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The life of a hermit: A glimpse inside the little-known state of life

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 18:01

Portland, Maine, Apr 15, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The word ‘hermit’ might conjure up some strange images, a la John the Baptist living reclusively in the desert, wearing a hair shirt and eating locusts and honey.

The word itself comes from the Greek ‘eremos’, meaning wilderness or an isolated place. The vocation of a hermit became most popular among early Christians, who, inspired by Old Testament saints such as Elijah and John the Baptist, desired to live a life set apart and therefore withdrew into the desert in order to live lives of prayer and penance.

But the vocation is still a recognized calling in the Church today, and is about so much more than seemingly-odd ascetic practices and isolation.

In the interview below, Brother Rex, a hermit at Little Portion Hermitage in the Diocese of Portland, told Catholic News Agency what it is like to live the eremitic life in the 21st century.

 

What does it mean to be a hermit?

According to the Church's latest Code of Canon Law the canonical definition of a hermit is as follows:

Can. 603 §1. In addition to institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance.

§2. A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.

A shorthand and non-canonical definition that I use is to say that a hermit is a woman or man who lives alone expressly for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Some hermits are consecrated by the Church per Canon 603 above and live their vocation in the name of the Church; some hermits live out their calling without publicly professing their commitment in the hands of the diocesan bishop. I am hermit of the former kind, i.e. according to Canon 603.

How did you find out about this way of life, and what drew you to it?

Grace drew me to this life. The example of the Desert Fathers and Mothers drew me to this life. The example of many of the great saints throughout history - Francis of Assisi, just to name one well-known saint who lived as hermit for a time before he was called to found a religious fraternity of Brother - drew me to this life. Through all and with all and in all of this it was God's grace calling me to this particular way of discipleship.

How does one become a hermit? Was there someone you followed or learned from? How is the formation process different than that of a religious in community?

If a person wishes to discern a vocation to the eremitic life according to Canon 603, that person will want to contact the chancery of the diocese in which they live to determine whether or not the Ordinary of the diocese is open to the possibility of having a hermit under his canonical jurisdiction. If he is, the Ordinary or his representative in conversation with the would-be hermit will determine how the discernment process is to proceed.

What does a day in the life of a hermit look like?

Each hermit has his or her own schedule. My schedule looks like this:

My day begins around 4:00 a.m. I make a daily Holy Hour from 5:00-6:00 a.m. during which I pray the Morning Office. I attend daily Mass at a local parish at 7:00 a.m. After returning from Mass I have breakfast and spend the rest of the morning engaged in spiritual reading, Lectio Divina, and meeting occasionally with any person who has made an appointment to see me for spiritual direction. After Noonday Prayer and lunch, the afternoon (approximately 1-5 p.m.) consists of a work period during which I respond to email, and take prayer requests via email or regular mail. I pray the Evening Office at 5:00 p.m., my evening meal is at 5:30pm, Night Prayer is at 7 p.m., and lights out by 8 p.m. most nights.

This schedule is rigid enough to provide stability for my vocation in the silence of solitude, yet flexible enough to accommodate running errands, doctor's appointments, accomplishing tasks around the hermitage and so forth.

How isolated are hermits, in practice? How often or in what context do you encounter other people?

It varies. Some hermits rarely venture out of their hermitage. Some hermits venture out a couple of days a week to some form of work to provide financial support. The amount of time a hermit spends outside the hermitage or otherwise encounters other people is determined to a large degree by the interpretation of Canon 603 in dialogue with their Ordinary or his representative, and the hermit's Rule or Plan of Life.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about this way of life that you have encountered?

The biggest misconception I have encountered is that people seem to think that hermits are misanthropes who dislike other people and so hide away from them; that our life is not so because we love God, but because we can't get along with other people (at best) or dislike humans altogether (at worst).

I remember one person telling me I couldn't possibly be a hermit because I am too outgoing and friendly toward others! That being said, I would argue that eremitic life and misanthropy are two very different things. Eremitic life is a calling from God and includes a love of others. Misanthropy on the other hand is a psychologically maladaptive response to the world. This is not to say that all hermits are friendly and outgoing - being friendly and outgoing are a matter of temperament - but it is to say that hermits in a healthy and Christian sense do not, indeed cannot, "dislike humankind" which is the very definition of misanthropy.

What are some of the most joyful aspects of the life of a hermit?

One of the most joyful aspect of my life as a hermit is the opportunity God has given me to spend long periods in the silence of solitude to practice being present to God and to my neighbor through prayer. Paradoxically perhaps, another joyful aspect of my vocation is the part I am blessed to play in the lives of other people as they invite me to join them on their life journey through the ministry of intercessory prayer. Thus, in a particular way i am able to fulfill Our Lord's command to love God and neighbor.

Are there other hermits in the U.S. that you know of, or have met? Is there a hermit network of sorts?

I'm sure someone somewhere keeps an official tally of the total number of consecrated hermits in the Church throughout world, but I don't know who or where. In the diocese where I live there are five or six other hermits listed in the official Diocesan Directory. I am also aware of hermits, both male and female, in other dioceses in the U.S. and abroad. As for a ‘hermit network,’ I know of nothing official, but some of us do keep in touch via an occasional email, or letter or phone call. As I said, we not misanthropes. Not most of us, anyway!

Is there anything that you wish other Catholics, Christians or society at large knew about being a hermit?

What I pray for other Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and society at large is that they, like me, come to experience the freedom, happiness and joy that comes from submitting one's will and life to the loving lordship of Jesus Christ in whatever state of life they find themselves.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Assure your readers that I live my vocation as a prayer for them. Ask them to please pray for me, a sinner.


 

Prayer requests for Brother Rex, as well as his spiritual reflections and links for financial support, can be found at Friends of Little Portion Hermitage.

Film and evangelization – how Bishop Barron inspired high school seniors

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 17:01

Richmond, Va., Apr 14, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Each year at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, students are required to complete a “senior evangelization project” for their final year's theology class.

This year, the students have been assigned by their teacher, John Goerke, with tackling their class project through a particular medium: film.

Each student has been charged with researching, writing, shooting, and editing their own film about Catholicism, inspired by Bishop Robert Barron’s own video series, “Catholicism: Pivotal Players”.

Because the project was inspired by Bishop Barron himself, the students and Goerke recently asked the Los Angeles auxiliary bishop in a video letter on Twitter to judge the final five nominees and choose the winner of what the school is calling the “Bishop Barron Video Award.”

He agreed.

“How could I say no?” Barron told CNA.

Barron remarked that he was notified late Thursday night of the video letter by a friend of his. After watching it, he said he was “very touched and moved” by the whole story. He later replied to the Tweet, saying “Wow, this made my day!”

“My own thinking has kind of impacted these kids and my own approach to evangelization has influenced them, so I was very moved by it and was very grateful to their teacher,” Barron noted.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">On behalf of the entire senior class of <a href="https://twitter.com/BpSullivanCHS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BpSullivanCHS</a>, we want to thank <a href="https://twitter.com/BishopBarron?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BishopBarron</a> for responding so quickly to our video letter. Thank you also to <a href="https://twitter.com/ccpecknold?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ccpecknold</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/KayBisaillon?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KayBisaillon</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/FrGoyo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FrGoyo</a>  and everyone else who spread the word. (And those who every day spread the Word.) Thank You</p>&mdash; John Thomas Goerke (@JohnTGoerke) <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnTGoerke/status/984779699476934658?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

The seniors at Bishop Sullivan produced 34 videos in total and put in more than 300 hours of combined work into the making of the films. Goerke said he would view all of the films, and narrow down the finalist list to five nominees. These final films will be reviewed by Bishop Barron.

As Barron watches the videos, he said he would be looking for a number of different qualities in order to determine the winner.

“I suppose I am looking for a combination of content and style. I’d also like it to be substantive, because that has been a big part of my work – I don’t want evangelization to just be superficial and flashy,” he said.

He said the students should not have a problem incorporating substance into their videos, since they have been learning from great minds, such as G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Bl. John Henry Newman.

Barron also noted that he would be looking for films which are “visually engaging” and “artistically done, with a little touch of creativity and maybe a little bit of humor.”

Among the film topics submitted by the students range from the resurgence of the Tridentine Mass among young Catholics to the Sisters of Life out of the Archdiocese of New York.

The videos will be recognized at the school’s Senior Awards Ceremony and baccalaureate Mass.  

Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, Va., more than 100 miles southeast of Richmond, has educational roots dating back to 1848 and was founded as a college preparatory school with the aim of nurturing the intellect, character, and Christian values.

Commentary: Hearing the Young

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 18:59

Denver, Colo., Apr 13, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- By the time he was 30, Karol Wojtyla had endured the death of two parents, suffered through a Nazi occupation, earned a doctorate, and become a priest of Jesus Christ.

By the time she was 30, Josephine Bakhita had been captured as a slave, endured brutal beatings, run away for slave traders, crossed a desert by camel, and taken up residence in an Italian convent of nuns.

By the time he was 30, Francis of Assisi had been a prisoner of war, renounced a life of comfort, become a mystic, founded a community, and taken up a mission to rebuild Christ’s Church.

Therese of Lisieux never made it to 30. She lived her little way of love until she died at 24. One hundred years later, John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church.

Young people can do incredible and important things for God. They can endure difficult circumstances with grace. They can preach the Gospel, and witness to Christ.

By the time he was 30, Raymond Arroyo had also done something big for the Lord: he'd launched “The World Over Live,” a long-running EWTN television show dedicated to news and conversation from a perspective of faith.

Arroyo knows that young people can do great things. This is why it was surprising that on his television program this week, he asked guests: “Why are we listening to young people, who really haven’t experienced a lot of life, or of God, frankly?”

Arroyo and his guests were discussing a Vatican gathering of young people from around the world, invited to share their perspectives on the challenges of the modern era and the role the Church can play in evangelization and the formation of youth, in advance of an October synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”

To some young people, the show’s discussion implied that young people are constitutionally unable to cogently articulate their views, and that they have little to contribute to a discussion about evangelization, catechesis, and pastoral care.

Some young people found this offensive-- I know this because before I finished my coffee this morning, I got texts, DMs, and phone calls saying so, from young and faithful priests, from young mothers of large families, and from faithful Catholics engaged in youth ministry and missionary work.

I agree with their criticism. Some of the discussion seemed dismissive of young people, alternately suggesting that they were being used as patsies, that their views had little value, or that their apparently poor catechesis rendered their perspective unhelpful. And the idea that young people necessarily have limited life experience or spiritual wisdom runs contrary to 2,000 years of holiness among the Church’s youth.

I don’t know what Arroyo intended- I doubt he meant to sound dismissive of participants in the Vatican meeting, and of young people in general. I suspect, instead, his intention was to criticize the structure of the gathering, and the document it produced. I suspect he has concerns about the upcoming synod on young people.

Many people suspect that a faction of the synod’s bishops will seek to undermine the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception- claiming that openness to life is an ideal, but unachievable for many couples, who might choose in good conscience to use artificial contraception. Many people also suspect that the synod might be an occasion in which the universal call to holiness is watered down, and the Church seems to capitulate ever more to the prevailing social, sexual, and cultural norms of our time.

Those are legitimate concerns, and I share them.

Arroyo may have also, like me, found parts of the document produced by the Vatican’s youth meeting to be confusing, agenda-driven, and inconsistent. The document says some beautiful and important things, and some things that don’t make sense. But it reflects, or at least is intended to reflect, perspectives actually expressed by young people, Catholic and non-Catholic, from around the world.

So why did the Church ask young people for their perspectives? She asked because listening is the first step in evangelization and formation. Jesus began many of his most profound evangelical encounters by asking questions. The answers he got were sometimes truthful, sometimes silly, and sometimes confusing. But they began a conversation, and they allowed the Lord to respond to the person right in front of him, leading a soul to conversion.

I spend a lot of time listening to my children. Sometimes they say beautiful things. Sometimes I have no idea what they’re saying. Sometimes, what they’re saying is juvenile- they’re children, so that makes sense. But I listen to them so that I know them, understand them, and begin to respond to their interests, their hopes, their confusion, and their needs. This doesn’t mean that I will change my commitment to forming them in faith. It means only that I love them, respect them, and care enough about them to give them space to share their views. I’ve learned to listen to my children mostly from my wife, of course, but she learned it from Jesus.

Arroyo is right to be concerned about what might come of the upcoming synod. All Catholics should urge our bishops to stand for truth, and pray the Church’s leaders will be strong and courageous in promoting and defending the truth. We should recognize Satan, the enemy of truth.

But the question asked on “The World Over Live” is not the right question. We listen to young people to hear their perspective. Having done that, we need to ask what the Synod of Bishops will actually do with their answers. We need to ask what plan will be developed to evangelize young people living in broken families and a broken culture-- to call them to holiness, rather than validate their choices. We need to ask how we can form them - intellectually, spiritually, socially, and morally - given the vapid, pornographic, lonely, and amoral culture in which many of them were raised. And we need to ask how we can support young people already living as disciples of Jesus, among them the smart, faithful, evangelistic twentysomethings in CNA’s newsroom, who face temptations to discouragement amidst a confusing era in the Church’s own life.  

Souls - those of young and old alike - are the prize. Calling young people to Jesus -  Catholic or not, well-catechized or not - is the goal. The Church needs the energy, enthusiasm, and ideas of young people. And young people need the merciful love of Christ, expressed in the life of his Church.

Hearing what young people say, no matter how strongly we disagree, can be the first step to evangelizing them. Dismissing those invited to speak, rather than engaging with their ideas, will not move them toward the Lord.

“In the sharing of ideals, problems and hopes, Pope St. John Paul II said, “young people will experience living the reality promised by Jesus: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’”

Young people, the Church wants to hear you. She wants to know you. She wants to hear your questions. And then she wants to propose that Jesus Christ is the answer to every question, every hope, every fear, and every longing in your heart, and in every human heart.

 

Catholic agencies concerned by drastic drop in Syrian refugees admitted to US

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 18:38

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have said that the dramatic decrease in the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the United States is of great humanitarian concern.

While the United States government is in the midst of condemning and investigating recent suspected chemical warfare attacks reportedly carried out by the Syrian government, the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the United States has declined dramatically this year.

According to the State Department, the United States has accepted only 11 Syrian refugees so far this year, compared with 790 over the same period in 2016.

More than 10 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes over the course of a civil war that has been ongoing for the past seven years. Many of these refugees have overwhelmingly flooded neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.

“The precipitous decline in the number of Syrians the United States is resettling is extremely concerning,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, told CNA.

“...millions of Syrians remain displaced, caught in a web of violence and proxy wars,” he added. “The United States has traditionally taken the most vulnerable refugees, including Syrians, who have suffered terrible trauma or would be unable to go home. These refugees are the neighbors Jesus told us to love in the Gospel. We can safely welcome thousands of these women, men, and children to our country.”

In 2016, the United States resettled more than 15,000 Syrian refugees, and just over 3,000 in 2017. If the current rate is maintained, fewer than 50 Syrian refugees will be resettled in the United States in 2018.

For 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump set the total number of refugees that would be accepted by the United States at 45,000, and travel bans and other obstacles have slowed immigration even further.

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need, USA, told CNA that U.S. immigration policies have also been particularly unfair to Christian refugees in previous years.

“The number of Christian refugees has been very low compared to their representation in the population, so we’re speaking out on behalf of Christians with no voice in the Middle East...we’ve made it part of our mandate to support the Christian community in the Middle East in these areas of refugees, food shelter, pastoral care, whatever is needed,” Clancy told CNA.

Clancy noted that many churches in the United States have been very generous at the local level in supporting and welcoming new refugees, but he urged Catholics and Christians to get in touch with their representatives to voice their concerns about policies affecting Syrian and other refugees.

“If they feel that something needs to be done, then they should contact their congressman or senator to say that we have to make sure that these people have every opportunity for life, because that’s what it comes down to,” Clancy said.

“They’re leaving...mainly just to stay alive. Almost all of them want to stay home, they want to stay where they come from, they don't want to move, they’re being forced to do so, so we should be understanding of that,” he said.

Bill Canny, executive director for Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), told CNA that the number of refugees the United States was accepting from Syria in past years was already small in comparison to the millions who were forced to flee their homes.

The U.S. Bishops had advocated for an annual refugee cap of at least 75,000 for the United States for 2018, before the Trump administration announced it would be 45,000, Canny added.

“We were already only able to help a few, and not being able to do that is very disconcerting,” Canny told CNA.

The USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Service is one of nine national resettlement programs, working with the Catholic Charities network throughout the country to help resettle refugees, including Syrians. Most refugees arrive in the United States simply wanting a dignified life and are eager to be contributing citizens, Canny noted.

“They want good education for their children, they jump on work opportunities, I think that in a matter of a few months at least 75 percent of refugees get a job and start working,” he said. “These are people who have suffered badly, languishing in either refugee camps or urban slums oftentimes, who deserve another chance.”

He added that refugees who enter the United States were already subjected to the strictest vetting, and that additional security measures were not necessary.

“While we respect safety concerns and we know it’s the government’s right to keep us safe, we don’t think the refugee program is an avenue of danger to our citizens, due to the extensive security checks that have been done for a number of years,” Canny said.

Furthermore, the issue of refugee resettlement should be of particular concern to Christians because the Gospel compels them to care for the poor and the needy, Canny noted.

“Certainly it’s a core responsibility of our faith, from exhortations in the Old Testament to welcome the stranger, to make sure that one cares for newcomers, and of course from the New Testament and the teachings of Christ,” he said. “Matthew 25 compels us to help the neediest, and certainly refugees are really the neediest.”

Salvadoran bishops visit US to ask that migrant protections be restored

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 18:14

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2018 / 04:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of prominent Church officials from El Salvador visited the United States this week to urge a reconsideration of recent changes to immigration policy.

In January 2018, the Department of Homeland Security terminated the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that was granted to El Salvador in 2001, following a massive earthquake in the country. TPS is granted for countries who are experiencing an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or “other extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent people from safely returning home to the country.”

Citizens of countries with TPS are generally shielded from being deported if they are found to be in the country illegally. The Trump administration has also recently terminated TPS for Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua.

If nothing changes prior to Sept. 9, 2019, about 200,000 Salvadorans will have to leave the United States, presumably to return to El Salvador. In addition to the Salvadorans protected under TPS, there are an estimated 270,000 U.S. citizen children who have been born to these people over the last decade and a half. The bishops were concerned that the termination of TPS would force these families of mixed immigration status to be torn in half.

The forced return of 200,000 people to El Salvador is not an acceptable option, according to many Church officials. Cardinal José Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, joined by Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, Bishop Elías Samuel Bolaños Avelar of Zacatecoluca, Bishop William Ernesto Iraheta Rivera of Santiago de Maria, and Bishop Mario Doronsville-Rodriguez, auxiliary bishop of Washington, spoke at a roundtable discussion hosted by the USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.

The situation in El Salvador is dangerous due to gang violence and severe poverty, said the bishops. This makes it unsafe for people to live in the country, and there are very few employment opportunities. The influx of people returning to El Salvador from the United States may overwhelm the already-fragile economy, they warned. Additionally, many Salvadorans living in the United States send remittances to El Salvador, which provides a boost to their economy.

If TPS is revoked, these payments would end and would further damage the economy in the country.

Gang violence has gotten to the point where the Archbishop Escobar issued a pastoral letter – his first – on the issue in 2016. The bishops spoke about their hope for the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero, who would be the country’s first recognized saint. Romero was assassinated in 1980.

“The lack of employment opportunities, the fact that gangs have infiltrated every part of life, including schools, in El Salvador, make it almost impossible for a basic life,” explained Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, a senior legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services.

“For these people, they have but few options than to come to the United States.”

Besides the requests for changes to TPS, the bishops and CRS also hoped that Congress would move forward on codifying part or all of DACA into law, plus create a path to citizenship for people who are living in the United States illegally.

The roundtable was part of a larger visit by the Salvadoran clergy. From April 9-14, the bishops were in the Washington, DC area to meet with members of Congress and to visit with Salvadorans living in the area. Alexandria, Va., which is located just outside of Washington, is home to one of the largest concentrations of Salvadoran immigrants.

This Catholic Arts Competition aims to foster beautiful Christian art

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 05:01

Greensburg, Pa., Apr 13, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic liberal arts college in Pennsylvania is hosting its seventh biennial Catholic Arts Competition and Exhibition to move artists and buyers towards diverse, original, and beautiful Christian art.

Originating in 2001, the competition at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., about 10 miles northeast of Greensburg, was founded by one of the school’s late monks and teachers, Brother Nathan Cochran, who was also the curator and director of the St Vincent Gallery. The college is operated by the Benedictines of Saint Vincent Archabbey.

Jordan Hainsey, the exhibition manager and a seminarian for the Diocese of Covington, told CNA that a major focus of the exhibition is to give priests and the laity an option to commission religious art through means other than a catalogue.

“There are these talented artists that pastors of parishes [and] people who just want to commission a painting for devotion don’t have to go to a catalogue,” he said. “There is all of these artists who are looking to create new and original expressions of art of the faith, and they are just waiting to be commissioned.”

Through Aug. 3, Saint Vincent College is accepting Christian works of art from any person 21 years and up. The entries must be original and created within the past five years. After the competition closes, an exhibition of the competitors’ art will be displayed Oct. 30 – Dec. 2.

The competition allows for any media, such as sculpture, stain glass, pencil, paint, and digital photography. Winners of the competition will be offered $3,500 in cash prizes – $1,000 for first place, $750 for second, $500 for third, and four other $250 prizes for juror mentions.

The juror this year will be Dr. Elizabeth Lev, a professor of art and architecture at the Italian campuses of Christendom College and Duquesne University.

Subject choices must promote devotion with Christian themes such as biblical scenes, stories of saints, the history of the Church, and the sacraments. The competition primarily seeks to foster the arts of the Western Christian tradition, but examples informed by Eastern traditions are accepted as well.

Hainsey said the pieces of art may be modernized or ethnically acculturated, not only to promote participation from artists all around the world, but to emphasize the universal message of the Gospel.

“The Christian Gospel assumes everyone …and we want the competition to reflect that everyone can see themselves in Christ’s Gospel message,” said Hainsey.

He pointed to Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, which tells the story of the Apostle Matthew in the contemporary dress of the baroque period. He also gave the example of a painting entered into the competition two years ago which depicted Christ breaking bread as a Native American in traditional garbs.

“Every artist of every time period has a message to relate the Christian Gospel,” he said. “They are not just recreating baroque painting, but they are creating something which expresses meaning and value to the community that we live in today.”

Hainsey said the Church has been one of the greatest promoters of sacred art and quoted an address from Pope Francis to the Patron of the Arts in the Vatican Museums: “In every age the Church has called upon the arts to give expression to the beauty of her faith and to proclaim the Gospel message of the grandeur of God’s creation, the dignity of human beings made in his image and likeness, and the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to bring redemption and rebirth to a world touched by the tragedy of sin and death.”

Study finds decline in global death penalty numbers

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 02:00

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a record-high year of death sentences implemented around the world in 2016, a new report released by Amnesty International shows an overall decrease in capital punishment during 2017.

However, the group reported, many countries are still implementing executions which ignore international law.

Amnesty International released the report this week, highlighting the execution and death penalty rates around the globe.

The organization particularly applauded sub-Saharan Africa, where multiple countries have made strides in reducing or eliminating capital punishment in 2017.

“Now that 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time that the rest of the world follows their lead and consigns this abhorrent punishment to the history books,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general for Amnesty International.

In a news release, Shetty pointed to Guinea, which outlawed the death penalty, and Kenya, which eliminated the mandatory death penalty for murder. Burkina Faso and Chad also look legislative measures to repeal capital punishment, while the president of Gambia enacted a temporary ban on executions in February 2018.

Much of the world has followed suit, Amnesty International found, noting that 142 countries in total have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice by 2017. The report cited a total of 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017 – a number of executions which has dropped 4 percent from the previous year.

This decrease followed a particularly high rate of executions in 2016, which saw 1,032 deaths by capital punishment around the world.

Figures exclude executions in China, where the number of executions remains a state secret, although it is believed that the capital punishment figures reach into the thousands.

Eighty-four percent of all recorded executions were recorded in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, which remain the top countries for enacting the death penalty.

While pleased with the overall drop in global executions, Amnesty International pointed to some “distressing trends” involving the practice of capital punishment for inmates with non-violent crimes, juvenile offenders, individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities, and criminal confessions as a result of torture.

“Fifteen countries imposed death sentences or executed people for drug-related offenses, ignoring international law,” the report said.

International law states that the death penalty should only be enacted for the most serious of crimes, according to the Telegraph.

Shelly additionally said that there are still some world leaders “who would resort to the death penalty as a ‘quick fix’ rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies.”

“Strong leaders execute justice, not people,” Shelly continued.

In the belated Pope John Paul II’s papal encyclical on life, Evangelium Vitae, the pope affirmed the dignity of human life while also calling for justice for offenses against life. He noted that the death penalty should be “viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line of human dignity” and “with God’s plan for man and society,” which should only be used in “cases of absolute necessity.” He noted that these cases would be “rare.”

Pope Francis has also defended the dignity of every life throughout his papacy and has been an advocate against the death penalty, calling the practice “inhumane.”

“No one ought to be deprived not only of life, but also of the chance for a moral and existential redemption that in turn can benefit the community,” he said in an address to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in October 2017.

Currently, there are 21,919 people on death row around the world.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it,” Shelly said.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing.”

Hundreds of high school, college students participated in pro-life walkout

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 18:23

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2018 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Inspired by recent student walkouts over gun control, hundreds of high school and college students across the US took part in a pro-life walkout on Wednesday.

According to pro-life group Students for Life of America (SFLA), more than 400 students and student organizations told SFLA that they planned on participating in the April 11 walkout, though the actual number is likely higher, as students did not have to register with the group to participate.

“Across the country, pro-life students and groups stood up for the 321,384 babies killed by Planned Parenthood every year, against the violence of abortion, and in support of pregnant and parenting students,” SFLA president Kristan Hawkins said in a statement.

“In pictures worth millions of words, we saw students walking out, praying, and chalking pro-life messages to bring attention to the fact that one-fourth of our generation has been snuffed out of existence because of legalized abortion,” she added.

Participants were encouraged to use #Life and #ProLifeWalkout to document their participation on social media. Like the March for Our Lives walkout, the pro-life walkout lasted 17 minutes, during which time students mourned the 10 babies who would be killed by abortion within that time frame.

 

So proud of the more than 60 students who participated in the #ProLifeWalkout from my high school. We are the #ProLifeGeneration. @Students4LifeHQ pic.twitter.com/qgmN88lFlh

— Blake Barclay (@blakebarclayusa) April 11, 2018


 

The idea for the pro-life walkout came from Brandon Gillespie, a student at Rocklin High School in Rocklin, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento.

Gillespie said in March that the idea for the pro-life walkout came to him after his history teacher, Julianne Benzel, discussed the national gun control walkouts in her classroom. Benzel asked her students whether the same privileges would be afforded to students if they wanted to walk out over issues like abortion, or if a double standard existed. She was then placed on paid administrative leave following complaints about her discussion of the issue.

“If you’re going to allow students to get up and walk out without penalty, then you’re going to have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” Benzel told Fox & Friends.

After hearing of Gillespie’s plan to hold a pro-life walkout, Students for Life created a website promoting the idea to schools throughout the nation.

“I also want to thank Brandon Gillespie at Rocklin High School for inspiring this national walkout and for not letting his school intimidate him out of hosting his walkout. The tremendous, truly grassroots interest we have seen in the walkout is further proof that the Pro-Life Generation is the majority and is strong and growing,” Hawkins said.

The website for the walkout included a list of high schools and colleges that registered with SFLA for the walkout, which included public and private schools from throughout the United States.

 

Proud to stand with Morality High School students during their time of silence for the their classmates lost to abortion and women hurt at during the #ProLifeWalkout! pic.twitter.com/CJekGhuGFr

— Bethany Janzen (@BethanySFLA) April 11, 2018


 

“...it's time for the #ProLifeGen to stand up and say ‘Enough is Enough!’ We will no longer tolerate legal abortion in our nation, which has killed more than a fourth of our generation,” the walkout website stated.

“We will no longer watch as our leaders in Washington continue to fund our nation’s largest abortion vendor, Planned Parenthood, with more than $500 million of our taxpayer dollars. We will no longer permit Planned Parenthood and their allies in the abortion industry to target our peers for their predatory business cycle.”

Hawkins added that SFLA was notified of several students who reported that they faced discrimination for participating in a pro-life walkout, while the gun control walkout was given special accommodations by many schools.

Life Legal Defense Foundation, a non-profit that defends pro-life clients, sent a letter to Gillespie’s high school, notifying the administration that they could face legal ramifications if they interfered with the pro-life walkout and treated participating students differently than those who participated in the gun control walkout.

SFLA and Life Legal have offered to provide legal assistance to any students who faced discrimination for their participation in the pro-life walkout.

New US law aims to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking  

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 15:02

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2018 / 01:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law aims to make it easier to prosecute websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, such as Backpage.com.

President Donald Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” into law April 11.

Under the new law, the government will be able to prosecute the owners or operators of websites which knowingly assist, support, or facilitate “the prostitution of another person,” or who act with reckless disregard for the fact that their conduct contributed to sex trafficking. Users and victims will be able to sue those sites.

The new law clarifies that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which previously protected the operators of websites from legal liability for content posted by third parties, cannot be used as a defense to shield sites that knowingly promote sex trafficking and prostitution.

“[Section 230] was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims,” the law reads.

Before the bill became law, federal authorities on April 6 seized Backpage, a massive classified ad site used largely for selling sex, which hosted ads depicting the prostitution of children. Ads posted on the site, which took in an estimated $135 million in annual revenue in 2014, were reportedly responsible for nearly three quarters of all cases submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The site was the subject of an extensive Senate report into its practices of promoting prostitution and the trafficking of minors, which was released in January 2017.

The Department of Justice on April 9 announced the charging of seven individuals, including Backpage’s founder Michael Lacey, in a 93-count federal indictment which detailed the site’s reported practices of facilitating prostitution and money laundering. The indictment alleges that the defendants knew that the majority of the website’s “adult” ads involved prostitution, and that the site would “sanitize” the ads by removing “terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution” but continuing to run the ads.

Backpage also allegedly had a policy for several years that involved deleting words in an ad denoting a child’s age, and publish the revised version, which created a “veneer of deniability” for those trafficking the children.

“This website will no longer serve as a platform for human traffickers to thrive, and those who were complicit in its use to exploit human beings for monetary gain will be held accountable for
their heinous actions,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a release from the DOJ.  “Whether on the street or on the Internet, sex trafficking will not be tolerated.”

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the bill, and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) added language to expand the scope of the bill to include advertisements for all forms of prostitution. In areas of the country where prostitution is legal, that fact can be taken into account in court as an affirmative defense.

Prostitution is currently illegal in all of the United States except in a few rural Nevada counties, but some estimates suggest there are over half a million people in the country in prostitution.

After the bill passed the Senate 97-2 with bipartisan support on March 21, a number of websites began to take down explicit content and online communities that promote pornography or prostitution. Craigslist shut down their Personals page on March 23, and Reddit removed several fora that users previously used to seek and advertise escort services and casual sexual encounters.

Critics of the law, including deputy Attorney General Stephen A. Boyd, voiced concern that some of its language - which would allow punishment for conduct that occurred before it was enacted - may be unconstitutional. Others have argued that it could have a chilling effect on free speech on the internet.

Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman said, in testimony to Congress in November 2017, that an amendment to Section 230 could lead to sites self-censoring any and all content that could be construed as sex trafficking, or, alternatively, dial down moderation so that they could less reasonably be accused of “knowing” that sex trafficking content existed on their site.

“If failing to moderate content perfectly leads to liability, some online services will abandon their efforts to moderate user content or even shut down,” Goldman said during the hearing.

“I really do fear the chilling effects,” said Mary-Rose Papandrea, a University of North Carolina Law Professor, during a symposium on April 6. “Because imagine you run a platform, and imagine now you are exposed to liability for everything a third-party posts on your website as soon as you’re told about it. What are you going to do? You’re going to take it down.”

“I worry this isn’t the end,” she continued. “We can carve out sex trafficking, and we can debate that...but my concern is what’s next.”

However, Mary G. Leary, law professor at The Catholic University of America, rejected this idea. She told CNA in an interview that the amendment to Section 230 is narrow enough that it only removes a website's immunity if they knowingly enter into a venture with human traffickers, or if they intentionally promote prostitution.

"That is a very narrowly tailored, common sense bill. I think that any argument it will impair speech is just alarmist and misplaced," she said.

Leary emphasized that criminal acts, such as prostitution and human trafficking, are not considered speech and have "never been protected by the First Amendment."

"The Supreme Court has been quite clear that offers to engage in illegal activities are not protected speech," she said.

Leary said testimony given to the Senate during the creation of the law singled out sites that are clearly "bad actors," like Backpage, as opposed to the majority of websites that are "law abiding, good corporate citizens who want to end sex trafficking." She said it is unlikely that most companies will simply look away and choose not to moderate content that promotes sex trafficking.

"That argument has not been proven by history," she says. "There are many industries that, sadly, are places where sex trafficking takes place...hotels, travel and tourism, shopping areas, foster care facilities...these are places that have never had immunity. We have not seen them as an industry look the other way or pretend it doesn't happen."

In fact, she said, groups like the hotel industry have put together best practices to deal with illegal activities that take place on their premises. The new law does not require websites to police all content, but rather clarifies the purpose of Section 230, she said. There will be little effect for law abiding companies, because the law sets a high bar for prosecutors to prove that the company was knowingly and intentionally facilitating sex trafficking.

"What we will see are no longer companies out in the open, allowing and partnering with sex traffickers to sell women and children, with not only impunity but with absolute protection," Leary said.  

Some online groups, such as the Women’s March, claim that the shuttering of sites that are used by people who are not being trafficked will drive the already shady business of prostitution even further underground, and make conditions worse for people who choose to sell sex for a living. Advocates in favor of prostitution have already created several new websites that are hosted overseas, in countries like Austria, to avoid the alleged self-censorship of American-hosted sites.

Critics, however, challenged the idea that prostitution is a profession of choice for women.

“Nobody says when they’re a little girl, ‘I want to grow up to be a prostitute,’” said Dr. Grazie Christie, Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association, speaking on EWTN’s Morning Glory.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a Washington D.C.-based group that supports the new legislation, has compiled a site detailing resources available to current workers in the sex industry to provide “housing, food, referrals, and other short-term emergency assistance.”

“We are also concerned for those who turned to prostitution out of despair, lacking any other financial resources, and who now do not know where to turn,” said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCOSE, in a statement. “We encourage the public to share these resources widely so that survivors of commercial sexual exploitation can seek healing and support.”

 

At UN meeting, Holy See calls for 'human-centered approach to migration'

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 12:28

New York City, N.Y., Apr 12, 2018 / 10:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations encouraged global leaders to take a “human-centered approach to migration,” rather than reacting with “unsustainable short-term solutions.”

The Vatican’s chief diplomat at the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, urged countries to consider “not only the sovereign right of States to manage and control their borders, but also their responsibility to promote and protect the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all those on the move, regardless of their migratory status.”

Speaking April 11 at the UN’s Commission on Population and Development annual meeting, Auza warned against reactionary policies, such as population control or a narrow view of “national interest.”

“Unsustainable short-term solutions that prey on fear and use demography to justify closed borders or promote population control only lead to more unmanageable crises in the future,” said the archbishop.

He argued that “any country that wants to manage its borders effectively must also take responsibility for the common good of its neighbors.” He said that increasing globalization means that a country’s actions in its national interest directly impact other countries.

The 51st session of the UN Commission on Population and Development this week focused on discussion of “Sustainable Cities, Human Mobility and International Migration.”

The Holy See representative proposed that the key to making global migration more sustainable in the future is to combat human rights violations and poverty through education, health care, and policies that ensure access to social protection and decent work. Auza said that all countries share this responsibility for the “prosperity, peace and security of all.”

The nuncio also warned of the negative consequences when countries fail to allow regular pathways for migrants fleeing conflicts, economic crises, and national disasters. He said that this can force individuals to “seek irregular and often dangerous migratory routes, falling victim to smuggling, human trafficking, modern slavery and other forms of exploitation.”

The archbishop concluded by asking the United Nations to recommit “to what Pope Francis has called a ‘culture of encounter,’ which involves the humble recognition that the problems faced by people on the move cannot be addressed in isolation and therefore demand greater solidarity and commitment to the common good both at home and abroad.”

Archbishop Auza, originally from the Philippines, has served at the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations since his appointment by Pope Francis in 2014. Auza’s past diplomatic services included representing the Church in Madagascar, Bulgaria and Albania.
 

Citing growing interest in Traditional Latin Mass, Archbishop Chaput creates quasi-parish

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 02:49

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 12, 2018 / 12:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new quasi-parish for Catholics interested in the Traditional Latin Mass will open in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at a church that had been part of a 2014 parish merger.

“In response to a growing interest, it has become timely to provide additional pastoral care for those wishing to participate in Divine Worship in the Extraordinary Form,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s March 14 decree said.

A quasi-parish is the equivalent of a parish under canon law, with some exceptions. It can later become a parish at the discretion of the local bishop. The new quasi-parish will be located at the site of the former Saint Mary Parish in Conshohocken, a suburban Philadelphia borough in Montgomery County. About 8,000 people live in the borough, which is about one square mile in area.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter will provide the clergy for the new quasi-parish.

“While it remains to be seen if this community will flourish so as to become a parish, the establishment of a quasi-parish to provide this spiritual care appears to be most fitting at this time,” Archbishop Chaput’s decree continued.

The archbishop made his decision after consulting with local pastors, local priests who celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and the archdiocese’s Council of Priests. The Philadelphia archdiocese announced the planned creation of the quasi-parish on April 8.

The decree becomes effective Aug. 1. A pastor will be appointed before that date.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter exclusively celebrates the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, sometimes known as the traditional or Tridentine Latin Mass. It was founded in 1988 as a clerical society of apostolic life, then formally erected as an institute of pontifical right by the Holy See.

In contrast to some other priestly groups celebrating the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was established with support from the Vatican, and is in full and ordinary communion with the Pope

The priestly fraternity’s North American seminary is based in Denton, Neb. with provincial headquarters in South Abington Township just north of Scranton, Pa. The fraternity staffs two parishes and a chapel in Pennsylvania. A member of the fraternity was assigned to a Discalced Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia last year.

The fraternity’s website currently reports 96 priests in 54 apostolates active in 39 U.S. dioceses and seven Canadian dioceses in its North American district alone. It has a somewhat smaller presence in France and Germany. One of its newest priests, Father Tymoteusz Szydlo, is a son of Poland’s former prime minister Beata Szydlo.

In July 2014 Saint Mary Parish merged with Saint Matthew Parish as part of the Philadelphia archdiocese’s pastoral planning initiative. St. Mary Church became a worship site of Saint Matthew Parish and made available for occasional liturgical use.

The parish merger left three non-parish Catholic churches in the area. Of these buildings, one was sold to the Coptic Orthodox Church and another to the Borough of West Conshohocken.

The former parish church of St. Mary’s had served as a center for the Polish community. A local Polish group formed by former parishioners had sought to preserve its status as a Catholic church.

The group welcomed the announcement of the quasi-parish.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled since this accomplishes what St. Mary Polish American Society sought to do, breathe new life into the church so it could remain a church available for Mass and other spiritual activities,” David Swedkowski, executive director of the Saint Mary Polish American Society, told the local news site More Than the Curve.

“The Society will continue to exist and focus on promoting Polish heritage in Montgomery County and continuing to raise money so the Fraternity can successfully care for St. Mary’s.”

As of 2012, two years before the parish merger, St. Mary’s had a weekend Mass attendance of 271 people, down 60 from 2008. It hosted only four baptisms and eight marriages in 2012, according to archdiocesan figures.
 

 

Director of women’s clinic: Abortion pill reversal is safe and effective

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 11, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The director of a women’s clinic in Denver said that she has found an abortion pill reversal protocol to be safe and effective with her patients, following a recently published study on the procedure.

“Oftentimes in medicine, when we find that there is something that is actually making a difference and causing no harm, we will implement it into practice,” Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colo., told CNA.

The recent study, published in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68 percent with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64 percent with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25 percent fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births due.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“When it comes to saving the life of any human person, even when the chance is slim, isn’t it worth the effort, when the benefits outweigh any risk?” Chism said.

Medical abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40 percent of all abortions.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone (RU-486) blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.

Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol. Many doctors and providers, including Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute, as well Chism, Delgado and Davenport, have found that they can improve the chances of a baby’s survival in these cases by flooding a woman’s system with more progesterone, in a hopes of overriding the progesterone-blocking effects of mifepristone.

The progesterone protocol is safe, Chism said, because it is a naturally occurring hormone in pregnant women that has been used for the treatment of pregnant women in various situations.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring the mom to a healthy progesterone level,” Chism said, whether that’s during an abortion pill reversal or monitoring a pregnant woman with low progesterone levels.

“We do this exact same thing in mom’s who’ve had early miscarriages that have a hard time conceiving and maintaining pregnancy,” she noted. “It’s common that women may not have enough progesterone on the back half of their cycle even to support a pregnancy, so what we’re trying to do is get them to a healthy progesterone level.”  

Because progesterone is known to be safe for pregnant women and unborn babies, the progesterone abortion pill reversal procedure is “common sense,” Chism added.

Critics of Delgado’s study argued that the peer-reviewed journal in which it was published is biased, because of its ties to the pro-life organization Watson Bowes Research Institute. Delgado told the Washington Post that he acknowledged this concern, but thought that his study would not get fair consideration from other journals due to political bias.

Delgado also told the Washington Post that he believed more research should be done, but that there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“It hadn't been studied formally in a big way, but we saw it was saving lives and had no alternatives. Were you going to wait when someone was dying in front of you?” he said.

“(T)he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he added.

Chism noted that the Bella clinic has treated several women who have sought abortion pill reversals. The progesterone protocol has been effective in women who have come in as soon as possible after taking the first dose of mifepristone, she said.

“We are currently in the midst of caring for a patient who took the abortion pill.  She is 4 weeks and 3 days from taking that first pill.  We were able to begin the reversal protocol in less than 24 hours from her initial dose. We did have a few scary days initially with bleeding and threatened loss of pregnancy, but she is now very stable with a normally growing baby,” she said.
 
“I think the fact that we have now over 300 successful reversals is evidence that it works,” she added. “This isn’t make-believe and it isn’t coincidental.”

Chism added that it is common practice in medicine to share information about protocols that have yet to undergo even more rigorous prospective studies, if they have been shown to be safe and effective in case studies.

Some critics also argued that the study was unnecessary since only a small percentage of women actually seek and follow through on abortion pill reversals.

“We’re not causing harm, and even if the possibility of saving a baby is small, even if the population who desires it is small, is it not worth it to recognize it?” Chism countered. “Isn’t it beautiful that there could be a possibility that just maybe could change and help you out when you’ve made a decision that you’ve regretted?”

Telling women that a safe and effective protocol exists is a matter of informed consent, Chism added.

“To tell someone that there is (no reversal), that this medical abortion is permanent and irrevocably irreversible, that’s not a true statement,” she said. “To be able to tell a patient that it may be possible in some circumstances to reverse an abortion pill, I think that is simply informed consent.”

Facebook CEO apologizes for 'mistake' of blocking Catholic content

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 15:12

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2018 / 01:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from lawmakers about his company’s censorship of Catholic content during his two-day congressional hearing following the revelation that millions of Facebook users’ personal data had been compromised.

Zuckerberg apologized and said that the company “made a mistake” in blocking a Catholic theology degree advertisement by Franciscan University of Steubenville, when asked about it by Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers on the second day of questioning.

The ad, which featured a crucifix, was rejected by Facebook over Easter on the grounds that its content was “excessively violent” and “sensational.” Facebook later apologized, saying that the ad had been blocked erroneously and did not violate terms of service. Zuckerberg on Wednesday emphasized the large number of ads that are reviewed daily by the Facebook team, saying, “I wouldn’t extrapolate from a few examples to assume that the overall system is biased.”

The tech CEO also expressed regret that he did not “take a broad enough view of our responsibility” to prevent tools from being used for harm, particularly with regards to “fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R.-Texas) confronted Zuckerberg about alleged bias and censorship of political and religious content on the technology platform, saying Facebook “has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages” as well as conservative content “after determining their content and brand were, quote, ‘unsafe to the community.’”

In July 2017, CNA reported that Facebook blocked 25 Catholic pages in English and Portuguese. Facebook later apologized, saying the error was due to a malfunction rather than malicious intent. Earlier this year, another Catholic group said it was experiencing critical delays in approval of its fundraising content in support of vocations during the Christmas season.

Cruz continued to grill Zuckerberg over whether any Planned Parenthood or MoveOn.org ads had been removed. The Facebook CEO said that he was not aware of this ever occurring.

Pressed about bias, Zuckerberg said that “Facebook in the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place,” but that he is committed to “making sure that we do not have any bias.”

Many lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg about his company’s policies for monitoring the ads and debates on its platform.

When asked to “define hate speech” by Senator Ben Sasse, Zuckerberg responded, “I think that this is a really hard question,” but reiterated his resolve to block efforts that spread hatred or violence.

Sasse continued, “There are some really passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel today. Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your content — on your platform?

“I certainly would not want that to be the case,” responded Zuckerberg, who went on to say that a technological shift toward using artificial intelligence to “proactively look at content,” will lead create “massive questions for society about what obligations we want to require companies to fulfill.”

The Facebook CEO was called to testify before Congress in the wake of scandals involving privacy violations and foreign interference in the 2016 elections.

Zuckerberg apologized repeatedly for the scandal involving the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, in which personal information from 87 million accounts was “improperly shared.”

Addressing these privacy concerns, Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg if he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel where he was staying.

When the CEO responded that he would not, Durbin replied, “I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, ‘connecting people around the world.’”

Paul Ryan announces retirement from Congress

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:48

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2018 / 09:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) will not run for reelection this November, he announced on Wednesday. Ryan’s departure confirms rumors that began swirling in mid-December 2017. He will retire in January, at the conclusion of his term.

Ryan, who is a Catholic, was first elected to Congress in 1998, and became the speaker of the house in October of 2015. He has become known for his conservative views and was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election.

In his speech announcing his retirement, Ryan cited his three teenage children as one of the main reasons why he would be leaving Congress. His eldest daughter is 16 years old, he said, the same age he was when his father passed away.

“What I realize is, if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have known me as a weekend dad,” he said.

“I just can’t let that happen.”

Regardless, Ryan insisted that he has “no regrets” from his tenure in Congress, and that he put all of his being into his work. He insisted that the current political climate did not influence his decision to retire from Congress.

On Twitter, President Donald Trump offered praise for Ryan, even though the two have butted heads in the past. Trump said that Ryan was a “truly good man” who will “leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/984066131303583746?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 11, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also offered praise for Ryan, saying in a statement that, "Despite our differences, I commend his steadfast commitment to our country. During his final months, Democrats are hopeful that he joins us to work constructively to advance better futures for all Americans."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">.<a href="https://twitter.com/NancyPelosi?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NancyPelosi</a> reacts to Paul Ryan&#39;s retirement. <a href="https://t.co/ceagNZpH48">pic.twitter.com/ceagNZpH48</a></p>&mdash; Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) <a href="https://twitter.com/sahilkapur/status/984072202344640514?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 11, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Ryan has talked about his Catholic faith numerous times during his two decades in Congress. He spoke at this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. and has spoken out in favor of religious freedom and pro-life legislation.

He has clashed with leaders of the U.S. bishops on other issues, notably the 2017 tax reform bill. Ryan championed the bill, while leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference called parts of it “unconscionable,” saying it “appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.”

Ryan did not announce what his plans are once he leaves Congress.

Commentary: The peripheries of our own vision

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 18:21

Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2018 / 04:21 pm (CNA).- While Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation focuses on joy and holiness in everyday life, one passage has drawn sharp reactions from Catholics on the left and the right.

“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development,” Pope Francis writes in Gaudete et exsultate.

“Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”

What the pope says is true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that all human persons have an equal sacred dignity, because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

This does not mean that we should avoid prioritizing certain political issues – Church teaching has long noted that the protection of unborn human life from abortion is a pre-eminent and foundational issue, the basis upon which other rights are most protected.

Too often, however, Catholics fall into one of two camps. “Pro-lifers” have a reputation for adamantly working to end abortion but remaining deaf to the cries of the poor, imprisoned, and migrants. “Social justice warriors” are criticized for seeming to championing every cause except the right to life for those in the womb.

Both of those characterizations are reductive, and they’re usually unfair. It’s natural, though, that different causes resonate with different people.

Maybe you were raised in a family that emphasized a specific issue, or maybe you’ve had a personal experience or an encounter with someone that led you to place a strong emphasis on a particular topic. That has certainly been the case for me.

Pope Francis is calling Catholics to recognize those people on the peripheries of our own vision – the suffering that we are blind to, the pain we’ve never taken the time to see.  

Not everyone can be involved in every protest, rally, or fundraiser for every just cause. But we can make efforts to educate ourselves about issues about which we have less knowledge. In many cases, simply learning the stories behind the statistics is enough to change minds and hearts.

Practically, what can you do to heed Pope Francis’ call to uphold the sanctity of all human life? Take a look at the causes you naturally gravitate toward, and make an effort to learn about other moral and social issues.

If you regularly pray outside abortion clinics, but have never spent time advocating or praying for migrants, spend a month following the work of Catholic Relief Services. Read the stories of parents who struggle with wages that are not enough to feed their family, or who watch their children face a choice between joining a local gang or being killed. Learn about those who decide to flee their homelands, at any cost.

Learn about the conditions that force women into sex trafficking, and the challenges that prison inmates face when they try to re-enter society.

See if you can volunteer through your local Catholic Charities at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Meeting people who are homeless is often the best way to dispel stereotypes and preconceived notions about them.

If you want to go deeper, you can even make the radical move of volunteering for a summer with a program like Christ in the City, a Denver-based ministry in which young adults work directly with homeless people living on the streets, getting to know them on a personal level and befriending them.  

On the other hand, if you are naturally drawn toward the causes of racial inequality and homelessness, but have never attended a pro-life rally, look for ways to broaden your scope of vision.

Volunteer at your local pro-life center or a home for pregnant women. Hear the stories of women who are pregnant and scared. Listen to the stories of pain and regret from women who chose abortion because they felt trapped or coerced and thought they had no alternative. See the joy in a woman’s face when she looks at her infant child – the child she had considered aborting until she changed her mind when she felt the support of a loving community.

Sign up to attend next year’s March for Life in Washington DC on Jan. 18. Or sign up to attend your local walk for life.

If you’re 18 or older, you can sign up to spend your summer with Crossroads, a pro-life organization that walks across the country – literally – every summer to promote the pro-life message.

Learning more about the causes outside the scope of our vision is a good way to awaken our sense of compassion and broaden our horizons, seeing the suffering and injustice that we may not have realized even existed.

We should allow ourselves to be humbled as we realize that there is so much suffering in this world – and even in our own backyards – that we had never even acknowledged. We should let ourselves be challenged to pray for people who need help, and in whatever way we feel called, to advocate on their behalf.  

It’s a way to “see the entirety of your life as a mission,” as Pope Francis calls us to do in Gaudete et exsultate. Because, in the words of Benedict XVI, cited by Pope Francis in his new document, “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.”

 

Condom distribution at Catholic hospital stops after Cincinnati archdiocese speaks up

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 16:19

Cincinnati, Ohio, Apr 10, 2018 / 02:19 pm (CNA).- A county-run needle exchange program hosted in a Catholic hospital’s parking lot has stopped distributing condoms, following action from Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
 
“This matter was addressed and favorably resolved last week, as soon as it came to the attention of the archdiocese,” Mike Schafer, director of the archdiocese’s communication and mission promotion department, told CNA April 9.
 
“Condom distribution is no longer part of the Hamilton County Public Health Harm Reduction Program, run from their van parked in the Mercy Health – Clermont Hospital parking lot,” he said. “Archbishop Schnurr engaged with Mercy Health leadership on this issue, with the resulting decision being to disallow condom distribution on hospital property.”  
 
The archdiocese was unaware that condom distribution was part of the Hamilton County Public Health Program until the fact was brought to its attention by CNA inquiries, said Schafer.

Mercy Health is not owned or operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Rather, its sponsors include the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. The system has hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky.

The Mercy Health - Clermont Hospital in Batavia, Ohio had been hosting in its parking lot a van that was part of a county-run needle exchange program. As part of its harm reduction strategy, the program offered condoms, as well as injection equipment and other health services, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

“After engaging in further discussion with Archbishop Schnurr from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we have asked the Hamilton County Health Department to discontinue the availability of condoms in the van,” Mercy Health spokesperson Nanette Bentley told CNA April 10. “The Hamilton County Public Health Department needle exchange program van will continue to serve the community, providing needle exchange and access to testing and resources.”

In April 3 comments to CNA, Bentley had described the program as “a harm reduction program aimed at reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C.”

“The program includes needle exchange, access to testing and condoms as a holistic approach to harm reduction,” she had said, noting that clients would enter the Hamilton County Public Health property when they entered the van. The van was staffed only by county employees.

Previous news reports on the exchange program noted that condoms were distributed at the Mercy Health location, but not in a similar program hosted at two facilities of the Kentucky-based St. Elizabeth Healthcare system. That health system is sponsored by the Diocese of Covington.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, which handles inquiries on Catholic bioethics issues, has always argued against condom distribution, Catholic bioethicist John Brehany, the center’s director of institutional relations, told CNA.

“One reason is that Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae teaches that every sexual act must retain its essential openness to procreation,” he said. In addition, “if someone has a dangerous disease, really, the better ethical action is not to expose someone else to it at all.”

 

Mass attendance in US down in recent years, Gallup poll finds

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 12:05

Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic pews in the US are emptying, according to data from a recent Gallup survey, which showed that Mass attendance is down to a 39 percent weekly average over the past 10 years.

From 2005-2008, Catholics reported attending Mass on a 45 percent average within seven days, but it has since dropped 6 percent from 2014-2017.  

The average Mass attendance in 1955 was at 75 percent, which roughly consisted of all age groups. During this time period, around three in four Catholics had attended Mass within the past week.  

But, that number is slowly changing, pointing to a historic shift in the Church, with some interesting percentages within the younger age groups.

“In particular, older Catholics have become less likely to report attending church in the past seven days,” noted the Gallup study.

“For the first time, a majority of Catholics in no generational group attend weekly.”

The age group with the highest number of weekly attendance was 60 and above demographic, with 49 percent. That number dropped from 59 percent over the past decade.

The younger demographic – aged 21 to 29 – saw a slight rise in weekly Mass attendance from 2005-2008 at 29 percent. This then dropped in 2014-2017 to 25 percent.

This rise and drop among the younger demographic is mainly due to the fact that younger adults are more likely in recent years to identify with non-Christian religions across the board. In 2016, Gallup reported that one in five Americans are associated with no religious identity at all.

“All of this come amid a broader trend of more Americans opting out of formal religion or being raised without it altogether,” the survey said.

Interestingly, the next oldest demographic – aged 30-39 – saw a slight rise in attendance from 40 to 43 percent in the past ten years. This was the only age group with a boost in attendance.

The Gallup study did note that the decline in weekly Mass attendance has shown that the overall proportion of Americans identifying as Catholic is “holding fairly steady,” which they attributed to the growth of the U.S. Hispanic population.  

The study also highlighted that weekly church attendance among Protestants has remained fairly steady at around 45 percent for the last ten years, although fewer Americans now identify as Protestant, dropping from 71 percent to 47 percent over the past 60 years.

What a CUA symposium said about ‘Humanae Vitae’

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic University of America played host last week to a symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae, reflecting on the prophetic nature of the document, and on the lessons it still offers.

“In 1968, our university was at the center of a controversy regarding the document in the church in the United States,” said Catholic University of America President John Garvey during the symposium. “The fact that 50 years later, we’re hosting a conference to draw attention to what we now see as the wisdom Paul VI might be seen as a sign of the times.”

Humanae vitae took the world by storm when it was published in 1968. In the height of the sexual revolution, then-Pope Paul VI wrote that the use of prophylactics and hormonal birth control - which had only been on the market in the United States for less than a decade, and wasn’t legal for unmarried women until just three years prior - was morally unacceptable in the marital act.

“Consequently,” wrote Paul VI, “it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”

The encyclical was not universally well-received, and former CUA professor Fr. Charles Curran led a dissent of nearly 100 theologians who were opposed to the content of Humanae vitae. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington described the nation’s capital as one of the “largest flashpoints of opposition” to the document.

The majority of the speakers at the symposium argued that in retrospect, Pope Paul VI was a man ahead of his time, and was able to accurately discern the negative effects that widespread contraceptive use would have on society.

Despite its rather unique history with the encyclical, CUA Dean of Theology and Religious Studies Fr. Mark Morozowich told CNA he considers it a “natural thing” for the college to have played host to the symposium.

“We view ourselves as a theologate--that is, working in lock step with USCCB and under, certainly, the direction of our own shepherd, Cardinal Donald Wuerl,” he explained. The university in the past has played host to similar conferences concerning other encyclicals, as well as one on the anniversary of the Protestant reformation.

Planning for the conference took about a year and a half, said Fr. Morozowich. He was part of the team who selected the speakers and the topics for the symposium.

“I think it is an important thing to understand the historical milieu out of which that document came, and out of which the very sort of reactions with all the tumult and society that was going on, explained Morozowich.

One of the major themes touched on by the speakers at the symposium was the prophetic nature of the encyclical, particularly in light of last year’s viral “#MeToo” movement, through which people shared stories of being sexually assaulted and harassed. Morozowich told CNA that he believes #MeToo is a sign of larger problems concerning the sexual revolution.

“It was a document that many are hailing today as being prophetic,” he said. “I think the #MeToo movement is a real symbol of the failure of the sexual revolution. It was a failure of liberation for feminists, because it wasn't the real, concrete entering in to a dignified relationship. So when we look at Humanae vitae, it's calling for clarity about what human sexuality is.”

One conference attendee said that she believed that the encyclical had an important message for modern women: that they don’t need to change themselves with hormones or implants in order to suppress their fertility. What’s more, she said, Humanae Vitae is a message of hope.

Humanae vitae has a critical message today for all women, because Humanae vitae affirms that women are good as they are,” said Kat Talalas, communications director at Women Speak for Themselves.

“At a time where men and women increasingly feel alienated from each other, Humanae vitae affirms the good of married love. It shares the hopeful message that the romance of total unity open to new life is what we are made for, and can help provide the love, creativity, and connectedness human beings crave."

Legalizing assisted suicide harms those with depression, Hawaii bishop says

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 18:24

Honolulu, Hawaii, Apr 9, 2018 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Hawaii became last week the most recent US state to legalize assisted suicide, and the islands' bishop has written about the shortsightedness of permitting some residents to end their lives.

“I find it ironic that the act of taking one’s life, which people have been doing quite autonomously for thousands of years, is now only to be sanctioned if one has the permission of one’s 'health' care provider, the State legislature and the governor,” Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu wrote in a March 28 editorial as the bill was being considered.

“My wonder at this apparent contradiction is compounded when I think of how, until now, we have prided ourselves on helping people not take their own lives. We have suicide prevention programs and hotlines, and have always considered suicide a tragedy that wreaks havoc on so many survivors who feel grief and frustration that they were not able to prevent this 'autonomous' decision from being made.”

The “Our Care, Our Choice Act” was signed into law by Governor David Ige April 5. Hawaii’s Senate passed the bill 23-3 March 29, and the House of Representatives had approved the bill earlier this year by 39-12.

A similar bill has passed the Hawaii state Senate in 2017, but failed in the House.

The law allows a terminally ill person to receive a prescription for a lethal medication if two doctors find that the person has fewer than six months to live and is mentally competent. The patient must undergo a mental health evaluation to determine that they are not “suffering from conditions that may interfere with decision-making, such as a lack of treatment of depression,” according to the AP.

The patient must make two requests for the life-ending medication, with a 20-day waiting period between requests, and sign a written request witnessed by two people, one of whom cannot be related to the patient.

A doctor may dispense the medication, but it may only be self-administered.

The law includes criminal penalties for tampering with a request for lethal medication or coercing such a prescription.

Ige emphasized the freedom of choice the law will provide for terminally ill patients.

“It is time for terminally ill, mentally competent Hawaii residents who are suffering to make their own end-of-life choices with dignity, grace and peace,” he said. “It does make sense to give the patient a choice to request the medication, obtain it and take it, or ultimately change their mind.”

Bishop Silva pointed out that under the law, the death certificate of one who commits assisted suicide will list as the immediate cause of death their terminal disease.

“In other words, it will lie about the real immediate cause of death, which is freely and deliberately ingesting a poison into one’s system,” he wrote. “If we call it another name besides suicide, then it may become respectable. Under no circumstances should we call it what it is, since certain insurance benefits may not be available to one’s estate if one commits suicide. So let’s also lie to the insurance company by calling it 'death with dignity' or some other title that will make it sound more respectable.”

The bishop also wrote that “As a spiritual leader, I also must raise the question of whether someone who deliberately, with documentable soundness of mind and determination of will, violates God’s basic commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' may be flirting with a fate worse than a debilitating terminal illness … God does allow us the autonomy to make such decisions, but he warns us of the dire consequences – and relentlessly attempts to turn us away from such self-destructive decisions.”

Bishop Silva said, “While our State Legislature may not base its decisions on eternal consequences, it should still think beyond the individual terminally ill person. What of family members who will have to live with the weight of their own consciences regarding this very unnatural process?”

He also questioned the law's effects on those suffering depression: “Won’t this suggest to them that if life becomes too burdensome, checking oneself out of it sooner than later is a legitimate option?”

“If this door to choosing death is opened, will insurance companies and health care facilities continue to provide very expensive but ingenious treatments, developed over generations by scientists, technicians, and medical personnel? Or will the 'bottom line' lead them to refuse these expensive treatments because the patient has the choice of a much quicker and less expensive death?”

The bishop also raised the question of conscience protections for medical personnel and pharmacists who consider suicide to be gravely immoral.

Bishop Silva's editorial echoed concerns about assisted suicide which have been raised by Pope Francis.

In June 2016, the Pope called assisted suicide a feature of the “throwaway culture” which offers a “false compassion” and treats a human person as a problem.

“True compassion does not marginalize anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude – much less considers the disappearance of a person as a good thing,” the Pope told the directors of the orders of physicians of Spain and Latin America. He criticized “those who hide behind an alleged compassion to justify and approve the death of a patient.”

In addition to Hawaii, physician-assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.  A bill to legalize assisted suicide is under consideration in Indiana.

In September the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the state's ban on assisted suicide.

Condom giveaways, needle exchanges—Are Catholic hospitals called to more?

Sun, 04/08/2018 - 08:00

Cincinnati, Ohio, Apr 8, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A clean needle exchange program that distributes condoms is hosted in the parking lot of an Ohio Catholic hospital, and one Catholic bioethicist thinks the system can do better.
 
“I would say Catholics are called to more. At a minimum, Christ articulated a higher standard for moral life than what other people are doing,” Catholic bioethicist John Brehany told CNA April 4, addressing the needle exchange aspect in particular.
 
The hospital statement justifying the practice stressed harm reduction.
 
“It seems to me that they have a good motive,” Brehany said. “They want to help people, they want to help people avoid harm. That’s understandable, is that good enough? Is that what Christians are called to do?”
 
Brehany is director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which handles inquiries on Catholic bioethics issues. He has a doctorate in healthcare ethics, a licentiate in sacred theology and is past executive director of the Catholic Medical Association.
 
The Mercy Health Clermont Hospital in Batavia, Ohio is hosting in its parking lot an Exchange Project program that offers condoms as well as injection equipment and other health services, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
 
“First and foremost, the needle exchange services program is a harm reduction program aimed at reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C,” Mercy Health spokesperson Nanette Bentley told CNA April 3. “The program includes needle exchange, access to testing and condoms as a holistic approach to harm reduction.”
 
“When clients enter the van, they enter the property of Hamilton County Public Health,” Bentley said. “The van is staffed solely by employees of Hamilton County Public Health and all services are provided by those employees.”
 
“Mercy Health – Clermont Hospital provides a central location for the van to offer its harm reduction program but does not provide any services on the van,” she added, saying that Mercy Health provides “many other medical and preventive services for patients with substance abuse issues.”
 
In Kentucky, the St. Elizabeth Healthcare system hosts the needle exchange program in parking lots at its Covington hospital and at St. Elizabeth Urgent Care in Newport. However, these programs will not distribute condoms.
 
“St. Elizabeth Healthcare is dedicated to caring for our patients’ medical needs without compromise of the Catholic Church’s teachings concerning birth control,” Guy Karrick, a spokesman for St. Elizabeth, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We are going above and beyond for our community to get a program in place as quickly as possible.”
 
St. Elizabeth considers hospital property to be bound by Catholic teaching, such as the U.S. bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
 
“Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices,” one directive reads.
 
Karrick did suggest the program might be best off on health department grounds.
 
Brehany said he couldn't adequately assess the entire program since he did not have all the details. He also stressed that issues of cooperation in evil are among the most complex in moral theology. While some Church teachings are clear and settled, others are not. For instance, the use of contraception in marriage is clearly forbidden, but Church teaching on the ethics of using condoms to reduce the transmission of disease outside of marriage is less developed.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI told journalist Peter Seewald that while condoms could not be considered “a real or moral solution,” their use by homosexual prostitutes might be considered “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”

Benedict later clarified that “naturally the church does not consider condoms as the authentic and moral solution” to the spread of AIDs or other other sexually-transmitted diseases.
 
“At the National Catholic Bioethics Center, when it comes to the question of justifying the use of condoms to prevent disease transmission, we’ve always argued against that,” Brehany told CNA. “One reason is that Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae teaches that every sexual act must retain its essential openness to procreation.”
 
In addition, he said, “If someone has a dangerous disease, really, the better ethical action is not to expose someone else to it at all.”
 
Dr. Lynne Saddler, district director of the Northern Kentucky Health Department, voiced gratitude for the partnership with St. Elizabeth’s, the Catholic system that barred condom distribution.
 
Although the National Harm Reduction Coalition of New York City praised St. Elizabeth’s participation in the program, it advocated that the system add condom distribution “as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy for a particularly vulnerable population.”
 
Dr. Judith Feinberg, who ran the first needle exchange program in the Greater Cincinnati area in 2014, said the program was about doing anything possible to keep people safe.
 
“The whole point is to prevent disease, and the condoms are part of preventing disease,” she said.
 
According to Brehany, the issue of cooperation in evil is “complex” and must be evaluated on several factors including intent and the nature of one’s involvement with another person’s unethical action. Catholic teaching, especially as taught in St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” rejects both a utilitarian mode of thinking and an ethical approach based only on good intentions or good consequences.
 
Further, those cooperating in moral evil must always be aware of whether their cooperation might cause others to believe that a practice is morally allowed.
 
“Adequately discerning the effect of our actions on other people’s faith is always a consideration in issues of cooperation,” said Brehany.
 
As for needle distribution, while Church teaching is less developed, he suggested that a clean needle distribution would be more justifiable if the goal included weaning someone off drugs, rather than intending to help them maintain their drug use in a manner that merely reduced the risk of spreading disease.
 
CNA sought comment from the Cincinnati archdiocese, but was referred to Mercy Health.

The Mercy Health system has hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky. Its sponsors include the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor.
 
The St. Elizabeth Healthcare system is sponsored by the Diocese of Covington. It operates six facilities in northern Kentucky.

 

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