save money at the expense of starving and dehydrating dementia and mentally ill patients to death.”

S.B. 494 passed the Oregon Senate by four votes on June 8. The bill would remove existing safeguards that protect conscious patients’ access to ordinary food and water even after they have lost the ability to make decisions about their care.

The bill was drafted in response to the case of Ashland, Ore. resident Nora Harris, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She lost the ability to communicate and the fine motor skills needed to feed herself. She would eat and drink only with assisted spoon feeding.

Harris’ husband had filed a suit to stop the spoon feeding but lost his case in July 2016. Harris herself was represented by a court-appointed attorney, who said that that refusing to help Harris eat would be against state law. The law and Harris’ advance directive authorized only the withdrawal of artificial means of hydration and nutrition. Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain agreed, the Medford Mail-Tribune reports.

Oregon Right to Life objected to efforts to change the advance directive system.

“If the bill passes, it could allow a court to interpret a request on an advance directive to refuse tube feeding to also mean you don’t want to receive spoon feeding,” the group said in February. “This is not tube feeding or an IV. This is basic, non-medical care for conscious patients.”

Current safeguards limit the authority of the healthcare representative, ensuring a patient is able to receive basic care and their life is not ended, except under certain limited end-of-life conditions.

Bill 494 would effectively render these safeguards null, critics said.

“It doesn’t matter that the bill doesn’t explicitly state this or that this is not the principal intent of the bill, it likely will be the real effect,” said Colm Willis, a Republican candidate for Congress, in testimony to the Senate Rules Committee on behalf of Oregon Right to Life on June 5.

Willis said the bill creates a situation where a person’s previously indicated intentions “may not be reflected in the decisions made for you when you can no longer make those decisions for yourself.”

He noted that even when someone has lost the ability to make complex medical decisions, he or she often retains the ability to decide whether or not to eat.

That person’s will should be “respected as long as possible,” he said.

Oregon Right to Life’s Atteberry told CNA the bill would now move on to a vote at the House of Representatives, where it may have a harder time passing than the Senate, because of a greater number of pro-life representatives.

She said the group would now focus its efforts on asking people to contact their representatives to voice their opposition to the bill.

Missouri governor calls special session to protect St Louis pro-lifers

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 17:47

Jefferson City, Mo., Jun 8, 2017 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Missouri’s Gov. Eric Greitens has called a special session of the legislature to pass stronger legal protections for pro-life groups, like pregnancy centers he charged are “under attack” by a controversial St. Louis ordinance.

“Our faith community and volunteers do incredible work to support people in need. And there's few finer examples than the work pregnancy care centers do across our state,” Greitens said in a video posted to his Facebook page June 7.

He said his pro-life stand was motivated in part from witnessing “the value of true love and compassion in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the destitute and dying.”

The governor’s action follows the February enactment of a controversial ordinance in the City of St. Louis which has drawn strong pro-life opposition. Opponents said the law would bar any individual or entity, including Christian organizations, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or businesses that promote or provide abortions. It could create the risk of lawsuits for Catholic schools with a policy against hiring abortion supporters.

The ordinance creates a protected status for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even in cases where the abortion was not their own. The protections apply to corporations and all businesses, not only individuals.

The St. Louis’ archdiocesan school system, a pro-life pregnancy center called Our Lady’s Inn, and a Catholic-owned private business are among the parties to a lawsuit challenging the ordinance.

Last month, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis said the archdiocese will not comply with the “vile bill” which he said marks the city’s “embrace of the culture of death.”

Greitens was also among the ordinance's critics.

He praised pregnancy centers’ pro-life work with pregnant women, new mothers, and newborns.

“In the city of St. Louis, some of these pregnancy care centers are under attack,” his video message said. “There’s a new city law making St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city – where pregnancy care centers can't work the way they're supposed to. Politicians are trying to make it illegal, for example, for pro-life organizations to say that they just want to hire pro-life Missourians.”
The governor said the Missouri Senate failed to act on a bill that would address the measure, which prompted the need for the special session.

Another focus of the special session will be what the governor called “common-sense health and safety standards in all medical facilities.” These include proposed requirements such as annual safety inspections in abortion clinics and mandatory plans for abortion complications.

The governor also advocated laws that “will stop abortion clinics from interfering with emergency responders.” He contended that abortion clinics currently can tell an ambulance to come slowly, not to use lights and sirens, or go around to the back of the clinic.

According to the governor, a court decision weakened health standards for abortion clinics.

In April a federal judge, citing a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar law in Texas, struck down a Missouri law that required abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers. The law also required abortionists to have hospital privileges.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is appealing the ruling.

Allison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, charged that the governor’s action was intended “to shame women for their personal medical decisions and make basic reproductive health care harder to access.”

Susan Klein, legislative liaison for Missouri Right to Life, backed the legislation, saying it would allow legislators to pass “a life-saving bill to protect women, unborn babies and reaffirm our religious liberties so that Pregnancy Resource Centers and Faith Communities from all denominations are not forced to participate in abortion.”

Calif. Supreme Court weighs ballot measure to hasten death penalty

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:55

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 8, 2017 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A ballot measure intended to speed up the application of the death penalty is now being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

For its part, the California Catholic Conference has repeated its warning that a speedy death penalty risks further injustice.

“The last three Popes have said that the death penalty is no longer needed,” Steve Pehanich, director of communication and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA. “We don’t think it’s needed any longer in California. We have supported the end of its use, and we continue to do so.”

The Catholic conference opposed Prop. 66, whose fate is now before the state’s Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments over the ballot initiative's constitutionality June 6.

The ballot measure imposes time limits on death penalty reviews and requires death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims. It requires attorneys who are qualified for the most serious appeals in non-capital appeal cases to take appeals in death penalty cases.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court argue that some of the requirements for appeals, like the five-year limit, are simply impossible to meet. University of California-Berkeley School of Law professor Elizabeth Semel told Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio the proposition could violate the constitutional separation of powers by taking away court authority.

Backers of the measure argued against objections about its practicality, saying it should be given a chance to work.

The California Catholic Conference has not taken a position on the merits of the lawsuit. However, Pehanich said Prop. 66’s stated goal was “to speed up executions.”

“There are very good reasons why you have to take your time on this. You don’t want to be wrong. You don’t want to execute an innocent person,” he said. “Speeding them up just makes matters worse. It makes the likelihood of executing innocent people all the greater.”

The Catholic conference strongly backed a different amendment in the 2016 election: Proposition 62, which promised to end the death penalty and reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole. That measure was favored by only 46.8 percent of voters.

However, 50.9 percent of voters backed Prop. 66.

Pehanich said there was political strategy behind two competing ballot measures.

“Proposition 66 was really put on the ballot to confuse the situation,” he said. “It’s a very common technique in California ballot politics. If you don’t like the proposition, for a small amount of money you can get a different proposition. People look at the two and just scratch their heads. They don’t vote for either one.”

California’s Supreme Court has 90 days to issue a ruling on Prop. 66.

Can the Catholic Church help an addicted generation?

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:31

Greenwich, Connecticut, Jun 8, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young Americans are dying at a rate not seen since the Vietnam War.

But they are not dying in combat - they’re dying of the effects of drug overdoses, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide, at a rate 200 percent higher than the 1980s in much of the United States. 

A recent report from the U.S. surgeon general estimates that more than 27 million Americans have problems with prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol. But just a fraction of those people, only 10 percent, get meaningful help.

And it’s not just substance addictions that are on the rise. Process addictions, related to behaviors, have also seen recent spikes. Pornography addiction in particular has reached what some view as crisis levels.

A 2011 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information estimated that roughly 47 percent of all American adults struggle with at least one of the 11 most common forms of process or substance addictions.

The prevalence of all kinds of addiction likely mean that most people in the pews of a Catholic Church on any given Sunday have experienced addiction in themselves or in a loved one.

So what is the Church doing to address the problem?

Understanding addiction

Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Catholic Psych Institute in Connecticut. He frequently sees clients who are dealing with either substance or process addictions.

Part of the problem of addiction is a widespread misunderstanding of addiction as a lack of intellectual or spiritual willpower, Dr. Bottaro said.

“You have to recognize that there is an actual brain disease in effect,” he told CNA.

“So as much as you can sit and talk through the issues, you’re dealing with real brain chemicals that are out of balance, and a real disease that has occurred in the brain, so approaching it from a number of different angles is very important.”

Behaviors or substance abuse have to reach certain diagnostic marks to be considered addictions, Dr. Bottaro said. Generally, an addiction is occurring when a person is compulsively dependent on a substance or behavior, and continues to do it despite negative consequences and a desire to stop.

And just like addicted individuals can build up tolerances to substances and require more to achieve the same effect, process addictions also show tolerance buildups, such as when a pornography addict requires more hardcore viewing to achieve the same release.  

Erik Vagenius is the founder of Substance Abuse Ministry Scripts, or SAM Scripts, a faith and scripture based ministry designed to help ease the process from recognition of addiction to seeking professional help.

Vagenius, who has been involved in addiction ministry for decades and is a recovered alcoholic himself, said that the first step to solving the problem is recognizing that there is one.

“I firmly believe so much for this (ministry) to be part of the church,” he told CNA. “(T)o have a church community that recognizes that they’re behind you, just as they would be if somebody had cancer, helps to destigmatize this thing.”

“Unfortunately the reactions I sometimes get are well, this isn’t really a Catholic problem. But I’ll bet everybody in the pew on any given day has had some relationship with the disease of addiction,” he added.  

What does faith have to do with it?

Faith has long been a tenet of many addiction recovery programs. One of the most popular, Alcoholics Anonymous has strong Christian roots because it’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, had a spiritual awakening after he was hospitalized for his drinking in 1934. He joined the Oxford Group, a nondenominational Christian movement popular in the U.S. and Europe at the time, and helped found AA in 1935.

The AA tenets of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects and restitution for harm done to others grew out of Oxford Group teachings.

Today, allegiance to a specific creed is not required for membership, though the group still considers itself a spiritual, albeit denominationally non-preferential group. Four of the 12 steps in the AA program mention God directly, and the 12th calls for a "spiritual awakening as a result of these steps."

Vagenius also considers addiction a spiritual battle.

“We’re dealing with a spiritual disease, and that’s why the Church needs to be involved with it,” he said.

The website for SAM Scripts recognizes that “addiction is a spiritual illness that disconnects a person: from self, loved ones, and God. SAM's mission is to help these individuals reconnect through education, prevention, referral, and family support.”

Dr. Bottaro said he also incorporates faith in his recovery programs for addicts.

He said he was especially inspired after hearing a talk by Catholic speaker Christopher West, who specializes in Theology of the Body.

“He said basically we have this desire, and our desires are insatiable. So God made us with this desire for more more more, and with that desire we can do one of three things...we can become a stoic, and addict or a mystic.”

A stoic ignores the desire or tries to repress it and pretend it doesn’t exist. An addict tries to fulfill their desires with the things of this world, and a mystic “directs their desires towards God, and that’s where we enter into that mysticism by transcending the finitude of this life,” he said.

That’s still an abstract way of looking at a very real disease, Dr. Bottaro said. However, there are several Catholic programs that offer concrete assistance to struggling addicts of all levels.

Catholic recovery programs

On the less intensive side, Dr. Bottaro has developed an 8-week online program that anyone can access from home called Catholic Mindfulness. It adds the Catholic understanding of abandonment to Divine Providence to a traditional mindfulness approach to healing.

“If you look into what mindfulness is, you’re basically training your brain to know that you’re safe, because the anxiety response is how God made us to react to danger,” he said. “The problem is we overuse that...we activate our anxiety response, but most of the time we’re not actually in danger. So mindfulness is basically paying attention to what’s actually real right now to convince your brain that you’re safe, and that corrects the brain chemistry.”

“The Catholic perspective as to why we’re safe is that we have a Father who loves us and who always keeps us in his hands, and we have a reason to trust that everything is going to be ok.”

Vagenius refers to those in his ministry as “SAM teams” who share their time and talent, typically through talks and meetings, to offering hope, healing and reconciliation to those touched by addiction. SAM teams provide a safe, confidential place for people to seek help and referral at the parish level.

Team members do not have to be in recovery but need to be acquainted with addiction, and must be approved by their pastor.  

The ministry’s exact format varies from parish to parish, depending on those involved and the needs of the faith community. Vagenius’ trainings provide a basic format, and the parish SAM team develops its own dynamic from that outline based on specific needs.

Depending on the person, more intensive work may be necessary, including outpatient psychotherapy and group counseling, or even residential programs.

St. Gregory Retreat Center is a Catholic residential program for adults struggling with substance abuse located in Adair, Iowa.

The program offers separate residential facilities for men and women and offers a “holistic approach that combines the very best research in psychology, health, social support, and other methodologies.”

The program targets addiction behavior in four different aspects of life: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual.

Besides counseling, social activities and physical exercise, daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments are part of the residents’ normal routine.

Natalie Cataldo, Director of Admissions at St. Gregory, told CNA that incorporating spirituality in the recovery process has proven to be very effective.

“Research shows that people are more successful in overcoming addiction when they have an active spirituality in their lives,” she told CNA in an e-mail interview.

“Most people who come to us have had not a great past. With the sacrament of reconciliation, our guests are able to ask for forgiveness... Allowing them to feel like they are getting rid of the past, making new good habits for the future that they can start using and making better choices.  It also allows for self reflection and self evaluation.”

For those in post-recovery, there are programs available to help ease people back into their normal routine.

Dr. Bottaro works at one such facility, Ender’s Island in Connecticut, a residential program for young men “with or without faith” who are recently out of recovery. The program provides a community in which to practice the 12 steps and support for a better transition into regular life, as well as daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments.

The biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction can be denial on the part of the individual and a perceived stigma in seeking help. Increased education and understanding from everyone in the Church can help break these barriers, Dr. Bottaro said.

“It’s important to have support and understanding that there are other ways to fight these battles than just prayer, or just kind of sucking it up and hanging in there and seeing how far you can go before you get help,” he said.

“Once you’re looking for help, there’s a wide spectrum.”


This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 16, 2016.

Delaware legislature votes to drop restrictions on abortion

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 02:08

Dover, Del., Jun 8, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Delaware, lawmakers’ vote to pass a bill that would strike down almost all remaining abortion restrictions drew strong criticism from pro-life advocates, who warned it would provide safe harbor for Kermit Gosnell-style abortionists.

“Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are using Delaware as a testing ground for their extreme legislation to ensure abortionists can carry out abortions without limit – even on healthy children hours from birth,” charged Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

Under Delaware’s current law, which was rendered inactive by federal laws and court decisions, abortion is allowed only in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, if there is a substantial risk the unborn child would be born with serious disabilities, or if the child was conceived in rape or incest, the Associated Press reports.

Current law also bars abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. It requires parental consent for girls under 18, and written consent and a 24-hour waiting period for a woman seeking abortion. Women seeking abortion must also receive a full explanation of fetal development, the abortion procedure and its effects, and reasonable alternatives to abortion.

These measures are stripped under the bill. Instead, the bill would allow abortion without restriction before viability, and would allow abortion after viability if a doctor determines it is necessary to protect a woman’s life or health, or that the baby is not likely to survive without extraordinary measures.

The Susan B. Anthony List and other critics charged that the bill would make abortion legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

The bill passed the Senate by one vote in May. It passed the House June 6 by a vote of 22-16.

Democratic Gov. John Carney will sign the bill, a spokesman said.

Ellen Barrosse, a pro-life leader in Delaware and a Republican National Committeewoman, invoked the crimes of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist convicted of murdering three infants who had survived abortion at a legal abortion clinic that went without a health inspection for 17 years. Gosnell would also work in Delaware, but did not face legal charges there.

“This bill would open the floodgates to Gosnell-style ‘houses of horrors’ abortion clinics in Delaware,” Barrosse said.

She charged that Delaware women have “suffered at the hands of unscrupulous abortionists.”

The Susan B. Anthony List cited other abortionists who have faced disciplinary action in the state as well as a 2013 report from ABC Philadelphia that two nurses at the Planned Parenthood of Delaware abortion clinic quit their jobs and alleged unsafe, unsanitary conditions and “a meat-market style of assembly-line abortions” at the facility.

Barrosse cited a trend favoring abortion restrictions in 20 U.S. states, saying: “Delaware is headed backwards.”

Dannenfelser, who chaired the Donald Trump presidential campaign’s pro-life coalition and its Catholic advisory board, contended that abortion advocates are “running scared” given the presence of “a pro-life president in the White House and already one pro-life [Supreme Court] justice nominated and confirmed.”

On June 6, the Susan B. Anthony List announced details of a nearly six-figure campaign to urge legislators in the Delaware House of Representatives to oppose the bill, which passed the House the same day. The campaign included a radio ad, digital campaign, direct mail, constituent phone calls, and a rally.

Why this bill could be crucial for Iraq's beleaguered Christians

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 18:55

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2017 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a myriad of reports of United States humanitarian aid not reaching Christian genocide survivors in Iraq, their advocates in the U.S. are hoping that will change very soon.

“There is an emergency here,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House panel on global human rights, stated at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday regarding emergency relief for Iraq and Syria genocide victims.

“We’re not asking for new money,” he said June 7. “We’re asking to make sure the money that’s in the pot is provided to those who have been left out and left behind for about three years.”
After forces of the Islamic State swept through Syria and Iraq in 2014, the U.S. has sent humanitarian aid for the victims of the caliphate, who were driven from their homes by the hundreds of thousands. Many fled to refugee camps or have been living in temporary shelters, at risk of disease and malnutrition or starvation.

However, many Christians reportedly avoided refugee camps because of the security situation, and U.S. aid that was sent to the central government of Iraq or local governments has not reached Christians. There has been an “appalling lack of equitable distribution of U.S. humanitarian assistance when it came to the Christians and the Yazidis,” Smith said.

Thus, Christian genocide survivors in Iraq are almost completely dependent on NGOs and aid groups. The Knights of Columbus alone has sent over $12 million for their aid.

That money has been “squeezed to get every ounce of efficacy out of it to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide shelter, and of course to provide medicines,” Smith said.

However, the money from the private sector is “not enough,” he insisted, saying that Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil has warned of “severe food shortages” if nothing is done.

Before Christmas, Smith toured the region around Erbil where many Christian families are living after they fled from the Islamic State.

“When I went to Erbil with my staff and a few other individuals, I can tell you I was shocked that we were not supplying the kind of assistance to these women, children, and men families,” he explained on Wednesday. He was told by the consulate that a camp for displaced persons a 10-minute drive away was unsafe to tour.

“It was not dangerous. It was filled with little kids and young families,” he said. “They had not even been there to do an assessment.”

So, Reps. Smith and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) co-sponsored a bill that passed the U.S. House Tuesday evening and is set to move on to the Senate, which would help ensure that the U.S. aid can go to churches and their auxiliaries that serve Christian refugees.

The Trump administration has reportedly signaled its support for the bill, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act.

“The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations. And this legislation allows for that,” Eshoo explained on Wednesday. “It is so essential to work with those that are on the ground who know exactly where the dollars should go.”

The money is there, Smith insisted, noting that Congress set aside a “huge pot of money” for beleaguered minorities in the recent omnibus bill. However, it has to reach the churches that are on the ground helping Christians.

A 2012 GAO report found that USAID had failed to show how it was fulfilling a 2008 mandate that funds be “provided” for aid to religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq during the war.

“I am still trying to track, through the GAO, dollars that the Congress appropriated many years ago at the height of the Iraq War,” Eshoo said. “And that all went through the State Department and their agencies, and we’re still trying to figure out where that money went.”

It is vital that more aid reaches Christians and other minorities in Iraq to ensure that they remain there, advocates insist.

Christians are examples of forgiveness and can help with the reconciliation process between different ethnic and religious parts of the region, and the preservation of minorities can help ensure “pluralism and stability” in Iraq, the Religious Freedom Institute explained.

Texas bishops decry state's new immigration law

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 18:40

Brownsville, Texas, Jun 7, 2017 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two Texas bishops have defended from charges of fear mongering the opponents of a new law which targets sanctuary cities for immigrants, explaining that the bill draws little distinction between criminals and undocumented immigrants.

The law in question, Senate Bill 4, was signed into law May 7. It will take effect in September, and requires local government and law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. Cities which do not comply face fines and the withholding of state funding.

The law also allows law enforcement to question the immigration status of those they detain, as well as the victims and witnesses of crimes. This provision had led to fears that undocumented immigrants will be less likely to report crimes.

“The public debate often makes it sound as if all immigrants are criminals because they are here without proper documentation. Overstaying a visa is not a criminal offense; it is a civil offense against a federal statute,” Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville wrote in a June 4 column.

“Yes, immigrants without valid documents have infracted federal statutes; but they are not justly lumped together with human traffickers, drug dealers and murderers,” they maintained.

The column, which appeared in the McAllen-based daily The Monitor, is a response to a previous column by Governor Greg Abbott (R) which appeared in the San Antonio Express-News and in The Monitor.

The governor had charged that “Whether driven by misunderstanding or by purposeful fear mongering, those who are inflaming unrest place all who live in Texas at greater risk.”

The bishops said there is more to the unrest than misunderstanding, and that it is SB 4 which is causing fear among immigrant communities.

“This new Texas state law encourages the notion that the immigrant community is defined by the criminals in our midst – instead of defined by the fact that most immigrants are working families with children. These things generate fear in the immigrant community.”

Archbishop García-Siller and Bishop Flores are worried that the option for law enforcement to question immigration status will lead to aggressive interpretations, and that “pretexts will be invented so that [people] can be stopped and asked about their immigration status.”

Noting that while the law “prohibits discrimination and profiling,” the bishops said that “the immigrant poor are not likely to have the resources or the counsel needed to defend themselves.”

“People get stopped, and they are desperately afraid. They immediately wonder about their children, and about their own safety if deported. It is this uncertainty and potential panic at the moment of questioning that breeds fear and that hurts the community fabric.”

Any law enforcement agencies that are more aggressive in questioning immigration status will undermine trust in all law enforcement persons, the bishops noted.

“And does not such uncertainty make it less likely that crimes will be reported?”

Archbishop García-Siller and Bishop Flores noted that “We are a nation of laws, as the governor says; unfortunately, not all our laws are good laws. Bad laws have bad effects.”

They stated, “we will step up our efforts to inform persons of their rights, including the right to remain silent, and to make available the best advice about what to do if you are stopped and are without valid documentation.”

“We will also work to repeal SB 4, or correct the most injurious aspects of this law. And we encourage all who oppose this law to work together in strenuous and peaceful ways toward this same end.”