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Muslim denied presence of imam at his execution in Alabama

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 18:18

Mobile, Ala., Feb 8, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- A Muslim man convicted of murder has been executed in Alabama without his imam present, despite the man’s requests to have his spiritual advisor with him during his execution.

Domineque Ray, 42, was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. Ray specifically requested that the Christian prison chaplain be excluded from the execution chamber, and asked that his imam be present to “provide spiritual guidance for him at the time of his death.”

He also requested that he not be required to undergo an autopsy, as that would have conflicted with his religious beliefs. The warden reportedly denied the first two requests and said she had no authority to grant the third.

Consequently, the prison’s officials said they would allow the Christian chaplain, Chris Summers, into the execution chamber to kneel and pray with the prisoner, though the prisoner would not be required to pray with the chaplain. The officials reportedly said it would be a security risk to let a non-employee of the state’s correctional department into the execution chamber.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday granted a stay of execution until it could determine whether the prison had violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, after Ray appealed the prison’s decision. In defending the prison’s decision, the state said Ray’s imam, Yusef Maisonet, would be allowed to visit him on the day of the execution and could accompany him up until he entered the execution chamber.

The Supreme Court decided 5-4 Feb. 7 that Ray’s execution could go ahead, and he was subsequently executed that evening by lethal injection. The court’s majority cited the last-minute nature of Ray’s request as a reason for vacating the stay.

The Christian chaplain was reportedly excluded from the execution, as Ray had requested.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent, calling the court’s decision “profoundly wrong” and quoting from the court's decision in the 1982 case of Larson v. Valente: “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”

“But the State’s policy does just that,” she wrote.

“Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion – whether Islam, Judaism, or any other – he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side.”

Kagan acknowledged that prison security could constitute a “compelling interest” that could justify religious discrimination, but claimed that the state had offered “no evidence to show that its wholesale prohibition on outside spiritual advisers is necessary to achieve that goal.”

Kagan also spoke out against the Supreme Court’s decision to vacate the stay of execution because Ray did not file his request “in a timely manner,” pointing out that the Alabama state code does not explicitly prohibit “the inmate’s spiritual adviser of choice” from being present in the execution chamber.

The prison also reportedly refused to give Ray a copy of its own practices and procedures.

“So there is no reason Ray should have known, prior to January 23, that his imam would be granted less access than the Christian chaplain to the execution chamber,” Kagan wrote.

Ray’s imam told local media that he considered it important that he be present for Ray’s death in order to ensure that the inmate died according to his faith.

“I know the things that are required of Muslims before they die,” Yusef Maisonet, imam of Masjid As Salaam in Mobile, told AL.com on Feb. 1.

“We want to make sure his last words are, ‘There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet….If they exclude me, [a Christian chaplain and other prison staff] may ask him something and ask him to reply and those won’t be his last words.”

University of Dallas names Ryan Anderson as first Catholic Social Thought fellow

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 17:24

Dallas, Texas, Feb 8, 2019 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The University of Dallas has announced the creation of the St. John Paul II Social Thought Teaching Fellowship, with Dr. Ryan Anderson as the first fellow in the role.

The formation of the fellowship is part of the university’s plan to create an institute for Catholic social teaching, offering degree programs that include the philosophical foundations and applications of Church social teaching, opportunities for continuing education, and the promotion of research.

“The University of Dallas is already a center for significant work on Catholic social thought,” said University Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford in a Feb. 7 statement. “Inviting Dr. Ryan Anderson will strengthen the university's commitment to Catholic social teaching, provide new insights for our students, and help us to fulfill our mission to pursue the truth and cultivate justice.”

Sanford said the University of Dallas “is uniquely positioned to make a special contribution to the church and help shape culture through Catholic social teaching, and takes seriously its responsibility to do so.”

In a press release announcing the new program, the university applauded Anderson for his “clear and careful writing as well as his poise and civility in addressing controversial social issues.”

Anderson is a prominent Catholic speaker and author on marriage, sexuality, religious freedom, and natural law.

He has coauthored the books What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense and Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination. He is also the author of Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom and When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.

Anderson is a senior research fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, as well as the founder and editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute. His research has been cited by Supreme Court justices in two cases.

As the inaugural St. John Paul II Social Thought fellow, Anderson will become an adjunct faculty member in the university’s Politics Department. He will teach two classes each year and will offer lectures and an annual conference, in cooperation with the American Public Philosophy Institute (APPI).

Anderson’s first lecture, entitled “Catholic Thought and the Challenges of Our Time,” will be held on campus March 25 and will be open to the public.

The talk will give an overview of Catholic social teaching and preview the courses Anderson will be teaching in the next two years.

Sanford attributed the new fellowship in part to the work of Rob Hays, head of the Dallas Business Ethics Forum, which promotes business practices and formation based on Catholic social teaching. Hays, a local businessman, contributed to the project and worked to obtain other contributions and corporate sponsorships.

Located in Irving, Texas, the University of Dallas is a Catholic university with a focus on the Western tradition of liberal arts education.

 

First official Virginia March for Life to be held in April

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 17:00

Richmond, Va., Feb 8, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The first Virginia March for Life will be held on April 3, 2019, outside of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

 

The Virginia March for Life is being organized by a partnership between The Family Foundation, Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Society for Human Life, and the national March for Life.

 

In a statement, March for Life Defense and Education Fund President Jeanne Mancini said that she was “delighted” to partner with these organization, and will work to “bring together and mobilize countless pro-life Virginians who are appalled by the past few weeks’ pro-abortion activity in their beloved state.”

 

On January 29, Virginia Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), the lead sponsor of the Repeal Act, was questioned in a legislative committee session about her bill, which would have removed pro-life safeguards, and reduced the number of doctors needed to approve of a third-trimester abortion from three to just one.

 

During questioning, Tran admitted that there was nothing in the bill that would stop a woman from procuring an abortion while she was in active labor if she felt her mental or emotional health would be at risk.

 

The following day, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on radio station WTOP and seemed as though he was defending the law. Northam said that if a baby were to survive an abortion, it would be given “comfort care” during a “discussion” to determine if any other medical care would be administered. Many people, including the bishops of both of Virginia’s dioceses, said that Northam’s rhetoric was promoting infanticide.

 

“Given such an extreme pro-abortion agenda, it is imperative for all of us to stand together for the rights of the unborn. Every human life should be valued and protected,” said Mancini.

 

Although the Virginia March for Life was officially announced after abortion became a hot topic in the commonwealth, March for Life Director of Grassroots and Digital Strategy Bethany Peck told CNA that the event had “been in the works for many months” and that plans became were formalized in January.

 

“We feel it cannot come at a better time given Virginia’s recent comments and proposed legislation promoting pro-abortion extremism,” said Peck. The date of April 3 was chosen because it is the same day as the veto session in the Virginia legislature, Peck explained.

 

This means that all lawmakers will be at the capitol that day “and will not be able to miss the March for Life,” she said. Peck told CNA she expects hundreds of marchers will come to Richmond, but said it was too early to give a formal estimate.

 

The Virginia March for Life will be prefaced by a rally at 11 a.m., with the march beginning at noon. Speakers at the rally will be announced at a later date.

Washington state bishops support repeal of death penalty

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 05:04

Seattle, Wash., Feb 8, 2019 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Washington state are expressing support for a senate bill that would repeal the death penalty.

This comes after the state’s Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in October 2018, finding it had been applied in an arbitrary and racially-biased manner.

“Our country’s legal system is far from perfect when it comes to imposing the death penalty,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle wrote in a Feb. 5 joint statement released by the  Washington State Catholic Conference.  

“Senate Bill 5339 removes the unconstitutional language and moves Washington state towards greater justice and respect for life at all stages.”

The bill would change the sentence for aggravated first degree murder to life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole. The bill’s text states that the goal of the bill is “reducing criminal justice expenses.”

The bishops, in their support for the bill, cited the Catholic Church’s belief that every human life is sacred from conception until natural death.

“The act of murder cries out for an appropriate punishment, but the death penalty merely adds violence to violence, perpetuating an illusion that taking one human life for another can somehow balance the scales of justice,” Sartain said.

The Washington effort to repeal the death penalty is part of a national trend. New Hampshire legislators voted to remove the death penalty from the state last year, but the bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Lawmakers in Colorado have said they are planning to introduce a proposal to repeal the death penalty in the upcoming legislative session. Similar legislation has already been introduced in Nevada and Kentucky this year.

Pope Francis in Aug. 2018 ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

The Catechism previously taught the Church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

In declaring the death penalty inadmissible, the new text cites “an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” as well as the development of “more effective systems of detention…which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

 

Supreme Court blocks law regulating Louisiana abortion doctors

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 23:03

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2019 / 09:03 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court has blocked from taking effect a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to hold admitting privileges at hospitals nearby to abortion clinics. The court issued a stay on Thursday evening.

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court granted Feb. 7 a temporary stay blocking the law while it is adjudicated in lower courts. Chief Justice John Roberts was the deciding vote and voted to grant the injunction.

The 2014 law required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at the hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility. It was modeled after a similar law in Texas, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. The law was challenged almost immediately upon passage and had been held from taking effect by legal challenges since it was passed.

Those opposed to the law say that it would prevent all but one abortionist in the state from performing abortions.

Although the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law three years ago, the makeup of the Court has changed significantly since that time. Notably, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was considered to be a moderate swing vote, has retired. He was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose judicial approach to abortion was relatively unclear at the time of his confirmation.

Kavanaugh voted against the injunction and wrote an independent. In that dissent, Kavanaugh said that the law should be allowed to go into effect so its true impact can be measured.

With the injunction, the Supreme Court will likely be forced to consider the law in an upcoming session.

In a statement, Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry vowed to continue the legal fight, and pointed out that the law was passed nearly unanimously.

“Unfortunately, the supreme court today put enforcement of this pro-woman law on hold for the time being,” said Landry.

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

Landry said that his office “will not waver” in defense of the law, and will “continue to do all that we legally can to protect Louisiana women and the unborn.”

 

Governor Cuomo, Cardinal Dolan continue war of words over abortion

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 19:04

New York City, N.Y., Feb 7, 2019 / 05:04 pm (CNA).- More than two weeks after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law expanding legal protection for abortion, his battle with New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan continues in the op-ed pages of New York newspapers.

In a Feb. 6 op-ed in the New York Times, Cuomo accused President Donald Trump and the “religious right”, including Dolan, of “spreading falsehoods about abortion laws to inflame their base.”

“Activists on the far right continue to mislead with the ridiculous claim that the act will allow abortions up to a minute before birth,” he wrote.

According to the law’s wording, the Reproductive Health Act will allow for abortions “within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or (when) there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient's life or health.” The bill also removes act of abortion from the criminal code, and instead places it in the public-health code, and strips most safeguards and regulations on the procedure. Non-doctors will now be permitted to perform abortions.

“While Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and the Catholic Church are anti-choice, most Americans, including most Catholics, are pro-choice,” Cuomo said. “While governments may very well enact laws that are consistent with religious teaching, governments do not pass laws to be consistent with what any particular religion dictates.”

Cuomo, himself a Catholic, said he signed the Reproductive Health Act “to protect against” the “extreme conservatives” who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

“The decisions I choose to make in my life, or in counseling my daughters, are based on my personal moral and religious beliefs,” Cuomo said, but the “oath of office is to the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of New York - not to the Catholic Church. My religion cannot demand favoritism as I execute my public duties.”

New York has consistently been one of the most pro-choice states, and was the first to legalize abortion in 1970, three years prior to the passing of Roe v. Wade. It currently has the highest abortion rate in the nation.

In a post to his personal blog, Dolan shot back, accusing Cuomo of “hiding behind labels” like the “religious right” to malign those opposed to abortion when it was convenient for him.  

“This is something new from the governor,” Dolan wrote. “He did not consider me part of the ‘religious right’ when seeking my help with the minimum wage increase, prison reform, protection of migrant workers, a welcome of immigrants and refugees, and advocacy for college programs for the state’s inmate population, which we were happy to partner with him on, because they were our causes too. I guess I was part of the ‘religious left’ in those cases.”

Quoting former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, Dolan noted that abortion is not about “right versus left, but right versus wrong.” Dolan also rejected Cuomo’s attempt to cast abortion as a “Catholic issue” instead of a human rights issue.

“The governor also continues his attempt to reduce the advocacy for the human rights of the pre-born infant to a ‘Catholic issue,’ an insult to our allies of so many religions, or none at all.  Governor Casey again: ‘I didn’t get my pro-life belief from my religion class in a Catholic school, but from my biology and U.S. Constitution classes,’” Dolan noted.

Responding to Cuomo’s remarks that religion is personal, Dolan said: “Yes, religion is personal; it’s hardly private, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and struggle for civil rights so eloquently showed. Governor Cuomo’s professed faith teaches discrimination against immigrants is immoral, too. Does that mean he cannot let that moral principle guide his public policy? Clearly not.”

“Debate abortion on what it is. Don’t hide behind labels like ‘right wing’ and ‘Catholic,’” the Cardinal concluded. It is not the first time Cuomo and Dolan have exchanged words over the Reproductive Health Act, as well as the Child Victim’s Act, which extended the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual abuse.

At a late January press conference, Cuomo slammed the Catholic Church over the sex abuse crisis: “Tell the truth. Jesus Christ teaches about truth and justice - social justice - and that’s not what the church did here,” he said.

In a January 28 op-ed in the New York Post, Dolan criticized Cuomo for insulting the Church and for signing the “ghoulish radical abortion-expansion law.”

“All this in a state that already had the most permissive abortion laws in the country,” the cardinal wrote. “Those who once told us that abortion had to remain safe, legal and rare now have made it dangerous, imposed and frequent.”

Responding to Dolan’s criticism, as well as calls from several other bishops for his excommunication, Cuomo doubled down on his defense of separating his religion from his politics in comments to reporters: “I have my own Catholic beliefs, how I live my life. ... That is my business as a Catholic...I don’t govern as a Catholic. I don’t legislate as a Catholic.”

Why these high school students built a chapel and Marian shrine at local school

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 15:47

Battle Creek, Mich., Feb 7, 2019 / 01:47 pm (CNA).- When two Michigan high school students were planning for a community service project, they decided they wanted to help younger children learn to pray. So, they fundraised, designed, and managed the construction of a chapel and Marian shrine for the local Catholic middle school.

Adam Sprague is a junior and Jacob Thome is a freshman at St. Philip Catholic Central High School in Battle Creek, Michigan. As part of earning their Eagle Scout badges, Sprague oversaw construction of a Blessed Sacrament chapel and Thome worked to build a Marian grotto.

Father Christopher Ankley, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, was involved with both projects. He told CNA that St. Joseph Catholic Middle School was in need of more prayer spaces, especially for students at the school.

“Just to have the Blessed Sacrament in the school is a good way to have that presence of Jesus with them all the time and to help them grow closer to our Lord and holiness,” he said. “It’s just one way to increase our Catholic identity and stress the importance of our faith.”

Both Sprague and Thome initiated their projects last year and completed them in December. As part of the Eagle Scout initiative, the students had to manage volunteers and work with interior or landscape designers on the projects’ layouts.

Sprague fundraised over $4,000 for the project by promoting it after weekend Masses. The money was used to purchase altars and pews. A local construction company donated free labor and tile, and a parishioner, who is an interior designer, also consulted on the chapel’s layout.

“I’m just glad how everything came together especially so that we can have kids start praying more and getting closer to God. I think it’s really special that there is adoration in there every Friday to increase that faith formation,” Sprague told CNA.

The chapel is named after St. Jose del Rio, a 14 year-old martyr who was executed for his faith during the Cristero War in Mexico. Sprague said the name was voted on by the middle school students, noting that the saint best represented the community.

“We have a very diverse community,” he said.  “We wanted to go with the saint that they could connect with. We wanted them to be represented in terms of the name.”

Father Fred Adamson, Sprague’s uncle and the vicar general for the Diocese of Phoenix, procured a first class relic of the saint for the chapel. Sprague said the relic’s presence in the chapel will benefit the students’ faith journey.

“Sometimes if the kids don’t necessarily have a good connection with God, a good foundation, it’s hard” for them to establish a strong Catholic faith, he said. “Just having a physical piece of the saint, I think will help a lot of the kids along with their faith journey,” he later added.

With adoration each Friday, the chapel is already being used by students and teachers. A special adoration service will be held Feb. 7 to pray for a girl at the Catholic elementary school who will be having a kidney replacement.

Thome began fundraising for the Marian Grotto in September by announcing his project after several Masses. He told CNA that he received nearly $5,000, which he used to purchase the Marian statue, trellis, and landscaping materials, including plants and benches.

He said St. Joseph Church, located across the parking lot from the school, was not a convenient location for prayer, especially during the winter time. He said the Marian Grotto, which is located close to a hill at the entrance of the school, has already been used for prayer, especially the rosary.

“I think prayer is important. It can bring you closer to God and Jesus. Especially in middle school, it’s important to start your prayer life early, to become closer to God, which will benefit you later in life,” he said.

Father Ankley emphasized the importance of prayer. He said areas reserved for prayer are vital for students, noting that young people need an opportunity to be removed from the distracting noises of the world.

“We all need that time and place for just a little bit of quiet to hear our Lord because he is always reaching out to us, always wants to be with us.…he is always pursuing us.”

The priest expressed gratitude for the students, highlighting the strong faith of these young men who have taken up a role in the Church now instead of waiting for the future.  

“Sometimes we talk about how students are the future of the Church, but they are the Church right now. They have their place in their Church,” he said.

AG Nominee Barr clears committee ahead of final Senate vote

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 along party lines to advance attorney general nominee William Barr to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

The full Senate will vote on Barr’s confirmation next week, he is expected to be approved. Barr previously served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush from November of 1991 until January of 1993. When nominated the first time in 1991, the Senate approved Barr by unanimous voice vote.

“William Barr has been confirmed by the Senate three times without opposition,” said Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Twitter. “He has the experience and is eminently qualified to perform the duties of Attorney General. I hope and expect he will be confirmed next week.”

Barr was nominated by President Donald Trump in December to replace former AG Jeff Sessions. Sessions submitted his resignation in early November of 2018.

Matthew Whitaker has served as acting AG since Sessions’ resignation.

A practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus, Barr said in his confirmation hearings that he did not believe his faith would hinder his ability to serve as an effective attorney general.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr about his religious faith, and questioned whether or not he thought this “disqualified” him from the position. Kennedy said that “some of (his) colleagues think it might,” referencing questioning by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) attacking a Catholic judicial nominee for his membership in the Knights of Columbus.

Barr told Kennedy that he planned to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” if he were to be confirmed as attorney general.

Other recent candidates before the Senate Judiciary Committee have faced questions about their religious beliefs, concepts of sin, and membership in charitable and fraternal organizations.

Judge rules for government in border chapel case

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 15:00

Brownsville, Texas, Feb 7, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The federal government is free to survey the land around a historic chapel in the Diocese of Brownsville, TX, a judge has ruled. The diocese has opposed the plan, which could lead to the construction of a portion of a border barrier between the United States and Mexico.

 

A judge ruled February 6 that the government could begin surveying ahead of possible construction of a border wall, but the Texas diocese has vowed to continue fighting the project.

 

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane said that the government surveying the land around the La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas did not violate federal religious freedom laws as the government would not actually be accessing the chapel.

 

The government seeks to survey the land to determine if it would be possible to construct a border barrier. If a wall were to be built, the chapel would be located on the southern side of the wall, impeding access for those north of the divide. The Diocese of Brownsville, where La Lomita is located, argued that preventing access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

 

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has said that he does not think a border wall is ethical, and does not want one to be constructed on diocesan property.

 

The La Lomita chapel was constructed in 1865 by missionaries, and is located very close to the U.S. border with Mexico. There are no regularly scheduled religious services held at the chapel, but it is occasionally used for weddings, funerals, and other cultural events. It is maintained partly by the city of Mission, as it is located in a park.

 

The chapel is affiliated with Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, which is located a 10-minute drive away.

 

A lawyer from Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), which represented the Diocese of Brownsville in court, said in a statement to CNA that she had expected that the judge would rule in favor of the government.

 

“The Diocese was not surprised that the court today granted the government temporary access to the property on which the historic La Lomita chapel sits for the limited purpose of surveying, testing, and other investigatory work needed to plan the proposed border wall,” said Mary McCord, the senior litigator at ICAP and the lead counsel for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.

 

Although the Diocese of Brownsville did not win in court on Wednesday, McCord thinks that if the border wall were to actually be built, they would have a much stronger case of how the government is violating their religious freedom. Wednesday’s decision was “just the first step in our fight to protect the Rio Grande Valley Catholic community’s right to free exercise of religious beliefs,” she said.

 

“But, as the Diocese recognizes, the more substantial burden—which it believes will violate its right to religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—will come if and when the government seeks to take the property for the building of a wall cutting off La Lomita from those who worship there,” said McCord in the statement.  

Trump talks life, religious freedom at National Prayer Breakfast

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 13:45

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2019 / 11:45 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump reiterated his support for the unborn and religious liberty at the National Prayer Breakfast, held Thursday morning.

Repeating a line from his state of the union address earlier this week, Trump told the assembly that “all children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God." The room gave the president’s pro-life affirmation loud applause.

 

The annual event, held in Washington, DC, brings religious leaders from different faiths and denominations together with political figures from both parties. This year, the Feb. 7 event was co-chaired by Senators James Lankford, (R-OK.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-DE).

 

This year’s breakfast comes at a time when life issues and religious liberty are at the center of the political debate.

 

Abortion has returned to the top of the political agenda following the passage of expansive abortions protections in the state of New York in January. Last week, a bill was proposed in Virginia which would have permitted abortions to be carried out during labor. Governor Ralph Northam’s attempts to explain the bill’s provisions left many with the impression it would have sanctioned post-birth infanticide.

 

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) recently attempted to introduced a bill by unanimous consent which would have mandated medical care for children who survived abortions. The measure was opposed by some senate Democrats.

 

During the state of the union, Trump asked Congress to pass a law banning late-term abortions, citing the ability of the unborn child to feel pain. That proposal received an ovation from Republican lawmakers and some Democrats, whose party appears increasingly divided over the issue of late term abortion.

 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was quoted as saying that late-term abortions were “just horrific...totally just wrong.”  

 

Religious liberty is also a subject of some debate on the national political scene, with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee using recent sessions to question candidates’ religious beliefs, concepts of sin, and membership in charitable and fraternal organizations.

 

Meanwhile, the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado are due back in court over their refusal to make a special-order cake to celebrate a so-called gender transition.

 

“I will never let you down,” Trump told the crowd Thursday morning, appearing to offer support for religious liberty causes.

 

The president also pledged his support for a number of causes which have highlighted religious liberty issues in recent months, including reference to religious adoption agencies, which have come under fire for refusing to work with same-sex couples.

 

Recently, the City of Philadelphia canceled a contract to place foster children through Catholic Charities becuase the agency did not place children with couples in same-sex relationships.

 

At the time the contract was canceled, no same-sex couple had ever applied to be a foster parent through Catholic Charities. The city is currently in the midst of a foster care shortage crisis.  

 

The National Prayer Breakfast was first held in 1953, since then it has been attended by every president since Dwight Eisenhower.

Has the birth control pill increased childbearing outside marriage?

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- Access to the birth control pill in the U.S. has increased the births of children outside of marriage, especially among poor and minority women, according to a new study of the contraceptive’s historic effects.

“Our findings add to a growing literature which documents the power of the pill to shape women’s lives in broadly heterogenous ways, with minority and less-well-educated women bearing the brunt of the losses, a phenomenon we call the paradox of the pill,” economics professors Andrew Beauchamp and Catherine R. Pakaluk said in their paper, “The Paradox of the Pill: Heterogeneous Effects of Oral Contraceptive Access.”

“We find robust evidence that access to the pill increased nonmarital childbearing and reduced the likelihood of high-school graduation,” they said.

The pill appears not to have affected marriage rates as a whole, but its boost to the amount of nonmarital sexual relations paradoxically led to an increase in nonmarital births and to a “large increase in demand for abortion,” they found.

Births to unmarried women “increased rapidly” after 1960, from 5 percent to 40 percent of all births. Other research has found that the “single largest correlative predictor” of individual and community economic mobility is the fraction of children raised by single mothers.

The strong increase in nonmarital births appeared especially among poor and working-class women, the researchers said. It was concentrated among women whose fathers did not graduate high school and among minority women.

Beauchamp and Pakaluk found no evidence that post-secondary education levels were influenced by pill access. They did not find evidence that nonmarital births move with employment patterns among men. Their results took into account access to generous welfare, which is also commonly cited to explain increases in nonmarital childbearing.

Beauchamp is an economics professor at Wright State University, while Pakaluk is a professor of social research and economic thought at The Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business. Their paper was published Jan. 10 in Economic Inquiry, the longstanding journal of the Western Economic Association International academic society.

While there is “robust evidence” that pill access in general increased non-marital childbearing, there is “mixed evidence” on whether unmarried women’s access to the pill lowered non-marital birth rates, depending on the data set used.

“Importantly, we find little evidence that either form of pill access changed marriage rates, including the shotgun and overall marriage rate,” they said. A “shotgun” marriage refers to a marriage that takes place between the conception and the birth of a child.

Beauchamp and Pakaluk discussed the findings in a Feb. 5 email interview with CNA.

In their words, the introduction of the birth control pill led to “a rise in fertility among those women least able to support a child--exactly that group of women we would have expected, ex ante, to benefit from this technology.”

The typical narrative about the pill claims that access to it helped increase both women’s participation in the workforce and their levels of educational achievement, thus “allowing women equal participation in the modern world in industrialized countries.”

Along with other recent research, Beauchamp and Pakaluk said, their findings “suggest that the first-order effect of the pill was to dramatically increase sexual activity, to the point that non-marital births actually increased.”

“Thus, while the narrative about career participation may be true for some, even many, women, there have also been large-scale unanticipated and negative social consequences.”

A “large increase in demand for abortion” was another consequence of the pill’s introduction.

Beauchamp and Pakaluk’s paper drew on previous research and on proposed theories about the impact of the contraceptive.

“In the past, some authors had suggested that the pill (and legalized abortion) may have played a role in rising female poverty by contributing to non-marital births—notably Nobel-laureate George Akerlof and former Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen in a co-authored paper with Michael Katz in 1996,” they told CNA.

This argument was “primarily theoretical,” said the researchers, who added that their own findings confirmed the “basic intuition” that fertility control might have unintended consequences.

“In terms of outcomes typically thought to be socially undesirable, we document that most of the increase in non-marital births due to pill access was concentrated among women from lower socioeconomic status households, and also minority households,” Beauchamp and Pakaluk said. “We also show decreased chances of graduating high school for women who had access to the pill, consistent with the phenomenon of women giving birth as unmarried teens.”

Research on the pill’s impacts has lessons for both its critics and advocates.

“Advocates of the pill should give more thought to the habit-forming and behavioral consequences of using the pill,” Beauchamp and Pakaluk suggested, comparing the situation to that of people being insured. “With good insurance we worry about moral hazard—the phenomenon that when risk is minimized or believed to be insured away, people take greater risks, essentially changing their behavior to become more risky. Some of this risk can then lead to adverse outcomes.”

Advocates of the pill and other contraceptives should take these behavioral effects into account, “especially among the young who are still developing character,” they said. These behaviors can turn into habits and compound effects over time.

There is still “a lot of ‘casual’ thinking about giving contraceptives to young people, with little regard for the behavioral consequences,” the researchers said, although some advocacy for long-acting reversible contraceptives appears to be “substantially motivated” by concerns about the importance of behavior.

Beauchamp and Pakaluk suggested that critics of the pill should recognize that its introduction and effects are complicated. They said many of its documented effects are associated with increased educational attainment and work opportunities for women.

“It is certainly not always the case that things which are morally dubious lead to observable or measurable negative consequences,” the researchers said.

Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” upheld Catholic teaching rejecting contraception, including the birth control pill. However, the researchers noted that people largely failed to accept to teaching and “people today generally believe that our way of life is unthinkable without the pill.”

“There are lots of fascinating things to learn from this kind of work, especially for the critics, because inside of this research may be clues to thinking about alternative ways to provide for the true human needs that people aim to satisfy using the pill,” Beauchamp and Pakaluk told CNA.

 

Without God society has lost its humanity, Gomez warns conference

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Society and humanity have removed God from daily life, and in doing so lost their purpose and sense of self, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez warned in a lecture delivered Wednesday.

 

 

 

The Archbishop of Los Angeles made his remarks as he delivered the seventh annual Hispanic Innovators of the Faith Lecture on Feb. 6 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In his speech, Gomez offered wide ranging reflections on the state of society, human nature, and the consequences losing touch with God.

 

“The crisis I see today is this: In our society, we no longer seem to share any coherent or common understanding about what it means to be a human being,” said Gomez. “As I see it, this problem is rooted in our society’s broader loss of the awareness of God.”

 

Human beings have become “very good at engineering our lives,” Gomez said, and modern medicine and science have led people to think that they do not need God in their everyday life.

 

“The loss of God comes with even deeper consequences,” said Gomez. “We are living now in a society that makes individual well-being its only aim, a society that has no higher purpose than to produce goods to satisfy our personal appetites for security, pleasure, and entertainment.”

 

Humanity, particularly that in the Western world, has developed a warped sense on personhood, said Gomez.

 

The Archbishop cited the “growing prevalence” of abortion and euthanasia, as well as human embryonic experimentation and research as evidence that humanity had lost sight of the central questions of life: who people are, why they are here, and what they should be living for.

 

The recent laws considered--and passed--in several states that would reduce barriers on late-term abortions were, Gomez said, an “extreme example” of society’s “moral confusion about the status of a human person.”

 

This moral confusion, the archbishop suggested, could be behind the prevalence of identity politics and racism in American society, and the “widespread confusion about gender and human sexuality.”

 

“I would even argue that this crisis underlies the opioid epidemic and the alarming rates of mental illness, loneliness, and suicide in our country,” he said.

 

Perhaps, Gomez posited, the world has still yet to heal from the “spiritual wounds” that were inflicted during World War II and the subsequent decades that saw atheistic dictators attempt to strip religious faith from their societies and dehumanize whole peoples.

 

Today, Gomez said there is still a “project of the global leadership class” that seeks to create a world without the influence of God and “transform the human person according to political and economic dictates.”

 

“This is why U.S. bishops have made defending religious liberty a key priority,” Gomez said, as he cited recent lawsuits against religious companies and individuals, and the rise of religious-test questions being put to candidates for office.

 

“If we are not free to order our lives and institutions according to God’s Word, then we are not free to live a truly human life.”

 

Gomez warned of a “hidden despair” that lurks beneath what he called the “shiny surfaces of consumer culture.” Despite appearing to be happy, “people know something is missing,” he said.

 

“We know that in the end, our science cannot save us, our technology cannot redeem us. The happiness that consumer society promises does not last; it is in constant need of recharging through relentless novelty,” said Gomez.

 

“Only Jesus Christ can provide for our deepest longings — to love and to be loved; to live with joy and confidence; to face death without fear.”

 

Gomez said that he hopes that this message becomes the “heart” of a new evangelization.

 

“The way forward leads back to the source, to the beautiful truth of the Incarnation,” he said.

 

The Hispanic Innovators of the Faith Lecture is sponsored by Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies Hispanic Initiatives Committee. Past lecturers include Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Hoffman Ospino, Ph.D, and Dora Tobar van der Mensbrugghe, S.T.D.

Lessons on the sexual abuse crisis from marriage and the cross

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Church can look to marriage and the cross for insights into restoring trust and addressing the sexual abuse crisis, a conference on lay involvement was told Wednesday.

 

“The cross is our only hope,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo told attendees at the one-day event, held at the Catholic University of America.

 

“But,” the USCCB president and Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I do not think we are persuaded by the cross, or if we were, something has happened. The cross is not upheld as the source of who we are.”

 

The February 6 conference, titled The Role of the Laity in Responding to the Crisis: Theological and Historical Foundations, was hosted by Catholic University’s Institute of Human Ecology (IHE), and began with speeches from DiNardo and John Garvey, president of Catholic University.

 

Garvey outlined the breakdown of trust between the faithful and bishops, saying that “We in the Church are like a suspicious wife whose husband comes in late and says he’s been at work.” He went on to discuss how marriage offered an apt model for the relationship of the hierarchy with the faithful, and how to rebuild it.

 

The event was part of a series hosted by the IHE under the title Healing the Breach of Trust, and offered lectures and discussions across a range of disciplines. Prof. Joseph Capizzi, executive director of the IHE, told CNA that addressing the abuse crisis “required a more sustained response than it was receiving” and inspired the calendar of events.

 

Garvey opened the conference by noting that current scandals facing the Church were as much about how bishops have acted in their role as administrators as about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

 

The challenges faced by bishops, Garvey observed, are the same as those faced by the heads of most major organizations, and he suggested that practical lessons readily presented themselves.

 

In the face of the sexual abuse crisis, “the Church is not the first or the only organization to confront the problem, nor are bishops the only professionals concerned with rooting it out,” Garvey said. Instead, there is a wealth of experience available from parents, lawyers, and other experts on which the Church could draw; the question was how best to do it.

 

Practical and structural proposals to create new, lay-led oversight or reporting structures for bishops are an idea, Garvey said, but need to be considered with an understanding of the Church.

 

Garvey noted the temptation to offer reforms that mirror the democratic separation of powers and system of checks and balances, something out of step with the Church’s existence as a hierarchy under the guidance of the bishops and the Holy Father.

 

“I think it would be helpful if we set to one side the notions of power and authority, and the use of constitutional metaphors,” Garvey suggested. Instead, he proposed considering the relationship of a bishop to the faithful as a marriage, noting the exchange of consent and a ring in episcopal consecration.

 

Offering examples from his own decades of marriage, Garvey noted that “a necessary rule in marriage is that you have to be completely honest and transparent with your spouse.”

 

“Without trust you cannot build a relationship, and that is what we have lost,” he said, citing the McCarrick scandal and the widespread suspicion of the faithful that other bishops knew about his alleged crimes.

 

“Bishops must be transparent and accountable to their flocks, as husbands and wives must be transparent and acknowledge one another. Talking about authority in this relationship is a kind of category mistake, we are obliged to one another by love.”

 

Marriages, he observed, are not sustained by the invocation of authority or legal obligations but by the presumption and debts of mutual love, without which “marriages fall apart.”

 

In his own remarks, Cardinal DiNardo said he had accepted the invitation to attend the event because it offered a chance for in depth discussion, noting that he was otherwise “subject to soundbites.”

 

The cardinal reflected on the risk of viewing the sexual abuse crisis as a “merely organizational problem,” noting the strong encouragement of Pope Francis to the U.S. bishops to pray and reflect on their personal conversion and communion as a necessary prelude to practical action.

 

DiNardo agreed that there was both scope and need for a wider collaborative role in Church affairs by the laity, and one that did not undermine the essential structure of the Church.

 

Instead, he said, there needed to be a “new ecclesial season” in which bishops led with a renewed emphasis on their pastoral duty as shepherds, rather than managers; two roles which were not in contradiction but rather imbalance.

 

Following a brief question and answer session, in which he addressed the outpouring of pain and criticism he had received from the faithful, DiNardo said that the source of healing for the Church lay in a renewed engagement with the reality of the cross and the witness of suffering of Christ for and in the Church.

 

Capizzi told CNA that the series of events was something the university saw as an expression of its mission as the national Catholic university.

 

“President Garvey believed that the academic resources at Catholic University, and its role in forming so many clergy and bishops, gave us a unique position - and a duty - to study and respond the problems facing the Church.”

 

DiNardo closed the session by citing the witness of the early martyrs and said that the image of Christ on the cross was the witness the Church needed to offer the world.

 

“If we got people to get to that, we would have less problems -- we would have just as many problems, but we’d have less problems in terms how they are identified and where they are [in the Church]. The cross is everything.”

In Alaska, January 22 was Right to Life Day

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 16:53

Juneau, Alaska, Feb 6, 2019 / 02:53 pm (CNA).- In a pro-life proclamation marking the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Governor Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, a Catholic, declared the day would be commemorated as a state-wide ‘Right to Life’ day.

“I, Michael J. Dunleavy, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim January 22, 2019, as ‘Right To Life Day’ in Alaska, and I encourage each and every Alaskan to consider the loss of laughter, of tears, and of life itself of the generations lost through abortion,” he said in an official proclamation.

Roe v. Wade is the United States Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the country. It was decided Jan. 22, 1973, and since then, it is estimated that there have been at least 50 million pregnancies that have ended in abortion in the U.S.

In his proclamation, Dunleavy said he joined President Donald Trump in mourning “the millions of lives cut short, and the tremendous promise lost as a result of abortion on demand.”

“(A)s a state, we must resolve to protect innocent human life at every stage. As Governor, I am committed to the promise made in our Declaration of Independence to protect Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” he said. “I recognize that without Life, there is no Liberty. Without Liberty, there is no freedom for the individual Pursuit of Happiness. My policy will always be to defend human life at all stages,” he added.

Dunleavy was elected as the 12th governor of Alaska and assumed office in December 2018. He made pro-life issues a key part of his campaign, and said on his campaign website that the most important of all rights is the right to life, “because if this right is not sacred, all other enumerated rights are meaningless. Being pro-life is at the very center of my understanding of constitutional rights.”

Alaska law requires the “informed consent” of a patient before they have an abortion, meaning that their doctor must discuss with them the physical and emotional risks involved in abortion before they obtain one.
As governor, Dunleavy said he promised to work to elect judges who will uphold the U.S. Constitution, which contains many protections for human life. In his Right to Life Day proclamation, Dunleavy also applauded Trump’s efforts to help children born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a growing problem as the “opioid scourge leaves no State or community unscathed,” he said. In October 2018, the Trump administration launched a program to help states care for opioid-addicted mothers and their newborn children. He also noted his support for Trump’s efforts to pull tax dollars out of abortion services as part of “family planning”, and his support for groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are still fighting in court for the right to refuse covering contraceptives under the HHS Mandate.

Dunleavy said that abortions should never be used to target the disabled: “Americans with disabilities like Down Syndrome are an inspiration and their example of joy and perseverance enriches our lives.”

He also applauded the Alaskan people’s efforts to support mothers and children in crisis pregnancies, and encouraged them to keep doing all they can to “stand in the gap to save every child.”

“For more than 46 years, courageous and faithful citizens, many from college campuses and high schools across Alaska, from all walks of life, have extended a helping hand to all those expectant parents experiencing an unexpected pregnancy,” he said. “(F)or decades our fellow Alaskans have stepped forward as volunteers, as neighbors, and as parents by adopting babies and children. As the late Mother Teresa famously said, there is never a need to abort your unborn child, I will take every one.”

“(A)s your Governor, I am committed to protecting innocent life every day and at every stage,” he added. “We must stand tall as a state, and show respect and love for the dignity and worth of every person, at every stage of life – the unborn, the aged, the disabled, the mentally ill – all our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Trump calls for 'culture that cherishes innocent life' in SOTU address

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The president’s annual state of the union address received a divided response after highlighting life issues. The chamber of the House of Representatives showed a clear divide in the legislature over President Trump’s call for a late-term abortion ban, with pro-life advocates offering their own reactions after the speech.

 

In the speech, delivered Tuesday evening, Trump encouraged lawmakers to choose “results” over “resistance” while making the traditional call for bipartisan cooperation.

 

After speaking about his legislative priorities for the coming year, including renewed calls for physical barriers on the southern U.S. border with Mexico and a nation-wide paid family leave program for parents, the president turned to recent abortion legislation at the state level.

 

“There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days,” the president said, referencing the passage of the Reproductive Health Act recently passed by the state of New York.

 

That measure has been the subject of fierce criticism for allowing the possibility of effective abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

 

“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth,” said Trump. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world.”

 

The president also referenced recent failed legislation in Virginia which would have allowed for mothers to terminate an unborn child even during labor. Citing the defense of the measure by embattled governor Ralph Northam, Trump called the bill a means to “execute a baby after birth.”

 

Regarding his own legislative suggestions for Congress, the president called for new laws to ban late-term abortions, saying he wished to see “a culture that cherishes innocent life.”

 

“Let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children -- born and unborn -- are made in the holy image of God.”

 

“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”

 

The proposal was greeted with a decidedly mixed reaction by some lawmakers, with Republicans standing in favor of the proposal.

 

While many Democrats, including a large block of women representatives who sat as a group dressed in white, remained seated with their arms folded, others, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), applauded.

 

Manchin later told RealClearPolitics that “late term abortions are just horrific...totally just wrong.”

 

Pro-life advocates were swift to praise the president’s speech.

 

Tom McClusky, the president of March for Life Action, said in a statement that he was pleased Trump spoke strongly in “condemning the extremist abortion propositions out of New York and Virginia.”

 

“The American consensus opposes abortion after the first trimester, yet some politicians continue to embrace and perpetuate an unprecedentedly radical pro-abortion agenda,” said McClusky, noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) invited Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen as her guest to the speech.

 

These politicians are “out of touch with the American people,” said McClusky. “It is time for politicians, regardless of party, to stand up in favor of protecting innocent life."

 

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at the Catholic Association, agreed with McClusky, describing the call to end late-term abortions as a “welcome change from the left’s celebration of third-trimester abortions and infanticide.”

 

While much of the state of the union address appeared to highlight divisions between the two parties, there was considerable applause for the president’s condemnation of anti-Semitism.

 

“We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed,” Trump said. “With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”  

 

Judah Samet, who survived the anti-Semitic terrorist attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, attended the speech as a guest of the president. That attack left 11 people dead. Samet is also a survivor of the Holocaust and was imprisoned in a concentration camp.

 

The president's legislative agenda and his call for increased cooperation will both be tested in the coming weeks. Congress and the president have until Feb. 15 to agree funding arrangements for parts of the federal government in order to avoid another partial shutdown.

Illinois bishops blunt in joint statement on pot proposal

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 22:15

Chicago, Ill., Feb 5, 2019 / 08:15 pm (CNA).- Citing “rampant” drug use in modern society and a commitment to the common good, the six Catholic bishops of Illinois are speaking out against the the state’s efforts to legalize recreational marijuana.

“Proponents of legalization say marijuana is not addictive, yet peer-reviewed research concludes that it is,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 4 joint statement released by the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

“Proponents also say that most people who use marijuana will not move on to harder drugs, yet other studies note that most people who are addicted to other drugs started with alcohol and marijuana,” they wrote.

The push to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Illinois is being led by State Sen. Heather Steans and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago democrats, who said Jan. 29 that they hope to introduce a formal bill to the legislature soon.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2013. Ten states and the District of Columbia have so far legalized recreational use of marijuana, though its use remains illegal under federal law.

The state lawmakers’ bill would allow Illinois residents 21 and older to buy and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana; nonresidents would be allowed to buy and possess half that amount, GateHouse Media Illinois reports. The legislation would also expunge the records of citizens harmed by low-level marijuana convictions, the lawmakers say.

Illinois’ bishops acknowledged that marijuana-related convictions have led to racial disparities in jail and prison populations, and many people are “trapped” in the state’s criminal justice system due to marijuana infractions.

“We recognize the truth of that premise, while observing that recent sentencing reforms should soon reverse that trend, since possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana now results in a ticket of up to $200 and no jail time,” the bishops wrote.  

Lawmakers have said that the push to legalize marijuana is partly aimed at eradicating the black market for the drug. The bishops warned that a black market could continue to exist to sell marijuana at a lower price, and to underage customers.

Lawmakers hope to tax recreational marijuana use in the state to the tune of $350-750 million.

“As lawmakers consider this issue, it is important to remember they are not only debating legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from,” the bishops wrote.  

“In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that marijuana legalization has the support of Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, and the measure is expected to pass this spring and take effect by next year.

“We ask lawmakers to say ‘no’ to legalization of marijuana, as Pope Francis explained in 2014 when speaking about marijuana and other recreational drugs,” the bishops concluded.

They quoted the words of the pope: “To say this ‘no,’ one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities. If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

Catholic bishops in other states and countries have recently spoken out to oppose the legalization of marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational marijuana nationwide late last year, prompting the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to underline “the ethical problems involved with the recreational use and abuse of this drug” in Oct. 2018.  

The Canadian bishops lamented the “growing problems of a society more and more dependent on drugs and alcohol,” and said that businesses and governments who wish to exploit sales of cannabis for commercial interests or tax revenue are “jeopardizing the pursuit of the common good.”

In the state of Colorado, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila signed a petition in May 2017 to put an end to April 20th (4/20) rallies in the city’s downtown, which featured widespread public marijuana smoking and trashing of Denver’s Civic Center Park. Organizers of the event are expecting 65,000 people for 2019’s rally.

Traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in Colorado.

 

 

Catholics in Maryland protest assisted suicide bill

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 19:01

Annapolis, Md., Feb 5, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An assisted suicide bill has been introduced in the Maryland legislature, and opposed groups have criticized the bill for its lack of safeguards.

"As Catholics we stand firm with our partners across the state to strongly oppose this legislation," Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said Feb. 1.

"Our state has repeatedly rejected this group’s agenda and with good reason: assisted-suicide threatens Maryland’s most vulnerable, putting those with disabilities, the elderly, our veterans, and those battling prescription drug addiction at grave risk.”  

The “End-of-Life Option Act” was introduced in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly last week. House Bill 399 is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 15, and Senate Bill 311 Feb. 19.

This is the fourth attempt in five years to legalize assisted suicide in the state. The move is being supported by the Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group that advocates for assisted suicide. Similar bills were introduced 2015, 2016, and 2017 but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.

If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to patients with a terminal illness and six months left to live. The bill would overturn a 1999 Maryland law that banned assisted suicide, and it would protect from prosecution doctors who prescribe the drugs.

As in previous years, the bill is opposed by the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition, of which the Catholic conference has been a long-time member. The bills have also been opposed by groups such as the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.

"We encourage everyone who is passionate about this issue to join the MAPAS coalition, sign up for alerts and follow the coalition on social media to stay up-to-date on action on this bill," said Briemann. "The coalition is the best resource for information on the fight against PAS and the primary voice in Maryland in opposing this predatory practice."

According to the Catholic Standard, the bill has been criticized for its potentially dangerous flaws. The MCC found that, under the bill, no assessment screens for depression nor is there a supervisor to ensure a patient is not pressured into the process. The bill also does not require a medical professional to be present during the suicide, or a contingency if the attempt is unsuccessful.

In a Jan. 31 statement, MAPAS said the plan cannot be truly fixed because there is no set of safeguards which fully protect vulnerable people from abuse or negligence.  

“There is no legislative solution to the fact that doctors cannot accurately predict a 6 month terminal diagnosis. There is no way to cover up in legislation that patients in states where this is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like they are a burden on their family, not because they are in pain.”

Assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, Hawaii, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.

According to MAPAS, Dr. Joseph Marine, an associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins, said this kind of end-of-life care is dangerous to Maryland, noting other states have already witnessed its ugly effects.

“We are already seeing reports of insurance companies in some states declining to cover the cost of life-extending treatments, and instead paying for these drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”

Archbishop cautions against US withdrawal from missile treaty

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Timothy Broglio, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference international justice and peace committee, has expressed his unease at the United State’s decision to withdraw from a Reagan-era nuclear arms treaty.

 

In a statement released by the USCCB on February 5, Broglio, who is Archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services of the United States, highlighted the important function the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has played in regulating the spread of nuclear arms in recent decades.

 

“I regret to learn of the U.S. government’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty that has served for over thirty years to reduce nuclear arsenals between the U.S. and Russia significantly,” Broglio said in the statement.

 

“Coupled with the news of the Russian reaction to this decision I am concerned for the potential of a new arms race created by these decisions,” he continued, and asked that Catholics and others around the world “join in prayer for renewed, earnest dialogue” between world leaders.

 

“May efforts on the part of all of us foster hope and encourage the aspiration of all peoples to live in peace and security,” said Broglio.


The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 between the Soviet Union and the United States. It banned land-based missiles that had a range between 310 and 3,400 miles, and resulted in thousands of missiles being destroyed.

 

President Donald Trump announced on Friday that the United States would be pulling out of the treaty. The administration has argued that the geopolitical landscape has changed dramatically since the treaty was signed, and that Russia had long since ceased to abide by the treaty’s terms.

 

“We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other,” Trump said in a statement announcing the change.

 

The U.S. formally suspended the INF Treaty on Sunday, and will officially leave in six months.

 

Trump said that the United States would “move forward with developing our own military response options,” and would work alongside NATO and other countries to “deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.”

 

According to the U.S. government, Russia has been in violation of this treaty since at least 2014, including working to build an intermediate-range missile. This violation was identified five years ago.

 

With Russia’s non-compliance, the administration argues, the U.S. is the only country in the world prevented from developing these missile systems.

 

China, which is not part of the INF Treaty, possesses intermediate-range missiles that would be able to strike U.S. territories and military bases in the Pacific Ocean, seen by military strategists as a significant tactical advantage.

 

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies, told CNA that the teachings of the Church recognize the “duties of governments to protect their citizens from unjust aggressors,” which means that war can happen “when necessary.”

 

Petri said that the magisterial documents of Vatican Council II urged against the creation of weapons stockpiles, and said that they were not an effective deterrent against wars.

 

“Essentially,” said Petri, “the Council Fathers thought every arms race is a trap.” He also noted that “weapons of mass destruction—whether biological, chemical, or nuclear—are also immoral precisely because their destruction is not only grave and lasting but is also indiscriminate. Countries who possess these weapons have a serious responsibility before God and the world.”

 

Petri said that while the Church does not support the use of weapons of mass destruction, and “generally” is in favor of wide-scale disarmament, “it’s understood that the world lacks any super-authority to enforce such disarmament on countries and, increasingly, terroristic organizations.”

 

“So the Church leaves the negotiation of deterrence, disarmament, and weapons production in the hands of those whose vocation it is to oversee the common good: namely, government leaders,” he added.

 

Petri told CNA that we should “understand that disarmament and weapons management is a real concern, especially when there are countries and malefactors with ill intent that must be considered.”

 

“We continue to pray for the peace that only Christ can give, which is far more satisfying and enduring than simply the absence of war.”

Trump admin: Reuniting migrant families may not be possible

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 17:51

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 03:51 pm (CNA).- In a court filing last week, the Trump administration argued that it may not be possible to reunite thousands of migrant parents with their children, who are living in sponsor homes, and that such reunions could be “disruptive and harmful” to the children.

“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children,” said Jonathan White, deputy director for children's programs at the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to the Associated Press.

He argued that removing children from sponsor homes “would present grave child welfare concerns” and said the agency should focus its resources on reuniting children in government custody with their parents, rather than children who are currently with sponsors.

Last May, the Department of Homeland Security began referring all people crossing the U.S. border illegally to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. As a result, thousands of families were separated, as children cannot legally be held in federal jails with their parents.

A U.S. District judge has ordered the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents at the border, and to reunite those who are separated. The ACLU is pushing for the court order to apply to children who were released to sponsors before the June 2018 ruling.

However, Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in the filing Friday that the office lacks the personnel and resources to track and find all of the children.

As a result, reuniting them all with their parents may not be “within the realm of possible,” HHS said, according to NBC News.

Sualog said the government does not have the legal authority to remove the children from their sponsors, and that “doing so would be so disruptive and harmful to the child.”

Most of the children are currently with relatives, the Associated Press reported – 49 percent of those released to sponsors in the 2017 fiscal year were placed with their parents, 41 percent with a close relative, and 10 percent with a distant relative, family friend or someone else.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose longtime criticism of U.S. migration policy has become more prominent under the Trump administration, has repeatedly rejected the practice of separating children and parents.

“Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, said in June 2018.

Separating families at the U.S. border “does not allay security concerns,” he said, adding, “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.”

In June 2018, the United Nations human rights office condemned the U.S. practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border as “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

Sen. Booker quizzes judicial nominee on 'sin' and same-sex marriage

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 16:15

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) used a confirmation hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question a judicial nominee about her views on the “sinfulness” of same-sex marriage.

 

Booker, who recently announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, put the questions to Neomi Rao during a Feb. 5 hearing.

 

Roa has been nominated by President Trump to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Roa currently serves as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has taught law at George Mason University. She previously served in the White House counsel’s office under president George H.W. Bush and as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Citing the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws prohibiting homosexual intercourse, Booker quoted an article in which Rao said the decision “eschewed older traditions in favor of an emerging awareness of the meaning and the scope of liberty.”

 

The senator asked what Rao’s views were on how the Supreme Court should have decided past cases related to the criminalization of same-sex relationships.

 

After she affirmed the precedent set by the court’s decisions, Booker then asked Rao “Are gay relationships, in your opinion, immoral?”

 

Rao questioned the relevance of the question, given her commitment to following the clear precedent of the law. Booker replied that the personal opinion of the nominee was important and that to believe gay relationships were immoral would be similar to believing “African-American relationships are immoral.”

 

After affirming that she did not think that gay relationships are immoral, Booker pressed Rao, asking if she believed they are “a sin.” Rao replied that her “personal views on any of these subjects are things (she) would put to one side” and that she would follow precedent when making rulings.

 

“So you’re not willing to say here if you believe it is sinful for two men to be married?” Booker asked.

 

Rao again stated that she intended to follow all Supreme Court precedent when it came to making decisions on the Court of Appeals, and that she would put any of her personal views “to one side.” She declined to comment on whether she believes gay marriage to be sinful.

 

Rao has not publicly commented on her religious beliefs. She is the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from India. President Trump announced her nomination at the White House’s celebration to mark Diwali, a major Hindu religious festival.

 

Booker also asked Rao if she had ever employed an “LGBTQ law clerk.”

 

The nominee reminded the senator that she had never previously served as a judge, and so had never employed law clerks. She did said she did not question her staff about their sexual orientation.

 

“I take people as they come,” Rao said. “Irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I treat people as individuals.”

 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took offense with Booker’s questioning, particularly the question of whether Rao believes that homosexuality is a sin.

 

Cruz said that there is “a growing pattern among Senate Democrats of hostility to religious faith,” said Cruz, adding that he was “deeply troubled” by what Booker had asked Rao.

 

“In my view [a nominee’s view of sinfulness] has no business in this committee. Article VI of the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for any public office,” said Cruz. He reminded the committee that “we have [already] seen Senate Democrats attack what they characterized as religious dogma,” alluding to the questioning given to now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing.

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee should not be a “theological court of inquisition,” said Cruz, and should instead focus on a nominee’s record, not her religious beliefs.

 

The American Bar Association said on Monday that they rated Rao to be “well qualified” for the position.

 

Booker was not the only member of the Senate to question Rao about LGBT rights during the confirmation hearing.

 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also questioned Rao about her beliefs regarding the rights of LGBT persons. In response, Rao stated that she believes everyone, regardless of sexuality, is deserving of dignity and that she would follow legal precedent.

 

Hirono, together with Senator Kamala Harris, (D-CA), had previously questioned judicial nominee Brian Beuscher over his membership of the Knights of Columbus.

 

Last month Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) proposed and passed a unanimous consent resolution in the Senate condemning religious tests for candidates for office. Hirono called that resolution part of an “alt-right agenda.”

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