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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 57 min 39 sec ago

Trump administration will continue defending HHS mandate in court

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 14:21

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2017 / 12:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With President Donald Trump’s administration signaling that it is not dropping the HHS mandate cases against religious non-profits, plaintiffs are concerned that the action does not reflect promises made during the presidential campaign.

“The government has a chance to do the right thing here. It got it wrong for five years in these cases, almost six years,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents many non-profits in HHS mandate cases.

“And they can do the right thing by dropping their appeals that are in favor of the mandate, and admitting that they were wrong on the issue of the contraceptive mandate, as applied to religious non-profits,” Rassbach told CNA Tuesday.

During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised Catholics relief from the HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. In a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference last October, he pointed to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s support for the mandate, and said “that is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”

After Trump’s election, the plaintiffs challenging the mandate widely expected that the new administration would drop the government’s appeal of the lawsuits, which federal circuit courts may re-examine in the coming months.

Instead of dropping the cases, however, the administration indicated that it intends to take the next step in the litigation process. On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department had asked a federal appeals court for 60 extra days to negotiate an agreement with East Texas Baptist University and several other plaintiffs challenging the mandate. The Supreme Court last year had instructed the Obama administration to negotiate with the plaintiffs as the next step in the litigation process.

The Becket Fund said that the same lawyers that litigated the cases on behalf of the Obama administration are still on the mandate cases now under the Trump administration.

The HHS mandate was formed under the Affordable Care Act, which required preventive coverage in employer health plans. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services interpreted this to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

After a wave of criticism from religious employers to the original mandate, the Obama administration announced an “accommodation” whereby objecting non-profits would tell the government of their opposition, and their insurer or the third party administrator for the plans would be notified separately to include the coverage.

Many non-profits – including Catholic dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor – said that the process still forced them to cooperate in immoral behavior against their consciences. Some critics voiced concern that the cost of coverage would still end up getting passed along to the objecting employers in the form of higher premiums.

Hundreds of non-profits and other plaintiffs filed lawsuits over the mandate, even with the accommodation. Among these plaintiffs is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

A number of those cases made their way to the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell. Plaintiffs in the case include East Texas Baptist University, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, and other dioceses, schools, and charities.

In March of 2016, the Court asked both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs explaining whether a compromise could be reached that provided for cost-free contraceptive coverage for employees and yet still respected the religious freedom of the objecting non-profits.

That request, which came after oral arguments and in the middle of the case, was almost unprecedented in its timing.

After both parties outlined ways where they believed both goals could be achieved, the Supreme Court last May sent the cases back to the federal circuit court level, vacated the previous decisions of those courts, ordered the government not to enforce the fines against plaintiffs for not complying with their demands, and instructed the courts to give the parties time to find a solution they could agree on.

“Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage’,” the Court stated.

“We anticipate that the Courts of Appeals will allow the parties sufficient time to resolve any outstanding issues between them.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, one of the plaintiffs in the cases, said in August that the federal government had “an extremely aggressive interpretation” of the Supreme Court’s instructions and was “apparently trying to take over” the diocese’s health plans.

 

What your local parish and the new hipster bar have in common

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 05:16

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2017 / 03:16 am (CNA).- It’s a story seen across the nation – a neighborhood formerly known for rundown houses, empty shops and limited resources now finds flocks of millennials coming to the area’s trellised cafes and bars for brunch and drinks on weekends.

What formerly made the neighborhood “sketchy” or caused outsiders to steer clear is now marketed as a selling point of its “character” to new investors and residents.  

It’s a change called “development” by many of the investors seeking to move in, and called “gentrification” by some who are skeptical of the impact that the rapid inflow of money has on longtime residents of a neighborhood.

Yet, many of these conversations about the challenges – and opportunities – of gentrification have left out the institutions at the heart of many of these neighborhoods: the churches.

“It’s been a mixed blessing,” said Fr. Michael Kelley of St. Martin’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1901, St. Martin’s is located in the middle of the Bloomingdale neighborhood of D.C. In recent years, the predominantly African-American neighborhood has experienced rapid economic change, as investors have started paying higher prices for land in the area, and new shops, bars and other amenities have sprung up in the middle of what used to be a major drug market.

In the midst of these changes, St. Martin’s has remained committed to its mission of hospitality and outreach to the larger community – both new residents and old residents. “We work hard to be a good neighbor,” Fr. Kelley said.

Their efforts to help their neighbors have actually been a factor in making the area enticing for the investors now moving into Bloomingdale. Local Christian pastors, working together and with the city, helped to diminish the drug trade and offer aid to those with addictions, the priest explained. In a way, the churches began a process that gentrification finished.

However, new residents don’t always give credit to the vital role the parishes have historically played in the communities – and still do to this day.  

“You all just really need to move your church, you’re getting in the way of what we’re doing here,” new residents have told Fr. Kelley and other Bloomingdale pastors. The priest recalled one interaction with a new homeowner who criticized the churches’ presence in the area. “I remember saying to someone, ‘How long have you been here?’”

“Oh I moved in about six months ago,” the man responded.

“I’ve been here for 24 years,” Fr. Kelley told the new resident. “I remember when people were shooting up heroin in my backyard, breaking into my house and stealing our TVs and computers. I remember when there were drive-by shootings every night and I almost got hit once. I lived here when it was a very dangerous place to be.”

“If it wasn’t for the churches being here as the anchors of the community, you wouldn’t have the community to move into that you have today.”

“Development” by any other name

Gentrification is a broad term for the movement of wealthier residents into an existing urban area, a demographic shift which changes a district’s character and culture, often affecting neighborhoods that have previously been home to ethnic minorities or immigrants.

The result: historically working-class neighborhoods are transformed into up-and-coming “hipster” or “arts” districts, and eventually, to high-demand – and usually high-rent – neighborhoods.  

The gentrification process can be characterized by an increase in median income and housing prices, as well as a decrease in the neighborhood’s proportion of racial minorities. Crime rates often drop, while investments in high-end businesses and infrastructure often soar.

Sociologists argue over the root causes of this phenomenon and the ways in which it is different, historically, from other kinds of demographic changes in cities. What is undeniable, however, is that the shift from primarily minority, lower-class neighborhoods to majority white, upper-class districts brings challenges for long-term residents as well as the benefits of increased resources and new businesses.

As an integral part of many developing neighborhoods, local parishes are also feeling the strain of these changes.

New Mission Territory

Fr. Mark Doherty is an associate pastor at St. Peter’s in the Mission District, San Francisco's oldest neighborhood, and an area of the city that has been predominantly Hispanic for decades.

He told CNA about the changes the Mission District is facing as millennial tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and programmers for startups like Dropbox and Airbnb have bought up properties in the neighborhood.

“The young tech professionals, they want to live in the city, and a certain number of them – the more hipster type – want to live in the Mission District” because of its “grungier” feel, Fr. Doherty explained.

But the stark economic divide is making life, and parish ministry, more challenging for the Latin American immigrants who have called the neighborhood home for generations.  

Many members of St. Peter’s are facing housing issues due in part to the arrival of wealthy property-owners and tenants looking for luxury accommodations, Fr. Doherty explained.

“You have a fair number of first-generation arrivals who are having to move because property owners are either selling the buildings or redesigning them to make them more appealing to the younger set of professionals that are coming in.”

Parish ministry has also been impacted as the changing neighborhood demographics have, in a sense, turned St. Peter’s back into mission territory.

Most of the parishioners at St. Peter’s are Mexican-American and speak Spanish as their first language. “Our time is mostly dedicated to meeting the sacramental needs of theses first-generation immigrants who live in the neighborhood,” Fr. Doherty said, citing Masses, weddings, baptisms, quinceaneras and funerals as among the focuses of parish resources.

“That means that the other folks who are moving in – the young tech professionals who now make a substantial part of the neighborhood – it means we don’t have nearly the kind of time available or the resources at hand to try to engage that population.”

“These young professionals who have moved into the neighborhood generally have no connection to the Church whatsoever, and more generally seem to have none or very little religious experience or background to speak of,” Fr. Doherty continued.  “It means that engaging them is very, very challenging and it comes down to one-on-one encounters more than anything else.” 

While these personal encounters “have the opportunity to become significant and deep,” the priest said, they take a significant amount of time and effort – a difficulty in a large parish with an already-established community and many sacramental needs.

This place would be a very different community if it wasn’t for the churches. -Fr. Michael Kelley

One parish that has seen some degree of success at merging different communities is St. Dominic’s in the Highland neighborhood of Denver, Colorado.

The old Victorian houses in the area had long been home to a large Vietnamese and Hispanic population, many of whom were parishioners at St. Dominic’s. But as housing prices have risen with the influx of technology companies, startups and other incoming industries, some long-time residents have had to move to other neighborhoods while a new young adult population moves in.

“The families who have been pushed out – they come back,” said Fr. Luke Barder O.P., parochial vicar for St. Dominic’s. He told CNA that some parishioners will “drive 30-40 mins to come to Mass.”

Since many of the longtime parishioners have remained engaged in the parish despite moving to new neighborhoods, St. Dominic’s has refocused its efforts on integrating and welcoming new residents into its existing parish ministries.

To refocus on its changing role in community, the parish has updated its mission statement, Fr. Barder said, and started targeting some ministries to the young adults in the area, including an Octoberfest beer festival and the Frassati Society, a group for fellowship and prayer.

“Families and homes go together”

The limited availability of affordable housing is an issue that the U.S. bishops have aimed to address for decades, said Dr. Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for U.S. bishops’ conference.

Reyes told CNA that within the Catholic Church, “for the last 10 years, housing has actually been one of the top three issues for community concerns and engagement, from the neighborhoods themselves.”

“The way the Church has always framed it is that families have the right to decent housing,” he continued. This drive to protect families – and to defend parishes as spaces in a community – has led the bishops’ conference to be explicitly involved in affordable housing initiatives since 1975.

In the document “The Right to a Decent Home,” the U.S. bishops lay out guidelines for Catholics on how to think about the need to ensure affordable housing. This concept was reinforced this past year in Pope Francis’ letter, “Amoris Laetitia,” in which the Pope asserted that “Families and homes go together,” and warned that housing difficulties may lead couples to delay starting a family.

Reyes pointed to efforts by the U.S. bishops’ conference to help ensure fair rents, promote the building of good housing and prevent homelessness.

In particular, he highlighted several initiatives by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an anti-poverty program of the bishops’ conference which has set up land trusts enabling local communities to own and control land in their neighborhood to keep it affordable for future generations.

Helping people – old and new

In Washington, D.C., St. Martin’s parish is still working hard to meet the needs of the predominantly African American community and its “very clear Black Catholic identity,” while also reaching out to the influx of white young adults.

“Our philosophy is: everyone is welcome; all gifts are needed; everyone can help build up the Church,” Fr. Kelley explained.

All parishioners are welcomed and encouraged to serve in all areas of parish life, from the gospel choir to the parish council. St. Martin’s is also looking at expanding childcare services and other ministries to accommodate the increasing population of young families.

At the same time, the parish has been careful not to stall its current ministries, particularly its role as the D.C. meeting location for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In addition to hosting the meetings, St. Martin’s also subsidizes the cost of utilities and operations.

“Even though the neighborhood is changing, people are coming from all over to come to the meetings,” Fr. Kelley said, emphasizing their importance both as a ministry and as a catalyst for change in Bloomingdale.

The influx of new residents has brought some benefits to the community. With the help of new parishioners, the parish been able to help secure housing protections for current residents against rapidly skyrocketing rental and property prices. In the 1990s, Fr. Kelley recalled, a row house in Bloomingdale could be bought for less than 10,000 dollars. Today, the same house could go for nearly 1 million dollars.

New residents in the neighborhood have also helped to attract attention to Bloomingdale’s longstanding issue with sewage flooding during heavy rains.

“For a long time, no one responded to the problem and plight of poor black folks complaining that we’re getting sewage in our basement when it rains,” Fr. Kelley said. New residents, though, had the resources and know-how to place enough political pressure on the city to jump-start repairs on the aging sewer and waste system in the neighborhood.

Still, challenges do remain for the community, with some new residents failing to understand the history of the area, and some older residents feeling like they are not respected and do not have a voice in the neighborhood as it evolves.

In the midst of these continuing tensions, Fr. Kelley said the parish must resist the narrative of “us against them.”

“I want us as a Church to continue to be involved, to share the Good News of Jesus, to continue to welcome everyone who comes and to try to meet people’s needs as best we can with our resources,” he said. “Our basic principles are hospitality, generosity, using God’s abundance to make a difference in the neighborhood locally and in the larger community.”

“It’s not like I’m trying to keep anyone out,” Fr. Kelley said of St. Martin’s role among the neighborhood’s many changes. “If anything, I’m trying to connect people more.”

This article was originally published July 13, 2016.

Catholics speak out against execution of two more Arkansas inmates

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 18:33

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 24, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Arkansas prepares to conduct the first double execution in the U.S. since 2000, Catholics prayed for all involved in the execution and the victims of the capital crimes.

“All of the actions around these executions in Arkansas display the flaws of the death penalty,” said Catholic Mobilizing Network in a statement to CNA April 24.  

“Both Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are in poor health, raising the risk of complications likely to occur with the lethal injection protocol. Kenneth Williams, set to be executed on Thursday, has an outstanding intellectual disability case as well,” the organization said.

Voicing prayers for both the victims and those involved in the scheduled executions, the group noted that both “Jones and Williams have taken responsibility for their crimes,” and said that this action “should be met with mercy.”

“This forces you to ask the question, why so much energy, expense and focus on vengeance? This is an opportunity to stand for the dignity of all life,” the group said.

Arkansas is set to execute two men – Jack Jones and Marcel Williams – on Monday evening, after a federal district judge on Friday denied their request to have their executions stopped and the state Supreme Court on Monday afternoon denied them a stay of execution.

Jones and Williams, scheduled to be executed on Monday evening, claimed that the state’s use of the sedative Midazolam could fail to achieve the intended effect of rendering them unconscious before the next two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, were administered. If this happened, the inmates said they could experience excruciating pain during their death.

The state had originally planned to execute eight inmates in 10 days before their supply of the drug Midazolam – used in their three-step lethal injection protocol – expired, but several of the executions have been stayed.

Inmates challenged the state’s use of Midazolam, claiming that there was a significant risk that the drug would not work as intended, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their claim.

Meanwhile, a Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin had halted the state’s use of vecuronium bromide in executions, after the medical supplier of vecuronium claimed that the state bought the drug from them and was deceptive about its planned use. The manufacturer of vecuronium had opposed its use in executions.

The state Supreme Court vacated Griffin’s ruling, however, and commissioned an investigation into whether he had violated the code of conduct for judges after he had participated in a rally against the planned executions on the same day he issued his decision. Griffin was also barred from hearing future death penalty cases.

One of the inmates, Ledell Lee, was executed on Thursday, April 20 after the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay of execution.

Of the two set to be executed on Monday evening, Jones was convicted for the 1995 murder of Mary Phillips and the attempted killing of her daughter, while Williams was convicted for the 1994 killing of Stacey Errickson.

A report by the Fair Punishment Project claimed that Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been physically abused by his father as a child, had been sexually abused by strangers, and had twice attempted suicide before the 1995 killing. Marcel Williams, the report claimed, had been physically and sexually abused as a child, and had been pimped out by his mother to strangers for lodging and food stamps.

Kenneth Williams is also scheduled to be executed by Arkansas on Thursday. He has asked the state Supreme Court to halt his execution based on his claim of intellectual disability. He reportedly has an IQ score of 70, “squarely within the intellectual disability range,” according to the Fair Punishment Project.

Other inmates have had their executions halted. After the state’s parole board recommended clemency for Jason McGehee, convicted in the 1996 killing of John Melbourne, Jr., his execution was suspended by a federal district court because of a 30-day period for public comment before the board officially made its recommendation to the governor. McGehee’s scheduled execution fell within that 30-day period.

Two other inmates, Bruce Ward and Don Davis, saw their executions halted by the state Supreme Court as the U.S. Supreme Court considers another case, McWilliams v. Dunn, involving a prisoner’s request for a mental competency evaluation by an expert not selected by the state. The Court held oral arguments in the case on Monday.

Stacey Johnson was granted a stay of execution by the state Supreme Court for a hearing on DNA evidence in his case.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock has already spoken out against the scheduled executions. He wrote Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1 to ask for the eight death sentences to be commuted to life without parole.

“Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death,” Bishop Taylor wrote. “Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means.”

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, also called for the sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment.

“Indeed, serious criminal activity must be met with appropriate punishment,” he wrote. He cited Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae which said that death sentences should not be served for punishment “except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.”

The U.S. has “maximum security prisons” which “can neutralize an incarcerated person’s threat to the general public,” he added.

The planned executions follow a commutation of a Virginia inmate’s death sentence to life without parole by Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who said that false information had been presented against Ivan Teleguz, 38, during the sentencing for a 2001 murder. The state’s bishops had praised the commutation “because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death.”

 

University meets harsh criticism for Plan B in vending machine

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 18:32

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A California university came under fire for dispensing Plan B contraceptive pill in a vending machine, with one critic calling the move inadequate in meeting the real needs of women.

“Colleges and universities should be offering pregnant and parenting students options of housing, financial aid, diaper decks, and childcare instead of handing over abortion drugs,” said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life.

“No woman should be forced to choose between the life of her child and her education,” she told CNA.

A study room at the University of California Davis recently installed a “Wellness To Go” vending machine that includes Plan B among other items such as condoms, tampons, pregnancy tests and Advil.

The move has been met with mixed reactions from students, with one calling it a “great thing for women,” according to CNN affiliate KTXL.

However, another student slammed the development as promoting recklessness and irresponsibility among UC Davis attendees.   

“It is promoting like 'Oh hey, go and have unsafe sex because then you have a backup option and it's gonna be cheaper than if you just wanna go to a drug store,'” Jordan Herrera told the affiliate.

Students for life coordinates a Pregnant on Campus Initiative, which provides resources for students who are pregnant and do not wish to undergo an abortion.   

Plan B has been the source of religious freedom troubles for pharmacists and drugstore owners who consciously object to dispensing the pills.

Greg Stormans and his family, who have been operating a small grocery store and pharmacy for the past four generations, had no idea they would be at the center of a firestorm in 2007, when the Washington Pharmacy Commission began to require pharmacies to dispense the abortion-inducing drugs Plan B and ella and make conscience-based referrals illegal.

In July 2007, the Stormans filed a lawsuit against Washington state to stop enforcement of the newly passed regulations. The legal battle continues to this day. In July 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision to suspend the regulations.

Previously, Stormans would have been allowed to refer customers elsewhere if they requested Plan B or ella. However, the new Washington law requires Stormans to offer the drugs himself, becoming the first state in the country to prohibit customer referrals for religious reasons.

Since the lawsuit began, Stormans said that his family has received numerous threats. In addition, their business saw a drop in sales by 30 percent, and as a result, they were forced to take a pay cut and reduce staff by 10 percent.

Christians are the most widely targeted religious group in the world

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 18:29

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When it comes to religious persecution, Christians are the most widely targeted community, said a new report released this week.

But despite oppression and threat of violence, the faithful “should not be afraid,” said a Pakistani archbishop.

Pakistan’s Christians have made vital contributions to the country’s history and must not refrain from professing their faith in the midst of the current persecution, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, OFM of Lahore, Pakistan.

“Even under discrimination or some violent actions,” Christians should take courage, he said, citing the words of Jesus that “people will hate you on account of My name.”

“You are not guilty, but because you are Christians and because you are following the Gospel values…being honest, being more responsible, being more dutiful, more charitable,” he said of Pakistan’s Christians, violence and harassment will follow.

Archbishop Shaw spoke with CNA at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. at the April 20 release of the new report “Under Caesar’s Sword.” The archbishop leads the largest Catholic diocese in Pakistan, with around 500,000 members.

“Under Caesar’s Sword” documents not only the persecution of Christians around the world, but how they choose to respond to persecution. “Christians are the most widely targeted religious community,” the report explained, “suffering terrible persecution globally.”

There are three common responses of Christian communities to violence or harassment, the report noted: “survival,” “strategies of association,” and “confrontation,” which is “the least common response.”

Survival would entail communities choosing to remain where they are in the face of persecution, as minorities have in Iraq and Syria, and either gathering covertly for worship as underground churches do in China, or maintaining a tenuous relationship with regimes in power.

Communities utilizing “association” would develop relationships with other non-governmental organizations or international bodies like the United Nations, or would strengthen their social ties in their country through social services or practicing forgiveness.

Examples of this course of action would be Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt, who acted to protect each other’s churches and mosques from vandalism and violence in 2011.

Another example was in 1996 when, “anticipating martyrdom, Christian de Chergé, leader of the ‘Tibhirine Monks’ of Algeria who were martyred in 1996 during the uprising, wrote a letter to his would-be killers, forgiving them and inviting them to a future of living together in freedom.”

“Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism,” the report stated.

Christians in Pakistan, Archbishop Shaw explained, helped build and unify the country when it was founded in 1947, especially through the health and social sectors and the educational institutions which formed some of the country’s present-day leaders, including the prime minister and the speaker of the National Assembly.

However, following the nationalization of the country’s schools in 1972, Pakistan became “more Islamized” and Christians were marginalized more and more, the archbishop said. They currently only make up around two percent of the country’s population.

Their marginalization includes infringements upon their rights and mob violence. Acts of terror against Christians have also increased, with a suicide bomber killing 72 and injuring 340 last year in an attack on a Christian celebration of Easter Sunday at a park in Lahore.

Additionally, anti-blasphemy laws have resulted in 40 persons on death row or serving life in prison, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The laws, which do not require evidence for an accusation and which carry the harshest of penalties, have been used to harass Christians. Mob violence is utilized to pressure the government and the courts to issue or uphold harsh sentences for Christians for alleged crimes.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was convicted in 2010 for alleged blasphemy but the country’s Supreme Court suspended her death sentence and her case is still in question, Archbishop Shaw said.

Today, Christians don’t count as a full person according to the country’s witnessing law, which requires the testimony of two Christian men to equal that of one Muslim man when witnessing to a crime. Women are also considered below men, as four Christian women would have to testify to count as a full witness.

New textbooks in schools have also circulated which contain “hate material,” the archbishop said, which prevents a “harmonious society” from growing.

Archbishop Shaw said he tells Christians “you were born in Pakistan, so God has a special purpose for you to be born in Pakistan,” saying their presence there is no accident.

Christians should not back away from the public square, he insisted, but should be “assertive enough to profess your faith in a very dignified way.”

He exhorted them “not to fight,” in response to violence, “but that does not mean that you let people kill you. You have to be courageous to approach people in a very assertive way to share your values in being human and being a Christian.”

Christians should seek to grow in knowledge of their faith and their “religious traditions,” he said, and should share their faith with others through interreligious dialogue. This last part is key, he said, because if Christians and Muslims can have a “roundtable” to learn each other’s religious values, then they can find common ground.

Some of the worst persecution of Christians occurs in countries where they are isolated and which are largely closed off to outside research, the report said, countries like North Korea, Eritrea, Somalia, and Yemen.

Christians worldwide should seek to implement these practices of dialogue, bridge-building with other members of society, and non-violence, the report said.

“The benefits of these strategies may seem short-term and modest, but from the standpoint of those persecuted, the strategies reflect a kind of divine logic, one rooted not only in hope for reward and fulfillment in the life to come but also in the conviction that should these communities remain true to their faith, there will come a day when the persecuting regime or militant group may pass away and the church spring up and branch out with vigor, as it has done so often in history before,” the report stated, citing the early Christians’ faith amidst the persecutions by the Roman Empire.

“Those who wish to act in solidarity with persecuted Christians can imitate their creative and faithful pragmatism,” the report concluded.

This film shows how mercy can transform your life

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 05:08

Bridgeport, Conn., Apr 23, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA).- Personal stories about God’s mercy at work in the world today are the focus of a recent Catholic-produced documentary on Divine Mercy.

“These testimonies remind us that Divine Mercy is not just a devotion or theological concept – it is alive, it is present, and it is a force that can transform the world,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson.

The one-hour film “The Face of Mercy” depicts mercy as the antidote to evil even in great difficulty. Narrated by actor Jim Caviezel, the film interweaves history, theology, and testimonials about the importance of mercy in people’s lives.

Testimonies come from Immaculée Ilibagiza, who forgave those who murdered her family in the Rwandan genocide; a New York police officer who works for peace despite having been shot and paralyzed from the waist down; a young widow who forgave the killer of her husband; a baseball player who became a priest; and a former NFL linebacker who now shares Christ’s mercy with the homeless.

The film was produced by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order with 1.9 million members worldwide.

Anderson said the film “highlights the sort of transformations that are possible in individual lives that embrace the way of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The film is available at Amazon.com, the Ignatius Press website, and the Knights of Columbus site Knights Gear.

More information is available at faceofmercyfilm.com.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Nov. 17, 2016.

Virginia bishops welcome commutation of prisoner's death sentence

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 17:13

Richmond, Va., Apr 22, 2017 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Virginia welcomed a decision by the governor to commute a prisoner’s death sentence on the grounds that false information was presented during his sentencing.

“We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life,” the bishops said April 20.

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington said they welcomed the decision to commute the death sentence “because we have a profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, 38, to life without parole. He was scheduled to be executed April 25.

The governor had denied his petition for a pardon, but said that the sentencing phase was “terribly flawed and unfair.” He said false information about Teleguz was presented during sentencing, including another alleged murder and mob ties.

“In this case, we now know that the jury acted on false information, and that it was driven by passions and fears raised – not from actual evidence introduced at trial – but from inference,” McAuliffe said.

Teleguz was convicted for the 2001 murder of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, who was the mother of their 23-month-old son. She was stabbed to death in her apartment.

Prosecutors said that Teleguz was angered by an order to pay child support, hired two men to kill the woman for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania to her Harrisonburg, Va. Apartment.

Teleguz’s lawyers have contended that he is innocent. DNA evidence implicated Michael Hetrick as the murderer. He and two others then implicated Teleguz, Richmond’s CBS 6 reports.

The Catholic bishops voiced their “deep sorrow” and prayers for all victims of violence and their loved ones.

“Likewise, we continue to pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence,” they said.

The bishops prayed that God would give the grace “to work together for justice, peace and respect for all life in our communities and our Commonwealth.”

 

Feminists and pro-lifers can join forces – and why they should

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 08:12

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2017 / 06:12 am (CNA).- On a Monday evening in Washington, D.C., well over a hundred women – and a few men too – gathered together to take up some of the most intense questions from earlier in 2017: Can feminists be pro-life? Can pro-life activists be feminists?

Self-described feminists from both sides of the abortion debate opened a panel discussion this month, continuing a conversation that started when pro-life participants were barred from formal co-sponsorship of the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year.

While there were no easy answers from any of the participants, the women discussed what it means to be a feminist, what it truly means to be pro-life, and how pro-life activists and feminists can work together – even when they may not see eye-to-eye on abortion.

For Aimee Murphy, a pro-life activist and feminist, abortion is directly opposed to the stated aims of feminism.

“It is the ultimate in ‘might makes right’ mentality. It is contrary to nondiscrimination,” she said, arguing that abortion discriminates on the basis of age, sex and ability. “If feminism is truly the support of the equality of human beings, then my question is actually: Is it possible to be pro-choice and feminist?”

Murphy is the founder and executive director of Rehumanize International – formerly known as Life Matters Journal – in Pittsburgh. The organization is an education and advocacy group dedicated to promoting a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.

Murphy and other panelists discussed whether one can be both pro-life and feminist during an April 10 event at The Catholic University of America. The panel was hosted by The Institute for Human Ecology and was formulated partially in response to backlash earlier this year on pro-life participation in the Women’s March on Washington.

Also speaking were Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists; Megan Klein-Hattori, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts; Robin Marty, pro-choice speaker, activist, and author; Pamela Merritt, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a pro-choice activist organization; and Cessilye Smith, from Doulas for Life.

Murphy told the crowd that her pro-life activism and her feminist upbringing in California were intrinsically linked. “I was a feminist before I was pro-life, and I’m honestly pro-life because I’m a feminist.”

Her feminist views were challenged and evolved when she was 16: after being raped by an on-again, off-again boyfriend, she was afraid she was pregnant. Initially, she considered abortion, but then her assailant cornered her and told her she must have an abortion – and if she didn’t, he might kill her and then himself.

After that conversation, Murphy said, “everything changed. I decided that I couldn’t perpetuate the cycle of violence and oppression. I had to be better, I had to choose nonviolence.”  She realized she had to oppose violent forms of oppression – including abortion.

“I realized that if all humans truly are equal, regardless of sex or race or any other circumstance, then that equality must be something inherent in us: part of our essence, not a consequence of circumstances,” she commented.

The realization made her think more deeply about other aspects of feminism, such as the relationship between society’s views of menstruation, pregnancy or childbirth and the marginalization of some groups of people, such as both women and the unborn.

“If the male body is seen as the norm, pregnancy is seen as a disease condition. If the male body is seen as the norm, those of us with wombs will continue to be marginalized.”

These understandings, she said, have further influenced other, more stereotypically feminist positions such as paid family leave and empowering nonviolent birth choices.

Cessilye Smith of Doulas for Life emphasized that there are different varieties of feminism and voiced concern that by making the “barbaric procedure” of abortion “a pillar of feminism,” there is a risk of forgetting the core tenet of feminism: equality.

“As pro-life feminists, we simply extend that equality to the fetus which is just at a different stage of human development,” Smith said.

She added that a feminist perspective can also bring greater focus to the pro-life movement. “In order to be pro-life we need to be consistent, and with that consistency comes a genuine interest in all of humanity,” she said, arguing that cuts to programs that support women facing unplanned pregnancies call into question “how ‘pro-life’ we really are.”

Pro-choice activist Robin Marty said that while she supports the ability to choose abortion, she also wants to help remove obstacles for women who want to parent.

Marty added that she is willing to work with anyone – regardless of their position on abortion – to help create solutions like day care programs, housing for parents on campus, and improved welfare support so that women don’t feel forced into having abortions.

Not all panelists agreed, however, that it was possible to be both a feminist and against abortion. Abortion advocate Pamela Merritt charged that the pro-life movement “seeks to deny women access to abortion, birth control, fertility treatments, give employers the right to deny coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health care, and defund reproductive health care providers.”

To her, these pro-life actions are contrary to the goals of feminism. “Feminism is an action agenda to secure the social, economic and political equality of women,” Merritt argued. “It is possible to support, find comfort, and feel empowered by parts of feminism without being feminist. It is not possible to support the pro-life movement and be a feminist.”

But Merritt still acknowledged that pro-life activists and feminists can find common ground. “We can still work together,” she said, noting that she works with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in Missouri to help provide aid to women in need.

For other members of the panel, the question was not whether feminism can include pro-life voices, but whether abortion is distracting from the work women can do together.

“We can allow abortion to be the issue that polarizes and divides women, or not,” said Professor Megan Klein-Hattori. While she believes that abortion is “central to mainstream feminist politics,” she also granted that “feminists have always come from amazingly different standpoints.”

Klein-Hattori lamented how polarization over abortion has overshadowed the “common roots” of feminists in seeking to address “the problematic conditions faced by women living in a system in which wage labor and individual achievement are placed in conflict with reproduction, motherhood, and nurturance.”  

“There are many feminist politics that pro-choice and anti-abortion feminists share, ones that move us closer to having control over all elements of our lives, to being respected by loved ones and community, and to not being second-class citizens.”

“Allowing abortion to polarize hurts these broader feminist politics,” she stressed.

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists agreed. “Labels are killing us, labels are dividing us, labels are polarizing us,” she said.

“It’s not pro-choice when we feel we don’t have a choice,” she commented. “That a woman ever has to choose violence for her child is awful.”

Instead, she hopes that women of all beliefs can work together to “make abortion unthinkable” and remove the economic and social obstacles to parenthood faced by many women with unplanned pregnancies. “There are so many places where we can work together,” she said.

 

 

Catholic leaders urge extreme caution for new Netflix series

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 19:23

Denver, Colo., Apr 21, 2017 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- It’s only been out for a few weeks, but that’s enough time for “13 Reasons Why” to have become the latest teenage Netflix binge craze.

Based on the 2007 young adult novel by the same name, “13 Reasons Why” follows the story of Hannah Baker, a troubled 17 year old who took her own life.

But instead of leaving the typical note, Hannah leaves 13 cassette tapes, explaining the 13 reasons why she took her life - and each of these “reasons” is a person, who either did something to Hannah, or didn’t do enough, according to her.

The creators of the Netflix original series insisted in a follow-up video that 13 Reasons was meant to be helpful - to bring up important conversations about serious topics like suicide, bullying and assault, and to get viewers talking about solutions to suicidal thoughts.

However, suicide prevention groups and youth leaders have raised concerns because the show is particularly popular among a teenage audience, and teenagers are a vulnerable population.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. Studies show that publicized suicides may also trigger a ripple effect of additional suicides within communities.

The show has also faced backlash from mental health experts, who say it fails to follow several of the “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” a list of guidelines for media outlets developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists. Experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a U.S. non-profit suicide prevention group, has also said that the show may do “more harm than good.”

Life Teen, an international youth ministry program, released a video and a written message to young people, warning them of possible triggers in the show and of the inadequate ways it addresses suicide and mental health.

In her message to young people before they watch the show, Life Teen’s Leah Murphy warned against the way the show portrays Hannah’s suicide as simply the fault of those around her.

“Nowhere in the series is mental illness explicitly discussed or dealt with and the audience is left having been told that the people around Hannah Baker are responsible for her death because of their actions or lack thereof,” she wrote.

“While bullying, not saying anything when you see depressive or suicidal signs, and sexual assault are serious issues and can drive people to suicide, the reality is that suicide is rarely something avoided by good sentiments alone. It’s been reported that 90% of all suicides are committed by people who experience diagnosable mental illnesses. The vast majority of suicides can be traced to actual health issues, not just bullying or traumatic events. These health issues, actual, mental illnesses require a lot more than the presence of a good friend or the absence of any serious issues or struggles - they require serious, professional help.”

The fact that these aren’t addressed in any straightforward manner in the series is a problem, Murphy said, because Hannah ends up being portrayed as a kind of “heroic martyr” who leaves a lesson and a legacy behind.

Murphy urged anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts to reach out and seek help.

Someone who commits suicide “doesn’t become a hero, gain control, and acquire any power by identifying the people around them as reasons for their suicide,” Murphy wrote.

“Suicide will always be incredibly hurtful to countless individuals, but most tragically hurtful to the person who takes his or her own life - a life that was mean to continue, that was full of meaning, purpose, and infinite worth.”

Chelsea Voboril, the director of religious education at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Smithville, Missouri, told CNA that she watched the show and addressed it with her youth group. She was troubled that most of her teens thought the 13 reasons Hannah gave were legitimate reasons to end her life.

Voboril said they were able to discuss how Hannah never approached her parents or a doctor or psychologist about the loneliness and hurt she was experiencing. Voboril was also able to discuss mental health and culpability for sins with her youth group, who asked if everyone who commits suicide goes to hell.

When watching these kinds of shows, Voboril said she tries to take the approach of finding the “wheat in the weeds” or finding the good among the bad - something she’s borrowed from Catholic speaker Christopher West.

The show attempted to have a moral compass, Voboril said, and its “wheat” includes good messages: “Rape is wrong, suicide causes pain, everybody is bearing a cross,” she noted.

“But the weeds are dangerous. And subtle. Sex outside of marriage, turning to substance abuse, free will being limited by others actions or circumstances, let alone the huge issue around how to talk about suicide in a safe yet poignant manner.”

At the end of the discussion, Voboril said she begged her students to watch it with a parent or other adult, if they were going to continue watching.

But “(for) persons whose consciences may not be well formed or who can be triggered by any of the big issues, I would hope that they avoid it.”

Owen Stockden, a spokesman for Living Works, which specializes in suicide intervention trainings, told CNA that one of his biggest concerns with “13 Reasons” was the portrayal of inadequate and unhelpful responses from the adults in the show, particularly the school counselor and teachers.

“In the show, Hannah’s guidance counsellor has a very ineffective response to her thoughts of suicide,” Stockden told CNA.

“As an organization, we train many guidance counsellors and teachers around the world to respond compassionately and effectively to thoughts of suicide. There is always more to be done, and a recent study...suggests that schools would benefit from increased suicide intervention training for staff, but in the vast majority of cases, teachers and counsellors are alert and sensitive to the needs of their students,” he said.

“It would be tragic if 13 Reasons Why led young people to believe that their concerns would be ignored if they approached a responsible adult.”

Having a popular show discussing the issue of suicide provides the potential for helpful conversations and the addressing of important issues, “but only if it is discussed in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Stockden added.

For Catholic screenwriter and associate professor Barbara Nicolosi, another issue with the show is that none of the characters have a sense of or ever mention a transcendent or loving God, something that she says her own students lack.

“The show wants to attribute all the problems of youth to social media and bullying, but refuses to consider that those things are just symptoms themselves.  The loss of faith, the (loss of the) conviction of a loving personal God, the loss of a sense of eternity, all of these things make suicide a logical response to suffering. Our kids are not dumb,” she told CNA.

Nicolosi said she saw the value in the anti-bullying messages of the show, but she also worries it could lend power to suicide.

“...I am worried that the character of Hannah does seem to have some power in wreaking revenge on her persecutors through her suicide. In the end, I think the show is close to a wash in terms of whether it will do good or harm,” she said.    

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic psychologist with St. Raphael Counseling in Denver, has read the book and seen several episodes of “13 Reasons Why.”

Because of the mature content on several levels - language, sexuality, topics of suicide and rape - he said he would be hesitant to recommend either the show or the book to anyone other than mentally healthy adults.

He also said that there were several things that the story gets right - namely, that people you may not expect in your life could be at risk for suicide, and the devastating impact suicide can have on the people in your life.

However, where the story goes wrong is that it tends to romanticize the idea of suicide and fails to adequately address the impact mental health played in Hannah’s decision to end her life.

Dr. Langley said he also worried that the show went too far in suggesting that the people in Hannah’s life were at fault for her suicide. Bullying, rape and assault are terrible things to have happen to someone, and there is some benefit to showing that your actions “can harm and influence other people.”

“To some degree we all have responsibility to other people, but in some ways the show goes too far, and makes it sound like we have responsibility for the other person. We’re responsible to the people in our lives, to treat them well. But the people who hurt (Hannah) were not responsible for her choosing to commit suicide.”

“Most people who commit suicide - almost everyone has a severe mental health problem. And the show does not portray this girl as having severe mental health problems in the way that somebody who is contemplating suicide almost always has,” he said.

Warning signs for suicide include severe, ongoing depression and social isolation. A suicidal person may mention something about wanting to end their life, or start giving away their belongings as sentimental gifts. Another warning sign includes a deeply depressed person who is all of a sudden very happy, brought about by a sudden sense of freedom if they have decided on suicide.

The show’s ultimate message is that the solution to teen suicide is that everyone needs to treat the people in their lives better, which is a positive message but does not go far enough in addressing mental health issues, Dr. Langley said.

One of the most important things adults can do, Dr. Langley said, it to talk to the children in their lives about this show and about suicide and other issues.

“I think that especially with teenagers, they are exposed to so much in today’s culture, that it’s our job as parents and educators about those things and to provide real, accurate information and to provide them with the truth,” he said.

Often adults can worry that they will over-expose their children to heavy issues by having these conversations, but for the most part, the internet and social media and the culture at large have already done that, Dr. Langley noted.

“So as parents and educators, we’re not overexposing them by talking about the issues, we’re going to help them process it and discern the truth in it. And I think it is really valuable to talk with teenagers about mental health issues.”

One thing that was “starkly missing” from the book and the T.V. show, Dr. Langley said, was Hannah’s parents, who seemed loving but at the same time were largely unaware of Hannah’s experiences at school and her interior experiences.  

“So it’s so important for parents to play a really active role in their kids’ lives, even though a teenager’s number one priority is to individuate from mom and dad, which is healthy, you still have to be involved and talk with them and let them know that you care and that you’re invested in them. Don’t be those absent parents that Hannah’s parents appeared to be in the show.”

If you think you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours everyday). For Catholic counseling, contact your local priest, diocese or your local branch of Catholic Charities.

In Missouri, a court decision means lower health standards for abortion clinics

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 10:04

Jefferson City, Mo., Apr 21, 2017 / 08:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Stronger medical standards for abortion clinics were thrown out in Missouri by a federal judge who cited a Supreme Court decision on a similar law in Texas.

The Missouri law required abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers. The clinics’ doctors were also required to have hospital privileges.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs of the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City said April 19 that “relief should be prompt, given the needs of women seeking abortions and the need for available clinics to serve their needs.” He cited the 5-3 ruling of the 2016 Supreme Court decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said he would appeal the decision, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

“Today a federal court struck down large portions of Missouri law that protect the health and safety of women who seek to obtain an abortion,” he said. “Missouri has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of women undergoing medical procedures in state-licensed medical facilities.”

The surgical center standards, implemented for abortion clinics in 2007, include wide halls and doorways that can accommodate emergency personnel and equipment; separate male and female changing rooms for personnel; and a recovery room with space for at least four beds with sufficient clearance around each bed.

The law was credited for closing some abortion clinics in the state that could not meet the surgical standards.

There had been only one abortion provider in the state before the judge’s decision.

Now, Planned Parenthood has said it would start to restore abortion services in Columbia and Kansas City. It plans to begin performing the procedures in Joplin and Springfield.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling said that the Texas law under consideration placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion and posed a “substantial obstacle” to that right without showing the benefit of regulation.

At the time of the decision, Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the court “rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety.”

Cardinal Cupich praises governor's pledge to veto abortion funding

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 08:13

Chicago, Ill., Apr 21, 2017 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A promise from the governor of Illinois to veto an abortion funding bill drew the gratitude of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who called it a “principled stand.”

“Abortion is a controversial issue in this country, but using public money to provide abortions should not be,” the cardinal said April 19. “The federal government prohibits the practice, and polls show a substantial segment of the American public reject it.”

Governor Bruce Rauner had pledged to veto Illinois House Bill 40. The legislation would fund elective abortions throughout pregnancy for any reason through the Medicaid and employee health insurance programs. It would also make a symbolic commitment to maintain legal abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the decisions mandating legal abortion nationwide.

A spokesperson said last week the governor is committed to protecting current abortion law but recognizes the “sharp divisions of opinion” on taxpayer funding of abortion, the Associated Press reports.

“I thank him for this principled stand,” Cardinal Cupich said of the governor. “I pray that this divisive issue will be put behind us and our government officials will now concentrate on the many difficult challenges facing Illinois.”

He stressed the importance of unity in seeking a budget “that serves all our people” and pledged help for this effort.

Gov. Rauner, a Republican, actively campaigned as a supporter of legal abortion. He and his wife are listed as $50,000 sponsors of a Planned Parenthood of Illinois fundraiser next week marking the abortion organization’s 100th anniversary, the Chicago Tribune reports.

 

After court ruling, Tennessee to stop enforcing two pro-life laws

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 15:44

Nashville, Tenn., Apr 20, 2017 / 01:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The state of Tennessee has agreed to stop enforcing two abortion restrictions which are similar to those in Texas that were struck down by the Supreme Court last year.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, said the laws’ enforcement will cease immediately “in light of the Supreme Court's current case law and to avoid the expense and utilization of resources on continued litigation.”

One of the Tennessee laws, introduced to the state in 2012, required doctors who perform abortions to receive admitting privileges at a local hospital in case there were any serious complications during or after the procedure. According to The Tennessean, two abortion clinics were forced to close after physicians failed to receive clearance.

Another restriction was added in 2014, which required clinics performing over 50 surgical abortions a year to meet the same safety requirements as ambulatory surgical care centers.

Supporters of the laws say they help ensure that women’s health and safety are protected.

In striking down the similar Texas legislation, the Supreme Court said that the laws were not medically necessary and were an unconstitutional limit on woman’s “right to an abortion.”

Three Tennessee clinics challenged the laws in 2015, but a district court agreed to halt the proceedings until the Supreme Court resolved a similar case in Texas last summer. That case led to the abortion regulations being struck down.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office says it will continue to defend a separate law requiring a 48-hour waiting period and counseling for those seeking an abortion. That regulation was also challenged in the lawsuits, which will proceed in the court system.

Tennessee is currently debating another pro-life measure. Entitled the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act,” the proposed legislation would bar abortions of babies who would be able to live outside the womb, except in cases of medical emergency.

 

Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Chicago receives new bishop

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 13:24

Chicago, Ill., Apr 20, 2017 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on April 20 appointed Bishop Venedykt (Valery) Aleksiychuk as Bishop of the Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy of Chicago.

Bishop Venedykt, 49, was born in Borshchivka, Ukraine in January 1968. He graduated from Rivne medical college in 1987, and worked as a physician’s assistant for several years. He also served in the Ukrainian military for two years.

He attended the seminary of Drohobych and was ordained a priest of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Lviv in 1992, at the age of 24. Until 1994 he was responsible for organizing missionary work in eastern Ukraine, and he also served in Belarus.

He was professed as a member of the Ukrainian Studite Monks in 1995, and earned a master's degree in theology at Lublin Catholic University the following year.

Bishop Venedykt was transferred to St. Catharines, Canada in 1996 to found a monastery, and while there he served at several parishes of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Toronto.

In 1999 he returned to Ukraine after being elected hegumen of the  Holy Dormition Univ Lavra religious community, serving three terms in this position.

Continuing his theology studies in Lublin, he received a licentiate and a doctorate in 2006 and 2008, respectively. He has written on St. John of Kronstadt, a Russian Orthodox priest of the 19th century, and St. Theodore the Studite, a Byzantine monk of the 9th century who was a defender of icons.

Bishop Venedykt also completed courses in psychology and mental disorders at three institutions in eastern Europe.

In 2010 he was consecrated a bishop, and appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Lviv. He has served as chief of staff of the archeparchial curia, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's liturgical commission, and is chair of the synodal committee on liturgy.

Since 2014 Bishop Venedykt has been a member of the Saint Sophia charitable religious community in Rome.

In June 2016 he received a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Ukrainian Catholic University.

Bishop Venedykt was preceeded as Bishop of Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy by Bishop Richard Stephen Seminack, who died Aug. 16, 2016.

The eparchy is responsible for all Ukrainian Catholics in the United States west of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. There are currently around 70 priests and deacons working in the eparchy in 46 parishes and mission stations.

Since the death of Bishop Richard, Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Eparchy had been served by Fr.  Richard Janowicz as administrator.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite which is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

Marijuana scores badly in 'entirely predictable' report

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA).- A recent report shows that traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in the state of Colorado.

Released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in September, the report compared marijuana-related statistics from previous years in Colorado to data from 2013-2015, the first years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state in November 2012.

The results aren’t promising.

Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 62 percent in 2013, the first year of legalization of recreational marijuana. About one in five more youth are now reporting having used marijuana in the past month since its legalization. Marijuana-related hospitalizations in the state nearly doubled from 6,305 in 2011 to 11,439 in 2014.

“Perhaps there is not much value in saying to my beloved state of Colorado that ‘I told you so,’ but these results were entirely predictable,” said Dr. E. Christian Brugger, professor of Moral Theology at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

Dr. Brugger has spoken and written about the moral questions surrounding the legalization of marijuana several times over the years, as his home state of Colorado has been central to the debate over the drug that has now spread to many other states.

“If there had been any sincere effort on the part of Colorado citizens and legislators to gauge in advance the harms that would arise from legalization, they would have foreseen precisely (these results),” he told CNA in e-mail comments.

The biggest health concern for young people using marijuana is its harmful effect on the brain, which continues its development well into a person’s 20s.

The main active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to receptors in the brain and can cause a significant decrease in IQ over time. A 2012 study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that adolescent exposure to marijuana can lead to an 8-point drop in IQ, on par with the drop seen in children exposed to lead.

Another concerning impact is the relationship between adolescent marijuana use and schizophrenia. A study repeated by multiple research groups has found that adolescent marijuana use can quadruple a teen’s risk of developing schizophrenia.

Marijuana can also be addictive, with one in six adolescent users developing a dependence over time.

A secondary health concern is traffic accidents, which make up the leading cause of death in 15-20 year-olds.

According to the report, in 2009, marijuana-related traffic deaths involving operators testing positive for marijuana represented 10 percent of all traffic fatalities in Colorado. By 2015, that number doubled to 21 percent. The amount of youth reporting marijuana use after legalization, compared to before, increased by about 20 percent. College-age Coloradans now rank first in the nation for marijuana use.

Crime has also increased in Denver and Colorado as a whole in the post-legalization years.

“Since 2014, there has been a notable increase in organized networks of sophisticated residential grows in Colorado that are orchestrated and operated by drug trafficking organizations. These organizations currently operate hundreds of large-scale home grows throughout Colorado. Harvested marijuana is shipped or transported out of Colorado to markets in the Midwest and East Coast. Home grows have significantly increased illicit production of marijuana in Colorado,” the report states.

And while marijuana has often been touted as an economy booster, the report shows that Colorado may be losing business from conventions that are no longer hosted in the state due to concerns about marijuana.

According to the report, 49 percent of meeting planners expressed concerns about marijuana when considering holding an event in Denver. VISIT DENVER, the marketing organization for the city,  found that Denver’s reputation as a clean and safe city where organizations can host events and conventions has decreased since the legalization of marijuana.

“The legalization initiative was never based upon a rational assessment of whether legalization would be good for our communities, it was driven by money and rotten politics,” Dr. Brugger said.

“And mark my word, those numbers will go up, not down, in the next years.” What's the solution?  “Re-criminalization of the possession and smoking of marijuana in Colorado,” he says.

Tom Gorman, Director of Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which released the report, also believes that the negative impact will only increase overtime.

“Any time you legalize a substance, you’re going to have more people using. The more people you have using, the more adverse (effects) you’re going to have on society, as well as the individual,” he told CNA.

“Alcohol is a perfect example of that, because so many people use and abuse alcohol. We almost have as many people addicted to alcohol as all the illegal drugs combined. We can expect the same thing from marijuana, although with alcohol you don’t necessarily drink and get drunk. With marijuana, you smoke to get (high).”

The report is also a good reference point for other states considering legalization of marijuana. Until now, there hasn’t been enough data available.

“Basically what it does is give you a look at actual data versus rhetoric.”

“If you look at it overall and you look at the trends, which are all negative, whether it’s emergency room visits or hospitalization or fatalities or drug use among our kids, the other states now have some data to make an informed decision.”

 

This article was originally published Sept. 9, 2016.

Mexican nuns of new order open first US convent in Denver

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 02:11

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2017 / 12:11 am (Denver Catholic).- It seems providential that a new order of Discalced Carmelite nuns, whose charism is to know and to make known the glory of the Holy Trinity, has arrived to Denver to care for the archdiocese’s Holy Trinity Center.

The six Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity are the first nuns of their order, which was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to open a convent in the United States.

“It is by the grace of God,” Mother Martha Patricia Malacara, superior of the community, told the Denver Catholic. “He is making history (here).

“We want to thank Archbishop Samuel Aquila for welcoming us,” she added, “we are very grateful.”

Founded by Sister Martha Maria Ramirez-Mora on July 16, 1986, the order has 200-plus nuns serving in various apostolates – ranging from assisting at nursing homes to retreat centers – in Mexico, Italy, Rome, Argentina and Chile.

The semi-cloistered nuns are active contemplatives.

“We have the Carmelite essence of contemplative prayer but we also have an apostolate,” Mother Malacara said.

Residing in the convent at the St. John Paul II Center campus, which includes the chancery offices and the archdiocese’s two seminaries, the nuns will help run the day-to-day functions of the Holy Trinity Center, which includes the archbishop’s residence and rooms for large-scale meetings, conferences and events. The nuns will also help maintain the various sacristies on the campus.

The nuns’ primary task, however, is prayer – particularly the Divine Office and daily Eucharistic adoration. They pray especially for the sanctification of priests and seminarians, for the conversion of sinners and for the needs of the Church. They also welcome prayer requests.

“We want to let people know that we are praying for them,” Mother Malacara said. “Prayer is our main charism.”

Ranging in age from 35 to 46, the nuns are all Spanish-speaking natives of Mexico. They arrived to Denver March 14. Serving under Mother Malacara are Sister Imelda Cardona, Sister Lidia Cortez, Sister Elvira Esparza, Sister Maria Patricia Mireles and Sister Laura Martinez-Silvestre.

Clad in sandals, black veils and brown habits, the nuns’ habits are emblazoned with a triangular emblem that represents the Holy Trinity: one God comprised of three persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Inside the triangle, a cloud signifies the Father’s providence, which floats over his son Jesus’ cross, upon which the Holy Spirit, as a dove, issues tongues of fire for the Spirit’s seven gifts, which descend on a globe.

The nuns’ first impressions of their new land have been of warm hospitality.

“The United States is very beautiful,” Mother Malacara said. “People have welcomed us well. We do not speak English but people have tried to speak to us in Spanish.”

The nuns are learning English, but when language fails, the nuns said laughing, those involved have resorted to friendly gesturing.

“From the first moment we stepped on the land of the United States, very friendly people have helped us and guided us,” said Sister Mireles.

Not only do the nuns welcome prayer requests, but women interested in their order are invited to contact them.

“If you feel that call, answer it!” Sister Cardona said, adding that there is no need to be afraid. “God loves you, so you should answer.”

Prayer requests may be emailed to Carmelites@archden.org or mailed to Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO 80210.

 

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

 

Catholic scientists converge in Chicago to ask big questions

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 22:02

Chicago, Ill., Apr 19, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists will focus on beginnings: the origin of consciousness, the origin of human language, the origin of the cosmos, and the origin of living things.

“Might there be other planets that harbor life – perhaps one of the recently discovered earth-like 'exoplanets'? Might there even be other universes?” reads an April 18 announcement of the event.

Almost 100 attendees are expected at the society's inaugural conference will be held April 21-23 at Chicago's Knickerbocker Hotel.

The society, founded in mid-2016, aims “to witness to the harmony between the vocation of the scientist and the life of faith.” It works to help foster fellowship among Catholic scientists and to provide a resource and discussion forum for those with questions about science and faith, while also adhering to Catholic teaching.

Marissa March, a physicist and researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, will speak to the conference on the topic “The Catholic Scientist in the Secular World: What is the meaning of our vocation and how does it distinguish us?”

For his part, Father Joachim Ostermann, O.F.M., a Canadian Franciscan who has served as a biochemistry professor, will speak about science in light of the Christian view of the human person.

Other conference speakers include Catholics like Vatican Observatory director Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J.; Karin Öberg, an astronomy professor at Harvard University; and Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University.

Non-Catholic speakers include Robert C. Berwick, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and John D. Barrow, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Barrow will discuss his views on the origin and evolution of universes, while Berwick will speak on the ideas he and Prof. Noam Chomsky have developed on the beginnings of human language and why they think no other animals have anything like human language.

Besides lectures, there will be meals, social occasions, and a membership meeting at the conference.

The Society of Catholic Scientists has several hundred members. These include top researchers in such astrobiology, evolutionary theory and super-string theory.

Members include American Catholic scientists as well as undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral students pursuing research in a natural science. The society's president is Stephen M. Barr, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware. Its episcopal adviser is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

The society held its first-ever Gold Mass at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s chapel on Nov. 15. It chose the term “Gold Mass” because it is the color of the hoods worn by those graduating with a doctorate in science and because St. Albert the Great, a medieval philosopher with a strong interest in natural sciences, was an alchemist who worked to turn base metals into gold.

That Mass followed the tradition of Masses for other professions, such as Red Masses for lawyers, White Masses for medical professionals, and Blue Masses for police officers.

The Society of Catholic Scientists website is https://www.catholicscientists.org.

Georgetown begins to make amends for 1838 sale of enslaved persons

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 17:24

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One hundred and seventy-nine years ago, two Jesuit priests sold 272 persons at a slave auction. Their families were torn apart: many of them were shipped over a thousand miles to Louisiana, and many more were barred from practicing their Catholic faith by new slave masters.

Meanwhile, the Jesuit priests used the money they received from the sale to pay off debts for Georgetown University – the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

On April 18, Georgetown University and the Maryland Jesuits apologized for their roles in the slave sale and started their ongoing efforts to make amends for their actions.

“As a Catholic, the whole concept of reconciliation and forgiveness is so important to us,” Jeremy Alexander said to CNA. Alexander is a descendant of one of the slaves sold by the Jesuit order for the benefit of Georgetown University, as well as an employee of the institution in its Office of Technology Commercialization.

“To hear the Jesuits say they are sorry for the sins of their brothers, of what happened in 1838, it is – I am very grateful for that.”

“The priest who went up to say the apology – it really brought me to tears,” he said, adding that he was also deeply moved to hear in person that the school is sorry “for the acts of slavery, for that horrible time in America.”

“Through this and through prayer, the family has survived,” Alexander mused.

The morning opened with a Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope, presided by Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout of Washington and Fr. Robert Hussey, S.J., Provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

Afterwards, the school dedicated two campus buildings to Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft. Hawkins was the first enslaved person listed in the documents outlining the 1838 sale. He was 65 years old at the time. Becraft, later known as Sr. Mary Aloysius, OSP, was a free black woman who lived in Georgetown and founded a school for black girls in the neighborhood in 1827. She later became a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first successful Catholic religious order established by women of African descent.

Prior to 2016, the halls had been named for the two Jesuit priests who orchestrated the sale: Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J. and Fr. William McSherry, S.J., both former presidents of Georgetown University. The 272 persons sold at the slave sale were sold for $115,000 – approximately $3.3 million in today’s value.

At the time, the Vatican did approve the sale, but placed many conditions upon it, mandating that families not be separated, that the money not be used to pay off the school’s debt, and that the new owners respect the religious practice of the slaves – many of whom were baptized as Catholics.

Fr. Mulledy and Fr. McSherry met none of these conditions: families were separated, money was used to pay off the school’s debts, and investigators from the Holy See found that many of the slaves were barred from attending Catholic churches and receiving the sacraments once they arrived in Louisiana.

Fr. Mulledy was later called to Rome to defend his actions surrounding the slave sale to the superior of the Jesuit order and asked to resign from his post at the time as head of the order in the United States. Later he was allowed to return to the United States, was given a second term as president of Georgetown University, and founded the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Previously, the Maryland Jesuits had held slaves on its plantations in the state since the turn of the 18th century, and had sold slaves in 1817 and in 1835 and afterwards. After the 1838 slave sale, the order continued to own slaves on its plantations and continued to house slaves on the Georgetown University campus.

In September 2015, Georgetown University formed a working group to research the conditions surrounding the 1838 sale and the fate of the slaves owned and sold by the Maryland Province of the Jesuit order. Since then, the group has also held discussions within the Georgetown community and has started to reach out to the tens of thousands of descendants of slaves sold by the Jesuit order.

The group has also recommended, in addition to holding a reconciliation service and rededicating several of its buildings, that the university extend preferential admission status and additional financial support to descendants of the 272 persons sold in 1838. Additionally, the working group has suggested the establishment of a public monument to honor the memory of the 272 persons sold in order to benefit the university.

On Thursday the university’s president, John DeGioia, apologized for the school’s historical involvement in the slave trade. Fr. Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, also made a heartfelt apology to God and the descendants of the 272 slaves sold by the Maryland Jesuits.

“We cannot hide from this truth, bury this truth, ignore this truth. Slavery remains the original evil of our republic, an evil that our university was complicit in, a sin that tore apart families, that through great violence denied and rejected the dignity and humanity of our fellow sisters and brothers,” DeGioia said. “We lay this truth bare, in sorrowful apology, in communal reckoning.”

“We betrayed the very name of Jesus, for whom our least society was named,” Fr. Kesicki recalled of the 1838 sale at the liturgy of contrition.

“Now, nearly 200 years later, we know that we cannot heal from this tragic history alone,” he continued. “We have no right to [forgiveness]. It is yours to restore,” he said to the descendants present at the liturgy.

One descendant, Sandra Green Thomas, explained how the university’s involvement in the slave trade was part of a societal injustice perpetrated against an entire race, the effects of which are present today.

“All African-Americans have hungered and thirsted for the bounty of the promise that is America, the promise of the equality of man, the pursuit of happiness, those God-given and unalienable rights,” she said at Tuesday’s liturgy, “but for so many of us,” they only saw “the meagre scraps” of that bounty.

“To be denied those things that rightfully come from the labor of our bodies, to have our minds deprived of the tools to develop to their potential, to live under soul-crushing injustice, stress, and deprivation, surely these are sins against the word of God and therefore God Himself,” she continued.

“These people, the 272 men, women and children we remember today, endured all of these. Their descendants are still experiencing them today.”

Both university officials and descendants of the 272 slaves acknowledged that the school’s actions –  financial aid and granting priority admission to descendants of the slaves – and the liturgy and dedication mark only the beginning of a reconciliation process that must continue forward.

“We do not seek to move on with this apology, but to move forward with open hearts to respond to the urgent demands of justice still present in our time,” DeGioia said, citing Fr. Kesicki’s call to “move forward” and not “move on.”

Dr. Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history and African American Studies at Georgetown and a member of the working group, was blunt about the challenge facing the parties to reconcile and redress past wrongs: “How do you make repairs for something that’s irreparable?”

Nevertheless, she hoped that other universities and institutions involved in the slave trade would follow Georgetown’s example and start addressing their past. “American Catholics have a long history of ignoring their faith in order to conform with the demands of the culture,” she said.

“I think that when we think about race and racial justice we see that the Church has really failed in its responsibility of really benefitting from the institution of slavery and reproducing the systems of racial injustice.” Catholics should ask themselves if they see “churches as a place where justice is done or as a place that obstructs justice,” she added.

The university’s road to reconciliation, however, has been challenging in itself. Some of the descendants of the slave sale, like Delores Williams Johnson, noted their hurt and frustration with Georgetown for initially moving forward with reconciliation plans without contacting the descendants themselves. In response, Johnson, a descendant of Isaac Hawkins with roots in Louisiana, helped to co-found the Legacy of GU272 Alliance, a nonprofit group that helps locate and identify each descendant of the slave sale.

The goal of the organization, Johnson told CNA, is to “get everyone involved” and help the descendants come to a “mutual” view of how to proceed, not only with the university, but also with the other descendants. She stressed that Georgetown “can’t make demands for us” but instead has to work alongside the descendants, and the descendants with one another, to decide how to move forward.

Johnson pointed to the naming of Isaac Hawkins Hall as an example of this kind of misstep where Georgetown was initially “talking about us and not with us.” Initially, she said, the university was only going to call the building Isaac Hall, hearkening back to historical practices where slaveholders “didn’t have to call people by their first and last names.” The descendants, she said, pushed for Hawkins’ last name to be included, and eventually the university listened to this input and included Hawkins’ first and last names on the newly dedicated buildings.

These adjustments aside, Johnson said she was “hopeful” in the steps Georgetown was taking. “It gives us an opportunity as descendants,” she said, to learn what their ancestors had experienced, as well as to “continue dialogue with Georgetown.” Johnson stressed, however, that this dialogue will be “an ongoing, long-term process.”

While many of the descendants of the 272 slaves sold in the sale are just now forming a relationship with Georgetown University, others have rediscovered this connection long after forging a new tie with the university.

Jeremy Alexander was working for Georgetown University in its Office of Technology Commercialization when a distant cousin emailed him to let him know of connection to the Jesuit slave sale. Genealogical testing confirmed that he was a descendant of Anna Mahoney Jones, one of the persons sold by the Jesuits.

“It was an amazing find, I never expected that I would learn the names of my ancestors like Anna Mahoney Jones. And to know about this connection, it’s special to me,” he told CNA.

Like many other descendants of the sale, Alexander and his family are Catholic. He said this connection not only of history but of faith has been an important part to him in the reconciliation process.

“We never expected to hear anything, that we would get an apology. But to actually hear ‘we’re sorry,’ that means a lot to us. And hearing it from Georgetown University as well, it’s a step in the right direction. And knowing that – it just doesn’t end here, and they want to do more to help and show how sorry they are, and we’re looking forward to all the healing process.”

Alexander said he was also encouraged, not only by the apology, but also by the university’s plans to continue making amends and helping the descendants of those harmed by the sale.

“All we know is that my ancestors could only hope for the better for the next generation. That’s all that I can hope for my son, is that he can do better than what I am doing right now,” he explained. “And that’s what I look forward, to see the progress that Georgetown is going to make, that whole commitment to this healing process with the descendants. “

Supreme Court appears skeptical of state denying benefits to churches

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 16:42

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether a state benefit program could exclude churches because of their religious status.

Several justices appeared skeptical of Missouri’s rationale for denying a church preschool access to a reimbursement program intended to encourage safety updates to playground surfaces.

Justices also debated the extent to which public services – including firefighting and security services – can constitutionally be offered to religious organizations.

Justice Elena Kagan stated that “there’s a constitutional principle” for religious institutions to be eligible for certain public programs.

“As long as you're using the money for playground services, you're not disentitled from that program because you're a religious institution doing religious things,” she said of the case at hand. “And I would have thought that that's a pretty strong principle in our constitutional law.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the most significant religious freedom case of this term so far.

At issue is whether a playground owned by a church and operated by its preschool can be denied access to a state benefit program simply because of the church’s religious status. Other properties of non-profits and secular institutions are eligible for the program.

Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, applied for the Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant program within the state’s department of natural resources, which would have provided reimbursements for making safety upgrades to its playground surfaces with material from used tires.

The state ultimately denied Trinity Lutheran participation in the program because it is run by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, after the church was initially ranked fifth out of 44 applicants to receive reimbursements. On the state’s list of eligible recipients, the church originally scored higher than the ultimate recipient of the grants, the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has said.

Missouri’s state constitution forbids taxpayer funding or preferential treatment of churches, an amendment passed at the same time as the federal Blaine Amendment was proposed.

The Blaine Amendment forbade federal funds from going to churches or their schools, and was seen by many as a ban on taxpayer funding of Catholic schools, as the public school system at the time, in the 1870s, was largely Protestant. Other states have similar amendments.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that the amendment is a protection against the unconstitutional government establishment of religion, although the Eighth Circuit said in its ruling that Trinity Lutheran being reimbursed by the state would not be a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The state’s new governor, Eric Greitens (R), recently announced that religious groups will be eligible for grant programs from the natural resources department in the future, although Trinity Lutheran might not be retroactively eligible for its playground grant.

On Wednesday, David Cortman of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom argued on behalf Trinity Lutheran. He said that the state had conceded its denial of funding was “not facially neutral” and was “based on their religious character,” thus making it “discrimination against religion.”

Inside the Court on Wednesday, the justices pressed Cortman on whether the playground would be used for religious purposes and if that effectively constituted state funding of religious ministry.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg promptly brought up the Court’s 1947 Eberson decision, which said public funding for maintenance of churches or church property was unconstitutional. Cortman replied that the decision also said that churches shouldn’t be deprived of all public benefits.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she believes “that this program is part of the religious ministry of this church.” She then asked if the playground surface reimbursement was an establishment of religion if play time at the preschool began with prayer, or if religious ministries took place on the playground.

The church’s case is for a “safe surface,” Cortman replied, and just because the playground might be used for religious purposes does not mean that it should be ineligible for the funds. If a church school receives public funding, that does not mean that it has to “just stop all religion in school,” he said.

The Supreme Court in Locke v. Davey drew a “narrow distinction,” he said, as that case focused on taxpayer funding of education of religious ministers.

Justice Sotomayor pressed Cortman to explain how the church’s free exercise of religion was being unconstitutionally violated, as it would not close its doors just because it had not received a reimbursement for the playground surface.

James Layton represented the state’s natural resources department, arguing in place of the new Missouri attorney general who recused himself in the case. Layton said that the state amendment is rooted in the 1820 Constitution, which was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Statute on Religious Freedom from 1786. It was “reenacted” in the latest version of the state’s constitution in 1945.

The state has “concerns” about the church’s eligibility for the program, he said, as a playground resurfacing funded by the state would be a “visible physical improvement on church property.” The church, he added later, admits it “uses the preschool to bring the Gospel to non-members.”

Justice Alito asked him if a Jewish synagogue or a mosque, threatened by vandals, asked for a public security detail, would that be a violation of the state’s constitution. Layton said it would, according to a traditional reading of the constitution.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Kagan followed up, asking him if emergency responses by fire departments or police officers to the school, or public health programs, would be allowed under the state’s constitution.

Layton admitted that wouldn’t be denied, and Breyer then followed up, asking, “If it does not permit a law that pays money out of the treasury for the health of the children in the church, school, or even going to church, how does it permit Missouri to deny money to the same place for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus, break a leg, et cetera? What's the difference?”

Layton countered that the safety reason, and other health reasons, would not meet exceptions for public benefits for churches.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest addition to the Supreme Court, did not ask many questions save for an exchange with Layton over government discrimination against religious groups in “selective” and “general” public programs.

After the arguments, Cortman was optimistic about the reception from the justices.

“I think the theme that came out was what we emphasized in our briefs, and that is if the government is going to open up some sort of a neutral benefit program, then it can’t discriminate against religious organizations simply because of their religious status,” he insisted.

“The government should be religion-blind just like it’s race-blind,” he added. “When the government’s engaging in safety benefit programs, it should want all kids to be safe. It shouldn’t matter what their status is, it shouldn’t matter where they decide to attend school, and I think that’s a principle here that the state violated.”

 

Costly weddings could be crippling for new marriages

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 05:27

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2017 / 03:27 am (CNA).- Noting the sharply increasing costs of weddings, marriage advocates have begun to urge couples to be less extravagant in their nuptial celebrations for the good of their relationships.

“We ran a survey [in early 2013] with a law firm that looked at reasons for not marrying, and the top reason for men was the cost of the wedding,” said Harry Benson, an official with the U.K.-based think tank The Marriage Foundation.

Benson said that the average price for the event in the United Kingdom is around $30,000, according to wedding magazines. Such expenses, he told CNA, are “definitely a barrier” to getting married.

“I think the celebrities have set the bar very, very high with all these hyped-up, high profile, highly photographed weddings, very extravagant events.” When couples want the “big, dream wedding,” he added, “often it’s very unrealistic.”

The Marriage Foundation was established by British judge Paul Coleridge, an expert in family law. Having seen a “stream of human misery pass through his doors,” Coleridge decided to launch the charity to promote strong marriages, Benson said.

Part of the promotion of strong marriages, he believes, is focusing more on the marriage than on the wedding.

Melissa Naasko, a Michigan-based wife, mother, and blogger at Dyno-mom, agrees. “If I was going to give a bride advice, it would be to focus more on the marriage and less on the wedding,” she told CNA.

Naasko advocates celebrations that won't break the budget and put burdensome financial stress on the married couple. She recalled planning the wedding of one of her friends a year ago, helping keep the cost reasonable.

When her friend got engaged, the first piece of advice she gave her was “never ever, ever buy a bridal magazine...because they’re all geared just to sell stuff.”

“Anytime you pick up a bridal magazine, they’re at least 60 percent ads. You’ll look and see that all the articles in it are sponsored articles.”

Avoiding wedding magazines – and shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress” – helps brides to “pay attention more to what their friends and their family are saying, and it becomes more about the people and less about the stuff.”

“There’s nothing wrong with having smaller weddings,” Naasko urged. “And the marriage obviously is the most important part of a wedding.”

“But one of the reasons it’s a social event, is because it’s the public aspect of our lives. Making the wedding itself about people always makes it less expensive.”

Not being influenced “by all the propaganda that surrounds the wedding mystique,” will ultimately benefit the couple, Naasko reflected.

Catholic commentator Matt Archbold added to the discussion in a blog post for the National Catholic Register in May 2013, noting that “big weddings…might just be causing heartbreak, damaging society, and hurting people's faith.”

Being engaged for more than a year, saving up the money to splurge on the big day, can put couples in a precarious moral situation, often involving cohabitation, which in turn is linked to higher rates of divorce.

“The dream of the lavish Hollywood style wedding is not only ridiculous but harmful to one's faith and society in general,” Archbold wrote.

Another factor that can put stress on couples is the societal pressure put on a fiancé to spend, on average, two months of his salary – $3500 to $5000 – purchasing an engagement ring for his beloved.

The two-month figure was first promoted decades ago by advertisers from the De Beers diamond and mining business, according to Business Insider writer Robin Dhar.

De Beers has effectively held a monopoly on the global diamond market for some 100 years.

Dhar wrote in March 2013 that “Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to.”

The marketing campaign of the company that year pushed the idea that diamonds are a sign of love and affluence, and was massively successful in doing so.

Diamond rings are now given to 80 percent of American fiancées on their engagement – mostly because the company which has effectively monopolized the market for diamonds told men they should.

Adding to the financial strain of many couples in the U.S. is student loan debt. A May 2013 survey for the American Institute of CPAs showed that 15 percent of student loan borrowers have postponed getting married because of debt incurred from going to university.

Student loan debt in 2012 averaged nearly $25,000, a figure 70 percent greater than in 2004.

In his comments to CNA, Benson of The Marriage Foundation also touched on the rise in cohabitation, linked to the delay in getting married.

“The fundamental issue is that we’ve normalized cohabitation, which is much more unstable than marriage.”

He added that “deferring marriage is because we’ve effectively broken the link between marriage and childbirth.”

The Marriage Foundation is focusing its mission on educating couples about the benefits of getting married and having children, and helping them to realize they can have a wedding reception focused on what’s important, rather than on extravagant spending.
 

This article was originally published on CNA June 15, 2013.
 

Man in custody after Calif. shooting near Catholic Charities

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 18:00

Fresno, Calif., Apr 18, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A 39-year-old man is in custody following a shooting spree that left three people dead in Fresno, California on Tuesday, including one person who was killed in the parking lot of a Catholic Charities building.

The suspect, Kori Ali Muhammad, went by the nickname “Black Jesus,” according to NBC, and reportedly told police that he hated white people. The three people killed were all white men, police said.

Police said that Muhammad shot and killed a passenger in a Pacific Gas and Electric Company truck, before gunning down a man walking along a neighborhood street and another man in the parking lot of a local Catholic Charities building.

A Catholic Charities spokesperson said there does not appear to be any connection between the shooter and Catholic Charities, the Fresno Bee reported.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting was unprovoked and appeared to be random. He added that Muhammad has a significant criminal history including drug offenses, weapons violations and making terrorist threats.

Police said that it is too early to determine whether to label the shooting an act of terrorism.

Muhammad was wanted in connection with the murder of a security guard at a Motel 6 last week. Police authorities said he yelled “Allahu Akbar” as he was being detained on Tuesday, ABC reported.

According to officials, Muhammad’s Facebook account showed animosity towards white people and government officials.

 

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