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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 45 min 23 sec ago

Now is the time to defend the truth, Phoenix bishop says at prayer breakfast

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 18:28

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix called on a gathering of the nation’s Catholic leaders to stand up to the heresies of the modern age and defend the dignity of the human person, body and soul, as an integral part of defending the faith.

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, the keynote speaker said that the importance of the human body was at the center of a contemporary moral crisis, and crucial to presenting the Church’s teaching in modern society.

Olmsted said that he believes the “disaster” predicted by Pope St. Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae vitae had come to fruition. Quoting from an exhortation to the married couples of his own diocese, he said that the sexual revolution of the last century had caused humanity “a plague of misery on a scale never known before.”

“Enough! Husbands and wifes, mothers and fathers, you are called to have great hearts here, counter-cultural and brave. You can build something better, freer, more generous, and nobler,” he said, insisting that rebuilding society began in the home.

Husbands and wives have to be “all-in” for their sacramental marriage vows, explained Olmsted. This means that couples need to be open to new life, whether “by way of the marital act” or through adoption and fostering.

"Do not be afraid to sink your roots deeply into the living water that is Jesus Christ. He will not abandon you,” said Olmsted. “Lead your family, and lead in whatever other place the Lord asks, with deep and childlike faith in Him."

The family, Olmsted said, was the sign that would defeat the heresies of the current age, all of which concerned the human body.  Whether in reference to the true nature of marriage, life, and gender, or the resurrection of Christ, when the dignity of the body is questioned, Olmsted said, the truth preached by the Church is cast aside, to the detriment of marriage and unborn children.

Sacramental marriage “stands now in the way of the gender ideology,” he said, insisting that Catholics must proclaim the truth and oppose attempts to weaken marriage and the family - attempts which “do nothing to strengthen our great country.”

“Look at the vociferous opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said Olmsted, referring to Congressional attempts to legislate to require that doctors provide age-appropriate care for infants who survive late-term abortions.

“Where does this blatant disregard come from?” he asked. “From a hardened heart.”

Olmsted said it is the great duty of Catholics to “stand up for each child,” offering a courageous witness for life. This, he said, requires each person to “expand our hearts to receive that child” and to “stand in the breech left by hardened hearts.”

“We Christians, then, must stand up for this reality of marriage today, in our homes, and in the public square, despite the real risk of persecution for doing so," he said.

“We can do this. We were made for such a time as this.”

Court rules against Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:23

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 23, 2019 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- After a yearlong legal struggle, a federal appeals court has ruled that city contractors in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples, a ruling that threatens the future of the local Catholic archdiocese’s foster placement program.

“We’re disappointed that the court decided to let the city place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents, but we will continue this fight,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the legal group Becket, which is representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services.

Becket noted that despite being hundreds of beds short of what is necessary to serve the children in the foster care system, the City of Philadelphia failed to renew the Catholic foster care agency’s contract.

“The need to find those children homes is so dire that earlier this year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents,” the institute wrote in an April 22 release.

“But shortly after this call for help, the city inexplicably prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified—solely because of the agency’s religious beliefs. There are dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children, but because of the city’s actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.”

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ 30 or so contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services (CSS), an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. CSS serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time.

City officials cited the group’s unwillingness to place foster children with same-sex couples due to its religious beliefs on traditional marriage, even though lawyers for Catholic Social Services argued that no same-sex couple had ever approached the agency asking for certification to accept foster children.

Catholic Social Services in its lawsuit sought an order to require the city to renew its contract with them, arguing that the city’s decision violated their religious freedom under the constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against CSS in its April 22 ruling.

“The City’s nondiscrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro concluded.

Catholic Social Services has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“CSS will only certify foster parents who are either married or single; it will not certify cohabitating unmarried couples, and it considers all same-sex couples to be unmarried. So far as the record reflects, no same-sex couples have approached CSS seeking to become foster parents,” Judge Ambro wrote.

Despite this, Ambro concluded that the City of Philadelphia “stands on firm ground in requiring its contractors to abide by its non-discrimination policies when administering public services,” and that the record demonstrates, in his view, the “City’s good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination” rather than an anti-religious bias.

Several foster families who relied on Catholic Social Services to help foster children were plaintiffs in the case, including the late Cecilia Paul, who has fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the leading plaintiff who has worked with the agency for 25 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court in August 2018 declined to grant an injunction that would require the city to continue its foster-care placement with the agency during litigation over the matter.

Philadelphia is not the only city to refuse to work with a Catholic organization on the issue of foster care and adoption placement. In Buffalo, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast hears call for 'Catholic great awakening'

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast heard an uncompromising call to holiness and the defense of every human life Tuesday, with speakers calling for a “Catholic great awakening.”

A total of 1,400 gathered in Washington, DC for the 15th-annual prayer breakfast, where keynotes were delivered by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Curtis Martin, founder and director of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

Leading attendees in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., vocations director for the Sisters of Life, told the nation’s assembled Catholic leaders to be undaunted by their own failings and limitations. Christ “loves you, and wants your weakness,” she said.

“You can be strong with his strength,” she told the audience, “and you will be able to endure the insults that come with defending every human life.”

Pro-life activist Abby Johnson also addressed the crowd, urging them to work towards a society in which abortion was “unthinable” and its legality became irrelevant.   

In his keynote address, FOCUS president Curtis Martin noted that human history was punctuated by periods of renewal, sparked by a return to God in a spirit of atonement. But instead of doom and gloom, he said, the coming generation of young Catholics has the potential to do great things.

The current generation, he said, are “survivors by God’s design” having been born after abortion was legalized and are poised to “wake up” and “vanquish the devil in this generation.”

The United States has experienced ebbs and flows in religious devotion before, and has seen two “great awakenings” among Protestants that resulted in renewed faith for believers. Perhaps, said Martin, this is what the Church in America needs.

"Wouldn't it be a great time for a Catholic great awakening?"

Also among the speakers to address the the pro-life cause was acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured the audience of the president’s personal commitment to protecting the unborn.

Trump was frequently criticized during the 2016 presidential campaign for his past statements in support of abortion. Since his election, the administration has made efforts to block state funding for abortion a consistent theme, renforcing the Mexico City policy preventing U.S. from going to organizations which fund or promote abortion.

Mulvaney told the crowd that uncompromisingly pro-life language in the 2019 State of the Union address was expanded at the president’s personal insistence.

Trump used the speech to condemn the newly-passed Reproductive Health Act in New York, which widely expanded abortion access. He was also critical of efforts to pass a similar law in Virginia. According to Mulvaney, these comments were Trump’s own last-minute additions to the text, made by hand as he reviewed the final draft.

Despite political battles and increased polarization in national political life, Mulvaney said that was “comfortable” serving in the Trump administration and with its priorities.

“The principles of our [Catholic] faith are alive and well and well-respected in this administration and are driving many of our policies,” Mulvaney said.

Appeals court: House not required to accept ‘secular prayer’ at start of work day

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:59

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 10:59 am (CNA).- A D.C. federal appeals court has ruled that the chaplain for the House of Representatives cannot be forced to allow a self-described atheist to proclaim a secular prayer publicly to the body.

The decision, delivered on Good Friday, said the House rules allow for a religious invocation at the start of its work day, and a secular prayer does not qualify as a religious invocation.

The suit was raised by Dan Barker with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He had asked to be a guest chaplain for the House of Representatives, but had been rejected by the House chaplain, Fr. Patrick Conroy.

Barker claimed that he had been rejected because he was an atheist, which he said amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion by Congress.

But the appeals court said the prayer was rejected because it was non-religious in nature, which renders it irrelevant that the proposed minister was an atheist.

“Even though we accept as true Barker’s allegation that Conroy rejected him 'because he is an atheist,' the House’s requirement that prayers must be religious nonetheless precludes Barker from doing the very thing he asks us to order Conroy to allow him to do: deliver a secular prayer,” wrote Judge David Tatel on behalf of the three-judge panel.

He noted that Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution allows the House to make its own rules. “Accordingly, we accept the House’s interpretation of its own rules as requiring a religious prayer,” he said.

Conroy, who has served as the House chaplain since May 2011, made headlines last year when he offered his resignation but then rescinded the resignation two weeks later.

He told then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) that he would not leave voluntarily and that Ryan would have to fire him if he wished for him to leave his role.

Conroy said Ryan’s chief of staff had asked him to resign, commenting on a prayer that he had offered several months earlier, which was perceived as critical of the Republicans’ tax bill.

Ryan said that some House members had concerns about Conroy, and that he was not able to adequately tend to the spiritual needs of some Congressmen.

The Jesuit priest objected that he had never faced disciplinary measures or received any complaints about his ministry during his then-nearly seven years as House chaplain.

Ryan then said that he had decided to allow Conroy to “remain in his position as Chaplain of the House.”

Why Blessed is She's founder says she's blessed

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 05:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 22, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Jenna Guizar grew up without any sisters.

But these days, Guizar relishes having a "sisterhood" of digital and physical communities of Catholic women around the world.

Guizar presides over a growing international women’s ministry, Blessed is She, which will mark its fifth year in September. The ministry began as a web-based devotional for Catholic women based on the day’s Mass readings.

“I loved what some of the Protestant women’s ministries were doing with Scripture study, inviting women to spend time daily in the Word. I wanted that for Catholic women, too,” Guizar, 35 and the mother of four daughters, explained.

“I saw an opening for this kind of content for women, and a hunger in the Church. I was hungry for it, too, and I didn’t see it happening in the Church, but I never thought of going elsewhere, I wanted to be fed in the Catholic Church.”

Now Guizar, along with a small staff and a national team of writers, whose contributions are vetted by theological editors, is feeding more than 60,000 women around the world with a daily email that delivers reflections on the Mass readings, along with a link to the readings themselves on the USCCB website.

On social media, tens of thousands follow along in regional Facebook groups, forming virtual communities that have morphed into hundreds of physical communities around the world.

On Blessed is She’s Instagram account, which has more than 100,000 followers, retreat director Beth Davis hosts a popular segment called ‘Teachable Tuesday,’ where she gives instruction different Catholic methods of prayer, wisdom from the lives of the saints, and deeper dives into Scripture.

Participants pop on at the beginning of the segment and announce their geographical locations: Ireland, Australia, Tanzania, Mexico, and the United States.

“Basically my whole adult life has been spent working for the Church,” says Davis, “but I’ve never experienced what we experience with these women every day, on retreats, on Instagram, in regional groups.

“There’s almost too much to choose from, she said, when asked for stories about her experience. “[We have] stories of women coming home to the Church, of becoming Catholic, of encountering Jesus for the first time in spite of years of knowing Him on an intellectual level.”

“What makes Blessed is She different is that it’s not about one person, there is no cult of personality. It’s all focused on Christ.” Davis explained, and Guizar agreed, when asked what she thought was driving the ministry’s growth.

“We’re just here walking alongside the women we serve, as women who are experiencing deeper conversion in their own lives,” added Guizar, explaining that she doesn’t see herself as doing anything extraordinary, apart from being available and willing to answer a need to which she herself felt drawn.

“My own personal, daily conversions happen in large part because of Blessed is She. I feel a great responsibility and honor to be given this ministry by the Lord. I feel a great responsibility to draw closer and closer to Him so that I can be the leader and woman He wants me to be,” Guizar said.

Guizar recalls one of the first times she realized Blessed is She might become something bigger than she’d envisioned:

“It was getting close to Advent during our first year, and I thought I’d like to make a little prayer journal and offer it to our subscribers. I had no idea whether it would sell, I just created it in a computer program and self-printed them. But we ended up with more than 800 presales. That’s probably the first time I started to realize this was going to be a lot bigger than me.”

Both Guizar and Davis said that working for the ministry has deepened their spiritual lives.
“I get to come to work every day with someone who prays with me, asks me about my prayer life, who really lives an example of personal holiness,” said Guizar of Davis, “it’s so good for me.”

She continued, “My spiritual life has changed dramatically through the discipline of prayer. I feel drawn to live a life of integrity. If I'm asking a woman to do something in her life, I better be doing it as well... like I have to be living this out in order to talk about it.”

Guizar recounts growing up in a dynamic youth group in the Diocese of Phoenix: “After youth group there was nothing to fill that void of community in my life as an adult. We had good friends and we had a good parish, but we didn’t feel like we were growing in our faith, and we didn’t feel like our relationships were really rooted in Christ.”

“I needed this community for my own conversion” Guizar said.

She recalls feeling a growing sense of isolation as a young mother, struggling to find her place in the Church.

“I wasn’t homeschooling my kids or doing liturgical crafts. I was fascinated by that experience when I read about it, but it wasn’t my life. I felt like I had more questions than answers. I didn’t have any wisdom or experience to offer.”

That’s when Guizar conceived of a daily Bible devotional modelled after some of the Protestant women’s ministries she admired. “I knew of all these Catholic bloggers, women with a deeper knowledge of Scripture and with more formation than me, so I reached out and invited them to contribute.”

That was back in the fall of 2014. The first Blessed is She devotion went out on September 1, 2014. By the end of the year, more than 200 women had signed up to receive the emails. By 2015, that number had increased to more than 2,000 women. And by early 2019, that number had risen to more than 60,000.

50% of Blessed is She participants are millennials - or younger - falling between the ages of 18 and 35. Women between 36 and 65 make up another 35% of the demographic.

Blessed is She brunches and retreats now make up a significant portion of the ministry’s focus, with more than 400 member-hosted brunches logged in 2018. So far in 2019, more than 500 women have attended a Blessed is She retreat somewhere in the US or abroad. Still to come this calendar year: retreats in Nashville, Texas, and Ireland.

If you ask for stories of how Blessed is She is impacting women’s lives, the answers come back to a common theme: community.

Oliva Spears, a Blessed is She writer who manages the site’s blog content recounts “dozens of messages” from women who are coming back to the Church through their involvement with Blessed is She:

“Faithful Catholic women who are lacking community in real life and who’ve felt like they’re the only Catholic left on the planet” are finding out they’re not alone, and being encouraged by other women who are following Christ.

Nell O’Leary, Blessed is She’s managing editor, remarks on the community built in the regional Facebook groups that becomes “real, in-the-flesh friendship.”

O’Leary said, “One older woman had prayed specifically for a young mom who was moving to her city to find the perfect house. When those two met at my Blessed Conversations group, they embraced like old friends. The bonds of sisterhood transcended age, location, and even the internet."

Bonnie Engstrom, another contributing writer, told the story of re-watching an old ‘Teachable Tuesday’ recording on Instagram with her small group in her parish:

“Beth talked about how God’s not finished until He is finished. She specifically said that to older moms whose children have left the Church and there were so many grandma’s present who felt so reassured by that. These are women who are in church every day, praying for their children. They felt heard by God through Beth’s words.”

Guizar touched on the theme of community repeatedly in an interview with CNA, emphasizing its significance to the heart of the ministry.

“I want women to know that the Lord loves them right where they’re at, and that He wants to bring restoration and healing, that He will bring it.”

When asked about how her four young children fit into the mission, Guizar acknowledged the tension between being open to life and leading an international ministry,

“Mike [my husband] is great about it, he is always saying, ‘If the Lord wants it right now, it’s going to happen.’ We don’t shy away from having more kids, because we want more kids to know the Lord, to live as missionaries in a secular culture.”

Guizar says she doesn’t have a plan for Blessed is She, but is just trying to be faithful.

“The Lord gave me Blessed is She to save my soul every day,” she said. “I really believe it was as much for me as for the women who we serve.”

“I have no idea where Blessed is She will be in five years. I had dreams at the beginning that I think have evolved now, into an acknowledgement that even if I had a plan, He would surprise me anyway. So I'm just along for the ride.”

 

 

Editor's note: In addition to her work at CNA, Jenny Uebbing is a periodic freelance contributor to Blessed is She.

 

How Denver’s archbishop responded to Columbine

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 05:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Twenty years ago, two teenagers opened gunfire outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Their massacre was premeditated and devastating; the boys also unsuccessfully planned to bomb the school with homemade explosives. They murdered 13 and wounded more than 20 others; finally they shot and killed themselves.

Twelve students and one teacher died the morning of April 20, 1999. The victims included at least four Catholics.

It was the most devastating school shooting in the United States up to that point, and would remain so until April 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, now of Philadelphia, was the shepherd of Denver at the time. More than 1,000 mourners turned out for the first three students’ funerals, over which Chaput presided.

"[Chaput] was very prompt in understanding the need to get to the scene and get to the families, the Catholic families, to provide them with support," Francis Maier, who was archdiocesan chancellor and special assistant to the archbishop at the time, told CNA in an interview.  

The massacre happened at a time when school shootings were relatively rare, Maier emphasized. Columbine is in an upscale neighborhood, he noted, and it was a place where no one anticipated something like that could happen.

Maier said both secular and Church officials responded well when the shooting happened, but there were some moments at the beginning when people asked: "What do we do? How do we respond?"

“[Chaput] was engaged immediately. [The shooting] caught everyone by surprise, obviously, but he responded very promptly."

The archbishop stayed in touch with the parents of at least one of the victims for years afterward, thanks to the relationship forged in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Maier said he thought the archbishop was prepared by having been a pastor in the diocese before he was its archbishop, which he had been for 2 years in 1999.

"He had a long-lasting linkage to the event and the families that were involved," Maier said.

Maier said after the tragedy the Church was often asked how the shooting could be reconciled with the idea of a good and merciful God, and how the perpetrators— two kids— could do something like that?

"Delivering that message of God's presence and God's continuing love, obviously, was the archbishop's task,” Maier said.

“And in the funeral homilies that he preached, the counseling he gave to the families— a lot of counseling in a situation like this is just being present. Because what are you gonna say, you know? You can't say 'I know how you feel?' because you don't. And I think the archbishop understood that his presence and the presence that it represented as the Church's concern.”

The Columbine shooting prompted a national conversation about gun control and school safety.  

Chaput testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on May 4, 1999. He addressed violence in media and popular culture— a widely-discussed topic in the wake of the shootings.

“The reasonable person understands that what we eat, drink, and breathe will make us healthy or sick. In like manner, what we hear and what we see lifts us up or drags us down. It forms us inside,” Chaput told the committee.

He noted that “The Matrix,” a film in theaters at that time hugely popular with teenagers, featured a great deal of firearm violence. Chaput wondered if the shooters had seen the film; and if so, he mused that “it certainly didn't deter them” from committing their violent act.

“People of religious faith have been involved in music, art, literature, and architecture for thousands of years, because we know from experience that these things shape the soul, and through the soul, they shape behavior,” Chaput said.

“Common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films, and our television has to go somewhere. It goes straight into the hearts of our children, to bear fruit in ways we cannot imagine until something like [Columbine] happens.”

Chaput emphasized his view that tragedies like Columbine emerge out of a culture in which people are not being taught to value human life.

“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes our universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes?” he wondered.

“When we multiply and glorify guns, are we surprised when kids use them? When we answer murder with more violence in the death penalty, we put the State’s seal of approval on revenge.”

“When the most dangerous place in the country is a mother’s womb, and the unborn child can have his or her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born, the body language of that message is that life is not sacred and may not be worth much at all.”

Maier agreed with Chaput’s diagnosis of the problem.

"Young people are not being formed properly in the dignity of life, and older people, adults, are deeply into self-satisfaction and license."

"The disease needs to be addressed, not the symptoms,” he said.  

“Fixing it is not going to be removing one particular way of committing an evil act. People will find other means to do those things if they are committed to doing evil things. So I think the underlying culture that produces Columbine is still with us, and, if anything, it’s worse."

Commentary: What he's done for us at Easter

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 12:53

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2019 / 10:53 am (CNA).- I’ve been married for 13 Easters now. I’ve been a dad for seven of those.

And every year, Easter sneaks up on our family. It shouldn’t. Lent is a long and penitential season, and the fair warning the Church gives us that Easter is coming. But a few weeks into Lent, it becomes normal- the sacrifices and penances become part of our routine- and I begin to forget that Easter is coming.

And then, it’s the Triduum.

Then it’s Good Friday, and we’re kneeling in the Church, and processing forward to kiss the cross.

Then it’s Holy Saturday, and some years we’re putting the kids in pajamas to let them sleep in the pews during Easter Vigil.

Then it’s Easter, and we’re celebrating with our family, and cooking a roast, and drinking champagne.

And every year, I find myself wondering if I’ve led my family well through Lent. Every year, I see the ways in which I might have invited my wife more often to prayer. Every year, I ask if I’ve taught the kids enough about Jesus and his sacrifice, if I’ve opened the Scripture often enough in our home.

Every year, I conclude I haven’t done enough. I haven’t really lived the Lent I should have, I decide. I haven’t really lived for Christ.

But all of that is folly.

We’re called, of course, to order our lives and homes and families to Jesus Christ. We’re called to be his disciples. We’re called to place him above all things.

But Easter reminds us that we’re also called to let him- and him alone- accomplish the transformation of our lives.

Not one of us can conquer death. Not one of us can atone for sin. Not one of us can transform a heart, ordering it to the unreserved love of God and neighbor.

Only he can do that.

We can put ourselves in his presence. We can offer ourselves to him. We can try to follow the examples of the saints. We can try to put the sacraments at the center of our lives.

But after that, we need to trust him. Easter tells us that we become saints through the work that he, and his grace, do in us, and through us, and for us. We are participants, but he is the source of life.

“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,” St. Paul tells the Romans, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

Our newness of life comes through him. And it takes time to be fully manifested. And we have to trust.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out a kind of Pelagianism among many practicing Catholics today. A sense that we can do it ourselves: that if we manage to carry the burden of moral perfection, and apostolic life, and evangelical zeal, that we might get ourselves to heaven.

But we won’t, and we can’t. That’s not sufficient. The doors to heaven are open to us because he loved us enough to be scourged at a pillar, to hang on a cross, to be buried, and to conquer sin and death.

And in baptism, he makes us a part of his life, death, and resurrection.

The evil one wants to make us think we can do it alone. But an empty tomb is beyond our own powers and abilities.

This Easter, I’ll give thanks to the Lord for the ways I’ve grown closer to him this Lent. I’ll ask him to help me follow him more closely. I’ll repent of my sins, and confess them. I’ll continue to walk with him on the lifelong journey to holiness.

This Easter, I’ll try to remember that alone, I can’t be good enough, strong enough, or powerful enough to be free from my own sins, or from my impending death.

And I’ll celebrate that because of what he did for me, I don’t have to be.

Pro-lifers join Good Friday prayers to abortion clinic witness

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 08:01

Chicago, Ill., Apr 19, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A pro-life group is coordinating ecumenical Good Friday services and Ways of the Cross outside of abortion clinics in more than 30 states, saying it is a fitting time to pray for unborn victims, their mothers, and clinic workers affected by abortion.

“There’s no better day to remember the victims of abortion than Good Friday, when we remember the suffering and execution of Jesus Christ, an innocent man who preached the value of every single human life,” Eric Scheidler, director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said April 17.

Pro-life Christians have scheduled Way of the Cross services outside nearly 100 abortion clinics in more than 30 states, according to the Pro-Life Action League. It lists locations of these services on its website.

The league has coordinated the Good Friday prayer services since 2014 and expects thousands to attend this year. The group’s website includes a guide on how to host a Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion, aiming for a broad Christian audience.

“Though the devotion of the Stations of the Cross has Catholic roots, the service we conduct is completely ecumenical,” the guide says. “People of every denomination join us each year and there is no material in the book that would be offensive to non-Catholics.”

The Pro-Life Action League asks participating groups to report the time, date and location of their services for listing on the league’s website.

“As a society, we've become increasingly sensitive to the victims of injustice, and that’s to our credit,” said Scheidler. “But we forget about the victims of abortion, starting with the more than 60 million unborn children who have lost their lives to legal abortion in the United States since 1973.”

The millions of women who regret their abortions are also victimized, he said, as are some abortion clinic staff. He charged that abortion provider Planned Parenthood exploited sincere desires to help women, as with former clinic director Abby Johnson whose story is depicted in the movie “Unplanned.”

The Pro-Life Action League was founded by Joe Scheidler in 1980. Its activities include public protest, sidewalk counseling, and youth outreach.

Oklahoma advances abortion drug reversal bill. Is it well-founded?

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 20:01

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 18, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Oklahoma legislators have passed a bill requiring physicians to tell women that a drug-induced abortion procedure can be reversed, but questions remain over the science behind the claims and whether the bill can pass constitutional muster.

“A number of women have regret after the abortion. They may have a regret during the process but, if they don’t know there may be a way to reverse the process, then they just don’t know,” bill author Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, told the Oklahoma television station News 4.

“There are a lot of things in this world that, once you make a decision, you can’t undo. This is perhaps one that you can change your mind and you still have some hope that you could deliver a happy, healthy baby,” he said.

The House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 614 by a vote of 72 to 24. The bill requires signage about abortion drug reversal to be posted in facilities where abortions are performed.

“If you continue to perform the abortion without the signage posted, without the notice, then there are penalties and fines associated,” Lepak said.

Doctors who violate the law could face felony charges, while facilities could face fines of $10,000 per day.

Jill Webb, legal director at the ACLU of Oklahoma, said the bill could result in legal challenges if it is signed into law.

“Arizona, for instance, immediately had it challenged, and what they did was reverse the policy even before it got to court for determination,” Webb told News 4. “Not only do you have freedom of speech to say what you want, you also can’t be compelled to say something you don’t believe, and that’s what the problem is.”

Similar Arizona legislation, passed in 2015, was repealed in 2016 after legal challenges and a failure to find a credible expert willing to defend it. The State of Arizona had to pay Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers more than $600,000 in attorney fees and other costs spent fighting the law, the Associated Press said.

Dr. Melinda Cail of Primary Health Partners criticized one argument for the bill based on a study of seven patients.

“I think that physicians will find it hard to swallow something that could be a felony that was based on such a small sample,” she said, according to News 4.

“In that study of seven people, two went on to stop the procedure and had continuation of the pregnancy,” she said, commenting that it lacked long-term follow-up on whether the babies and mothers were healthy after the procedure.

Lepak said the study was “very dated” but claimed other evidence backed the bill.

A chemical abortion is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

Backers of abortion pill reversal say the abortion can be reversed after a woman takes mifepristone but before she takes misoprostol, though this must be done quickly.

Dr. George Delgado, M.D., appears to have been the author of the first study involving seven women. Delgado, a pro-life California doctor, has been a leader in medical interventions to reverse the effects of the abortion pill regimen.

He and several other researchers wrote another analysis of abortion pill reversal in the journal Issues in Law and Medicine in April 2018.

In observations of 754 patients who sought abortion pill reversal before taking the second drug, the researchers said that intramuscular progesterone had a reversal rate of 64% and high dose oral progesterone had a reversal rate of 68%.

“There was no apparent increased risk of birth defects,” the abstract said.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which tends to oppose abortion regulations, has criticized the scientific claims behind abortion pill reversal.

Its 2015 position paper on the Arizona legislation noted that pregnancy will continue in 30-50% of women who take mifepristone alone and do not take misoprostol, the National Catholic Register has reported.

“Available research seems to indicate that in the rare situation where a woman takes mifepristone and then changes her mind, doing nothing and waiting to see what happens is just as effective as intervening with a course of progesterone,” the OB/GYN group said.

The methods behind Delgado’s more recent study have also come under criticism, including allegations that some women were dropped out of the study to inflate the success rate, Los Angeles Magazine reported in March 2019.

The Abortion Pill Rescue Network, which Delgado serves as a medical advisor, has claimed to have saved over 500 babies from abortion, its website said. The network is a program of Heartbeat International, a longstanding network of pro-life pregnancy assistance.

Miami archbishop warns flock against fake Fathers

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 19:16

Miami, Fla., Apr 18, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Miami is warning Catholics against a spate of fake priests who are scamming parishioners for money and gift cards, supposedly for good causes.

The problem has cropped up in multiple parishes in the area, the archdiocese told CBS News.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski told CBS that he was assuring Catholics that “no Catholic clergyman will ask a parishioner for a gift card.”

In some of the scams, the scam artist will purport to be Archbishop Wenski himself, or the auxiliary bishop of Miami, which was the fake signature on this bogus message shown to CBS News: “I need you to get an iTunes gift card for soma patients going through cancer in the hospital and I promised each patient but I can’t do this right now...I will pay back as soon as I get back. Let me know if you can get it Many blessings.”

Having his name attached to these scams is troubling, Wenski told CBS. “It upsets you because you feel violated and you feel like nothing is safe.”

One parishioner has reportedly lost about $1500 to the scams.

Parishes are warning Catholics at Mass and in their bulletins to ignore emails or texts from priests asking for money or gift cards and to report any fake messages to police.

Wenski lamented that such scams were part of the “perils” of technology. CBS noted that concerned Catholics can check with FloridaConsumerHelp.com to see if a request for money is legitimate.

The phony priest problem seems to extend beyond Florida. Last week, the Diocese of Scranton issued warnings after two diocesan employees received similar scam texts from fake priests asking for gift cards, a local newspaper reported.

“The Diocese of Scranton reminds everyone if you are ever concerned about a message that you receive, whether by text message or email, verify it before you take any action,” the diocese said in a statement.

“It the instances reported this week, the person impersonating a priest asked each recipient to purchase $500 in gift cards for his niece as a birthday present because he was checking on a friend in the hospital.”

Similar scam texts were also reported in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to local reports.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a similar warning in March after fake priests solicited money and gift cards from parishioners in the state.

Arson charges for man who carried gasoline into NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 18:08

New York City, N.Y., Apr 18, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- The man who attempted to enter New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying gasoline, lighter fluid, and a lighter will face criminal charges. The attempted entry was the second time this week the man was arrested at a Catholic cathedral.

Marc Lamparello, 37, was apprehended April 17 by St. Patrick’s Cathedral security around 8 p.m. and taken into police custody by officers with the NYPD Critical Response Command. He apparently intended to start a fire, and police said he had a car nearby to escape the scene.

Lamparello was charged Thursday with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and illegally transporting flammable materials in public places.

Earlier this week, Lamparello was arrested for refusing to leave the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey.

On Monday evening, Lamparello refused to leave the Newark cathedral when it was closing. He was seated in a pew, and told a sheriff’s deputy that he would only leave the cathedral in handcuffs.

“If you want me to leave tonight, you’re gonna have to handcuff me and arrest me tonight and take me to jail,” he told the officer.

According to the Daily Beast, Lamparello resisted attempts by two officers to take him into custody, apparently throwing himself on the church floor and telling them “I’m not leaving. God wants me here. I know all the sins the priests have committed.”

He was charged April 15 with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.

NYPD have also confirmed that Lamparello had recently purchased a one-way airplane ticket to Rome, scheduled to depart Thursday evening.

According to the NYPD, Lamparello had four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters with him when he attempted to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral Wednesday night. He was prevented from entering by cathedral security, but was able to spill some of the gasoline on the floor as he was leaving.

About 90 minutes before he attempted to enter the cathedral, Lamparello pulled up to the church in a minivan. He then wandered around for about an hour, before taking the gasoline, lighter fluid, and lighters out of his car. He tried to go into St. Patrick’s around 8 p.m. and was apprehended shortly thereafter.

NYPD said that Lamparello’s story was “not consistent” and suspicious, though they have not yet determined any sort of motive. He claimed he cut through the cathedral as a shortcut, as his van had run out of gas. The minivan had in fact not run out of gas, which led to police taking him into custody. Lamparello was reportedly cooperative and conversational with police.

Police do not suspect terrorism, and have described Laparello as “emotionally disturbed.”

Lamparello graduated from Boston College, a Jesuit school, in 2004. Since then, he has been a philosophy instructor at several universities, including Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Seton Hall is a diocesean Catholic school administered by the Archdiocese of Newark. He previously worked as a music director for a Catholic parish in New Jersey.

His brother, Adam Lamparello, told the Daily Beast that he was “shocked” to hear of his arrest, and said that “this is something that is so not him.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praised NYPD for their quick action in apprehending the suspect.

“We are all focused on keeping our congregations and houses of worship safe as they celebrate this Holy Week,” tweeted de Blasio.

 

‘Nones’ rise amid declining church attendance, survey shows

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Church membership in the United States has dropped considerably in the last two decades, and the number of people who say they have no religion has increased, a new report from Gallup shows.

The decline in “membership” of a specific church or parish community appears especially pronounced among Catholics and young people.

Nearly one out of three millennials, defined as people born between 1980 and 2000, describe themselves as having no religion. Of the 68% who said they do have a religious faith, only 57% said they belong to a church.

Twenty years ago, when members of “Generation X” were the same age as millennials, 62% --nearly two out of three--were members of a church. Today, 54% of Generation X members belong to a church, and 79% said they have a religious belief of some sort.

Those born in 1945 or earlier were the most religious age group surveyed. Only nine percent said they did not have a religion, and nearly three out of four believers consider themselves to “belong” to a church.

Since 1998-2000, the percentage of Catholics who say they belong to a church has dropped by 13 points. In 1998-2000, 76% of Catholics said they were members of a church. By 2016-2018, this figure had dropped to 63%.

Church “membership” is difficult to tabulate among Catholics. Parish membership is primarily defined in canon law according to residence in the territory of a parish.

While many parishes operate registration programs for sacramental or pastoral purposes, “registration” does not actually define or confirm belonging to the parish community, which is conferred de facto by domicile within the territory of the parish.

In Catholic theology, Church “membership” is not ordinarily defined by registration or self-identity.

Even without taking this into account, according to the data American Catholics still appear belong to churches at higher rates than nondenominational Protestants. Only 57 percent of Americans who call themselves “nondenominational” are members of a church.

Both of these figures lag behind Protestants affiliated with a denomination, as well as Mormons. Seventy percent of denominational Protestants, and 90 percent of Mormons say they belong to churches. Mormons, unlike Catholics and Protestants, have kept relatively stable church membership numbers of the past 20 years.

Women were considerably more likely than men to say they belong to churches, with 58 percent of women and 47 percent of men identifying themselves as church members. Membership among men and women experienced a large decline in the last 20 years, with men dropping by 17 points, and women by 15.

All demographic categories now say they belong to churches at a lower rate than they did 20 years ago.

The demographics that experienced the smallest decline were Protestants (which Gallup combined with people who identify simply as “Christian”) and Republicans, who dropped six points and eight points, respectively.

Conversely, Hispanics and Democrats both dropped 23 percentage points in church membership over the last 20 years. Democrats dropped from 71 percent to 48 percent, and Hispanics from 68 to 45. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 were not far behind, declining by 22 points from 1998.

Supreme Court hears petition to overturn Louisiana abortion law

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Louisiana abortion providers presented arguments to the Supreme Court Wednesday, asking the court to strike down a state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The Center for Reproductive Rights formally presented its petition April 17, after the court granted a stay in February which blocked the law from coming into effect while lower courts heard the case.

The District Court found against the law in 2016, preventing it from coming into effect, but the decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals’ 5th Circuit.

The abortion providers argue that the Louisiana law would, if allowed to come into effect, leave the state with only one doctor qualified to perform abortions. They also contend that the law is near-identical to a Texas statute struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016, calling the similarities “crystal clear.”

The law requires that any abortion doctor have “active admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility.

The appeal filed Wednesday argued that the result of the law would be to deny the vast majority of Louisiana women access to their constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

The 2016 decision was rendered 5-3 before the appointment of a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia.

Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold the Texas law, but also agreed to grant the stay in February. The case is expected to be heard by the court during its next session after the summer.

Since the 2016 case was decided, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch have joined the court. Both opposed the granting of the February stay, with Kavanaugh issuing a widely read dissenting opinion.

Speaking in February, Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry vowed to continue the legal fight, and pointed out that the law was passed by the state legislature with nearly unanimous consent.

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has put enforcement of this pro-woman law on hold for the time being,” said Landry.

“We remain hopeful that if the Supreme Court grants certiorari in this case, it will to be to re-affirm that court's rule in fact-specific cases; because the facts in our case show [the law] is constitutional and consistent with our overall regulatory scheme for surgical procedures.”

Jesuit Father James Schall has died at age 91

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 15:01

San Jose, Calif., Apr 18, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Father James Schall, S.J., a longtime professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of numerous books and essays, died Holy Wednesday aged 91.

Schall was born Jan. 28, 1928 in Pocahontas, Iowa, and after high school spent time at the University of Santa Clara and in the U.S. Army.

He entered the California Province of the Society of Jesus in 1948, receiving a masters in philosophy from Gonzaga University in 1955 and a doctorate in political philosophy from Georgetown in 1960.

Schall was ordained a priest in 1963, and earned a masters in theology from Santa Clara the following year.

Before his appointment as a professor at Georgetown in 1978, he taught at the University of San Francisco and at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He taught in Georgetown's Department of Government until his 2012 retirement.

Schall served on the National Endowment for the Humanities' National Council on the Humanities from 1984-90, and was part of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace from 1977-82.

He spent his last years at the Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos, Calif., where he had lived as a novice more than 60 years earlier. He continued to write during his retirement. He died April 17 after a short hospitalization.

Perhaps his best-known book is Another Sort of Learning, published in 1988.

Schall spoke to CNA in 2013 about some of his recent books, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, and Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism, which were guided by the thought of Plato and Aristotle, respectively.

The priest told CNA that in “all the dialogues that Plato wrote, he asked the question, 'was it necessary that Socrates be executed by the best city?',” which question he called “the foundation of political philosophy.”

Schall explained that a Christian reading Plato will be struck by the fact “that the death of Christ and the death of Socrates are paradigmatic to each other: … they are both in a trial, both are in the best cities of their time.”

“So the question” central to political philosophy is: “how is it possible that the two best men were killed by a trial?”

“That enigma of the similarity in their deaths has always been in my mind the link between reason and revelation, and why (the two deaths) must be considered both together, and uniquely in themselves.”

The deaths of these just men raise this problem, Fr. Schall explained: “the just man will be persecuted, and the unjust will have rewards in this life.”

“The question (of injustice in the world) is unanswerable without revelation, but revelation's idea of the resurrection of the body brings to completion several strands of thought.”

Christianity “says the resurrection of the body, once it is revealed to you by the source of intelligence, is understandable to you, if you are asking the right questions.”

Cardinal Tobin: Catechism language 'very unfortunate' on homosexuality

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 12:54

Newark, N.J., Apr 18, 2019 / 10:54 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Newark said Wednesday that the language used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe homosexual acts is “very unfortunate,” adding that he hopes the Catechism will use different language in its discussion of homosexuality.

“The Church, I think, is having its own conversation about what our faith has us do and say with people in relationships that are same-sex. What should be without debate is that we are called to welcome them,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin said April 17, during an interview with NBC’s Anne Thompson on the “Today Show.”

“But how can you welcome people that you call ‘intrinsically disordered?’” Thompson asked.

“Well I don’t call them ‘intrinsically disordered,’” Tobin answered.

“But isn’t that the Catechism of the Catholic Church?” Thompson asked.

“That is,” Tobin said, adding “it’s very unfortunate language. Let’s hope that eventually that language is a little less hurtful.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” a phrase it also uses to describe other sexual acts taught by the Church to be immoral.

The Catechism does not describe homosexual persons themselves as “intrinsically disordered,” though it does say that homosexual inclination, along with other inclination toward sexual sin, is “objectively disordered.”

In a prior paragraph, the Catechism says that “sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”

The Catechism adds that “men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies…must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

Tobin endorsed a 2017 book, “Building a Bridge,” by Fr. James Martin, SJ, which has also called for the Church to amend the language with which it discusses homosexuality.

Tobin said of the book that “in too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed. Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

Tobin was also asked during the April 17 interview about the approach of the U.S. bishops to immigration, a point on which he explained that “humanity has to be recognized. It doesn’t mean that we don’t control our borders. Sure. Every nation does. But we do it in a comprehensive manner that respects also the human dignity of people who are fleeing scenes of great violence.”

Speaking of his own archdiocesan investigation into the sexual abuse and coercion perpetrated by former Newark archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Tobin said that he would is still speaking with “the Attorney General and the authorities of the state of New Jersey. I would like to get it out as soon as possible.”

BREAKING: Man arrested entering St. Patrick’s cathedral with gasoline

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 22:55

New York City, N.Y., Apr 17, 2019 / 08:55 pm (CNA).- A man is in custody after he attempted to bring containers of gasoline into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City Wednesday night.

The man was apprehended by cathedral security around 8 p.m. and taken into police custody by officers with the NYPD Critical Response Command. He attempted to start a fire using a lighter, and police said he had a car nearby to escape the scene.

According to the NYPD, the man had four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters with him when he attempted to enter the cathedral. He was prevented from entering by cathedral security, but was able to spill some of the gasoline on the floor as he was leaving.

When questioned by police as to why he was attempting to bring containers of gasoline into New York City’s largest Catholic church, the man gave “inconsistent answers.” After police inspected his minivan, and discovered that it was not out of gas, he was taken into custody.

Police have said thet have not established a motive, and have not yet charged the man with a crime. The individual was described as being “known to police.”

 

Around 7:55pm, a man walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with gas cans and lighter fluid, and was subsequently apprehended by @NYPDCT without incident. We thank our partners for their help, and remember - if you see something, say something. pic.twitter.com/qEbmklnqzQ

— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 18, 2019

 

Police have not yet released the identity of the man, other than confirming he is 37-years-old and from New Jersey. He is thought to be “mentally disturbed.”

The last scheduled Mass for Wednesday was celebrated at 5:30 p.m., per the cathedral’s website.

A spokesperson from the Archdiocese of New York told CNA that “the individual was stopped as he tried to come into the cathedral” before he was turned over to the police.

The New York Daily News reported that the man was able to spill gasoline on the floor of the church, but this has not yet been confirmed.

On Tuesday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City expressed concern for the safety of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which, like Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, also has a wooden roof.

“I thought of St. Patrick’s. I said, ‘Oh my Lord, are we safe?’” said Dolan of the Paris fire.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral recently underwent a $177 million restoration project, which included new fire safety features.

“Thank God the FDNY has been extraordinarily vigilant and helpful, because we’ve got a wooden roof too,” said Dolan.

This story is developing and is being updated

In Texas, bipartisan vote protects abortion survivors – but in NC, veto looms

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Republicans and Democrats in the Texas legislature voted to strengthen protections for babies born after surviving attempted abortions, but in North Carolina the governor could veto a similar bill.

In the Texas House of Representatives, a 93-1 vote included 12 Democrats voting in favor and 50 declaring themselves “present, not voting.” A similar Senate bill passed with a vote of 21-10, with two Democrats backing the legislation.

Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, the House bill’s sponsor, said the legislation is about “protecting innocent life, a baby who is born alive.” He said the bill was an opportunity to unite across party lines, adding, “as much as the issue of abortion has historically divided this country, this state and even this body at times, to me there should be no debate on this issue.” He said the bill adds enforcement to existing law, which in his view does not go far enough, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Democrats favoring the bill included Dallas Rep. John Turner and others who largely represented the heavily Catholic southern Texas.

Turner said he did not see the bill as being about reproductive rights, but rather as addressing “an extremely rare circumstance.” In his 2018 campaign he had said he would not vote for legislation that would restrict abortion access.

Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, the sole vote against the bill, urged others to declare themselves “present, not voting.” Dutton charged the legislation was “blatantly false, inflammatory and dangerous.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said no infants were reported to be born alive after abortion procedures in Texas from 2013 to 2016. Over 219,000 abortions were performed in the state during that period.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures said that more than 140 infants died in U.S. cases related to induced abortion from 2003 to 2014, the Associated Press reports.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List, said government figures suggest 25 babies were born alive during abortion procedures in the year 2017 in Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota.

Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, said there was no record of post-abortion births in the state and said infanticide was already illegal. She argued that the proposal did not merit debate and would stigmatize women’s health decisions, while traumatizing families whose unborn child has severe anomalies.

“The misinformation perpetuated by this bill is dangerous and is the exact type of rhetoric that leads to threats against providers,” she said. Howard, who has a background as a medical nurse, said she was “insulted by the implication that I or any other nurse or doctor ... would not do any and everything in our power to provide care to any medically stressed human being.”

Differences between the bills still require legislative action before they head to the governor. House Bill 16 would allow the state attorney general to sue a physician who fails to treat a live infant, for a fine of at least $100,000. In cases of “gross negligence,” offenders could face a third-degree felony charge penalized by imprisonment of two to ten years. The Senate bill would give the same penalties regardless of whether there was a finding of gross negligence.

Democratic State Sens. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo voted for the bill, the Texas Tribune reports. Two House Republicans did not vote: Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, who filled in for Bonnen. While it is common practice for the speaker or presiding chair not to vote, Davis has advocated for abortion rights, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Texas and 25 other states require physicians to provide medical care and treatment to infants who are born alive at any stage of development.

In North Carolina, the House of Representatives voted 65-46 to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, Senate Bill 359. The Senate passed the bill by a 28-19 vote, the Raleigh News and Observer reports.

However, some observers said the response to the bill from the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office suggested that he would veto the bill, the Associated Press reports.

“This unnecessary legislation would criminalize doctors for a practice that simply does not exist,” said Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper.

The legislation would require medical practitioners to provide sufficient care for babies who survive abortion. Failure to do so could mean prison time and up to $250,000 in fines.

The bill also mandates that medical professionals report a baby who has survived an abortion and received insufficient care. If signed into law, it would allow relatives of a baby who died to file a civil lawsuit.

The Republican-controlled legislature lost its veto-proof supermajority in the 2018 elections and will need Democratic support if the governor vetoes the bill.

“Do any of you really think that infanticide is legal in North Carolina?” said bill critic State Rep. Susan Fisher, a Buncombe County Democrat. She objected that the Republican-controlled legislature would have acted sooner, when it had a veto-proof supermajority, if legislators believed babies were being left to die or killed after a failed abortion. She argued that the measure aimed to intimidate health care providers who conducted legal abortions.

Other critics opposed charging medical providers with murder, said the legislation interfered with a woman’s right to abortion, or interfered with medical actions between a physician and a pregnant woman.

Others said the bill addressed a real injustice.

“I can attest to the fact that infanticide has happened here in North Carolina,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Carteret County. “I’ve been witness to the result of those late-term abortions.”

She said that earlier in her career in Jacksonville, N.C., she encountered a local doctor who performed abortions. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, she alleged this unnamed doctor preserved bodies of unborn babies at his office, which she believed to have survived abortion but were drowned in saline.

“Nurses told stories of babies who were born alive and were taken by the doctor and turned face down in the saline,” she said.

Federal born-alive legislation failed to pass Congress earlier this year.

In May 2013 Philadelphia-based abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of babies at his clinic. A government raid on his clinic found filthy conditions and human remains. State authorities had not inspected his clinic in years.

The illegal sale of fetal tissue and baby body parts for profit has also become prominent due to undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress that appear to show such activity by major abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. The videos have prompted concern that some babies targeted for abortion are delivered alive to provide intact bodies for tissue harvesters.

L.A. archdiocese pays abuse victim of layman $8 million

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 19:47

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 17, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $8 million to a female teenager who was sexually abused and abducted by a teacher at her high school in 2016.

The victim attended San Gabriel Mission High School, an all-girls school in San Gabriel, Calif., about 10 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The then-15-year-old student was abused over numerous months by Juan Ivan Barajas, her volleyball coach and health teacher.

“The Archdiocese recognizes that there was serious harm done to the life of the victim-survivor,” the archdiocese stated. “We hope that the settlement will allow her to heal and move forward with her education and lifetime goals. The Archdiocese apologizes for the impact that this caused in her life.”

The plaintiff’s main attorney, David Ring, said April 16 that the amount is the largest the archdiocese has paid a single victim.

According to the New York Times, Barajas, 39, had sent her sexually explicit messages and images through his phone. He had abused her in several locations on school grounds beginning in April 2016.

After Barajas' wife found out about the abuse, he kidnapped the teenager in July, and took her to Las Vegas. The police found the pair living in his car in Henderson, Nev., and Barajas was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty.

About a year before the sexual misconduct took place, several reports were issued in 2015 about Barajas’ suspicious behavior around students. Parents and staff both expressed their objections to officials at the school and archdiocese.

According to the New York Times, Monsignor Sal Pilato, the archdiocese’s superintendent of high schools, had received concerns from two volleyball coaches and a parent. These individuals were worried about his interactions with the students, including time spent alone in his office.

An anonymous letter was also issued to the superintendent, stating that “he takes the ones he like to the office,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The warning signs here were crystal clear,” Ring told the Los Angeles Times. “The complaints about Barajas were unambiguous, and yet nothing was done.”

Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswomen for the archdiocese, said the accusations had been investigated but that no evidence of sexual abuse was found. She said the former teacher had received a warning for time spent alone with a minor.

“He was counseled according to archdiocesan policies,” she said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Alarcon said the teen and her family plan to meet with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, and apologized on behalf of the archdiocese.

In 2007, the archdiocese reached a $660 million abuse settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clerical abuse. And in 2013 it paid nearly $10 million to settle a case brought by four alleged sex abuse victims of Michael Baker, who was formerly a priest of the archdiocese.

In a Jan. 22, 2013 statement regarding abuse documents, the archdiocese said that “few institutions have done as much as the Los Angeles Archdiocese to promptly report abuse allegations to civil authorities, to screen all those who supervise children, and to train adults and children in the latest abuse prevention procedures … We are justifiably proud of our record of child protection in the 21st century, and we remain vigilant against all that would harm our children and young people.”

Pro-life Democrat Lipinski faces another primary challenge

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- One of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress will once again face a primary challenger in his next election.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), narrowly defeated challenger Marie Newman in 2018 by 2,145 votes.  Following an announcement by Newman on Tuesday, he will now face her again in the March 2020 primary.

Illinois’ 3rd District is considered to be a safe Democrat district, with the more substantial electoral battle taking place during the primary. At the general election, Lipinski was reelected with over 70 percent of the vote in 2018.

Despite the previous primary campaign focusing heavily on Lipinski’s strong pro-life record vs Newman’s unqualified support for abortion, Newman said on Twitter that the district now deserves “a representative who will vote like a real Democrat in Congress—not someone who routinely sides with Trump and conservative interest groups over his own constituents.”

Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day told CNA she disagrees with Newman’s characterization of Lipinski as a conservative or a right-wing Democrat.

Instead, she said, Lipinski’s views on abortion are more in line with what Americans believe, espcially on abortion.

“When you look at polls, the majority of Americans have more moderate positions on abortion,” she said. Day told CNA she is worried that Newman’s repeated primary challenges are an effort to alienate pro-life Democrats, which she called “a wrong direction for the party.”

“The (Democratic) party has just gone so far to promote abortion,” said Day. “It just seems as though they want to purge all the pro-life voters. The party has just been really taken over.”

Day noted that despite Newman’s description of Lipinski as a bad Democrat, he has been consistently well-rated by left-leaning interest groups. The Sierra Fund, for instance, has given Lipinski a 100 percent rating on several occasions, and the AFL-CIO gave Lipinski a lifetime score of 91 percent. The National Education Association, the largest labor union of teachers, gave Lipinski a 100 percent rating in 2017-2018.

“They're not being honest when they're trying to tag Dan Lipinski as a conservative,” said Day. “He's not."

Lipinski has a score of 13 from the American Conservative Union’s legislative scorecard’s 2018 ratings. His Democratic colleagues Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Brad Foster (D-IL) both received higher scores from the American Conservative Union.

So far in 2019, the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks has given Lipinski a zero rating, and his lifetime rating is just 12 percent.

Neither Lipinski nor Newman replied to requests for comment in time for publication.

After Columbine: How one survivor found faith, and a vocation

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 18:17

Denver, Colo., Apr 17, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- Many years before she entered religious life, Sister Mary Gianna Thornby was an ordinary high school sophomore at Columbine High School in the suburbs of Denver.

Like many high schoolers, she occasionally struggled with her identity, had experienced some bullying in middle school, and ultimately just wanted to fit in. She wasn’t raised in a Christian home; at that time, God, faith – and certainly the Catholic Church – didn’t register on her radar.

“Growing up, I didn't really know if God existed or not, or that He had a plan,” Mary Gianna told CNA.

All that changed 20 years ago on April 20, 1999.

Mary Gianna had a habit, she said, of going to the library to study every single day during lunch period her freshman and sophomore years. During her sophomore year, she and a friend even changed their schedules so they would have two hours off during lunch to study together in the library.

That April morning, sitting in art class right before the lunch hour, Mary Gianna said she felt an overwhelming urge to leave school. She says she remembers thinking: “I'm going to go home, and no one's going to talk me out of not leaving.”

Her friend was confused, and asked Mary Gianna why they weren't going to the library like they always did. She suggested they go and study for an upcoming test at a restaurant instead, so they walked out of the school and hopped into Mary Gianna's car, which her dad had only just bought her the week before.

As they were driving away, she looked in her rearview mirror and saw hundreds of her schoolmates running out of the school building.

With no idea what was going on, Mary and her friend simply continued on and arrived at a bagel shop. It was there that they heard what had happened.

On that morning, two students – 17 and 18 years old – began shooting people outside the high school, ultimately killing 13 and wounding more than 20 others before taking their own lives as well.

The violence perpetrated at Columbine would remain the most deadly shooting at a U.S. high school until February 2018, when 17 students died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.

Mary Gianna soon learned that most of the killings took place in the library – the place where, on any other day, she would have surely been during that exact time.

“And so I wondered: why wasn't I there?” she mused. “Every other day I was there, but that one day – what gave me that urge to leave?”

She remembers being told by someone: “God must have a plan for your life.”

“I realized God existed, and He had a plan, but at the time I didn't know who God was. And at the time, people were questioning how could God allow something like this to happen,” Mary Gianna said.

Every day, the next school year, she would walk by the spot where the library used to be – since so many of the killings took place there, it was demolished and eventually rebuilt in a different spot – wondering why she had been spared. At that time, she had the stirrings of faith, but still no clear answers.

She said she started drinking, going to parties, looking for other things to offer fulfillment – but she knew in her heart it wasn't where she was supposed to be. Her senior year, she said, she felt like she had finally reached “rock-bottom” and lost all hope.

“It was in those moments that I felt like I just couldn't go on in life that one of my friends invited me to the Catholic Church at St. Francis Cabrini in Littleton, Colorado,” she said.

Immediately upon walking in, she met a representative of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, who encouraged her to consider going there for college. She also met a youth minister named Kate.

“She started telling me about a God that passionately loved me,” Mary Gianna recalled.

Kate started taking her out for coffee and telling her about God's love – that He does have a plan, that Mary Gianna was made in his image and likeness. Growing up, she had no direction in life, Mary Gianna said, and God's love was that thing that she had been missing.

“Not only did God lead me out of Columbine that day – he was leading me home on that day. He was leading me to Himself,” Mary Gianna said.

“And I wanted to say ‘yes’ with all my heart to God's plan. I realized that He had a plan, and I wanted to say ‘yes’ to that plan."

She ended up enrolling at Franciscan University, even though at first her father had misgivings about the cost. Later on, however, it seemed his heart had been changed. Mary Gianna said her parents were very supportive of her faith and the direction her life took after her conversion.

She went through RCIA her freshman year at Franciscan, and at the Easter vigil Mass on March 30, 2002 at the age of 19, she was received into the Catholic Church.

Mary Gianna experienced the call to religious life in 2008, when she went to the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota and prayed that she would be able to enter into the Mass in a way she had never experienced before.

It was through Mass that she felt God's presence before her. She walked out of the chapel changed; all she wanted was religious life.

She chose a charismatic, Franciscan, contemplative, and missionary order called the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, which brought her to Prayer Town, Texas, northwest of Amarillo. She pronounced her final vows on August 4, 2018.

Twenty years on from the Columbine tragedy, Mary Gianna said she thinks more of her former classmates are finding the strength to talk about what happened that day. She said she keeps in touch with some of her classmates, teachers, and the former principal of the school, especially her friend who left the school with her that day. They've talked about the experience since.

“I often think of the greatest tragedy of Jesus being put to death on the cross, and how it led to our salvation, and that even in the midst of the tragedy at Columbine, God can bring good,” she reflected.

“That He would bring life out of death. And I think we've seen that in a lot of ways.”

She mentioned the widely-known story of Rachel Joy Scott, a passionately Christian teenager who was one of the first Columbine students killed during the massacre. Rachel reportedly told her teacher shortly before her death that she thought she was going to have a “major impact in the world,” and she always took care to reach out to the “new kid” in school and those who had been bullied or had no one to sit with at lunch.

Witnesses said the gunmen asked Rachel if she believed in God, and she answered yes. Then they shot her in the head and chest.

“I was amazed that: here was a girl from my high school who was so passionate about her faith that she was willing to say ‘yes’ and die for Christ,” Mary Gianna reflected.

“And I thought: what would I have said? I could have easily been there that day. I didn't have faith. But then I realized: God knew this is where I would be. That if she was able to say ‘yes’ and die for Christ, I can say ‘yes’ and live for him. And that's what truly inspired me to really say ‘yes,’ to live for Him.”

The religious sister says the Lord took her from a life of despair and hopelessness to a place of great joy for life, and a desire to share the “fullness of life” with others.

“I really feel like the sufferings I've had in this life; I think it's kept me close to the Lord. And I think it's the call to trust God, that He never allows a tragedy or a heartbreak to happen unless He can bring a greater good out of it,” she said.

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