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The dangers of spiritualizing your psychological problems

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 16:17

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2017 / 02:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Maria had been struggling with some depressive and anxious thoughts for a while, although at the time, she didn’t recognize them as such. Probably because she was 14 years old.  

When she shared her struggles with someone in her Catholic community, the woman told Maria that she was worried that “the devil was working his ways” in her, and used that to pressure her into going on a week-long retreat out of state.

“Sure, retreats are great,” Maria told CNA. “But pretty sure I just needed a therapist at that point in my life. And pretty sure I had already given valid reasons for why I wasn't interested in buying a plane ticket for a retreat.”

When Catholics experience spiritual problems, the solutions seem obvious -  talk to a priest, go to confession, pray, seek guidance from a spiritual director. But the line between the spiritual and the psychological can be very blurry, so much so that some Catholics and psychologists wonder if people are too often told to “pray away” their problems that may also require psychological treatment.

When body and soul are seen as unrelated

Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a Catholic clinical psychologist with the CatholicPsych Institute. He said that he has found the over-spiritualization of psychological issues to be a persistent problem, particularly among devout Catholics.

“Over-spiritualization in our time is usually a direct consequence of Cartesian Dualism,” Bottaro told CNA in an e-mail interview.

“Decartes is the philosopher who said: ‘I think therefore I am.’ He separated his thinking self from his bodily self, and planted the seed that eventually grew into our current thinking that the body and spirit are separate things. Acting as if the body doesn’t matter when considering our human experience is just as distorted as acting like the spirit doesn’t matter,” he said.

Because of this prevalent misconception about the separation of our body and soul, people both in and out of the Catholic Church often feel a stigma in seeking mental help that isn’t there when they need to seek physical help, he said.

“We shouldn’t think any less of getting help for mental health than we do for physical health. There are fields of expertise for a reason, and just as we can’t fix every one of our own physical wounds, we can’t always fix every one of our own mental wounds. It is virtuous to recognize our need for help,” Dr. Bottaro said.

Virtuous, but not always easy.

Just pray

Michele is a young Catholic 20-something who was used to being social and involved in various ministries within the Church. But a move to a new city left her usually-bubbly self feeling lonely and isolated.

“I felt like a failure spiritually because shouldn't my relationship with God be enough? But, I would come home from work and cry and just lay in my bed. It was hard for me to motivate myself to do anything,” she told CNA.

When a friend, also involved in ministry, called to catch up, Michele saw it as a chance to reach out and share some of the feelings that had been concerning her.

“I don't remember exactly what I said, but she told me what I was feeling was sinful. I shut down and said I was exaggerating and made up some story about how everything was fine,” she said.

Michele waited several more months before seeking help through Catholic Charities, where she was connected to a therapist. She found out that she had attachment disorder, which, left untreated for longer, could have turned into major, long term depression.

Derek is also a young 20-something Catholic who was also told to pray away his problems. He was suffering from depressive episodes, where he wouldn’t eat and would sleep for 15 hours a day. His friends’ advice was to pray. It wasn’t until he attempted suicide that he got serious about seeking psychotherapy.

Sarah, also a young Catholic and a former FOCUS missionary, had a similar experience. For months, she confessed suicidal thoughts to her pastor and spiritual director, who gave her advice based on the discernment of spirits from St. Ignatius of Loyola. But eventually the thoughts became so intense and prevalent that Sarah called every mandatory reporter she knew, and was admitted to the hospital on suicide watch.

“I think part of it is - if someone is trained in something, that’s how they want to fix it,” Sarah told CNA.

“If you’re trained in spirituality then you want to use spirituality to fix it. And you absolutely should include spirituality. However, you can’t just pray it away. These are real problems and real medical things. There are events in people’s lives that have happened, and they need to work through that both spiritually and psychologically, and a priest or youth minister can’t do both. They need to get you to someone who’s able to help,” she said.

The negative stigma attached to seeking mental help is magnified in the Church because of the “pray it away” mentality, Sarah added. Once prayer doesn’t work, people can feel like spiritual failures, and many people in the Church will distance themselves from someone who is mentally ill.

“I can’t be a fully functional young woman who’s working through something and needs help with it,” she said. “It’s either - I’m ok or I’m not.”  

A Catholic psychologist’s perspective  

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic licensed clinical psychologist with St. Raphael’s counseling in Denver, said he tends to see opposite ends of the spectrum in his patients in about equal numbers - those who over-spiritualize their problems, and those who under-spiritualize them.

“Part of the problem is that in our culture, we have such a medically-oriented, science-oriented culture that we’ve sort of gotten away from spirituality, which causes a lot of problems,” he said.

As human beings, our minds and our souls are what set us apart from other created things, Langley added, making those aspects of our being most vulnerable to evil attacks.

“I know a priest who would explain it like this: Evil is like a germ, and it wants to get in just like bacteria does in our body. And where does bacteria get in? It gets in through our wounds. So if we have a cut on our hand, that’s where bacteria wants to get in and infect us. On the spiritual side, it’s the same thing. Where we have the most sensitive wounds tend to be in our sense of self and our psychology, and so that’s where evil wants to get in at us.”  

People who tend to ignore the spiritual aspect of their psychological problems cut themselves off from the most holistic approach of healing, Langley added.  

“The main reason is because it really is God who heals, and almost any psychological issue you’re dealing with is going to have some sort of a spiritual component connected to it, because it has to do with our dignity as a human person.”

And while it can be challenging to make people see the spiritual component of their problems, it can also be a challenge to help other people recognize that their spiritual issues might also have a psychological component, he said.

Some devout Catholics see it as preferable to say they are suffering from something like the dark night of the soul, rather than to admit that they have depression and may need medication and counseling, he said.

“In some ways in our Catholic community, it’s cooler to have a spiritual problem than it is to have a psychological problem,” he said. “The problem with over-spiritualizing is that you cut yourself from so many tools that psychology and even your faith could have to help you to be happy.”

Many of the things psychologists do to help their patients includes teaching them “recipes” for happiness, Langley said - re-training their thought patterns, providing practical tools to use when anxiety or depression kick in.

But a person who doesn’t recognize an issue as also having a psychological component may be resistant to these methods entirely, including spiritual methods, he said.

Catholics who are concerned about seeking psychological help should seek a Catholic psychologist or psychiatrist who can talk about both the spiritual and psychological aspects of healing, Langley said.

“People who don’t practice from a Catholic or spiritual perspective can do a pretty good job, but it’s like they’re doing therapy with their hand tied behind their back, because they’re missing out on a whole array of things you can do to help a person.”

Therapists who aren’t practicing from a Catholic perspective could also do some unintended harm in their practice, Langley noted. For example, men who are addicted to pornography may be told by a secular therapist that pornography is a healthy release, or couples struggling in their marriage may sometimes be encouraged by secular practitioners to divorce.

It’s really a false dichotomy, Langley added, to categorize problems as strictly spiritual or psychological, because oftentimes they are both, and require both psychological and spiritual treatment.

“So much of good therapy is helping a person get back in touch with their sense of dignity that God created them with...and as they get more in touch with it, they are actually just more open to God’s love and they’re more open to making changes in their life that might be helpful.”

What needs to change?

The Catholic experience of mental illness varies. Some found their experience of a mental illness diagnosis in the Church very isolating, while others said it was a great source of healing and support.

Langley said that for the most part, he has a great relationship with the clergy in his area.

“Most of our referrals come from priests,” he said. “I hardly ever see a priest that is overly convinced that something is spiritual. I think priests really do a pretty good job of saying when something is more psychological.”

Some of Langley’s favorite clients are those who are seeking spiritual direction at the same time as therapy, he said, because between therapy and spiritual direction, the person seeking help is usually able to find the right balance of psychological and spiritual strategies that work.

Others said they felt the relationship between psychologists and Catholic clergy or other leaders could be stronger.

A licensed marriage and family therapist in California, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that priests and mental health professionals should be working together to support those struggling with mental illness, to make them feel more welcome, and to let them know what resources are available.

“The faith community hasn't done a great job reaching out for support for those within the community with mental illness, and the mental health community hasn't done a good enough job making itself available to the faith community,” he said.

Several Catholics who have had mental illness also said they wished that it were something that was discussed more openly in the Church.

“I have thirsted for greater support in the Church,” said Erin, who has depression and anxiety.

“That is my biggest struggle as a Catholic with mental illness: not necessarily focusing too much on the spiritual aspects, but people not knowing how to address any other aspect.”

She had some suggestions for Catholics who find out their friend has a mental illness.

“As Christ would do, and as Job's friends failed to do, please, please just walk with me. And if I bring up something spiritual, feel free to talk about it. If you think I'm shutting you out, ask. If I randomly start crying, hold my hand,” she said.

“Finding support in my one friend (who also has a mental illness) has done worlds of good for me. Imagine what could happen if Christians became more vulnerable about their mental illness. What a support system that would be!”

Michele said in sharing her story about seeking therapy, she has been surprised at how many Catholics have gone through similar experiences.

“I try to be very open about it now because a stigma should not exist.”

Catholic psychologists in your area can be found by searching at or at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Some names in this article have been changed for the protection of privacy.

This article was originally published on CNA July 1, 2016.

Robert George reflects on Trump admin's latest religious liberty moves

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 17:59

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2017 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two sets of announcements by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services issued Friday both promise to broaden religious freedom protections in the United States.

The first announcement, by the HHS department, broadens the religious freedom exemptions to the department’s contraception mandate, which has been facing federal lawsuits from conscientious objectors since its introduction in 2011.

The second announcement was a memo issued by the Department of Justice, in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained in a detailed twenty-point memo, the legal principles all government agencies should consider when dealing with religious freedom concerns.

Neither announcement will automatically resolve religious freedom cases currently within the court system.

In an Oct. 6 interview with CNA, Robert George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University and visiting professor at Harvard University, explained the implications of these two announcements for religious freedom supporters throughout the country.


According to the administration this has been a pretty big day for religious freedom. Can you provide a general reaction and walk us through an overview of what the new HHS mandate adjustment and DOJ rules mean for religious freedom?

Well I think this is a big day for religious freedom. I see much greater value in the guidance that been issued today than in the executive order on religious freedom from a few months ago, which I was very disappointed in, as you know. I felt that order was essentially meaningless. The guidance today I think is genuine and I think it is very likely to make a positive difference. The administration goes clearly on the record and instructs all relevant agencies of government that the [Religious] Freedom Restoration Act applies even where a religious assurance seeks an exemption from a requirement that the entity confer benefits on third parties.

This is point 15 of the 20 key principles for Religious Liberty issued by the Justice Department.

And this is a big point in dispute between the two sides in this debate over religious freedom. And the administration comes down squarely in favor of what I certainly believe is the correct view.

Another key point that the guidance makes clear in point 19 is that religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employer's religious precepts. Now I interpret that to mean that an employer may, if the religious employer chooses, for religious reasons choose to employ only members of its own faith. But it also means that the employer, if it chooses on the basis of its religious faith, can choose to hire people who are not of the same faith, but limit those employment opportunities to prospective employees whose conduct is in line with the moral teachings of the faith. Now this is very important. It means for example that a Catholic school could say, “We don't insist on hiring only Catholics to be teachers in the school. Perhaps we insist on Catholics as teachers of religion, since it's a Catholic school. We are perfectly happy to hire a math teacher, social studies teacher, and literature teacher who are Hindu or Protestant or Jewish or Mormon or Muslim.”

But, even if they choose to do that [a Catholic employer] can choose to employ only people from their own faith or other faiths who live their lives in line with Catholic moral teaching. So if for example the school says, “We do not want to employ people who are living in a cohabiting partnership outside of marriage,” under this guidance, under point 19 as I interpret it, the employer is entitled to do that, and that's protected as a matter of the employer's religious freedom. This is a very important point.

You know, I do have a question about point 20 that has to do with the first word and the point – that what is "generally." The point says, "generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character beliefs or activities." What I don't know is what the exceptions are. I assume "generally" is meant to state a rule, but to contemplate that there are exceptions to the rule. So I think we need clearer guidance from the administration and from the Justice Department about the conditions under which the federal government may legitimately condition federal grants or contracts on their religious organization altering its religious character beliefs or activities. Since it's presented as a conditional norm not as an absolute norm we really need some clarity about what the conditions are, or what the exceptions are. And I cannot find that clarity in in the material released today. But I do think we need it.

I’m glad you brought up the Executive Order and its shortcomings. Could you briefly explain what your concerns with the order were, for those who are unfamiliar?

There was very little in the March executive order that was actually operative in such a way as to protect everybody's religious freedom.

To the extent that there was much operative, it had mainly to do with the interpretation and application of the Johnson Amendment, which forbids political advocacy of certain sorts by churches.

I said at the time that the Johnson Amendment, while problematic both constitutionally and as a policy matter, was not among the top 20 items on a list of genuine concerns about religious freedom. It's very rarely, if ever, enforced. It does have something of a chilling effect which is why would like to get rid of it. But, to those who have not been chilled by it, have by and large been left unmolested by the government. So it was not a problem in desperate need of fixing.

There were a lot of other things like the protection of employers against being forced to hire people who were in same-sex partnerships, for example, where the employers faith judged those kinds of partnerships to be immoral, or other sorts of sexual partnerships – perhaps co-habiting opposite sex partners without benefit of marriage.

That was nothing in there to protect employers in those domains. So, what what we see today goes in the right direction on a number of those issues, including you know those two areas – points 15 and 19 – that I already called attention to.

Now I know that the preparatory materials for the guidance points, says that this guidance does not resolve any specific cases. It offers guidance on existing protections in religious liberty and federal law.

Of course there are cases that are pending. So the proof will be in the pudding. We need to know whether those government officials – including those in charge of litigation matters who have cases pending that jeopardize the life of religious employers. We need to know whether they will interpret these guidance points in ways that will cause them to relent in attempting to limit the freedom of those employers. I certainly hope that they will, but this is by its own terms, this guidance does not dictate to any official that he or she resolved a specific case in a particular way. It says that it doesn't do that. It says, "this guidance does not resolve any specific cases."

So since that's true, we'll need to know how officials interpret the guidance and apply the guidance to specific cases. That will be the proof. That will be the proof in the pudding.

We'll see whether these cases are resolved in ways that are respectful of religious freedom, or whether these guidance points are treated as if they're meaningless and officials carry on with cases in the way that some have been carrying on with these cases: in ways that limit the religious freedom, or attempt to limit the religious freedom, of these employees.

There's some important points that have been well-established, but it's good to have them reiterated since they remain controversial. Point three is an example of that: the freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations. There's there's a view that's been circulated by people who are in truth enemies of religious freedom, although they would not admit to being that – but they are.

There's a view that says religious freedom rights extend only to individual persons and not to organizations like churches, schools, religiously based social service providers, and so forth. This guidance in point three makes very clear that this administration's position is that freedom of religion extends to religious organizations and not just individuals, so that's good. It's not new, but it's good.

Switching gears to the changes to the HHS mandate: how does this adjustment impact the longstanding battle over mandate we’ve been seeing for the past six years?

Of course, your best source of your best source of information on that is the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom. I would certainly myself defer to what the lawyers there said because it's their case and they have been completely on top of this, and they're excellent lawyers. As you know I'm a member of the board of the Becket Fund, and a member of what's called the Corporation of the Becket Fund as well.

I think our lawyers have done a fantastic job in these cases including Little Sisters of the Poor case, so I would really defer to their judgement.

I will say this though: I believe an authentic, faithful, honest interpretation of these guidelines by the government officials who have responsibility for that litigation would it cause them to basically concede to the Little Sisters, and to acknowledge that to the extent that the regulations purport to impose upon religious organizations a requirement that they provide, or in any way to implicate themselves in providing contraceptives or abortifacient efficient drugs in violation of religious teaching, that the government would simply concede the government has no right to do that. The regulations cannot be enforced against those religious entities. But again, the proof will be in the pudding.

We'll see whether the public officials to whom this guidance is addressed apply the guidance in that way. That's the point again about the guidance itself not resolving specific cases. So we'll see.

There's other point that's worth making, just to step back from all this for a while.

Even as late as the middle 1960s there were still jurisdictions – including Massachusetts and Connecticut – that prohibited the sale, distribution, and even use of contraceptives. Those were longstanding laws put on the books by Protestant majorities in the 19th century to protect public morality.

The reason that efforts to repeal those laws consistently failed in the legislatures of Connecticut in Massachusetts and some other states, although they succeeded in some states, the reason they failed in other states is that some of the legislatures felt that the widespread availability of contraception would would weaken the public morality and open the floodgates to promiscuity, adultery, divorce, family abandonment, and all the things that comes in the wake of a collapse of sexual morality. The Supreme Court struck down the anti-contraception laws in 1965 in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut and in 1972 in the case of Eisenstaedt v. Baird and they did that at the request of liberals who insisted that contraception was a deeply private matter in which the public had no right to intrude.

The Supreme Court found a so-called right to privacy, according to the justice system the right to use contraception, because it was a private matter. One cannot help but notice how liberals have changed their tune. They no longer regard contraception as a private matter: once they broke down the laws against contraception on the grounds that it was an allegedly private matter, they suddenly shifted back to treating it as such a public matter that they're going to force people in general to pay for other people's private contraception. They're even willing to force religious conscientious objectors like the Green family and Hobby Lobby and a Little Sisters of the Poor to make themselves complicit in one way or another in providing other people's allegedly private contraceptives.

So, one cannot help but perceive a rather huge dollop of hypocrisy in the way the contraception issue has been treated by the progressive movement to from the middle 1960s to the middle 2010s.

If it's private, leave it private. If it's not private, then they had no business asking the Supreme Court to strike down laws prohibiting it in the name of a putative right to privacy.

They really should make up their minds whether it's private or not private.

Another change is that the mandate now protects those with non-sectarian conscience objections to the mandate. Can you speak to the importance of this expansion for those who object to these issues for non-religious reasons?

Yes. Many people do not derive their moral convictions from a religion, and many religious people believe that even apart from divine revelation there are moral truths that can be known by the disciplined application of reason even apart from what might, in addition, be known by religious authority by virtue of the teaching of a church or a body of scripture or what have you.

In both cases it's sometimes described as natural law.

It appears that in this guidance, it's acknowledged that conscience formed on the basis of non religiously based, or not necessarily religiously based, on a moral reflection deserves conscience protection in the same way that religiously based moral convictions deserve conscience protection.

Back to the DOJ update … Can you comment on the DOJ guidance on how to address all religious freedom objections. What other cases or situations can this apply to outside of the contraceptive mandate or providing potentially abortifacient procedures? What are some of the other kinds of cases that the DOJ guidance might impact?

Yes, I mean I knew one thing would be in those states that have moved to assisted suicide, I think the guidance system provides some promise of protecting religiously based health care-providing institutions like Catholic hospitals or other religiously affiliated medical institutions from being forced to participate in assisted suicide or, for that matter, in abortion. The same with individuals as well as institutions: doctors in state facilities for example who cannot in conscience participate in assisted suicide or abortion in places like Oregon that have taken the step of embracing assisted suicide.

It could be that if there are some states or municipalities that move in the direction of banning male infant circumcision – there's a movement that strongly is pushing for bans on male infant circumcision– the movement is called the intactivist movement– if such laws are adopted I think that this would strengthen hands of Jewish organizations and Muslim organizations that will seek to preserve the right on a religious basis to have their male infant children circumcised. We've seen this in Europe: some some jurisdictions in Europe have banned male infant circumcision and their movement is alive here in the United States. One can easily imagine certain jurisdictions, certain municipalities, maybe a state, banning circumcision, so it could become important in that area.

These protections will protect not only Catholics and other Christians, but members of non-Christian faiths as well.

What else should our readers know about these two religious freedom updates?

Probably the most important thing to remind people in closing is that the principles are designed to guide public officials but, they don't dictate results. The same is true of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by the way. It simply gives the religious claimant today in court and requires that the government prove that its imposition on a religious claimant is supported by a compelling state interest and represents the least restrictive or least intrusive means of prosecuting that interest. It doesn't dictate the result.

So while I welcome and I think all friends of religious liberty and of conscience should welcome this guidance, we need to hold off cheering until we see how the guidance is actually interpreted and applied by public officials. It's when we see actual cases being resolved – whether those cases are in litigation or whether their decisions about whether to bring a case or how to bring a case – until we see actual cases. Until we see the guidance actually applied to concrete disputes we won't know whether to cheer. So what that tells us is there's a human element. Rules don't apply or interpret themselves. Human beings interpret and apply rules. So we need to see the human beings in the bureaucracy interpreting and applying the rules and then we'll see whether there's anything worth cheering about here.

But I think if these principles are faithfully and authentically interpreted, it will mean a very desirable set of protections for religious freedom. Protections that are now many years overdue due to the assaults on religious freedom during the Obama administration.

Don't rush to judge Columbus, anthropologist encourages

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 12:33

Providence, R.I., Oct 9, 2017 / 10:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The controversies surrounding Christopher Columbus are sometimes misplaced and should not overshadow Columbus’ Christian motives in his voyages, a scholar of religious studies and anthropology has said.

“In recent times, Christopher Columbus has become the symbol for everything that went wrong in the New World, so much so that it has become difficult to celebrate the holiday commemorating his discovery of the New World,” Carol Delaney, a visiting scholar of religious studies at Brown University, told CNA.

“I have been dismayed by the lack of knowledge about the man by those who are rushing in judgment against him and changing the day that commemorates his extraordinary achievement.”

“While we may not agree with the scenario that motivated Columbus, it is important to understand him in the context of his time,” she added.

Delaney, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, is author of the 2011 book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem,” which examines Columbus’ religious motivations for his voyages.

Her book warns against misjudging Columbus’ motivations and accomplishments “from a contemporary perspective rather than from the values and practices of his own time.”

In her view, some criticism “holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse” and blames him for “all the calamities” that befell the “new world” he was once celebrated for discovering.

Columbus has been a major figure for Catholics in America, especially Italian-Americans, who saw his pioneering voyage from Europe as a way of validating their presence in a sometimes hostile majority-Protestant country. The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, took his name and voyage as an inspiration. At one point in the nineteenth century there were efforts to push for the voyager’s canonization.

In 1892, the quadricennial of Columbus’ first voyage, Leo XIII authored an encyclical that stressed Columbus’ desire to spread Catholic Christianity. The Pope stressed how Columbus’ Catholic faith motivated his voyage and supported him amid his setbacks.

In recent decades, some critics have stressed the negative aspects of Columbus’ voyage and European colonization of the New World, noting that European colonists’ arrival brought disease, violence and displacement to natives. Columbus Day holidays and parades have drawn protests from some activists.

Some U.S. localities have dropped observances of Columbus Day, while others have added observances intended to recognize those who lived in the Americas before Columbus sailed.

Delaney, however, questioned interpretations that depict Columbus as a gold-hungry marauder who did not care for the natives.

She said Columbus was motivated by the belief that all people must be evangelized to achieve salvation and by the belief that he could ally with the Great Khan of Cathay and secure enough gold to support an effort to retake Jerusalem.

“There was no intention of taking land or enslaving the people of the Khan, ruler of one of the greatest empires at the time,” Delaney said.

On his first return voyage to Spain, Columbus brought several natives who were not enslaved. Rather, they had been baptized and educated.

“One became his ‘adopted son’ and translator on future voyages, two were adopted by the (Spanish) king and queen,” she said.

After Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria ran aground on his first voyage, Columbus left 39 men on an island in the Caribbean with special instructions.

“He told them they should not go marauding, should not kidnap and rape the women, and should always make exchanges for food and gold,” Delaney explained.

“When he returned with more ships and people he found that all of the men whom he'd left behind had been killed. Unlike the priest who accompanied him, Columbus did not blame the natives, but his own men; clearly, they had disobeyed his orders.”

Delaney acknowledged that Columbus on later voyages enslaved some natives who resisted Christianization. At the same time, he also punished his own men who perpetrated misdeeds against the natives.

The scholar has also questioned uncritical treatments of the Spanish friar Bartolomeo de las Casas, who is sometimes compared favorably to Columbus.

While las Casas is now remembered primarily as a defender of the rights of native Americans, she said this came later in life. The friar also owned slaves, endorsed slavery, and operated plantations. He also helped suppress a native rebellion

Columbus never owned slaves and yet is “reviled and blamed for everything that went wrong in the Indies,” Delaney said in her book.


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 13, 2014.

Why this young woman spoke up against 'Men for Choice'

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Men are often told they have no voice in the abortion debate, yet an ongoing program, “Men for Choice”, seeks to amplify the voices of men in order to support abortion.

One young woman, concerned about the program's ability to silence the voices of all who speak up for the unborn, and in particular women who have been mistreated because of abortion, decided to stand up and voice her opinion on the men’s abortion advocacy.  

“People are always talking about choice, but it’s only one choice,” said Kate Bryan, a resident of Washington, D.C. “That’s what I feel about Men for Choice: they’re really only pushing for one choice and if you don’t stand with them, you shouldn’t have a voice.”

Bryan and a friend protested against an event promoting Men for Choice, an ongoing program coordinated by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national abortion advocacy organization. Together, they carried signs reading “Real Men Don’t Exploit Women” and “Real men feed their babies they don’t kill them.”

She and a friend attended a Sept. 26 rally of Men for Choice in the nation's capital, and said she plans on protesting future Men for Choice events. Bryan said she was motivated to protest for her pro-life beliefs, as well as her interest in supporting women’s voices and pushing back against what she described as the “exploitation” of women.

Bryan said she finds it “interesting” that the pro-abortion organization is trying to promote men’s support for abortion, given that it can open up “so many opportunities for abuse, coercion.” Bryan pointed to several examples of coerced abortion and the pressure some women faced from family and partners to get an abortion.

Bryan also participated to help educate attendees on the facts of abortion procedures. “Most people go into events with minds made up on abortion,” Bryan told CNA.

However, many of the women she talked to at the event didn’t know basic facts about abortion procedures, at what ages these procedures are performed, and NARAL’s policies on abortion. She said that several of the women she talked to expressed disbelief and then surprise as they came to accept these facts.

“I don’t know if we changed anybody’s mind, but at least we challenged people to think,” Bryan said.  

The experience was different, however, when encountering the male protestors, Bryan stated. “The majority of men that were walking past mocked us,” she recalled. “We weren’t doing anything, just standing out there with our sign, and we were happy to talk to people.”

Despite some of the more tense interactions, Bryan said she’s glad she protested.  “Abortion doesn’t lead to freedom. It’s not empowering to women.” Bryan said she would like to see more “real choices” for women, like community support for pregnant women, better workplace protections, and family leave.

“I really feel passionate about empowering women and giving them opportunities and helping them find true freedom,” Bryan stressed. “Women deserve better, men deserve better and children in the womb certainly deserve better.” 

Archbishop Lori: Religious liberty protections 'a victory for all Americans'

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 18:45

Baltimore, Md., Oct 6, 2017 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty says that expanded religious liberty protections in the federal contraception mandate are a “victory for the First Amendment, and a victory for all Americans, even those who don’t agree with the Church’s” teaching on contraception.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced revisions to the contraception mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act Oct. 6, considerably expanding exemptions for religious groups and others with moral or ethical objections to providing contraception in employee health plans.

In comments to CNA, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who has led the bishops’ religious liberty efforts since the formation of the committee in 2011, said the announcement was “very welcome news.”

“I think it restores a balance that was lacking,” the archbishop said. “It permits us to do our ministries” without violating Catholic moral principles, he added.

The U.S. bishop’s conference has consistently opposed the contraception mandate since it was announced in 2011. While Lori praised expanded religious liberty protections, he told CNA that “as important as the announcement is, it’s a regulation that could be changed by a future administration.”

He said the bishops would continue to work for “a more permanent solution” to the ethical challenges posed by the contraception mandate.

“We’ll also see more challenges to our religious liberty,” Lori told CNA. “We’ll continue seeking a more robust understanding and implementation of RFRA laws.”

RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is a federal statute limiting the government’s ability to “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion. Since being signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, 21 states have enacted similar provisions.

Lori told CNA that “in addition to the various challenges we face on religious liberty at the federal and local levels, the biggest thing we need to do is effectively catechize, evangelize, and teach about religious freedom. That is job number one” for the bishops’ religious liberty committee, he explained.

“On the one hand, we face specific legal challenges,” he said. “On the other hand, we face a society losing sight of the beauty, goodness, and dignity of religious liberty.”

The archbishop said that Americans risk “frittering away” freedom of religion if they do not actively work to protect it.

“Will we have a just society without protecting religious liberty,” he asked.

In June, the U.S. bishops voted to permanently establish the religious liberty committee within the structure of the bishops’ conference. It had previously been an ad hoc committee, which, by conference rules, could only remain active over a defined period of time.

“The bishops recognized that is important for us to teach, catechize, and address these issues,” Lori said. “I was very gratified by that decision.”

Lori also said that domestic religious liberty challenges should raise awareness of religious persecution around the world.

“It’s said that nearly 70 percent of the world’s population lives under some restriction of their religious freedom. That ought to be sobering for us in the West,” he said.

“We need to be in great solidarity of prayer with those suffering religious persecution,” he said, adding hope that American Catholics would support initiatives promoting religious liberty internationally.

The archbishop explained that protecting religious liberty domestically could itself have global effect. “By protecting our freedom, and keeping the flame of freedom burning brightly, we serve as a sign of hope” for persecuted religious believers around the globe, he said.

New religious freedom protections draw praise from experts

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 18:38

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Trump administration announced new exemptions to the contraceptive mandate and a religious freedom guidance, experts said both actions offered concrete protections of religious freedom.

“Today the Trump administration made two commendable decisions in support of the bedrock American principle of religious liberty,” Dr. Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, told CNA, calling the actions “cause for much celebration.”

On Friday morning the administration followed through on two promises made in President Donald Trump’s May 4 executive order on religious liberty – relief from the HHS mandate for religious and conscientious objectors, and a Department of Justice guidance to federal agencies on implementing religious freedom protections found in existing federal law.

The administration first announced on Friday an expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, over which many non-profit groups and some for-profit businesses had sued the federal government.

“Groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who dedicate their lives to the indigent elderly, can finally expect the restitution of their conscience-rights in court,” Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated on Friday.

The HHS had interpreted the Affordable Care Act to include a mandate on cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause early abortions in health plans.

Although many religious groups were opposed to contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs, the religious exemptions from the mandate were so narrow that only churches and their integrated auxiliaries were safe from having to comply.

This meant that many religious charities and universities had to comply with the mandate’s demands. The Obama administration offered an “accommodation” to objecting non-profits to comply with the mandate, but charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor said this still forced them to be complicit in the provision of objectionable coverage.

Under the interim final rules released Friday, non-profits, small businesses, and even some publicly-traded companies can apply for a religious exemption to the mandate, if they establish that complying with the mandate would violate their religious beliefs.

The new rules “substantially expand the scope of that religious exemption,” Greg Baylor, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said.

Large “publicly-traded” companies wouldn’t be eligible to claim a “moral” exemption from the mandate, but secular non-profits and small businesses would be – which benefits groups like the March for Life, which is a pro-life organization opposed to the mandate on conscience grounds, but a group that is “not inherently religious.”

In establishing such broad new exemptions, the new rule “practically amounts to a revocation of the mandate,” Franck told CNA.

And the “accommodation” offered to non-profits, where their insurer or third party administrator provided the objectionable coverage, is now voluntary, the Department of Health and Human Services announced.

Prominent U.S. bishops praised the HHS announcement on Friday as a “return to common sense.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, said in a statement that the new rule “recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

“We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted,” they stated.

The Becket Fund, a religious freedom law firm that defended the Little Sisters of the Poor in court against the mandate, praised the “common sense, balanced rule,” but added that the litigation is ongoing in mandate cases.

In the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the mandate at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in a rare move in the middle of the case ordered both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs detailing if, and how a solution could be crafted that provided for cost-free coverage outlined in the HHS mandate, while at the same time maintaining the religious freedom of the non-profits that sued the government.

In May of 2016, the Court vacated the federal circuit court decisions on the mandate, ordered the federal government not to fine the plaintiffs, and instructed all parties to come to a solution that provided the contraception coverage while respecting the religious freedom of the plaintiffs. The cases are currently still at the federal circuit court level.

“14 or 15 months later” after the Supreme Court asked for a solution, “what we see today is really the resolution of that process,” Rienzi said.

With the HHS announcement, the government now “admits the prior version of the mandate broke the law,” Rienzi said, referring to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Under the 1993 law, the federal government must not substantially burden one’s deeply-held religious beliefs unless it establishes that to do so is in its “compelling interest” and is the “least-restrictive means” of fulfilling that interest.

The government essentially admitted on Friday that there were indeed less-restrictive means of ensuring cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs than forcing the non-profits to comply with the mandate through the “accommodation,” Rienzi said.

“I assume those lawyers at DOJ will cooperate and go into the courtrooms and admit that the federal government broke the law, and that the Little Sisters and other groups are entitled to a final injunction to give them lasting protection against this kind of treatment,” he said.

Also on Friday, the Department of Justice announced a religious freedom guidance that was ordered by President Trump in his May 4 executive order on religious freedom.

The 25-page guidance outlines religious freedom protections in existing federal law that federal departments and agencies are to incorporate into their functions. It states that “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice.”

The guidance is significant and establishes solid protections for religious freedom at the federal level, Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law told CNA.

“We’ve never had anything this far-reaching before,” he said, noting that the guidance puts religious freedom on the level of freedom of speech.

It also takes principles of religious freedom and applies them to many federal levels, Destro said.

For instance, U.S. attorneys at the Department of Justice in litigation must “conform all the arguments that the government is making across the country” to the religious freedom principles outlined in the guidance, he said.

This would apply to ongoing court cases, including the DOJ’s position on the current religious freedom case before the Supreme Court of Masterpiece Cakeshop. It would also apply to “other cases where the arguments were already written,” Destro said.

The guidance also informs regulations, grants, contracts, and diversity training. Agencies like the State Department, where many employees have historically been reticent to talk about the role religion in international problems, could be affected by this, Destro said.

Regarding its application to federal contracts, the guidance could influence cases where religious charities are in danger of losing federal contracts due to their employment practices or their religious mission.

“It really gives faith-based organizations and others with religious objections an argument to make when they’re in discussions with a federal agency about accepting a grant or a contract,” Baylor told CNA.

The guidance also reiterates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in that it “does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of religious beliefs,” Joshua Mercer, co-founder of, told CNA.

This is significant because certain Catholic colleges did not receive religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate, Mercer said, yet the government should have honored their religious objections. “It’s up to our bishops to decide a university is sufficiently Catholic or not, not our federal government,” he said.

It could apply to conscience protections for health care professionals, Baylor noted. The Obama administration, under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act mandated that doctors had to provide gender-transition procedures even if they conscientiously objected to doing so.

“There has been a nationwide injunction against that rule, and the federal government has indicated that it plans to reconsider the rule,” Baylor noted.

However, he added, “this guidance strengthens the hand of those who would argue that this sort of thing violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.”

Ultimately, the guidance is “pretty far-reaching, and it’s going to take a good deal of time for the agencies to conform their practice to what’s being required,” Destro said.

“This may have an impact that we don’t see” in informing federal agencies how they should operate, Baylor said.


The government's new religious freedom guidance: What does it mean?

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 17:31

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 03:31 pm (CNA).- All eyes were on the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, as the Trump administration announced a major broadening of exemptions to the federal contraception mandate, prompting cheers from religious freedom proponents nationwide.

Less noticed was another critical development in the U.S. religious liberty landscape: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued government-wide legal guidance outlining 20 principles of religious liberty that, the Department of Justice says, should govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

Sessions had been instructed to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law” by an executive order signed by President Trump in May.

The 25-page document released by the attorney general will please many religious liberty advocates. Its bold language highlights the crucial role of religious freedom in American life. It could also have an impact on pending legal disputes across the country.

Early in the memo, the guidance asserts, “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice.” Religious freedom proponents have argued for this definition avidly in recent years, amid fears that the idea was being eroded, especially as the phrase “freedom of worship” often replaced “freedom of religion” in the Obama administration.

The document goes on to state that religious liberty extends not only to persons, but to organizations, and that religious freedom is not surrendered when an individual participates in the marketplace or interacts with government – two key points argued in the HHS mandate debate over the last six years.

This second point – that individuals do not have to remove themselves from civil society in order to retain their right to religious freedom – could also have implications in several high-profile lawsuits, largely revolving around the freedom of service providers such as florists, cake bakers, and photographers to decline same-sex weddings, based on their religious beliefs about marriage.

Six of the 20 religious liberty principles in Sessions’ document are dedicated to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Enacted in 1993, RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last two decades. It says that the federal government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion, unless there is a compelling state interest in doing so, and it is carried out in the least-restrictive manner possible.

RFRA applies only to the federal government, although in recent years, similar laws have increasingly been proposed or passed in state legislatures.

The guidance explains that RFRA “applies to all sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and the government does not have the authority to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious conviction. It affirms that in evaluating RFRA claims, courts must use what is known as “strict scrutiny” – the highest level of judicial review, under which only the most serious of government interests are permitted to infringe upon a fundamental constitutional right.

It also says that the law “applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties,” making it clear that RFRA applies in cases such as the HHS mandate.

The document takes a firm stand in insisting that RFRA be taken seriously and interpreted robustly. It’s worth noting that this is a return to ideas widely held just 25 years ago: when RFRA was enacted in 1993, it has nearly unanimous support from both parties and was signed into law by Bill Clinton.

Also significant, the guidance explicitly affirms the right of religious organizations to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” This is a victory for faith-based employers, among them Catholic schools who have faced opposition for asking employees to sign codes of conduct agreeing to abide by Catholic teaching on issues such as sexuality.    

Today’s guidance also confirms that government cannot interfere with the autonomy of religious organizations. This idea was reinforced by the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC – a rare unanimous ruling in 2012 in which the court upheld the “ministerial exception” that allows religious organizations to hire and fire ministers without interference from the government.

Finally, the document released by Sessions said that religious organizations must have equal footing in applying for federal aid or grant programs – they may not be denied participation in these programs when the money is going toward activities that are not explicitly religious in nature.

This has been an important issue in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey with a group of Houston churches suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, claiming they had been denied disaster relief grants due to their religious status.

The principle was also at play earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Lutheran church that was seeking to make safety improvements on its playground through a state reimbursement program. The church had initially been turned away because of its religious affiliation.

Now that the attorney general has issued the guidance, it is up to each agency and department to implement the principles as they make employment decisions, develop regulations, administer programs and write up contracts and grants.

The fight over the proper role of religious liberty in the nation is far from over, however. The document has already been criticized by its opponents as oppressive to women and the LGBT community.

The broad effect of the guidance will continue to unfold in the coming months. Challenges to it will undoubtedly arise as well. The ultimate outcome remains to be seen. But in the meantime, religious liberty proponents can find encouragement in some of the strongest language on the issue coming from a presidential administration in decades.


How the US can protect human rights in China

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration should act to address “severe violations of religious freedom” in China, a bipartisan congressional commission said Thursday.

“Efforts to shutter and harass Protestant Christian ‘house churches’ and the demolition of renowned Tibetan Buddhist institutes of learning, Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, are particularly concerning developments,” the committee chairmen said in an Oct. 5 letter to US President Donald Trump.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) co-chairs the commission, which includes senior-level officials of the executive branch, U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives. The commission issued its annual report on human rights issues in China on Thursday.

“Nothing good happens in the dark,” Smith said in a statement on the report’s release. “That is why the Administration should shine a light on the Chinese government’s failures to abide by universal standards, shine a light on the cases of tortured and abused political prisoners, shine a light on China’s unfair trade practices and still coercive population control policies.”

“Chinese authorities are ruthlessly targeting human rights lawyers and advocates; clamping down on foreign NGOs, media outlets and Internet companies; restricting religious freedom particularly in ethnic minority Tibetan and Uyghur areas and forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees to near certain persecution and even death,” Rubio added.

The report urged the U.S. government to make diplomacy for religious freedom a priority. Countries that severely restrict religious freedom are likely to face domestic instability and could threaten regional stability, it noted.

The commission said its report documents “the Chinese government and Communist Party’s continued efforts to silence dissent, criminalize activities of human rights lawyers, control civil society, suppress religious activity, and restrict the operations of foreign media outlets, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) over the past 12 months”

“Chinese authorities continued to implement a ‘‘universal two- child policy’’ and persisted in actively promoting coercive population control policies that violate international standards,” the report charges. “Tellingly, the family planning bureaucratic apparatus remains intact. The Chinese government’s population control policies have contributed to the country’s demographic challenges, including a rapidly aging population and shrinking workforce that threaten to further slow China’s economic growth.”

The report notes the “missing girls” problem reportedly caused by sex-selective abortion and recommended the consideration of an appointment of a special advisor at the U.S. State Department to address the social and economic issues created by the Chinese government’s population control program.

It recommended projects “that protect women and their families from the most coercive aspects of the population control policies.” Congress should continue to link U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund for use in China with “the end of all birth limitation and coercive population control policies in China.”

With China designated a “country of particular concern” because of its restrictions on religious freedom, the Trump administration should “strategically employ the sanctions and other tools” associated with that designation to bolster religious freedom protection in China, the report said.

Further, the administration should re-establish a working group of experts from government, universities, religious groups, and other NGOs “to develop an effective multiyear plan to promote and protect religious freedom in China.”

The commission urged “the Administration to develop an action plan that will facilitate interagency coordination on human rights,” noting that “that the desire for freedom, justice, and democratic openness are not alien to China or its people.”

Vietnamese native appointed auxiliary bishop of Orange

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:25

Orange, Calif., Oct 6, 2017 / 10:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine and a native of Vietnam, was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange on Friday.

“I thank God for giving me the gift of life, protecting me in my faith journey especially from Vietnam to the Philippines to the United States, gracing me with the gift of priesthood and leading me to you, your new auxiliary bishop,” Nguyen said Oct. 6 in Orange, Calif.

Nguyen was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1953, the second eldest of a family of 11 children. At the age of 13, he entered the St. Joseph Congregation in Nha Trang, and took his first vows in 1974. He studied at St. Joseph Seminary and Da Lat University.

When the communist North Vietnamese consolidated control of South Vietnam in 1975, they abolished the St. Joseph Congregation.

Nguyen and his family fled Vietnam by boat in 1979. “It was a small boat – six feet wide and 28 feet long for 26 people,” Nguyen explained. It took them 18 days to reach the Philippines.

“We experienced hunger and thirst, With God's grace, it rained three times, and each time we had enough water for one cup each. In the midst of this life struggle, we were faithful to morning and evening prayer – saying the rosary most of the time.”

Nguyen and his family lived in a refugee camp for 18 months before moving to the US. He studied at Hartford State Technical College in Hartford, Conn., and taught for three years as a math and science teacher in public schools.

In 1984 he joined the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, and studied at Merrimack College and the Weston School of Theology. He gave solemn vows in 1990, and was ordained a priest of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette the following year. He served as vicar at parishes in Georgia and Florida.

In 1999 Nguyen was incardinated into the Diocese of St. Augustine.

He served as a parochial vicar, and was named pastor of Christ the King parish in Jacksonville in 2001. “Through Father Nguyen's leadership and initiative, he brought harmony to the Vietnamese community by celebrating a Sunday Mass in Vietnamese and building a Vietnamese Center where cultural traditions among the youth and the elderly are preserved,” according to the St. Augustine diocese.

Nguyen, 64, has been pastor of St. Joseph parish in Jacksonville since 2014. With 4,000 families, the parish is the largest in the diocese.

“Father Thanh has not only promoted unity in the parish, but he has fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than any other parish in the diocese,” said Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estévez of St. Augustine.

Fr. Nguyen said, “I thank God for the gift of the priesthood. I love parish life and ministry. I've found it both challenging and rewarding,” adding that it is “an awesome responsibility to be Christ-like to the people entrusted to me as their spiritual leader.”

“I find joy in the celebration of Mass. Joy in sharing the Word of Life and the Bread of Life. There is joy in my heart when I witness the love united in marriage, and in pouring saving waters on the heads of little ones. My joy is in conveying to sinners God's forgiveness and in praying with the dying as they prepare to meet their Lord and Savior.”

After thanking God, Nguyen said, “I thank my parents who gave me life and passed the Catholic Faith on to me. When I was young, they were sure that I had a vocation to the priesthood. They were so happy to attend my ordination. May they rest in peace.”

As auxiliary bishop in Orange, Nguyen will assist Bishop Kevin Vann alongside Bishop Timothy Freyer. He will lead the diocese's large Vietnamese community.

Bishop Dominic Mai Luong, another auxiliary bishop of Orange and a fellow native of Vietnam, retired in 2015 when he reached the age of 75.

EWTN chairman encouraged by changes to HHS mandate

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 11:47

Irondale, Ala., Oct 6, 2017 / 09:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The chairman of EWTN Global Catholic Network voiced optimism over an announcement by the Trump administration Friday broadening religious and moral exemptions to the HHS mandate.

“For more than five years, the HHS contraception mandate has forced Americans to violate their deeply held moral and ethical principles, without regard for the Constitution's guarantee of religious liberty,” said Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and CEO of EWTN, in an Oct. 6 statement.  

“Together with our legal team, we are carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”  

The federal contraception mandate, an Obama-era HHS rule, requires employers’ health plans to include coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortion.

The initial rule’s religious exemption was so narrow it only exempted houses of worship, drawing widespread objections and lawsuits from more than 300 plaintiffs. EWTN Global Catholic Network filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate in February 2012.

Subsequent revisions allowed some changes to the mandate for some religious entities. However, groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor objected that the rule still required their complicity in providing such coverage, which violates their religious and moral standards. Refusal to comply with the rule would result in heavy – potentially crippling – fines.

The HHS interim final rule announced on Friday adds broad religious and moral exemptions to the mandate. The original rule is still in place, but now non-profits and for-profit employers that are closely-held – and even some publicly-traded for-profits – will be exempt from the mandate, if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate’s demands.

Non-profit groups and for-profit businesses that are not publicly-traded can also apply for an exemption to the mandate based on moral, but not religious, objections to it. However, publicly-traded for-profit businesses cannot receive a moral exemption from the mandate.

An example of or a moral objection could be the secular crisis pregnancy center Real Alternatives, Inc., which has no religious affiliation, but which objected to the mandate. Real Alternatives lost a suit against the mandate at the Third Circuit Court in August, which ruled that their pro-life mission did not merit a religious exemption from the mandate.

Regarding the “accommodation” offered to non-profits by the Obama administration, that process is now voluntary. Non-profits can still have their insurer or third party administrator offer the coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions, but they do not have to do so under law.

As EWTN’s legal team examines the impact of today’s announcement on its pending lawsuit, Warsaw called for prayers for religious freedom to be respected across the country and around the globe.

“I invite Catholics, and all people of faith, to join me in continued prayer for our nation, for its leaders, and for the protection of liberty in the United States, and around the world,” he said.

EWTN was founded launched in 1981 by Mother Angelica of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The largest religious media network in the world, it reaches more than 268 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

In addition to 11 television channels in multiple languages, EWTN platforms include radio services through shortwave and satellite radio, SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 AM and FM affiliates. EWTN publishes the National Catholic Register, operates a religious goods catalogue, and in 2015 formed EWTN Publishing in a joint venture with Sophia Institute Press. Catholic News Agency is also part of the EWTN family.


Trump administration lays out principles for protecting religious freedom

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 11:46

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 09:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a set of memos issued Friday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined principles of religious freedom that federal agencies and departments are to incorporate into their work.

“Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people,” Sessions said in an Oct. 6 statement. “Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in our Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage.”

The memos were issued in response to an executive order signed by President Trump in May, declaring, “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom” and instructing the attorney general to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.”

Friday’s memos do not resolve specific cases currently in the court system. However, they were issued on the same day that the administration announced changes to the federal contraception mandate, allowing broad religious and moral exemptions to the regulation.

The first memo lists 20 principles of religious liberty that should govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work as employers, contract- and grant-makers, program administrators, rule-makers, and adjudicators.

These principles recognize religious freedom as “an important, fundamental right,” expressly protected by the Constitution and by federal law. This freedom extends to both individuals and organizations, and it is not surrendered when Americans engage in the marketplace or interact with the government.

Furthermore, the guidance says, religious freedom is more than the right to worship or believe privately. It includes “the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one’s beliefs.”

The document notes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says that the federal government may not substantially burden the exercise of religious freedom, unless there is a compelling state interest in doing so, and it is carried out in the least-restrictive manner possible.

This law “does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a sincerely held religious belief,” the guidance says, and it places a demanding standard on government interference with religious belief or practice, including when the religious party is seeking “an exemption from a legal obligation…to confer benefits on third parties.”

The guidance also reiterates that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers covered by the regulation from discriminating based on an individual’s religious belief, observance or practice, “unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship.”

Furthermore, the memo clarifies, religious employers are entitled to limit employment to people whose beliefs and conduct adhere to their religious precepts.

“Generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character, beliefs, or activities,” the document says.

A second memo by the attorney general directs implementation of the guidance within the Department of Justice. It instructs the department to vigorously defend religious liberty protections in federal law.


Breaking: Trump administration announces broad exemptions for HHS mandate

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 11:21

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 09:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration announced broad new exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate on Friday, giving relief to religious non-profits and others with deeply held religious or moral convictions regarding contraception.

A senior HHS official told reporters on Thursday that the exemptions are intended provide full protection for those with religious beliefs and moral convictions. Religious liberty protections are central to American values, the official explained.

The HHS official told reporters that on issues of grave moral concern to Americans, where the issue of human life is at stake, policy needs to ensure that religious believers are not “punished” by the federal government. Such policy reflects authentic “tolerance” of divergent viewpoints, he said.

In a May 4 executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty,” President Donald Trump promised relief from the HHS mandate to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were present at his May announcement in the White House Rose Garden. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. were also present for the announcement, which came during a National Day of Prayer ceremony.

“I want you to know that your long ordeal will soon be over,” Trump told the Little Sisters present at the White House. Their lawsuit against the mandate dates back to 2013.

The HHS policy announced today adds broad religious and moral exemptions to the mandate.

The HHS contraceptive mandate originated in the Affordable Care Act, which ordered that “preventive services,” be covered in health plans. In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs be included in health plans.

The original rule is still in place, but under policies announced today, non-profits and for-profit employers that are closely-held -- and even some publicly-traded for-profits -- will be exempt from the mandate, if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate’s demands.

Non-profit groups and for-profit businesses that are not publicly-traded can also apply for an exemption to the mandate based on moral, but not religious, objections to it. However, publicly-traded for-profit businesses cannot receive a moral exemption from the mandate.

An example of this could be the secular crisis pregnancy center Real Alternatives, Inc., which has no religious affiliation, but which objected to the mandate. Real Alternatives lost a suit against the mandate at the Third Circuit Court in August, which ruled that their pro-life mission did not merit a religious exemption from the mandate.

The 2012 mandate policies allowed only a narrow religious exemption for churches and their integrated auxiliaries, leaving many religious charities and universities to decide whether to comply with the mandate or face heavy fines.

It was later reported that the Obama administration used tax law to determine which groups would get a religious exemption from the mandate. Religious groups not directly affiliated with churches, required to file a 990 tax form because of their non-profit status, did not meet the religious exemption.

Employers began filing lawsuits against the administration over the mandate. In 2014, Hobby Lobby, a craft supply retailer, won a case against the mandate in a 5-4 Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Green family, argued that providing coverage for drugs that could cause early abortions violated their Christian beliefs.

The Obama administration also offered an “accommodation” to  religious non-profits that objected to the mandate.

In the so-called “accommodation,” non-profits could send a letter or a form to the government outlining their objection to the mandate, which would trigger a government directive to an  insurer or third party administrator to provide the cost-free contraceptive coverage in employee health plans.

Many non-profits, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Archdiocese of Washington, said this process still forced them, under threat of heavy fines, to cooperate in the provision of objectionable coverage to their employees in their own health plans.

Catholic theologians and ethicists argued in an amicus brief at the Supreme Court that the accommodation would be considered “either formal cooperation in wrongdoing, or impermissible material cooperation in serious wrongdoing, and would therefore be gravely wrongful.”

Under the accommodation process, experts argued, the act of notifying the government of their objection would still cause the provision of contraceptives, sterilizations, and some abortion-causing drugs through their health plans, which would violate religious principles..

The Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, and other Christian colleges and universities filed lawsuits over the mandate and a bundle of cases made its way to the Supreme Court under Zubik v. Burwell, argued before the Court in 2016.

The Obama administration argued that the cost-free provision of the coverage was in the government’s  “compelling interest,” in the name of national health; the plaintiffs, on the other hand, pointed out that many health plans were already exempt from the mandate because they were grandfathered by the ACA. The “accommodation” offered to the non-profits still forced them to be complicit in acts they believed were immoral, they said.

After oral arguments in the case in March of 2016, the Supreme Court, in a rare move in the middle of a case, directed both the government and the plaintiffs to submit briefs explaining if, and how, a conclusion could be reached providing the contraceptive coverage while at the same time respecting the religious freedom of the non-profits.

Both parties submitted briefs, and in May of 2016, the Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving the plaintiffs, and sent the cases back to their respective federal courts. The Court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.

On the campaign trail, Trump had promised to grant relief from the mandate to the objecting parties. After his May 4 announcement, Former HHS Secretary Tom Price welcomed Trump’s promise, and said the agency “will be taking action in short order to follow the President’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.”

A draft memo of the HHS final rule granting relief from the mandate was leaked to the press in May. It expanded religious and moral exemptions to the mandate for employers.

However, despite Trump’s statements against the mandate, the Justice Department continued to defend the mandate in litigation. In July, in proceedings for a lawsuit from the Catholic Benefits Association, the Justice Department asked for a delay in proceedings, rather than simply dropping the case, saying the government was crafting a final rule for exemptions to the mandate.

The “accommodation” offered to non-profits by the Obama administration is now voluntary. Non-profits can direct have their insurer or third party administrator offer the coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions, but they do not have to do so under law.



A tele-prayer service for Catholics with mental illnesses

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 08:20

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 06:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- To recognize Mental Illness Awareness Week, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability held a teleconference prayer service offering those with mental illness, and their friends and family, communal and spiritual support.

“Our hope is simply to provide an opportunity for Catholics to pray together in a place of understanding, trust, and acceptance,” an organizer for the event, Connie Rakitan, told CNA on Wednesday.

The prayer service took place on Oct. 3, which marked the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding.

The service began with the song “Change my Heart, oh God,” after which the group was invited to say together the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

The group reflected on those aspects of mental illness they are and are not able to change, and ample time was given for participants to offer reflections aloud.

The service continued with a reading from Scripture, Isaiah 43. “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned … Since you are precious and honored in my sight,” Judy Barr, another event organizer, read aloud.

Rakitan concluded with prayers for those with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

The teleconference was organized by the NCPD’s Council on Mental Illness, of which Rakitan is a founding member. The NCPD was created in 1982, four years after the U.S. bishops released a statement affirming the dignity of people with disabilities. The Council on Mental Illness was created in 2006.

The council offers trainings, webinars, and seminars aimed at accompanying those with mental illnesses. It also hopes to change public understanding of mental illnesses, and guide the development of related public and Church policy.

“We hope that the public comes to a more compassionate, and less stigmatized, acceptance of all who are affected by mental illness – the individual, the family, friends, service providers, caregivers,” Rakitan said.

She also expressed hope “that policy makers in the Church and in the public sector are sensitive to their responsibility for justice and inclusion.”

Rakitan explained to CNA that there are four elements of treatment for mental illnesses: biological, social, psychological, and spiritual.

“Spirituality, as it is expressed in an open and inclusive church, is a place where people can explore and celebrate their inner resources, and find their relationship with God and God’s people,” she said.

The spiritual component contributes to a full and happy life, she said, but added that spirituality is also a source of a refuge for many of the people who struggling.

“For many, their spirituality is something that ‘gets them through the night’ and their faith is what provides meaning and hope.”


How should a Catholic respond to mass shootings?

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 19:05

Washington D.C., Oct 5, 2017 / 05:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When Monsignor Robert Weiss gathered with parents in Connecticut, after 11 children were killed in a nearby shooting, the room went silent and one person called for prayer.

“And so everyone just fell on their knees or joined hands with each other, or formed a circle,” Monsignor Weiss said. “I think they realized at that point anything else was beyond their control.”

Monsignor Weiss is the pastor of St. Rose of Lima parish in Newtown, Conn. The site of the shooting was Sandy Hook Elementary School, where in December of 2012, 26 people were killed.

Since then, other mass shootings have scarred the American psyche, occurring in places like San Bernardino, Calif., Orlando, Fla., and now Las Vegas, Nev., where on October 1, 58 people were killed. It has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

On Wednesday, almost five years after the Sandy Hook shooting, Monsignor Weiss spoke with CNA about the importance of prayer after such a tragedy. Prayer is a necessary resort for all those affected by such tragedies, he said, when they can’t comprehend the evil and when human consolation can only do so much.

Prayer as a response to tragedies has been denigrated by some as meaningless or secondary, when compared to advocating for policy aimed at preventing gun violence or improving access to mental health care.

The day after a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. killed 14 on Dec. 2, 2015, the cover of the New York Daily News said “God isn’t fixing this,” in response to politicians and public figures offering their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the tragedy, but allegedly taking insufficient action to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.

Yet, without discounting the role of human action in response to these tragedies, humans can only do so much, Monsignor Weiss told CNA.

“To whom do you go? Do you rely on yourself? Because there’s no way you can individually handle these kinds of experiences. Times like this is when you’re called to be a community,” he said. He recalled professionals telling him in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that “we can only do so much for these people” to help them heal from the tragedy.

“There is only one place to turn, and it’s to turn to the Lord and find some sort of understanding of this,” he said.

On Sunday evening, 64 year-old Stephen Paddock shot and killed at least 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nev. and wounded almost 500. He shot with high-powered rifles outfitted with “bump stocks” from his 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort, across the street from the Route 91 Harvest Festival outdoor venue.

Paddock was retired and divorced, and had a girlfriend. He owned rental properties and was a frequent gambler at local casinos.

After he shot down at the concert venue, a SWAT team broke into Paddock’s room and found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Medical and mental health professionals went into action helping victims with physical and psychological wounds.

Dr. Stephen Sharp is a Las Vegas local and a faculty member of Divine Mercy University, a Catholic graduate school of psychology and counseling. Sharp commended the Las Vegas community for its proactive response to the tragedy.

The first responders in Las Vegas had trained for such a tragedy “for a long time,” he said, as authorities had predicted that the city could be a target for such an event. First responders and hospitals were prepared for the rapid influx of trauma patients, he said.

And, he noted, mental health and trauma professionals were able to provide a quick response.

In light of previous shootings, where the perpetrator was later judged to have serious mental health issues, the question of Stephen Paddock’s mental health has been asked in the wake of Sunday’s shooting.

There are reports, like ABC News’ citation of a person briefed on the investigation, that Paddock’s mental faculties had possibly deteriorated in the months leading up to the shooting, with his “increasingly slovenly” appearance and loss of weight, as well as an obsession with his girlfriend’s ex-husband.

Yet no official determination has been made about Paddock’s mental health, and Sharp cautioned against speculation

“To establish a mental health or mental illness issue or a diagnosis requires quite a bit of psychological input and assessment and testing,” he said. “It’s too early to jump to that conclusion, and by making that leap, I truly believe that we would be damaging the mental health community more than we would be helping.”

Rather, Sharp said, focus should be drawn to the provision of long-term mental health care to victims of the shooting and their families. “The effects of this kind of trauma go on for months, if not years, so people need to be in place to help folks for a long time,” he said.

Monsignor Weiss sees a need for professional care in the Newtown community years after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

“We had issues in our schools starting Monday, with the whole thing coming back again,” he said of the Las Vegas shooting. High school students were crying after “they suppressed so much of the fear they experienced [in 2012],” he said. “It’s deadly to suppress the emotion, the grief.”

“You’ve got to get help, you’ve got to find someone you can trust, and you’ve got to talk about this. You just can’t suppress it and say it’s going to go away, because it’s not going away,” he said.

A mass shooting also has a ripple effect, Sharp said, because in addition to the 58 dead in Las Vegas and the hundreds injured, there were thousands of concert-goers who witnessed the atrocity and experienced the trauma of being in the line of fire.

And the many family and friends of the dead and injured are themselves affected by the tragedy, he said: “It’s like a pebble in the pond that creates a tsunami on the other side of the pond, because this will go on for a long time.”

“These lives will never be the same,” he reflected. “The 22,000 people who were at the concert will never be the same. It’s changed their life forever, on some level, that we can’t even predict or know how that’s going to turn out for them.”

Americans should explore the cultural or societal factors behind the number of mass shootings, he said.

“I think it’s more of a societal concern than it is of an individual’s mental health concern,” he stated. “My question is why are we seeing wave after wave of these kinds of events?”

Another issue usually debated in the wake of a mass shooting is access to guns, and gun laws.

Paddock reportedly had 23 guns with him in his hotel suite, and CNN reported he had 50 pounds of explosives and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in his car parked in the hotel lot. He passed gun background checks and did not possess a criminal record.

The U.S. bishops have stated their support for certain gun laws, like in April of 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook shooting, when then-chair of the domestic justice and human development committee Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton wrote members of Congress.

Among the policies Bishop Blaire cited for support were “universal background checks for all gun purchases,” restrictions on civilian purchases of “high-capacity ammunition magazines,” and an “assault weapons” ban. He cited Pope Francis’ call “to ‘change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace’.”

In their 2000 statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration,” on crime and criminal justice, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported certain gun laws in the name of safety.

“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” the bishops stated.

The bishops have been “clear that gun control policies are part and parcel of the common good,” Professor David Cloutier, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told CNA.

In fact, the U.S. bishops have called for gun control measures since at least 1975, when they called for “a coherent national firearms policy responsive to the overall public interest and respectful of the rights and privileges of all Americans.”
Yet how should calls for gun control be interpreted in light of the Church’s recognition of a legitimate right to self-defense? Paragraph 2264 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow."

Just war theory presumes against violence, Cloutier said, but does not prohibit it absolutely, and using guns as a means of self-defense is seen in the same light.

“In terms of using weapons to defend yourself, there’s a presumption of civility,” he said, “that is, there’s a presumption that in a society, you have civil relationships with other people that won’t require violence.”

And this fundamental approach Catholics must have toward society is one of “civil friendship,” he said, which is taught in the Compendium on Social Doctrine of the Church.

Furthermore, he said, access to certain high-capacity or semi-automatic weapons, like those “that were used in Las Vegas,” he said, could be questioned outright.

“It’s hard for me to see what prudential judgement is possible in favor of the broad ownership of such weapons,” Cloutier said. The Compendium of Social Doctrine also states that the proliferation of these types of weapons around the world “exacerbates conflicts” and “encourages terrorism,” he said.

Ultimately, Cloutier said, “a presumption doesn’t indicate that there should be a ban on guns, it doesn’t indicate that there isn’t some sort of right to own certain kinds of guns.”

“It simply suggests that there is a certain vision of society that challenges certain presumptions about why we should own guns.”

ISIS genocide survivor begs US to help Yazidis – before it's too late

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 12:45

Washington D.C., Oct 5, 2017 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Yazidi survivor of the ISIS genocide urged members of Congress on Tuesday to help recover young girls and boys who were enslaved and sold by ISIS.  

Shireen Jerdo Ibrahim, a Yazidi girl from northern Iraq who was captured and enslaved by ISIS forces in 2014 before escaping from captivity in Mosul, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday that there remain “thousands of Yazidi women and boys in captivity.”

“Help us free those in captivity, our family members,” she pleaded with members of Congress present at the hearing.

Ibrahim testified on Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations at a hearing on “Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability.”

Yazidis are a small ethnic-religious minority of Iraq who mostly lived in the Nineveh province in the north of the country, near Sinjar. They are of Kurdish descent, and their religion combines elements of Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. They are considered by ISIS to be “devil worshippers.”

In 2014, ISIS swept through northern Iraq, killing or enslaving many Yazidis, and surrounding a large Yazidi contingent taking refuge on Mount Sinjar. The Yazidi began to die from starvation or dehydration, until a U.S.-led humanitarian airdrops provided them with needed supplies, and airstrikes in the surrounding area drove away ISIS forces.

The goal of ISIS was to “eradicate Yazidis and Christians from Iraq,” Ibrahim said. “They displaced all of us,” she said, and minorities in the region “will not be able to live there in the same environment.”

“What ISIS did to us is out there. It’s known to everyone,” she said. “They enslaved thousands, they killed thousands of Yazidis,” she said. “We see mass graves almost every week,” she continued, reporting that there are almost 40 mass graves in the area.

Ibrahim shared with members of Congress her own experience of the ISIS attack. On Aug. 3, 2014, her uncle called her from a village in the area and told her that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces protecting the region had retreated, and ISIS had attacked.

She fled with others to Mount Sinjar, but their truck broke down. Trying to make their way to safety on foot, the group was captured by ISIS forces at the base of the mountain. They were taken back to their village and unloaded from the trucks. ISIS separated families and men from women.

Ibrahim was forcibly separated from her younger sister, taken to a prison in Badoosh, moved to the Tal-Afar district when coalition airstrikes targeted the area, and then sold to someone in Raqqa, Syria. There she was tortured, brought to Mosul, and sold five times in captivity.

In Mosul, there were “hundreds and thousands of Yazidi girls there being sold as sex slaves,” she said. Her nine months in ISIS captivity, “was like hell,” she said in a written statement. ISIS performed abdominal surgery on her without explaining why, and “committed all kinds of atrocious crimes against us including mass killing, sexual enslavement, and forced conversion.”

Nineteen members of her family are missing. She has no knowledge of their whereabouts, she said. “Almost all of Iraq has been liberated” but Yazidis are still missing. She has heard reports of Yazidi boys in Saudi Arabia, she said, where they have been sold and brainwashed.  

She asked the U.S. to help Yazidis locate and rescue their loved ones in captivity, to help those who have been recovered from ISIS captivity, and to assist Yazidis in rebuilding their homeland.

And young people recovered from ISIS captivity need support and psycho-social care, she added, since they have been traumatized.

In March of 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “in my judgment, Daesh [ISIS] is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

“Our hope was that this would be followed by action,” Ibrahim said, like helping rebuild the area, providing security for religious and ethnic minorities against reprisals or extremists attacking them, and bringing the ISIS perpetrators to justice.

“Our hope is that Yazidis will be assured that they will be able to go back to their homes,” she said, or that they will be able to “emigrate somewhere else.” Although ISIS militants have largely been cleared out of Iraq, their ideology remains, she said.

“Under the same ideology, a different group may attack us, she said.

Former congressman Frank Wolf, a distinguished senior fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, also testified that while he visited communities in the region, locals expressed concern about various military and militia groups taking a commanding role in the towns.

The Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, were one militia group in particular “largely backed by Iran” and “filling the vacuum left post-liberation,” Wolf said. In the Sinjar region, the control by the militia units has scared off many Yazidis from returning to their homes, he said.

Unless countries like the U.S. take further action to help the displaced minorities in northern Iraq by the end of the year, they could depart for good, Wolf said.

“I am sad to say that if bold action is not taken by the end of the year, I believe a tipping point will be reached and we will see the end of Christianity in Iraq in a few short years and a loss of religious and ethnic diversity throughout the region,” he said.

This “could result in further destabilization, violent extremism and terrorism across the Middle East,” he said. “In other words, ISIS will have been victorious in their genocidal rampage unless concrete action is taken.”

Lauren Ashburn, anchor and managing editor of EWTN News Nightly, told the subcommittee of her reporting trip to the region in April. “Christians in Iraq are on the brink of extinction,” she said.

The village of Batnaya, which she visited, had been nearly destroyed entirely by ISIS, she said. ISIS fighters decapitated a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church, defaced pictures of Christ, and “bullet holes mark the place where a cross once hung,” Ashburn said. “Every Christian symbol I could see had been defaced or obliterated. I could not hold back my tears.”


California priest who embezzled donations gets prison time, $1.9 million fine

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 08:04

San Jose, Calif., Oct 5, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A priest in California has been sentenced to three years in prison for bank fraud and ordered to pay restitution after he put over $1.4 million in church donations into his bank accounts.

Father Hien Minh Nguyen, 57, was ordered to pay $1,880,000 to the Diocese of San Jose and the IRS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.

In March Nguyen was found guilty in federal court on 14 counts of bank fraud.

Prosecutors said he deposited 14 checks from parishioners into his personal account while he was pastor. The donations, made between 2005 and 2007, had been intended for the Vietnamese Catholic Center in San Jose, CBS San Francisco reported in March.

Nguyen had served as the center’s director from 2001-2011. He has also served as a pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, now called Our Lady of La Vang.

The priest previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion for the years 2008-2011.

Nguyen has been a priest of the Diocese of San Jose since 1995. The priest has been on a personal leave of absence since December 2013. He was born in Vietnam and fled to the U.S. as a boy during the Vietnam War.

Men are craving authentic friendships – and it's ok to admit it

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 05:08

Denver, Colo., Oct 5, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Timothy Piazza pledged a fraternity at Pennsylvania State University in February 2017, he had hoped to find a brotherhood.  

To join the fraternity, he endured severe hazing rituals, one of which ended with Piazza collapsing down a set of basement stairs, where he was left alone without medical attention. Ultimately, the injury led to his death. 

His girlfriend of three years, Kaitlyn Tempalsky, told reporters that Piazza joined the fraternity looking for friendships. She told the New York Times that “he wasn’t in it for the partying … He really wanted that brotherhood.”

Male friendships are becoming a rarity in American culture, Catholic leaders say, which could lead some men, like Piazza, to look for friends in dangerous situations.  

Historically, occasions for brotherhood were systemically built into many cultures, Catholic psychologist Dr. Jim Langley told CNA.  

Listing the examples of chopping down trees or heading into battle together, Dr. Langley said, “It’s our base coding, in our human nature as men” to complete projects or engage in activities together – though in contemporary culture, men are becoming more isolated.

“Men who are isolated are prone to all sorts of mental health problems – anxiety and depression. Specifically among men that we see in our work, men who are isolated are much more prone to addiction to pornography.”

Langley explained that the source of pornography addiction may stem from a desire for intimacy, even for male friends.

“Men in general struggle with [intimacy], it’s a pretty common thing. But it’s not just romantic intimacy, and it’s not just intimacy related to woman, we also have a longing for brotherhood.”

Because humans are physical, intellectual, and relational beings, he said, our sense of identity is not discovered by being alone, it is rather found in the context of other people.

“Specifically, figuring out how we can contribute in relationship and how relationships contribute to us.”

Matthew Schaefer, director of student development at Franciscan University of Steubenville, agreed.   

“I am the best man I can be when I have strong male friendships. We hear in Scripture that ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and so it is with men,” Schaefer said.

“When men engage in true friendships – and by this I mean more than spending time together playing sports or video games – they can encourage one another toward holiness.”

Schaefer pointed to the household system at Franciscan University, through which more than half of the university’s students participate in small, single-sex faith communities.  

“These same-sex communities help members grow in mind, body, and spirit and hold each other accountable to ongoing conversion.”

“In men’s households, they are encouraged to be on more of a schedule by committing to weekly gatherings, generally focused on prayer. They are present to console in times of need and celebrate in times of joy. They are brothers for the Christian walk.”

This type of accompaniment is not easily accomplished, said Daniel Porting, a FOCUS missionary at Southern Methodist University, who reflected on his own college experience in the Phi Gama Delta fraternity.

Porting told CNA that most fraternities have mentoring programs, but that those programs are not always taken seriously.

“So that’s a very good structure, I’m not saying they do it well, but there is a structure in every fraternity where they want to inspire that good authentic and organic friendship, where it starts on a one-on-one level, where one person can accompany another,” he said.

But secular culture is struggling to foster this type of friendship, Dr. Langley said, “because an authentic friendship with men, in some ways, needs to be reinvented.”

“As men, we connect through doing things side-by-side, but if you look at the routes that men have to connect with each other, it’s very superficial.”

Dr. Langley said that some social norms and stereotypes make it difficult for men to pursue deep friendships with one another.

“Until recently in our culture, being affectionate with another man was really frowned upon and looked at as being effeminate, or a person would worry about [appearing] homosexual.”

Research conducted by Dr. Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University, published in 2013 by the American Sociological Association, showed that male friendships, which include emotional vulnerability, are typical during boyhood. But as boys get older, and deep male friendships become associated with homosexuality, she said men lose this avenue of emotional vulnerability.

“It is only in late adolescence – a time when, according to national data, suicides and violence among boys soar – that boys disconnect from other boys,” said Way in a 2013 article in Contexts magazine.

“The boys in my studies begin, in late adolescence, to use the phrase ‘no homo’ when discussing their male friendships, expressing the fear that if they seek out close friendships, they will be perceived as ‘gay’ or ‘girly.’”

Mark Harfiel, vice president of Paradisus Dei, a family-based Catholic ministry, said that when culture doesn’t support true masculinity, men lose sense of what it means to be authentically human.

“When you turn from Christ and begin to make all truth relative with no absolutes, you begin to lose a sense of what it even means to be human. All relationships have become sexualized and masculinity itself has even come into question.”

Secular culture often promotes a damaged view of masculinity, Daniel Porting said. He suggested that there are three main characteristics of heightened masculinity in the culture: an emphasis on power, pleasure and wealth.

“And I think that those all lead to unfulfillment and a lack of joy.”

Porting noted that many college-aged men with whom he works have suffered from a lack of authentic masculine role models, which creates wounds in men and impedes the desire to be loved.

The FOCUS missionary said these wounds are difficult for men to address, and added that when he meets men on campus he will steer away from questions like, “how is your life growing up?” or “how is your family?”

These questions “trigger something that is very wounding because someone didn’t step up and be a good role model,” he said.

Every parish needs to have an opportunity for men to find fraternal bonds and spiritually rich accountability, Harfiel added. That Man is You, a program affiliated with Paridisus Dei, is one possibility, he said, noting the group has created an estimated 1,000 male fraternal groups and reached over 100,000 men in the past 12 years.

However, this avenue might not be available for everyone, and Langley acknowledged that some men struggle with an even bigger problem – namely, fear.

“If there are not opportunities, one could create opportunities, connections with other people, but we’re afraid to be the first person to do that. We’re afraid to meet new people. We are afraid to be real with other people. So the virtue which would overcome all these virtues really is truly courage.”

Especially if there is no men’s ministry at the parish, Dr. Langely said, most likely other men in the parish are feeling the same way. He added that most people will be flattered by an invitation, “because it feels good to be noticed.”

This invitation, he said, doesn’t need to be big. It could simply be asking a gentleman (and maybe his wife) out for a bite to eat, or starting a small parish group of guys who go out periodically for beers.

“If you do sense a call to start something, then don't be afraid to keep it simple. A friend of mine at my parish started a men's group called ‘faith fermentation,’ which is just a fancy title for a bunch of guys going to get some beers together.”

“So don't worry about starting anything big. Just start something that ‘scratches your own itch,’ and most likely it will scratch the itch for connection that other men have too.”

Prioritizing male friendships with priests, peers, old and young adults, Langley said, takes courage. He noted Christ’s own example of surrounding himself with friends.

“We are blessed with this wonderful example of Jesus Christ, and he told his apostles that he was their friend – they weren’t just his pupils, they weren’t just the flock he was ministering to.”


Pro-life leaders: Life has value. Always.

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 17:42

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The lives of all human people, especially those who are suffering, have value, speakers at a recent pro-life program at Georgetown University emphasized. Their lives deserve care and accompaniment, even in the most trying of times, the experts said.

“When we speak of respect for human life, it is easy for us to get caught up in abstractions, and our response can be – or appear to be – somewhat theoretical. But our obligations are quite concrete,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, in a speech at Georgetown University.

“Life depends on us,” he urged.

Wuerl spoke at an Oct. 2 event entitled “Lives Worthy of Respect,” beginning the school’s Respect Life Month programing.

After the cardinal’s address was panel of speakers, including George Mason University law Professor Helen Alvare, National Right to Life vice president Tony Lauinger, homelessness advocate Sister Mary Louise Wessell, and Congressman and doctor Dr. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio-2). The panel was moderated by Dr. Kevin Donovan, a a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University, and director of the university’s Center for Bioethics.

Wuerl stressed the importance of life – and the challenges facing culture where “people have the power to choose which lives are worth living and which ones are not.” The cardinal pointed to the prevalence of suicide among young people, the rise of physician-assisted suicide, and the discarding of the disabled, the unborn, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations as examples of a culture which views some lives as not worthy of living.  

The Christian view of life, he countered, honors life not as something we own or create, but are stewards of: “Life, as all creation, in its rich diversity is God’s gift.” To counter the views of life which see people as disposable and burdens, Wuerl suggested following the example of Pope Francis and accompanying those who are suffering.

The speakers’ panel echoed the cardinal’s critique of a culture of discarding others and the need to care intimately for the vulnerable. Alvare shared how her experiences caring for her severely disabled sister and elderly grandparents gave her a new appreciation for the Church’s “radical” message of the equality of all human persons. As she became more involved in the pro-life movement, she saw the web of situations and decisions in a culture “that immiserates women.”

“The poor are suffering the most,” she said of this culture, and critiqued the lack of solutions provided to women that don’t include abortion.

Westrup pointed to a deeply moving experience of caring for an AIDS patient in 1985 while he was a resident in Chicago. He explained that many of his fellow doctors were scared of the man, and the attending physician made care for the dying man voluntary. Westrup wanted to see him, however, and learned much from his examination.

“I learned even more from what he said to me afterwards,” Westrup recalled. The man told the young doctor that “you just examined me more than anyone,” and was grateful for his care. The patient died the next day.

“I thought what does that feel like to be so discarded, cast aside. To be made to feel that your life is meaningless,” Westrup mused. However, the man’s life, though it was painful at the end, was not meaningless, and Western still remembers his patient’s name and takes his message of care for each vulnerable person to heart.

“He delivered that message on his last day of life,” the congressman stated. “It matters to the very last moment.”

Lauinger emphasized the high cost of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and the millions of persons whose lives have been taken over the past 45 years. “It was less than 25 years after the Nuremburg trials that our own supreme court condemned to death the unborn children of America,” Lauinger lamented.

“This is not a victimless act,” he urged. “Therefore it is not a matter of private morality but public morality: protecting the most innocent, the most vulnerable members of our human family.”


Both on and off camera, 'Papal Ninja' is proud to be Catholic

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 17:37

Oakland, Calif., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- Whether he’s navigating a harrowing obstacle course in front of the camera or doing behind-the-scenes content editing for an evangelization website, Sean Bryan wants people to know that he is proud to be Catholic.

Also known as the “Papal Ninja,” Bryan competed for a second time this season on NBC’s obstacle course competition show, American Ninja Warrior.

“I hope (the audience) can see that the faith is not something extra-ordinary, but rather, something that is meant to be extraordinarily ordinary,” Bryan told CNA.

When he’s not training for daredevil feats of strength and agility, Bryan is working for Lay Mission Project, a website dedicated to equipping lay people with the tools to live their faith within the secular culture.

Through coursework and small groups, the project’s mission is “to form laypeople to delve deeply into the mysteries of the faith, to come to know Jesus at an intimate level, and to be lit on fire to act in his place in the secular realm.”

Bryan first garnered national attention in the eighth season of American Ninja Warrior, when he wore a bright yellow shirt with the words “Papal Ninja” written across the front. This year, he sported a papal flag emblem, and was one of three finalists, becoming the first contestant to defeat an obstacle known as “Wingnut Alley.”

No champion took home the $1 million prize this year, but Bryan said that he is grateful for his own personal improvement from last season, and for the ability to glorify God through his talents.  

“These abilities truly are God-given, for his glory, and are part of his plan for me in some way – no matter what the performance-specific result may be.”

Bryan also thanked God that he was able to be a witness to his Catholic faith on the show and that the producers were willing to portray it.

Part of the Papal Ninja’s goal in competing on the show is to portray the Church in a positive light, and to offer courage to young people as they encounter secular society.

“The negative publicity the Church has received in the past two decades has been overwhelming, as we all have experienced,” he said.

“I knew from the beginning of my Ninja Warrior endeavors that this would – in some way – not only shine a good light on the Church, but also help the youth open their hearts to our Lord in spite of the threat of potential persecution.”

While Bryan hopes to use his role on American Ninja Warrior as an evangelization opportunity, he is also involved in another apostolate – the Lay Mission Project.

Bryan serves as Animating Director for the group, a position that includes website development, networking, program facilitation and other tasks.

The goal, he said, is to form Catholics at the local parish level to better know and share their faith.

“Participants are brought to a profound awareness of their role as apostles to the world and are given the tools they need to respond to their calling and live out their vocations,” Bryan said.

Most of the course material is provided online, and participants are guided in spiritual exercises which coincide with each lesson.

“In addition to the coursework, participants also meet regularly in small discipleship groups, where they discuss what they’ve learned, share how have integrated the material, and talk through the struggles they’ve encountered along the way,” said Bryan, noting the project is currently being tested in the Diocese of Sacramento.

Although the project is still in initial development, Bryan said he is encouraged by how the program has already equipped parishioners with tools to be a witness of Christ at home, work, and in their communities.

Bryan is eager to expand the project, but he emphasized the importance of in-person collaboration to form disciples within a parish at a local level.

“We find it important to stick with the diocesan cohort approach, so that the formation lives in the diocese, revitalizes the local Church, and helps develop a network of disciples in a given geographic area, so that the Church is present and operative in ways in which it can be only through the laity.”


Sales of controversial birth control coil halted everywhere...except the US

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 17:09

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2017 / 03:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- German pharmaceutical company Bayer announced recently that it has suspended from all non-US sales the Essure coil, a controversial form of birth control which has received the strictest possible FDA warning for its side effects, which include chronic pain, bleeding, and severe allergic reactions.

“The device [Essure] was sold to me as a simple and easy procedure. I was told that I’d be in and out of the doctor’s office in 10 minutes and that there’d be no recovery time,” said Laura Linkson, a user of Essure who shared her testimony on the UK show Victoria Derbyshire, according to the BBC.

“I went from being a mum who was doing everything with her children, to a mum that was stuck in bed unable to move without pain, at some points being suicidal,” Linkson continued, saying, “I felt like I was a burden to everyone around me.”

Essure is a nickel and polyester coil which is inserted into the fallopian tubes, causing scar tissue growth, as a way of preventing eggs from reaching the womb. This form of birth control, known as hysteroscopy sterilization, has been around since 2002 and is currently manufactured and distributed by Bayer.

Last week, Bayer announced its voluntary decision to halt all sales outside of the U.S., citing “commercial reasons.”

“We would like to reassure the Essure patients and their accompanying healthcare professionals that this decision is made for commercial reasons and that it is not related to a safety or product quality issue,” read a statement from Bayer’s website. “According to our scientific assessment, the positive risk-benefit ratio of Essure remains unchanged.”

Essure sales in the EU were temporarily halted last month, following product license suspension in Ireland due to overall concerns for the product. Bayer also encouraged hospitals in the UK to suspend the use of their existing stocks for the time being.

However, Essure is still being sold in the U.S., its most popular market, although Bayer announced it is no longer marketing outside of the country.

Despite its popularity, more than 15,000 women in the U.S. alone have reported serious health issues resulting from the birth control coil, according to BBC.

In fact, over the past few years a group has surfaced called Essure Problems – an organization of women who are lobbying against Essure in court due to negative experiences with the product. The group now has more than 35,000 members.

Some reported side effects included chronic pain, flu-like symptoms, bleeding, depression, exhaustion, suicidal thoughts, and allergic reactions. In some cases, the coil had moved into other parts of the body, protruding into nearby organs and the pelvis.

These side-effects are a far cry from the device’s label warnings, which include “mild to moderate pain and/or cramping, vaginal bleeding and pelvic or back discomfort for a few days.”

“Whatever they’ve put on the label, multiply it by 200,” said Angela Desa-Lynch, an administrator for the Essure Problems Group, in a previous interview with CNA.

“They don’t tell you that it’s ‘I can’t get out of bed and take care of my kids’ kind of pain,” she continued.

Surgery or a hysterectomy is the only way to remove the Essure coil, which has resulted in additional complications with the birth control device.

The coils can easily break during surgery, causing further health issues such as additional surgeries, inflamed abdomens, and cysts. In addition, most health insurance companies will not cover the cost of the coil’s removal, resulting in a hefty medical bill.

“One woman had a coil in her colon, she went from a business owner to bankruptcy” after four surgeries, Desa-Lynch stated.

The FDA placed its most severe warning on the birth control coil in November 2016. Known as the “black box” label, it is “designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks,” according to the FDA’s website.

An FDA spokesman said that the agency “has taken several steps to ensure the ongoing evaluation of Essure's safety and efficacy, as well as to educate healthcare professionals and women about the potential risks of using the device.”