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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.
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Decline in Hispanic Catholics a 'direct challenge' to the Church in the US

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 19:19

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Last week’s Pew report revealed that Catholics are no longer a majority among U.S. Hispanics—a stark challenge to the Church in the U.S. to evangelize.

 
“What we’re not doing well as a Church is that we’re not building a culture in the parish where the family is truly welcome, and for Hispanics, that really is unforgivable,” said Carlos Taja, associate director to the Secretariat on Evangelization and Catechesis at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an interview with CNA.
 
Last week, the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life published the results of surveys of American adults conducted in 2018 and 2019.
 
The report showed a precipitous decline over the past decade in the percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as Christian, with the percentage of those religiously “unaffiliated” rising substantially in that time.
 
Overall, the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian has fallen by 12% in the last decade to 65% of the population, according to Pew. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans not identifying with any religion at all has risen by 9% to 26% of the American populace.
 
Protestantism saw a large decline from 51% of the population to 43% in the last decade, while Catholicism fell from 23% to 20% of the population.
 
This decline appeared within the Hispanic demographic as well. Hispanics identifying as Catholic fell by 10% over the last decade from 57% to 47%; those “unaffiliated” with a religion grew from 15% to 23% in that time span.
 
This drop in the percentage of Hispanic Catholics should not come as a surprise, said Hosffman Ospino, a theology and education professor and director of graduate programs in Hispanic Ministry at Boston College. Ospino authored a report in 2014 on “Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes” that examined the challenges to the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. among Hispanics.
 
While Pew has historically underreported the numbers of Hispanic Catholics, he said, a decline is palpable—and not surprising.
 
“Why should we be surprised?” Ospino asked rhetorically of the decline in numbers. “The truth is that many Catholics in the United States,” he said, “still do not fully understand the reality of the Hispanic experience, and who Hispanics are, and what Hispanics bring to the Church.”
 
Among religious immigrant populations, each successive U.S.-born generation usually trends more secular, Ospino observed. In the 1990s, around half of the Hispanic U.S. population were immigrants, but today 64 percent are U.S.-born, he said, and thus according to demographic trends there should be more Hispanics today who are not Catholic.
 
Another social trend is the urbanization of the Hispanic population, Ospino said. More Hispanic families either live in cities or the children move to cities once they leave their family home; cities are generally more secular than rural communities, and there the youth may discover that they can live without their family’s faith.
 
And secularization is not just increasing in the U.S. but also in Latin America, said Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, a distinguished scholar in pastoral theology and Latino studies at Loyola Marymount University in California.
 
While many variables might affect this increase in secularization, what is clear is that the Church in the U.S. cannot simply rely upon immigration to fill the pews without actively evangelizing, experts said.
 
“There’s this naivete, I think, where the belief that the influx of the Hispanic population through immigration was going to simply revitalize the Church in the United States by sheer numbers, without any desire to actually sometimes minister or accompany these people in the different stages of their lives,” Taja said.

The decline in the parish community and a failure to accompany new Hispanic families has led to alienation of Hispanic Catholics on a mass scale, he said.
 
“Most of the time, it is the reality that there is a sense that they’re just not wanted,” Taja said.
 
Many Latino immigrants have suffered violence or abuse on their journey to the U.S., he pointed out, yet suffering and redemption through the Cross is not a message preached at U.S. parishes.
 
“No one in the Church will actually speak to their reality of the things they have suffered,” he said. “What happens when you suffer, and the Lord Who died for you on the cross is not spoken with the depths of His infinite mercy for those who suffer? What happens when redemptive suffering is just never spoken about?”
 
Parishes have also failed to actively seek out those who might come to Church but haven’t yet walked through the doors, Ospino said.
 
“The Church, her identity is to be on mission, to be the Bride of the Groom,” Taja said, “to proclaim and live the ministry of Jesus Christ.”
 
“When she does not do this, when she becomes self-referential, she becomes sterile,” he said.
 
So with a long-term decline in the Catholic population in the U.S., including within the Hispanic community, what must be done?
 
“Every diocese, every bishop in the United States of America must engage in synods, or conversations or assemblies that bring the Hispanic Catholic experience and the needs of the Hispanic Catholic community forward as a priority,” Ospino said. “We cannot keep treating Latinos, Hispanic Catholics, as second citizens in our Church.”
 
“If the parish community fails, the family has no place to go,” Taja said, and the family is at the crux of Hispanic culture.
 
In many Hispanic families, he said, the grandparents are the ones drawing the children to the faith, but many U.S. parishes don’t take this into account. Instead, for family events, they might invite husbands and wives but not grandparents.
 
A relationship with the parish priest is also critical in Hispanic culture, Taja said, especially for youths who have questions about the faith or doubts, or need someone to talk to.
 
However, in many dioceses there may be one priest for several parishes. For a parish with limited hours when the church is open, or when the pastor is only available by appointment, “that’s nuts,” Taja said. “It’s unknown, because he [the priest] is such a link to the Lord and to the Church.”
 
Pope Francis has provided a blueprint for evangelization, especially through his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, and the Church in the U.S. needs to take note.
 
Catholics must be “active” and “go out and look for these people” who aren’t coming to Church “and engage them,” Ospino said.
 
Latinos make up a sizable portion of Catholics in the U.S., particularly among young people, and they need to be put in more positions of leadership in the Church, Fr. Figueroa said.
 
“Latinos, even though they are a very large percentage of the Church,” he said, “do not enjoy positions of leadership in the Church anywhere near their numbers.”
 
Many Hispanics also want to be Catholic and want to be better catechized, Ospino and Taja said.
 
Many in the community may not know Church teaching on a particular matter, but they do want to learn it in order to please God, Taja said. In contrast, many in the Anglo community may know Church teaching but are comfortable holding a belief contrary to it.
 
“Latinos are still here,” Ospino said. There are millions of young Hispanics in the U.S. who “want to be Catholic, they want a Church, they want to be in love with Jesus Christ,” he said.

Texas court favors woman seeking gender transition for 7 year-old son

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 18:04

Austin, Texas, Oct 23, 2019 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- A Texas jury this week ruled against a father who wants to block the hormonal gender transition of his 7-year-old son James into a girl named Luna.

Texas dad Jeffrey Younger had appealed to a state court to obtain sole custody of his twins, Jude and James, in part to save James from a hormonal gender transition that the boy’s mother has been planning, according to the Washington Examiner.

The jury ruled on Monday that Dr. Anne Georgulas, the mother of the twins, would maintain sole custody of the boys, which would allow her to proceed with her plan to have James undergo a gender transition and be called “Luna.” Georgulas believes James identifies as a girl because of his affinity for the Disney movie “Frozen” and its female character leads, according to Town Hall.

Expert witnesses called in the court reportedly expressed doubts as to whether James actually strongly identified as female.

“There is still some fluidity in his thinking,” Dr. Benjamin Albritton said in his testimony, according to the Washington Examiner. “Neither child appears to be depressed, anxious or aggressive ... He [James] gave no indications of other significant psychological difficulties.”

Georgulas reportedly wants to enroll James as a patient at the GENECIS in Dallas in their “Gender Affirming Care Program” for youth. On their website, the clinic says it offers hormone therapy and puberty suppression therapy along with mental health and social services. It does not currently offer gender transition surgery.

The case of James Younger has met with outrage from critics who say it raises multiple ethical considerations, including the rights of parents as well as the best interest of children experiencing gender dysphoria.

According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidelines GENECIS follows, “Pubertal suppression is not without risks. Delaying puberty beyond one’s peers can also be stressful and can lead to lower self-esteem and increased risk taking. Some experts believe that genital underdevelopment may limit some potential reconstructive options. Research on long-term risks, particularly in terms of bone metabolism and fertility, is currently limited and provides varied results.”

Numerous doctors and ethicists have previously raised concerns about whether it is ethical to treat children with gender dysphoria with hormones, puberty blockers or surgery.

In a December 2018 article for The Christian Post, multiple pediatrics doctors said they would treat gender dysphoria as a psychological issue, and not an endocrinological or physical issue.

“[Parents] need to continue to love their children. They need to continue to affirm their human dignity. Yet they shouldn't have to jettison biological reality to be able to put what they're being told into practice, in terms of disrupting normally timed puberty,” Dr. Paul Hruz, an associate professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Christian Post.

The article featured interviews with several doctors who said synthetic hormones could put children on a pathway to permanent sterilization, and many other long-term repercussions which may not be felt for years.

“The reality is that there is no long-term data about treating children, and the only data that we have in adults indicates that medical interventions to align the appearance of the body to a transgendered identity does not fix the problem,” Hruz told The Christian Post.

“There is a core of very diabolical people who are filtering large sums of money into this and using mass social pressure,” added Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist in private practice in Atlanta.

The doctors said they also objected to medical interventions for children with gender dysphoria because most children will grow up to re-identify with their biological gender.

In 2016, many doctors protested after the Department of Health and Human Services announced that health providers could not refuse treatment, including surgery, for “gender transition” services if they were asked for them, even if they believed them to be harmful to the patient. The rule was struck down after challenges in court by nine states as well as by religious groups and doctors.

New US rep to United Nations in Geneva hailed for pro-life beliefs

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 17:18

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The Senate’s confirmation Tuesday of Andrew Bremberg as U.S. Representative to the UN in Geneva drew praise from a pro-life leader, and condemnation from Planned Parenthood.

On Oct. 22 the Senate voted 50-44 to confirm Bremberg, assistant to the president and senior advisor for domestic policy at the White House, as the U.S. Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva. Bremberg was nominated for the position by President Trump Sept. 28, 2018.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that Bremberg “will be a strong advocate for the cornerstone of all human rights, the right to life, and will stand up to the international abortion lobby at the United Nations.”

The position is an important diplomatic post, representing the U.S. in front of more than 100 international organizations on issues ranging from refugee resettlement to human rights, arms control, and the environment.

As a key advisor to the White House domestic policy, Bremberg had a role in crafting and implementing the administration’s expansion of the Mexico City Policy.

The Mexico City Policy, originally begun under President Reagan and reinstated by the Trump administration, bans U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning.

The administration’s expansion of that policy, Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, applied the same funding prohibitions to $8.8 billion in global health assistance.

Bremberg was also the policy director for the 2016 Republican Party platform, which called for stronger refugee resettlement and immigration restrictions, said pornography was a “public health crisis,” and which was hailed by some pro-life leaders for its proposals to ban late-term, disability, and sex-selective abortions.

50 Republicans voted for Bremberg’s confirmation, and 41 Democrats opposed it. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in voting against Bremberg’s confirmation.

The confirmation was also opposed by 38 organizations in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho); the organizations included pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International, the National Abortion Federation, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and the National Organization for Women.

“Mr. Bremberg’s record and confirmation hearing leave no doubt he will use the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva to strip away reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights around the world,” the letter stated.

At his confirmation hearing June 20 in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bremberg faced tough questions on his views on abortion, LGBT rights, and refugee resettlement policy, among other problems.

Menendez asked Bremberg if he thought rape victims should be able to access abortions where it is legal to do so. “I don’t believe abortion is a moral solution to any problem,” Bremberg responded.

Bremberg told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) that he accepted “reproductive rights” as outlined in two international documents—the 1995 Beijing Conference Strategic Objective, and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development—as “important rights.”

However, he added that the language in those international documents does not include promotion of abortion as a method of family planning.

When pressed by Menendez on proposed funding cuts to refugee assistance at a time when more than 70 million people have been displaced from their homes, Bremberg responded that “we need to see other countries step up and do their fair share” in refugee resettlement.

When pressed again by Menendez on his views on access to abortions for survivors of rape, Bremberg said that “I am pro-life, I believe that all human life is sacred, and that human life begins at conception.”

“So when you’re raped, a woman has no rights?” Menendez responded. Bremberg said that “suggestion” was “horrific,” and later clarified that “any suggestion that I do not have care for victims of rape, I find horrendous. I have family members that were raped, Senator.”

“Well—and I am deeply sorry. But—” Menendez responded, before Bremberg interrupted and said he accepted the apology.

“I am not apologizing,” Menendez retorted before telling Bremberg, “You should apologize to the women who are raped, who you say have to live with the rape.”

Planned Parenthood Action tweeted its disapproval of Bremberg’s confirmation on Tuesday, saying that Bremberg “has the power to erode the rights of women, LGBTQ people, & immigrants around the world.”

In his statement to the committee at his confirmation hearing, Bremberg criticized the UN Human Rights Council for not speaking out on certain human rights problemss such as China using its position on the council to pressure members not to attend an event on its treatment of Uyghurs. He stated his intent to work “to protect US sovereignty and the broader world order we have fought so hard to create.”

Bremberg has attended Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America. He was for a time the top health policy expert at the Mitre Corporation, Politico has reported.

How should Americans think about religious liberty? New book explores

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 16:39

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 02:39 pm (CNA).- Helping Americans understand the importance of religious freedom, as well as a measured view of contemporary threats to it, is the goal of a new book from a leading attorney in the field.

Luke Goodrich has spent more than a decade at Becket, and has worked on the legal team in several high-profile religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court, including Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Holt v. Hobbs, and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.

Goodrich’s new book, “Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America,” explores the current religious freedom landscape in the United States today.

In an interview with CNA, Goodrich explained that when religious freedom conflicts arise, hostility is not usually to blame.

“You will sometimes have a case where the government is out to get religious people because of their religion, although that’s fairly rare. You will sometimes have a case where religious people are simply wreaking havoc on society because of their religious practices,” he said.

“But the vast majority of religious freedom conflicts involve neither of those situations, and instead simply involve situations where our very large government is going about its business regulating society, and religious people are going about their business worshipping God, and because of the breadth of government regulation and the diversity of religious practice, you end up with a conflict.”

In these cases, he said, it is important for government to leave religious practice as untouched as possible.

“In the vast majority of cases, there is a workable solution, where the government can accomplish its interest, and where religious people can be left free to practice their faith.”

Unfortunately, Goodrich said, the rhetoric in society does not always match this reality. Exaggerations and inflammatory rhetoric mean that the government is sometimes accused of persecution, while religious people may be falsely accused of bigotry or asking for a “license to discriminate.”

“What I’m trying to do in the book, and what we’re often trying to do in court in these cases is show that Americans are deeply divided over God, over sex, over human life. And yet we need to find a way to live together in relative peace, and protecting religious freedom is a starting point for that, and there are all kinds of solutions that will allow religious people to practice their faith without compromising the goals of society.”

All people, even those who are not practicing any religion themselves, should care about religious freedom, Goodrich said.

The American founders firmly believed that the type of government they were establishing would only be successful in governing a morally virtuous population, he stressed. “And religion is one vital source of moral virtue that’s necessary for our form of self-government.”

There are practical benefits to the flourishing of religion in society, he added, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, soup kitchens, and halfway houses, which are often run by religious organizations.

In addition, he said, religion has historically reduced social conflict, and it is a protection for dissent and diversity, important elements of American society.

“Religious freedom is a source of protection for all of our other rights, because religious freedom starts from the premise that there’s an authority higher than the government, and the government can’t take that away,” he said.

“This recognition of some source of rights outside of and above the government is a foundational protection of all other rights – free speech, free assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.”

But perhaps the most important reason to care about religious freedom, Goodrich said, is that it is a fundamental right, rooted in our nature as human beings.

Every person is born with a longing for truth, beauty, and goodness – ultimately a longing for God, he said.

“We all have this religious impulse and it can’t be directed by coercion, it can only be directed voluntarily by conscience,” he said. “So when the government tries to coerce us in matters of transcendent truth and our relationship with God, it’s going against human nature and violating a fundamental human right. Everyone should care about religious freedom, because you cannot fully respect human beings unless you respect their religious freedom.”

Still, religious freedom cannot be invoked to justify every type of behavior, Goodrich acknowledged.

“Like any right, religious freedom has limits, and they generally come from the government’s duty to protect other people’s rights – the right to life, the right to property etc.,” he said. Freedom of religion cannot be used to protect acts of terrorism or child sacrifice, for example.

Finding the correct balance of religious freedom claims against government interests can be tricky, but the legal system has worked out tools to help find this balance, he explained.

“I think in general, it’s essential to identify precisely what is the religious practice at issue and precisely what is the government’s interest at issue, and is the government consistent in the way that it pursues that interest.”

For example, difficult cases arise in a prison context, where prisoners are deprived of many liberties, but do not lose all of their freedoms, including religious freedom. Inmates motivated by religious conviction may seek to maintain a certain religious diet in prison, or groom their hair and beard in a certain way, or access religious literature. Meanwhile, the government has valid and weighty interests in restricting the liberty of prisoners.

Balancing these two sides requires asking the questions: “What is the religious practice at issue? What is the government trying to accomplish? Is there any way it can accomplish its goal while still allowing religious freedom?” Goodrich said.

Another key test is that of sincerity, he continued.

“Religious freedom ultimately flows out of the human thirst for transcendent truth and obedience to conscience,” he said. “And so because of that, religious freedom only protects sincere religious beliefs and practices.”

Determining the sincerity of one’s stated religious beliefs is similar to other questions of truth-telling in the law, Goodrich said. Courts look at consistency, how long views have been held, and sometimes basic knowledge of a belief system.

“That becomes relevant in prison, when a prisoner fakes a religious belief in order to get, for example, a diet that he thinks is better. It’s relevant in a military context, where someone says they are conscientiously opposed to war – you have to make sure that’s a genuine belief and not a convenient way to get out of military service. It comes up with parody religions like pastafarians, where they absolutely have free speech rights, but when they’re trying to parody religion and protest religion without sincere religious beliefs themselves, they don’t get religious freedom protection.”

Goodrich also discussed the questions behind conflicts of religious liberty and LGBT claims, among the most contentious religious freedom debates in the U.S. today.

In the book, he argues that “there are strong arguments for protecting religious freedom in the context of gay rights,” similar to the way that conscientious objectors are not forced to fight in war or participate in abortion.

“[W]hen our society is deeply divided on an important moral issue, we look for ways to protect both sides,” he writes. “Protecting conscientious objectors respects the fundamental right of religious freedom and allows our divided society to live together in peace.”

Christians should recognize that there is a “significant risk” posed by conflicts between gay rights and religious freedom, Goodrich advises in the book. They should anticipate such conflicts and possible mitigation, and they should avoid being overly reliant on government funds. But they do not need to give in to panic or alarm – they should also recognize that there are good arguments for protecting religious freedom in LGBT cases, and there is reason to believe these arguments will continue to prevail in courts.

Looking at the current state of religious freedom in the U.S. – and looking ahead to the future – Goodrich told CNA he is “very hopeful.”

“We have a stable legal system with strong guarantees of religious freedom, due process, and the rule of law, and a deep national commitment to religious freedom. Just looking at the legal system and what it’s been delivering, there are plenty of reasons for hope and for optimism.”

He noted that Becket has a 90%-win rate in all of its cases, and is undefeated at the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, though, he has a deeper reason for hope as well. As a Christian writing to other Christians, he said, “we have a source of hope that goes much deeper than the current composition of the Supreme Court or the current occupant of the White House. We have hope ultimately rooted in a person, in Jesus, who said, ‘In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world’.”

“We have hope rooted in an eternal perspective, so that regardless of the outcome of this or that case or that or that election, we have a strong foundation for hope, and that’s part of what I’m trying to accomplish with the book, is call Christians back to the ultimate source of our hope, as well as the ultimate source of religious freedom,” he said.

In this attitude of hope and confidence, Goodrich hopes his book will help Americans to better understand the nature of contemporary religious freedom threats, and be prepared to take practical action.

“We’re called in scripture to be innocent as doves, but also to be shrewd as serpents, so we need to take stock of where we’re at, and be ready for the challenges ahead,” he said.

Appeals court rules against Little Sisters' exemption from HHS mandate

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 15:26

San Francisco, Calif., Oct 23, 2019 / 01:26 pm (CNA).- Attorneys for the Little Sisters of the Poor reiterated their call for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in after a second appeals court ruled against the sisters’ exemption from the federal contraception mandate.

“The Little Sisters never wanted this fight and have spent 8 years trying to focus on caring for the elderly poor instead of fighting senseless legal battles. The states in these lawsuits should leave the nuns alone,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, the law firm representing the sisters.

In an Oct. 22 statement on Twitter, Alvarado noted that Becket and the U.S. Solicitor General have asked the Supreme Court to review the matter.

“It must step in to fix the mess and secure #religiousfreedom for the Little Sisters,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Little Sisters of the Poor on Oct. 22, joining the Third Circuit, which in July also ruled against the order and other pro-life organizations that benefitted from a religious exemption policy against the requirements of the HHS Mandate.

The mandate, initially issued by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering free contraception, sterilization, and some early abortion drugs.

“The panel affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement in several states of final federal agency rules that exempt employers with religious and moral objections from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that group health plans cover contraceptive care without cost sharing,” said the Ninth Circuit decision.

The ruling was made by Circuit Judges J. Clifford Wallace, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, and Susan P. Graber. Wallace authored the majority opinion, and Kleinfeld dissented.

“We acknowledge that we are in uncharted waters,” says the opinion. “The Supreme Court has yet to address the effect of a nationwide preliminary injunction on an appeal involving a preliminary injunction of limited scope.”

The opinion says the judges would “welcome guidance from the Supreme Court.”

The contraception mandate has been controversial since it was first unveiled in 2011, prompting lawsuits from more than 100 private individuals, religious organizations, states and for-profit businesses who held religious objections to its terms.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to the care of the elderly poor, did not qualify for the religious exemption included in the original mandate, which was reserved for houses of worship and their direct affiliates.

Five years after the announcement of the mandate, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters, and ordered that a workaround be developed that appeased all sides. The Trump administration created a new religious exemption rule that exempted those with religious or moral objections to contraception from having to provide it through their insurance plans.

This rule is being challenged in court, as 14 states have argued that the sisters should not receive an exemption from the mandate.

“The states are arguing that even though there’s injunctions in the mandate in the Little Sisters’ case in this country, it violated the law for the federal government to issue a religious exemption,” Diana Verm, senior counsel with Becket, told CNA in early October.

“The Little Sisters just want to go back to serving the elderly poor,” said Verm. “If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, they’ll be able to do so.”

Lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor have noted that those opposing them have yet to present an example of a woman who was unable to access birth control due to the views of her employer.

Florida bishops ask governor to stay planned execution

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 02:26

Tallahassee, Fla., Oct 23, 2019 / 12:26 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have called on Governor Ron DeSantis to halt the scheduled execution of James Dailey, who is on death row for murder in a controversial case from nearly 35 years ago.

The bishops leading the seven dioceses of Florida signed a joint letter Oct. 21. While they noted their objections to any use of the death penalty in the state, they said Dailey’s case is “especially alarming” because of the evidence of innocence surrounding him.

“There is strong evidence that James Dailey’s death sentence was yet another failure of justice,” the bishops said. “Another man, Jack Pearcy, has signed a sworn affidavit that he, and he alone, was responsible for the tragic death of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio.”

Dailey, a 73-year-old veteran, is scheduled to be executed Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose body was found repeatedly stabbed and drowned near St. Petersburg.

There is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connecting Dailey to the murder, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Rather, Dailey’s housemate and co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, accused him of taking part in the crime. Pearcy is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.

Inmates at the prison where Dailey was being held were interviewed, initially yielding no results. A few days later, however, three inmates said they had heard Dailey make incriminating statements. The inmates received reduced charges in return for the information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. One of the inmates was known as a prolific informant, giving testimony over the years that has sent four men to death row and being convicted himself of more than 20 crimes of deception.

Pearcy has acknowledged at least four times that Dailey was innocent of the crime, Dailey’s lawyers maintain, including in a 2017 affidavit, signed by Pearcy, which said, “James Dailey was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed. I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.”

However, in January 2018, Pearcy took the witness stand and was questioned about the affidavit. He said some of the statements in it were untrue. When pressed further about which statements, he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Dailey’s appeal, which argued that new evidence discrediting the jail informant testimony against Dailey should be permitted to be introduced. The court said Dailey should have raised this objection earlier. It ruled that all of his “newly discovered evidence claims were either correctly rejected as untimely or based on inadmissible evidence.”

The bishops of Florida voiced concern over the state’s high number of executions - and exonerations.

“Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations,” they noted. “Florida makes more mistakes than any other state in sentencing innocent people to death.”

Dailey would be the 100th execution in Florida since the state revived the death penalty in 1976.

“This use of the death penalty wounds our society by allowing a devaluation and coarseness of life in our community,” the bishops said.

Concerns over the scheduled execution have also been raised by three men who were sentenced to death but later exonerated due to poor evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

The men, Juan Melendez, Herman Lindsey, and Derrick Jamison, have written a letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to reconsider Dailey’s case.

“The same types of evidence that led each of us to be exonerated are also present in James’ case,” they wrote. “The only difference allowing us to be spared from execution while James is set to be killed is whether or not a judge and jury has had the opportunity to review all the evidence.”

The bishops of Florida announced more than 30 prayer vigils throughout the state on Nov. 7, where Catholics and other community members will gather “to pray for the victim and aggressor, their families, for our society which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

“As Pope Francis has stated, and as the Catechism has been updated to reflect, the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’ due to modern penal systems,” the bishops said. “At certain times in history, the teachings of the Church did not exclude recourse to the death penalty when it was the only means by which to protect society and guilt was properly determine.”

“Today, however, alternative sentences, such as life without parole, are severe punishments through which society can be kept safe,” they continued, stressing that these alternatives “do not degrade us by ending yet another life - perpetuating, rather than ending, a cycle of violence.”

Former finance director sues Jackson diocese

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 20:01

Jackson, Miss., Oct 22, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Jackson and its ordinary, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, are being sued by the diocese’s former director of finance, who says he was unjustly fired last year.

Arie “Aad” Mattheus de Lange was fired from the diocese Oct. 3, 2018, which was later changed to an administrative leave. In May, he was told that he was no longer employed by the Diocese of Jackson. He filed the lawsuit earlier this month, saying his firing was in retaliation for his complaints about how the budget is handled.

“The reasons proffered for de Lange’s termination were false, pretextual, and did not rise to the level of grave reason,” claims the lawsuit. The suit further states that it is “inexplicable” that de Lange was fired for a grave reason due to the lack of any sort of performance review during his employment.

“De Lange’s discharge was retaliatory in nature based upon his reasonable objection to the unrealistic budget proposed for Catholic Charities and the potential adverse impact it posed to the diocese,” said the suit. According to the filing, the Diocese of Jackson serves as the guarantor of Catholic Charities, and Catholic Charities does not need permission to remove money from the diocese’s checking account.

In the suit, de Lange claims he was wrongfully terminated, and that he had been defamed by the diocese, which negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. He is not asking for a certain amount in damages, but requested that the jury determine an appropriate amount.

When de Lange was initially fired in October 2018, Kopacz sent him a letter stating that he was being fired due to a “weakened financial and administrative condition of the diocese,” an “unexpected large deficit” during that fiscal year, “internal problems reflected in the prior year’s audit report and anticipated in this year’s report,” and a “lack of leadership, communication and collaboration” between his office and diocesean leadership.

de Lange disputes these claims, and instead says that Kopacz had been looking to terminate him since 2016. That year, de Lange did not support Kopacz being named as the interim executive director of the diocesesan board of directors. De Lange said that he believed Kopacz being in this position created a conflict of interest, as board members of the board of directors were employees of the bishop and therefore could not fire him.

Normally, the board is able to terminate the executive director – but this would not be possible if the interim executive director is the bishop himself.

In a statement given to the Clarion Ledger, the Diocese of Jackson said they stood by their reasons for dismissing de Lange in 2018 and that is the “general policy of the Diocese not to comment on pending litigation and personnel matters.”

Pompeo highlights religious freedom, pro-life goals as among US priorities 

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 19:19

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Secretary of State listed promoting international religious freedom and fighting abortion as among U.S. foreign policy priorities in a Tuesday speech on diplomacy.

In his remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department in July, with religious leaders and survivors of religious persecution from all over the world in attendance as well as delegations from more than 100 countries.

He also spoke about a joint statement of the U.S. and 20 other countries at a recent meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, “rejecting the claim that abortion is a human right.”

Secretary Pompeo addressed the conservative Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club meeting on Tuesday, at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C.

During his speech on “Trump Administration Diplomacy: The Untold Story,” Pompeo outlined the administration’s foreign policy priorities such as pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear program. Pompeo said that Iran was “the aggressor, not the aggrieved” in the Middle East.

Pompeo also addressed the recent controversy over President Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops away from the Turkey-Syria border. The White House had announced the troop withdrawal as Turkey was beginning a “long-planned operation” into Syria with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house 2 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

The U.S. ultimately ceded responsibility to Turkey for ISIS militants in the area who had been captured in the previous two years. There have been reports of hundreds of detainees with links to ISIS escaping from camps in the region; around 950 ISIS supporters reportedly escaped one displacement camp in Northern Syria on Oct. 13.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians warned that the Turkish invasion could prove perilous for around 40,000 Christians in Northeast Syria. On Oct. 14, Trump announced economic sanctions on Turkey for its invasion of Syria.

Pope Francis, in his Oct. 13 Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, prayed for “beloved and tormented Syria” and “the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions.” He called for the international community to undertake “the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions.”

“It is a complicated story to be sure. The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined,” Pompeo said on Tuesday.

During a question-and-answer portion of his appearance with Heritage’s executive vice president Kim Holmes, Pompeo explained in greater detail the administration’s strategy in promoting religious freedom.

The U.S. has a “selfish interest” in promoting religious freedom around the world, he said, because “nations that have more religious liberty tend to view the world much closer to the way the United States views the world.”

Pompeo said that his goal is to ensure U.S. ambassadors and embassy staff are trained to promote freedom of religion, saying that “if you travel to visit a U.S. embassy and meet someone on our team, an ambassador or whomever, I would have failed as a leader if they don’t understand that this is a real priority for this administration.”

The administration has even worked to hold U.S. allies accountable on religious freedom in the agency’s annual human rights report, Pompeo said. For example, the State Department’s 2018 report noted abuses in Saudi Arabia including “unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents.”

“We identify every single incident where we found some violation of human rights. So we do it; we list our friends,” Pompeo said.

Other countries “are watching what we’re doing,” he said, “they’re watching how America does this. They’re watching how President Trump addresses this set of issues. And I am convinced that the work we’re doing will enhance religious freedom for millions and millions of people around the world.”

Pompeo was also asked about the creation of an advisory commission to the State Department on human rights.

He answered that he had long been interested in human rights since he studied just war theory as a soldier, and that his interest was influenced by his evangelical Christian faith.

When he entered the State Department in 2018, however, Pompeo said he saw a lack of “clarity” and “grounding” in human rights at the agency.

The aim of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, he said, is to “lay down with clarity not only what these human rights are, these fundamental rights are, but from what it is they are derived, how we got there.” The commission will examine human rights in light of the Declaration of Independence and the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

“When you see Venezuela get on the Human Rights Council at the UN, it cries out for a re-examination of these fundamental first principles,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. issued a critical statement in light of Venezuela’s election last week to the UN’s Human Rights Council. Mauritania, a country where slavery is still reportedly practiced, was also elected to the Human Rights Council.

 

Letter urges Congress to guard pro-life protections in foreign spending

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 16:27

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- A coalition of pro-life leaders has sent a letter calling on federal lawmakers to oppose an amendment to a foreign funding bill that would give money to organizations that promote abortion overseas.

The letter, dated Oct. 17, was signed by nearly four dozen pro-life leaders, including the associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and the presidents of the March for Life and National Right to Life.

It was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif).

The Trump administration has already updated the Mexico City Policy into the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance (PLGHA) rule, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

However, organizations that exist domestically but do work overseas are still permitted to perform and promote abortions.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) funding bill before the Senate left for its October recess. This amendment would increase U.S. international family planning assistance, as well as reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA), which the U.S. has declined to support for the past three years.

“We are deeply concerned by the increase of funds for international family planning in the Senate SFOPs bill, which would provide even more money” to domestic organizations that promote abortion overseas, said the letter.

The bill includes $29 million allocated to Pathfinder International, which works with governments to build abortion facilities, as well as $6.7 million to Population Council, an organziation that promotes abortion in rural India, among other groups.

“Senator Shaheen’s amendment is clearly designed to undermine the life-saving policies of the Trump administration,” the signatories said.

In January, President Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), promising that he would veto any legislation that weakens existing pro-life law. The Bipartisan Budget Agreement for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 specifically states that there may be no policy changes increasing spending levels relative to the FY 2019 without approval from Congressional leaders and the president.

The Shaheen amendment “must be eliminated in any SFOPs bill going forward,” said the letter. “Consistent with the bipartisan budget agreement, we ask that you reject the Shaheen amendment.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony list and leader of the coalition of signatories, said the language in the funding bill is a “nonstarter” and should be dropped under the bipartisan budget agreement.

“We trust that President Trump, Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Minority Leader McCarthy will continue to stand against efforts to weaken the extraordinary progress made by the Trump administration in implementing pro-life policies internationally by rejecting the Shaheen amendment,” she said.

Meet the Catholic chaplain to the Washington Nationals

Tue, 10/22/2019 - 13:53

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 11:53 am (CNA).- A professional baseball clubhouse might not be considered a particularly religious place today, but one chaplain says the Catholic priesthood is needed—and desired—as much as ever there.

“When I walk in the [clubhouse], they kind of light up a little bit,” Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a chaplain to the Washington Nationals professional baseball team, told CNA. “It’s not me,” he clarified, “it’s that they see a Catholic priest.”

“I think that the priesthood continues to be a sign that God is with us,” he said. “You see ‘okay, despite how secular this world is, there is a need in all of us to have God as part of our lives’.”

Monsignor Rossetti, who is also a research associate professor at The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and former president of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, said he has been a chaplain to the Washington Nationals for 10 years.

In that decade, Rossetti has observed the organization from the inside during its low point of floundering last-place finishes in 2009 and 2010, its ascendancy to one of the winningest clubs in Major League Baseball from 2012 through 2019, four disheartening first-round playoff exits, and now the pinnacle of success.

On Tuesday night, the Nationals will be introduced to the “Fall Classic” as they are set to play in their first World Series game since the organization moved to Washington, D.C. from Montreal in 2005. They will be facing off against the Houston Astros.

The television broadcast of the Nationals’ World Series-clinching win last Tuesday evening showed Monsignor Rossetti in the General Manager’s booth, intently watching the game.

What is it like being a chaplain to a professional sports team? One thing that must be considered, Rossetti told CNA, is that the 162-game baseball season from April through September—not counting the October playoffs or Spring Training which runs around six weeks in February and March—is a “grind,” and the players are “human beings” with needs like everyone else.

“It’s a lot of pressure. These guys, most of them are in their twenties, and the world’s watching them,” Rossetti said. “I just try to be supportive.”

Catholic players may have their home parishes elsewhere, but as they spend much of their time at or near the stadium during the season, Rossetti administers the sacraments as any parish priest would, celebrating Sunday Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing babies, or teaching marriage prep.

However, he also seeks to evangelize any way he can, whether through speaking an encouraging word, asking players about their families, or giving them blessings.

“If you’re waiting for people to come into your church, some will, but most people won’t,” he said. “So I think that a key point is that we try to go where people are and bring Church to them.”

Rossetti has found that the players to whom he ministers, Catholic or not, love to receive blessings. “They want to be blessed, and they can feel like it’s a sign that God still loves them and supports them and wants to give them His help,” the priest said.

“God blesses people through the Church,” he said. “They want to be prayed with, they want to be prayed over.”

Rossetti is the author of the book The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, in which he writes about the history and power of priestly blessings, what the Church teaches about blessings and sacramentals, and the importance of rediscovering blessings and sacramentals as a part of everyday life.

Priestly blessings, he said, are a key part of the mission of the priesthood—yet one that might be overlooked by many Catholics today.

“Despite our weaknesses as a Church,” he said, “there still is this notion—which I think is true, the Vatican Council supported it—there is a ‘sacred power’ to the priesthood.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1667 says that sacramentals “are sacred signs instituted by the Church,” which “prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.”

This last line, the sanctification of everyday life, is a characteristic that needs to be rediscovered today, Rossetti said.

Priestly blessings of persons, objects, or places, or sacramentals such as the sprinkling of holy water, are a concrete way “to realize that God wants to be part of our everyday lives, not just Sunday for an hour,” Rossetti said.

Holy water fonts, crucifixes, and prayers before meals used to be more common in homes, he said, and showed that “our total lives were lived in the presence of the Lord” without “compartmentalizing religion.”

One genius of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on ecology “Laudato Si” was that “it recognizes the sacramentality of creation, the fact that we need to care for it, and it becomes taken up and transformed in some way,” he said.

As the Nationals now turn their attention to the 2019 World Series, Rossetti is excited to be watching - and cheering them on. He described the atmosphere in the clubhouse as nothing short of “electric.”

The 2019 Nationals season has been a roller coaster ride, from the team’s woeful 19-31 record at the beginning to their red-hot finish.

An unofficial team motto is “Stay In the Fight,” adopted from an oft-spoken mantra of team manager Davey Martinez. It fits this year’s team, Rossetti said, because it is often viewed as an underdog to juggernauts like the Dodgers, Yankees, or Astros. “Just when you think they’re down and out,” he said, “they come from nowhere.”

“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” Rossetti said of the clubhouse atmosphere after the team clinched the National League pennant. “The place is on fire.”

 

 

 

How parishes can help address the epidemic of domestic abuse

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 20:02

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons need additional training to address, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

Fr. Chuck said that many priests and deacons have little preparation to assist victims of domestic violence, and that more seminary training would be helpful for both preparing priests and raising awareness on the issue.  

He said that “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral letter on domestic violence from the USCCB, is a helpful resource for clergy looking for more understanding.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

Some 27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics have responded to this dire need in various ways, from organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims to working to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

In recent years, the group has marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month by asking people to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and has called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.

Fr. Chuck participated in a symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University of America in 2016. Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, “we’re making progress.”


An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.

Louisiana court skeptical, but lets challenge to abortion regulations continue

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 19:10

Baton Rouge, La., Oct 21, 2019 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s pro-life legislation will be allowed to continue, but the state is confident that it will prevail after the lower court re-examines whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the regulations.

The 5th Circuit’s Court of Appeals declined to dismiss the case altogether, but also stated that those suing the state did not have standing for many of their claims, and that the case never should have been allowed to go forward.

The case was heard by Chief Judge Priscilla Owen, along with Judges Don Willett and Andrew Oldham.

The state was being sued by an abortion clinic and two doctors, who were seeking an injunction blocking “virtually all of Louisiana’s legal framework for regulating abortion.” They argued that even if some of the regulations and provisions were constitutional, the entirety of them as a whole were not.

The panel of judges on the court said that a good number of the things the plaintiffs were challenging do not meet the legal standard to actually bring a case to court.

“Plaintiffs challenge a bevy of legal provisions that appear incapable of injuring them,” said the opinion. The plaintiffs stated they were attempting to get an injunction under what they have termed the “cumulative effects” theory.

“The plaintiffs’ theory, as we understand it, is that Louisiana’s various laws and regulations regarding abortion cumulate to an undue burden,” said the opnion. “But before any federal court can analyze the ‘cumulative effects’ of Louisiana’s laws, we must know which laws plaintiffs have standing to challenge. Again, jurisdiction first.”

Among the provisions challenged in the case are regulations concerning the privacy of medical records, a law that forbids abortion facilities from having a name that would make someone think the state is operating the facility, laws that require the suspected sexual abuse of a child be reported to authorities, and a law that requires abortion facilities to have clean bathrooms. The opinion stated that it is simply not possible for the plaintiffs to claim that they have been somehow harmed by these laws.

The opinion also contained a list of 10 provisions that were challenged in court by the plaintiffs without alleging how or if the regulations actually applied to them. These included regulations regarding proper flooring and wall finishes for new or relocated abortion facilities, regulations regarding laundry facilities at clinics with “in-house laundry,” and provisions requiring that only “qualified medical staff” and “qualified nursing staff” be employed at abortion facilities.

The judges said that the plaintiffs did not properly explain how these regulations actually applied to them, as their clinic was not relocating, nor were the plaintiffs seeking to hire unqualified medical staff at the clinic.

Louisiana’s attorney general was hopeful about the future of the case.

“This lawsuit was always an overreach—it was filed by abortion clinics and doctors with poor safety records to evade regulation, even on common sense safety measures that benefit and protect women,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed very basic rules that apply when State laws are challenged in federal courts.”

Democratic US presidential candidates seek to limit charter schools

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 16:28

Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2019 / 02:28 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has released a K-12 education plan that, among other proposals, pledges to quadruple federal funding for schools that serve low-income students, but also would place some limits on charter schools.

The New York Times notes that Vermont Senator and fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders issued a similar proposal to limit charter schools in May.

Charter schools receive public funds but are privately operated. Warren’s plan would end “high-stakes testing”— tests that are used to make important decisions affecting the school — as well as ending federal funding for opening new charter schools and banning for-profit charters.

The New York Times notes that charter schools expanded in popularity and support under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, but there is evidence that public opinion is turning away from charter schools as a means of facilitating school choice.

The Times reports that Warren and her Democratic rivals are vying for endorsements from teachers’ unions, which generally oppose the expansion of the charter sector.

Sister Dale McDonald, P.B.V.M., director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told CNA in March that the NCEA has supported “fair and full choice” or “parental choice” for more than two decades.

The NCEA’s membership includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S.

While the group mainly advocates for Catholic education and schemes such as tax credits to help low-income families send students there, the NCEA has also supported charter schools as a means of providing additional school choice to parents.

In guidelines on school choice published in May 2018, the NCEA stated of charter schools that they “typically provide for a clear, focused mission, a smaller student population that facilitates creation of community, more innovative teaching practices, greater parental and local community involvement, clear educational and fiscal standards and accountability measures and fewer state and local school board bureaucratic regulations.”

A major school choice case regarding tax credits for students who choose religious schools, a scheme that the NCEA supports, is currently pending in the Supreme Court. The court in July agreed to hear a case addressing the question of whether states  can deny tax credit programs to parents and children who choose religious private schools.

Questions raised as Satanic Temple asks to hold meeting at Naval Academy 

Sat, 10/19/2019 - 05:17

Annapolis, Md., Oct 19, 2019 / 03:17 am (CNA).- As an outside group is asking to hold “satanic religious services” at the U.S. Naval Academy, questions have arisen as to its actual motives for doing so.

The Satanic Temple (TST), a group recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service, has threatened legal action against the U.S. Naval Academy if Midshipmen are not allowed to hold “satanic services” on campus as members of other religions are allowed to do.

However, Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA, the group’s efforts at the Naval Academy are “misleading” because what they wish for “is not a satanic service.”  Rather, what certain Midshipmen wish to host “is a discussion about how the supernatural doesn’t exist.”

On Oct. 8, an internal email was sent to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy announcing that “‘satanic services’ would start this week,” according to a Wednesday statement issued by Commander Alana Garas, public affairs officer at the United States Naval Academy.

“This email was sent without the review and approval of the Naval Academy’s Command Chaplain, as required by command policy; it did not represent the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Religious Program,” Garas said.

The academy had previously walked back an original email announcement of satanic services and had said that services would not be taking place on campus.

The Satanic Temple then said on Wednesday that it would pursue legal action if the group was “discriminated against” on campus by being denied official services at the academy.

Lucius Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, called the idea of the group being denied services at the Naval Academy on the grounds that it constituted political advocacy “self-evidently absurd.”

Under that reasoning, he said, the academy would also “be obligated to deny the services of Catholics for their Church’s political lobbying against abortion, the services of LDS-affiliated Mormons for their political activism related to gay marriage, and most every Protestant denomination for both.”

Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt, while temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance.

The group’s mission statement does not include any statements of satanism, but rather claims that it exists “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits by the individual will.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, the temple’s leader, Lucien Greaves, revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State Debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” Mesner said, though he acknowledged that there are self-identified Satanists who deserve “just as much consideration as any other religious group.”

An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline. It said chapter leadership members debate which historic works about Satan to recommend and whether it should host more ritual.

Lorence contended that despite adopting the name of The Satanic Temple and using satanic imagery, the group is just “anti-supernatural and rationalistic” rather than satanic like the Church of Satan.

Previously, the group tried to push an “After School Satan” program in 2016, which Lorence saw as an effort to undermine Christian after-school programs at public schools. The group’s strategy, which cited religious freedom laws to demand a space at public schools alongside other religious after-school programs, aimed to use fear of the promotion of satanism as a means to shut down all religious after-school programs.

“The Satanic Temple does not worship Satan,” Lorence said. “They use this ‘Satanic Temple’ label to confuse people.”

And the group could be trying to adopt a similar strategy at the Naval Academy, Lorence said. As a public institution, the academy “is by law open to groups that are student-oriented and student-led.”

According to the academy, a group of Midshipmen whose “beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple” did make a request for a space at the academy, but they asked for a “study space” and not a space to hold “satanic services,” Commander Garas said.

The academy’s official statement on Wednesday said that the Command Religious Program “provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs.”

Furthermore, “[a]rrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members,” per the Navy instructions, Garas said. However, the group would not be able to “engage in partisan political activities.”

Archdiocese of Washington opposes local bill to legalize prostitution 

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 18:07

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was one of many organizations that testified Thursday during a hearing on a bill to decriminalize prostitution in the District of Columbia.

The D.C. Council is currently considering B23-0318. Should the bill pass, Washington, D.C. would become the second place in the country to decriminalize prostitution. The practice is currently legal in parts of Nevada.

The bill was sponsored by Council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1).

“Because we believe that each of us possesses inherent dignity and is entitled to respect as a person created in the image of God, it is also part of the mission of the archdiocese and the Catholic Church to defend the dignity of the human person against all forms of exploitation,” Mary Forr, Director of Life Issues for the archdiocese, said during the hearing.

“This includes prostitution, which reduces the person to an article of commerce and a mere possession to be bought, used, and discarded without regard for any physical and psychological trauma to the person in the process,” she added.

She outlined the various programs the archdiocese offers to anyone who has been victimized by traffickers, which include counseling, medical and dental care, and job training.

“We provide hope to those struggling on the margins of society and strive to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“The archdiocese will always strive to be a source of support for anyone in need; however, full decriminalization of the sex trade will exacerbate the struggles many residents of the District already face,” said Forr.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) - also known as the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019 - is modeled after similar legislation in New Zealand.

Unlike the “Nordic Model,” which decriminalizes the act of a person selling themselves but instead heavily penalizes the act of buying the services of a sex worker, the DC proposal would also decriminalize brothels, pimping, and buying sex.

Sex trafficking, or the act of forcing someone into prostitution against their will, would still remain illegal, although advocates against the bill warned repeatedly that passage of B23-0318 would encourage the sex trade and increase prostitution. Child prostitution would also remain illegal under the proposed legislation.

Supporters of the bill argued that adults have a right to engage in consensual sex work.

Laws criminalizing prostitution “impede sex workers’ ability to negotiate safer sex practices, screen clients, report incidents of violence, and access basic needs like housing and health services,” the ACLU of DC said in a statement.

“Criminalization has placed vulnerable D.C. residents at greater risk of violence, police harassment, and exposure to exploitation. It has led to a cycle of violence, poverty, and incarceration that only creates additional barriers to more traditional employment for those engaging in survival sex work.”

Tamika Spellman, a biological male who identifies as transgender, testified in favor of the bill. Spellman has worked as a prostitute for some four decades - since age 14.

Spellman, who was one of the bill architects, according to the New York Times, argued that the bill is a matter of empowerment and safety for sex workers, particularly racial minorities and members of the LGBT community.

Opponents of the bill include D.C. government officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has led the District of Columbia since 2015, is vehemently against the bill. She says it would make it harder for the city to successfully target sex traffickers and would not make the sex trade any safer for those who engage in it.

“The mayor’s position is rooted in the need to maintain a safety net to identify and assist victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and her belief that decriminalization will lead to an increase in sex trafficking,” Michelle Garcia, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants said in the hearing.

Garcia said there are steps that should be taken to improve the lives of sex workers, but that this bill is not the correct approach. Mayor Bowser has long been concerned about the lives of sex workers in the city, said Garcia. The city has had a working group since April 2019 that is aimed at creating a program to divert sex workers away from the criminal justice system and into alternative assistance programs, she explained, and Bowser was given their proposals and recommendations for review earlier this week.

The D.C. Attorney General’s office also raised concerns about the bill, and how it could put children at increased risk from sex trafficking. The bill repeals part of the “safe harbor law” that requires children be referred to services if they are found to be victims of trafficking, and it also “negatively impacts” the use of nuisance laws that are used to target traffickers, said Erin Cullen, deputy attorney general for the Family Services Division at the D.C. Attorney General’s office.

Opponents of the bill also claimed that should prostitution be decriminalized, there will be an increased demand for prostitution, which could potentially turn the nation’s capital into a destination for sex tourism. There were repeated claims that this increased demand for commercial sex would naturally result in an increased number of people who are trafficked into sex work.

The hearing lasted approximately 17 hours. Public comments can be submitted until November 1.

New hotline connects women in crisis pregnancies to resources, community 

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 19:06

Austin, Texas, Oct 17, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- When Pamela Whitehead takes a call for LoveLine, a new pregnancy helpline, she listens.

“Too often we think we know what a woman needs and we don't really listen to what she says to us,” Whitehead told CNA, “and I think if we listen long enough, we really hear her need.”

In one recent call to the helpline, Whitehead said she listened to a woman who, at first, thought her biggest need was rent money.

The young woman from Arizona had three children with her boyfriend and had just found out she was pregnant with their fourth. Facing extreme pressure from her boyfriend and family to abort, the woman was sure she would be kicked out of her house for refusing the abortion, and said she needed rent money to prevent her from being homeless.

“So I simply asked her the question, do you want to have an abortion? And she said no,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she reassured the woman that no one could force her to have an abortion. She suggested to the woman on the phone that she should first try humanizing the baby to her family - telling her mom how much she would love another grandbaby, and telling her boyfriend how much better their lives would be for having another child.

“And you know what she did? She went back and she stood up for herself and she spoke to her family and they actually...turned around and she ended up not having an abortion,” Whitehead said.

“So while what she thought she needed was some material resources, what she actually needed was empowerment and confidence, and that's what we were able to provide for her.”

That story is just one of many hopeful stories that have come from the newly-released LoveLine, Whitehead said, which is a pro-life helpline, founded by former abortion clinic worker Abby Johnson, who is now a pro-life advocate. The helpline connects pregnant or post-abortive women in need to the proper resources. Sometimes that means public assistance or private donations or simply a community of like-minded pro-life people. Often, it is some combination of all three.

LoveLine is a new project under the larger umbrella organization of ProLove Ministries, which houses multiple pro-life projects founded by Johnson. The organization was a spin-off of And Then There Were None, a support organization for abortion clinic workers who are leaving the abortion industry.

Through LoveLine, women in need can text, chat or call the helpline and talk to someone about what they’re going through and the resources that they need. The project hopes to respond to a “gap in services.”

“There's a population of women who are in need who aren't being served,” Whitehead explained.

Usually, she said, it’s because the resources that women in crisis pregnancies need are either unavailable, hidden, or delayed. Public assistance is often delivered on a first-come first-served basis, Whitehead noted, and by the time a woman connects to those services, there can be a long line ahead of her before she actually gets the help that she needs.

“For instance, if all of a sudden (a woman’s) partner leaves her, whether it's her spouse or her boyfriend, and she's accustomed to having a two-income household...that puts her in a major situation,” Whitehead said.

“While her pregnancy wasn't a so-called crisis, all of a sudden the pregnancy becomes a precipitating factor for her because it's just one more thing. And so she's looking at her situation and she's considering all of her options, and one of those oftentimes is abortion because it's like, well, he's left me, now what?”

LoveLine wants to be there to fill in those gaps, Whitehead said. Some other examples of assistance that the group has provided so far to women in need include baby registries, diapers and food assistance, referrals to pro-life doctors, rent assistance through private donations, and referrals to vetted, untapped public assistance.

Any public assistance or service that LoveLine refers to is first vetted by staff or volunteers to make sure that it can actually provide what the woman needs in a timely manner.

“If we are going to send her to an organization or to an individual or to a social service resource, I'm going to call that resource in advance...and make sure this woman's going to hear ‘yes.’ Because it's overwhelming when the pressures of life are on top of you and you're trying to just make it through and you've got 10 decisions you've got to deal with,” Whitehead said.

“We want to give her a yes,” she added. “So whatever that takes, we want her to say yes and feel empowered, so that means we have to vet resources.”

“So we connect, we care, we make a commitment and we offer community.”

The community aspect of LoveLine’s promise often comes in the form of volunteers spread throughout the country who offer to help with various needs of the project, Whitehead said. When baby registries are set up for women in need, for example, everything is sent to a volunteer’s house, where the goods are unpacked, sorted and personally delivered, so that the woman is not overwhelmed with receiving dozens of packages at her house. They have also helped connect women with pro-life moms’ groups in their own areas. Whitehead said she was personally delivering a highchair and some maternity clothes to a woman in her area this week.

For Whitehead, working in the pro-life movement is personal. In 2001, she had an abortion that perforated her uterus and sent her to the emergency room. For years afterward, she though the trauma she was experiencing was “what she deserved,” she said.

At the time, Whitehead had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and was living in poverty. She said the advice she received at the time ignored her needs, and was instead focused on concerns that she would not be able to care for the child.

“They all considered the child and thought, ‘There's no way you can bring this child into the world because you can't take care of it, and I'm not willing to help you,’ basically. No one tried to help me with the drug addiction or help me with the alcoholism or help me with my poverty,” Whitehead noted.

“So when I see these situations, I see the woman. Not that we don't care about the unborn, of course we do, and that's the goal. But if we don't see the woman, if we don't see her and her dignity and her worth and her value, then we're missing. We're missing it,” she said. The tagline for LoveLine is “When you love first, life follows.”

For the pro-life movement, Whitehead said, LoveLine offers people a chance to do something concrete for the women and babies in need.

“So many people love to give to tangible, practical needs. They love to buy a box of diapers and know that it's going to this person, you know? And that means so much to people,” Whitehead said.

Typically, she explained, the word gets about the womens’ needs on social media, either through Abby Johnson’s Facebook page or through ProLove Ministries’ Facebook page.

“What we've seen is every time we put out a need, the pro-life movement just moves on it. I mean, within hours a whole registry is filled. They just can't wait. The love is just exploding,” she said.

The LoveLine website offers a phone number that women in need can call or text, or an online chat. Volunteers can also offer their assistance in their area via the LoveLine website under the “Get Involved” tab.

DNA test could reveal if Catholic supply store killer was involved in 1985 murder

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 18:50

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 17, 2019 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- Last year, Thomas Bruce was accused of assaulting three women and killing one of them at the Catholic Supply of St. Louis retail store Nov. 19 in Ballwin, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Now, authorities are wondering if Bruce may be connected to a 1985 murder in Tennessee, Fox 2 Now St. Louis reported. One complicating factor: another man was already tried and executed for that murder.

Suzanne Collins was a 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal in an avionics training school when she was murdered in Tennessee in 1985. According to authorities, Sedley Alley confessed to the crime but eventually retracted his confession, claiming he had been coerced into it. Alley was executed in 2006.

Bruce’s possible connection to the 1985 murder was revealed in court last week by Barry Scheck with the Innocence Project, Fox reported. The Innocence Project is an organization that works to clear innocent people of wrongful convictions.

According to Fox, Scheck told the court that there was untested DNA from Collins’ clothing that could help to clarify whether Bruce was involved in her murder. Bruce reportedly attended the same school as Collins at the time of the murder.

“It is clear that if we don’t get a DNA test in this case, it is wrong,” Scheck said in court. “It is fundamentally unfair. He was entitled to that test.” He added that the people of St. Louis deserve answers about Bruce.

According to Fox 2, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office opposes the DNA test on the grounds of not letting litigation for the 1985 case drag on forever, and on the grounds that Sedley is already dead.

A judge is set to rule Nov. 18 whether there will be additional DNA testing allowed on Collins’ clothing in order to investigate the possible connection to Bruce.

Bruce had no known convictions in November 2018, when he sexually assaulted, shot, and killed 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt and sexually assaulted two other women.

Schmidt was a customer in the Catholic Supply store at the time of the attack and was transported to a hospital where she later died of her injuries. She was survived by her husband and three children.

Authorities at the time said Bruce did not appear to know Schmidt and that the attack seemed to be at random.

Fox 2 reported that after the 2018 incident, their reporters uncovered two other incidents involving Bruce for which he had not yet been charged.

In one incident, a 77 year-old woman recognized a photo of Bruce on T.V. and reported that in September 2018, just two months prior to the Catholic Supply store attack, Bruce had sexually assaulted her. Bruce was subsequently charged with kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault for the incident.

The next month in October 2018, a man reported that Bruce’s road rage had caused a deliberate accident on US Highway 61, according to Fox. A dashcam video retrieved by Fox 2 in St. Louis reportedly revealed Bruce yelling and cussing at a police officer responding to the scene.

Bruce’s trial is scheduled for next October. Authorities told Fox in St. Louis that they are still investigating whether Bruce is connected to any other criminal activity.

‘No one ever talked about McCarrick and the boys’

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 14:41

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:41 pm (CNA).- A man claiming to be a former child victim of Theodore McCarrick has written an open essay in response to a recent interview given by the former cardinal. Writing under the name Nathan Doe, the man says that McCarrick sexually abused a series of minors during his years as a cleric.

Media reports have detailed a string of allegations made against McCarrick since the announcement of a Vatican investigation in June 2018. Those reports have referred to McCarrick’s alleged victims as including eight former seminarians and three minors.

“The ‘third’ accuser they were referring to in those news articles was me,” Doe said.

The man says he chose to maintain his anonymity because he does not wish to expose other innocent people to “pain and suffering” by making his name public.

Much of the coverage of allegations against the former cardinal has focused on his apparent crimes against seminarians in the dioceses which he led during his career as a bishop, first in New Jersey and later in Washington, D.C., something which many people have since reported was an “open secret” among those around McCarrick.

“I am not even sure I know what ‘open secret’ means,” Doe wrote in an essay published online on Oct. 17. “What I do know is that no one ever talked about McCarrick and the boys.”

“I am referring to McCarrick’s targets and victims before he was given power and control over all of those seminaries. I am referring to the first act in McCarrick’s sexual abuse career that no one ever talked about before the Summer of 2018. I am referring to young Catholic boys - almost always between the ages of 12 and 16.”

A source with knowledge of the Vatican investigation into McCarrick told CNA that the former cardinal is alleged to have regularly invited high school boys to accompany him on trips between 1971-1977, when he served as secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke, then-Archbishop of New York. 

As previously reported by CNA, during that same period, McCarrick already had a well-established reputation among seminarians as a predator, with one former student at a New York seminary telling CNA last year that “the dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors.” 

The priest told CNA that so well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to "hide the handsome ones" before he arrived. 

Similar accusations were reported by former students at Seton Hall University, home to the Archdiocese of Newark’s seminary. An independent report, commissioned in response to CNA’s reporting, concluded that as Archbishop of Newark, McCarrick created a “culture of fear and intimidation” at the Seton Hall and “used his position of power as then-Archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians.” 

In his essay, published on Thursday, Doe said that in addition to these seminary-related allegations, as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, McCarrick abused a group of at least seven boys under the age of 16 who collectively provided evidence to Church authorities during the canonical penal administrative process which resulted in McCarrick’s laicization earlier this year.

“Collectively, we were able to provide law enforcement with names, dates, times, locations, who was present, supporting evidence, and related documentation covering hundreds of Church-related or fundraising-related overnight trips between the years 1970 and 1990 that, as fate would have it, all resulted in McCarrick sharing a bed with a young Catholic boy.”

Doe says he recognized his own experience, and those of other minors abused by McCarrick, in the account of James Grien, initially published anonymously in the New York Times last year.

“To varying degrees, Grein’s story was our story. I don’t know James Grein, have never spoken to him, and I never even knew he existed until that moment, but there were too many details in that interview that only a person in our exclusive club would know.” 

The report comes just weeks before the U.S. bishops will meet for their third assembly since the McCarrick scandal broke in June 2018. In November 2018, the bishops defeated 83-137 a resolution that would have urged the Vatican to release a comprehensive dossier on McCarrick.

In October 2018, Pope Francis ordered an internal Vatican investigation into the career of the disgraced McCarrick. Results of that investigation have not been released. While many have criticized the delay in making public a report into McCarrick, Doe said he was undeterred by the apparent delay.

“I have no insights at all into who is writing that report and how all of that will work. What I can tell you is that if they had completed and issued their report before today, I would be sitting here telling you that they closed the book too soon,” he wrote.

Calling McCarrick a “walking jurisdictional nightmare,” Doe said it is important not to “underestimate the sheer volume of information that began coming in last year, the number of different channels that information came in through, and all of the various investigative processes and law enforcement agencies that have been involved with the examination of the information.”

“I am personally inclined to grant all of the investigators all the time they need to do whatever work is necessary to get this done right once and for all,” he said.

Sources in Rome and Washington have confirmed to CNA that large quantities of documents and a detailed report on archdiocesan records have already been compiled and forwarded to Rome, but the Archdiocese of Washington has repeatedly declined to comment on those records.

In June 2019, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin told CNA he was precluded by a state attorney general’s investigation from releasing the files and reports compiled by his diocese on McCarrick, who was Newark’s archbishop from 1986 to 2000. Tobin is believed to have also forwarded a report to the Vatican detailing McC’s time in Newark.

Doe wrote that despite seeing the coverage of McCarrick’s disgrace, and even though he participated in the canonical process which resulted in the former cardinal’s laicization in February, he “never” thought about making a public statement.

“That all changed when I read McCarrick’s recent interview with Slate magazine where he attempted to discredit the victims of his sexual abuse while creating further division and confusion within our Church.”

In that interview, McCarrick said he is “not as bad as they paint.” 

“I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” McCarrick said, while going on to suggest that his accusers “were encouraged” to come up with allegations by “enemies” of the former cardinal, pointedly referring to former Vatican diplomat Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano as “a representative of the far right” for coming forward with a series of allegations about McCarrick and apparent Vatican knowledge about his behavior.

Some senior Church officials have told CNA that McCarrick was under consideration for an influential Vatican post in 1999; concerns about the former cardinal’s lifestyle are rumored to have played a role in scuttling that plan. McCarrick was nevertheless appointed Washington’s archbishop in 2000, where he continued to serve until his retirement in 2006.

Doe said that he was only concerned with the integrity of McCarrick’s victims, whom he said McCarrick had further abused by suggesting they were politically motivated.

“I don’t have an axe to grind with anyone other than Theodore McCarrick. For me, this is not an attack on our Church. This is not about Conservative vs Liberal. This is not about Straight vs Gay. This is not about Benedict vs. Francis. In my view, those arguments are a distraction.” 

“For me, this is about our humanity. This is about the criminal, sexual abuse of minors,” Doe said.

Sasse resolution: Church beliefs should not jeopardize tax-exempt status

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 13:59

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 11:59 am (CNA).- One U.S. senator is looking to bring up a vote on protecting churches from attempts to police their beliefs, after a presidential candidate said churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has introduced a resolution in the Senate expressing support for freedom of conscience (S.J.Res. 58). He said on Wednesday that his measure aims to put senators on the record on protecting the tax-exempt status of houses of worship, amidst attempts to condition that status on a church’s support for same-sex marriage.

Introduced Wednesday, the joint resolution recognizes the importance of religious freedom to the framers of the Constitution and the role of religion in the history of the U.S., and says that the government cannot condition religious protections such as tax-exempt status upon certain viewpoints it deems “correct.”

The resolution states that “government should not be in the business of dictating what ‘correct’ religious beliefs are; and any effort by the government to condition the receipt of the protections of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, including an exemption from taxation, on the public policy positions of an organization is an affront to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Sasse introduced his resolution on Wednesday in response to comments by Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke at a “#PowerOfOurPride” town hall on LGBTQ issues sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and broadcast by CNN on Oct. 10.

At the town hall event, O’Rourke had said in response to a question by moderator Don Lemon that “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities” should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

O’Rourke’s campaign later offered a clarification, saying he was not referring to the tax-exempt status of houses of worship but rather access to public grants and tax dollars of religious-based charities.

On Sunday, O’Rourke told MSNBC, “when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone's skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”

Despite the clarification, however, the comments sparked backlash and questions about the constitutionality of such a proposal.

Sasse, on Wednesday, issued a rebuke of O’Rourke’s original proposal on the Senate Floor, calling them “extreme intolerance,” “extreme bigotry,” and “profoundly un-American.”

“I don't care what some nitwit said on CNN last week to satisfy his fringy base and try to get a sound bite in a presidential debate. The American people ought to know that this body stands for the historic First Amendment, that's what we all took an oath to uphold and to defend and that's what we ought to vote to affirm again,” Sasse said.

The government cannot regulate the speech of churches and cannot “define true and false religion,” he said.

“Government doesn't rifle through your pastor's or your rabbi's sermon notes, government doesn't tell your clerics what they can or can't say, government doesn't tell your religious leaders how they will perform their services, government doesn't tell you where or when you will worship,” Sasse said.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 1970 decision Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York that tax exemptions for houses of worship did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In a 7-1 decision, the Court said that such exemptions did not single out one particular religious group for favor, but rather “creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state, far less than taxation of churches would entail.” Furthermore, two centuries of tax exemptions for churches “has not led to an established church or religion, and, on the contrary, has helped to guarantee the free exercise of all forms of religious belief,” the Court said.

Other presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Pete Buttigieg—said in the past week that they would not take such action to strip churches of tax exemptions.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she [Warren] does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax exempt status,” a statement from the Warren campaign to NBC News read.

On CNN on Sunday, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that removing tax exemptions “means going to war not only with churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do.”

He added that “if we want to talk about anti-discrimination law for a school or an organization, absolutely. They should not be able to discriminate.”

At the same town hall where O’Rourke made his original comments, fellow presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), was also asked if he would strip houses of worship of tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, and responded that such a move would produce a “long legal battle,” but added that “if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Gonzaga, Catholic Charities team up to offer immigration legal assistance

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 02:08

Spokane, Wash., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane is partnering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to offer immigration legal assistance to low-income individuals, as well as training in immigration law for students.

Second- and third-year law students under faculty supervision will assist clients pro bono in the “Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic at Gonzaga Law School” starting this fall.

“We're viewing this almost like a joint venture between the two of us,” Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, told CNA.

“The attorney in charge has a vast network through her time at Catholic Charities. We envision the students and the attorney going on-site to different areas of the state to provide walk-up assistance, and that's going to start as we get further into the project,” Rooksby said.

The law school has several pro bono clinics already, including Indian Law, Elder Law, and Business Law. The students will work with Megan Case, an attorney who formerly worked with Catholic Charities.

Case told CNA that the center has a significant caseload at the moment, mostly on family reunification cases, whereby legal immigrants can petition for other family members to come and join them in the United States.

The center will also work with individuals seeking asylum. Additionally, they have an immigration court hearing scheduled for January in a deportation case.

Case noted that immigration law is one of the broadest and most complicated areas of U.S. law. She said during her time at Catholic Charities, she oversaw a number of naturalization cases, family reunification cases, and green cards, among others. They also helped individuals who qualified for victim-based visas.

She noted that the center assists both documented and undocumented individuals.

“There's definitely a need for attorneys to assist people in these types of cases, and there's a lot of work,” Case told CNA.

Rooksby said there is already student interest and client need for the program.

“As a Jesuit institution, I think we're taking seriously the Catholic Church's position on immigration as being one of the signature issues of our time,” he said. “So we see this as very consistent with our mission...the need is already there.”

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