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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 48 min 11 sec ago

Does God make people gay? A theologian responds

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 18:22

Washington D.C., May 22, 2018 / 04:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sexual attraction does not define identity, a priest has said, after comments attributed to Pope Francis have prompted questions about Catholic doctrine and the nature of sexual orientation.

“Of course God loves all people. This is his defining characteristic: God is love,” Fr. Thomas Petri, OP, told CNA.

“But he does not love sin, indeed he cannot love sin because sin is not only opposed to God but also opposed to the true good and happiness to which he calls every human person.”  

“So while [God] may love every person, he does not love the things we do that separate us from him and harm our dignity as his children,” added Petri, academic dean of the Dominican-run Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

On Friday, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of sexual abuser Fr. Fernando Karadima, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that Pope Francis told him that it did not matter that he was gay.

He said the pope told him, “God made you like that and he loves you like that and I do not care.”

The comments have stirred a controversy about Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, with some media outlets reporting them as a “major shift” in Catholic teaching.

The Vatican does not customarily comment on private conversations involving the pope, and has not confirmed or clarified the remarks Cruz attributed to Pope Francis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “deep-seated” homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered," but that people with homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

“Inasmuch as all of us has proclivities and disordered desires in our lives, we must be always be vigilant against temptation and repent when we fall,” Petri told CNA.

Furthermore, he added, it is “dangerous” to assert that God made anything that is sinful or causes suffering, including disordered desires, addictions, or diseases such as cancer.

Things that are not good cannot come from a God who is all good, Petri noted, although it is ultimately a mystery why God permits sin and disorder to exist in this life.

“The relationship of God’s almighty will and his infinite goodness to the disorder, sin, violence, and evil we experience in this life is question the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is ‘as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious,’” he said.

“What we know,” he added, “is that nothing escapes the providence of God, even disorders, pathologies, sin, and evil. In a very poignant section on providence and the scandal of evil, the Catechism points to the fact that God has created the world and humanity in a state of journeying. Nothing is perfect and so disorders exist.”

However, we can be confident that God works to bring good from the consequences of disorder and evil, “even those who struggle with disordered desires can, by God’s grace, come to embrace their call to be his children and to live in the dignity to which he has called them, even as they may suffer temptation.”

“In fact, it can be in the face of temptation that a person’s reliance on God becomes all the more strong,” he noted.

In his pastoral experience with people who have same-sex attractions, Petri said some have a harder time believing in God’s love than others.

He added that he has found it useful to compare disordered sexual desires to other disordered desires people experience, whether in relation to food, drink, or other things.

Petri noted that confusion sometimes stems from “the tendency to treat [homosexuality] as an identifying trait of the person, as though it is somehow fixed as an ultimate reality for a person,” Petri said.

“It’s not. The identifying trait of each us is that we are loved by God and children of God. Everything else revolves around that.”

“Attractions, sexual or otherwise, are complicated. They come and go, can alternate and shift, and can often be fickle. Our dignity as human beings is that with grace we are called to become masters of our desires and not servants to them.”

 

 

Archbishop Gomez: It's time for a vote on DACA legislation

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 17:16

Los Angeles, Calif., May 22, 2018 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is asking Catholics in the archdiocese to contact their representatives urging a vote on bipartisan legislation to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“The Dreamers have been waiting for decades for Congress to do its job and pass immigration reform legislation,” said Gomez in a May 19 statement. “But for many years now, reform has been blocked in the House for political reasons by a minority of lawmakers.”

“This is not about Republicans or Democrats,” the archbishop said, noting that more than 75 percent of Americans support offering permanent legal status to DACA recipients. “It is about right and wrong. People’s lives are in the balance.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was an executive action created by President Barack Obama that granted protection from deportation as well as job permits to people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” have to register each year with the program.

In September of 2017, President Donald Trump moved to end DACA, saying that he did not believe he had the executive power to continue the program. Initially, Trump gave Congress six months to codify parts of DACA into law and to create a solution to this issue, but a solution was not reached by the March 5 deadline.

Two federal judges blocked the March 5 expiration date for DACA, and the Supreme Court declined to hear an immediate review from the Trump administration protesting this decision, moving the “deadline” to the fall of 2018.

A federal judge ruled in April that DACA must be kept and begin to accept new applications.

Lawmakers in Congress have been unable to agree on stipulations within a bill, including whether a legislative proposal should include funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, supported by President Donald Trump.

While several bills have been proposed, none have made it out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.

One bill in particular, the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018,” has gained the support of the U.S. bishops’ conference. In addition to shielding “Dreamers” from deportation and providing for a path to citizenship for certain qualified persons, the bill – H.R. 4796 – would increase border security and would seek to address corruption in Central America, a major cause of “irregular migration.”

A group of moderate Republicans in Congress has been working to force a vote through a rare procedural tool called a “discharge petition.” If successful, this would bypass the committee stage bring all immigration proposals to the House floor for debate and a vote.

Stressing the need for prayer and action, Archbishop Gomez did not blame a particular political party for the stalled progress on the legislation, instead referring to a “minority of lawmakers.”

He urged Catholics to call their congressmen, to encourage them to come to a solution before time runs out.

“Urge them to do what is right and what the American people want them to do — to allow a vote on DACA.”

 

Take Mary into your home, LA archbishop says on new Marian feast

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 16:59

Los Angeles, Calif., May 22, 2018 / 02:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles encouraged Catholics to love the Blessed Virgin Mary as their mother during a Mass commemorating a newly-proclaimed Catholic feast day.

“Jesus wants you to take Mary into your homes – into your lives and into your hearts,” Archbishop José Gomez  said May 21, during his homily at LA’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.   

Pope Francis added the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church to the Roman calendar in February. The feast day will be celebrated annually on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday.

Archbishop Gomez challenged Catholics to receive the Blessed Mother into their homes and hearts.  

“Love Mary as your mother! Ask her to be a mother to you and to never leave you! Ask her to intercede for you and help you grow in faith and to do the will of God,” he said.

Gomez said that “when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, Mary became the maternal heart of his Church.”

“Mary is still the heart of the Church, the Mother of the family of God. The Mother of Jesus still goes with us, sharing our joys and hopes, helping us in all the challenges of our daily life. She still opens her arms to us with tender love, to give us comfort and guidance.”

Over 3,000 people attended the Mass. Attendees brought to the Mass written prayer intentions, which will be delivered to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City during an archdiocesan pilgrimage in July.

More than 1,300 Catholic school students, teachers, and chaperones from 22 of the archdiocese’s schools were in attendance. Representatives from each of the 22 schools offered flowers to the Virgin Mary.

The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Brennan of LA, and several priests of the archdiocese.

In honor of the new feast, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, blessed by Archbishop Gomez, has been made available to every family in the archdiocese. The gift may be ordered free on AngelusNews.com, the archdiocese’s news site.

 

Commentary: Trump/Reagan Title X Protect Life Rule 

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 02:01

Washington D.C., May 22, 2018 / 12:01 am (CNA).- The following are excerpts of remarks delivered by Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on the House floor May 21, 2018. Published with permission:

 

Last Friday, the Trump Administration announced its intention to reassert and promulgate portions of President Ronald Reagan’s modest but necessary life-affirming Title X Rule—a policy designed to ensure that taxpayers don’t fund, facilitate or promote abortion in America’s $286 million-per-year family planning program.

This new/old policy comes at a time when huge majorities of Americans—over 60 percent according to major polls—strongly oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion.

The Trump/Reagan policy—now called the Protect Life Rule—comes at a time when the high utilization of ultrasound imaging of the child in the womb has provided spectacular clarity and empathy and love for the baby.

First baby pictures today—the kind you put on the door of your refrigerator—are of unborn babies. Seeing is believing. No-one can seriously deny anymore that unborn children are alive, dynamic, precious, a miracle—and defenseless.

Created by Congress in 1970, Title X of the Public Health Service Act authorized taxpayer funds to assist “voluntary family planning projects” but made absolutely clear in the statute that federal funds were prohibited from being spent on “programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

As Title X was administered, that didn’t happen.

To faithfully implement both the spirit and letter of the law, President Ronald Reagan issued a rule in 1988 that included physical separation of abortion activities from federally-funded family planning projects.

In response, the American abortion industry sued to get hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies—and lost. On May 23, 1991—27 years ago this Wednesday—the U.S. Supreme Court in Rust v. Sullivan affirmed the constitutionality of the Reagan Title X Rule.

Tragically, President Bill Clinton by executive order reversed the Reagan policy. He not only authorized abortion clinics and family planning activities under the same roof—co-location—but went further, mandating that Title X recipients refer for abortion—an egregious violation of conscience rights protected under federal law. Thus, by requiring abortion referrals, family planning service providers who oppose abortion were and are today precluded all participation in the federal program.

Today, hundreds of abortion clinics are co-located as Title X family planning facilities. For example, 266 of Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers in the Title X program to the tune of about $56 million each year. Planned Parenthood is an organization that is directly responsible for over seven million deaths of unborn children, a staggering loss of children’s lives.

If past is prologue, I fully expect an organized, aggressive, willful distortion of the Protect Life Rule.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of honest debate and civil discourse, I urge opponents and the news media to be clear as to what this rule actually does and does not do.

According to the White House, the new Protect Life Rule:

• Will physically and financially separate family planning clinics from abortion and make other important reforms.

• Will safeguard the conscience rights of providers, by eliminating the egregious, illegal, mandate that requires all participants in the program to refer pregnant women to abortion.

• Will not prohibit counseling that may include conversation about abortion. This would be in keeping with guidance issued by the George H.W. Bush Administration that affirmed “Nothing in these regulations is to prevent a woman from receiving complete medical information about her condition from a physician.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities summed it up best: “…For too long Title X has been used to subsidize the abortion industry. We need to draw a bright line between what happens before a pregnancy begins and what happens after a child has been created……Abortion always takes the life of a child and often harms the mother, her surviving children and other family and friends as well…”

 

A hospice that hurried death? Texas courts to weigh criminal charges

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 22:00

Dallas, Texas, May 21, 2018 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a legal case that includes allegations of death-hastening drug use and falsified do-not-resuscitate orders, a former hospice executive has admitted speeding the deaths of patients to boost the company’s profits.
 
The case concerns Novus Health Services in Frisco, a Texas city in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. The company’s leaders allegedly worked a scheme that billed Medicaid and Medicare $60 million from 2012-2015, resulting in payments to Novus for over $35 million.

Melanie Murphey, 36, former director of operations for Novus, has pleaded guilty to health care fraud and faces up to 10 years in prison, the Dallas Morning News reports.
 
She has admitted she worked as the “go-between” for Novus owner Bradley Harris and doctors and nurses. She is expected to testify against Harris, his wife, and 13 other defendants, all of whom have pleaded not guilty.
 
Federal officials said the scheme also involved kickbacks to referring physicians and health care facilities as well as falsifying and destroying documents to conceal activities from Medicare.
 
Harris’ attorney Chris Knox challenged Murphey’s testimony, saying “we wholeheartedly disagree with her opinions.”
 
“We are not aware of any evidence that shows that Mr. Harris caused, hastened or otherwise contributed to the death of the hospice patients being treated by Novus.”
 
Murphey has said that she defrauded Medicare and Medicaid by billing them for patients who were unqualified for hospice services. She filled out forms as if she were a doctor by using nurse’s notes.
 
She said she followed orders from Harris, who has no medical training. Patients were admitted to hospice without seeing a doctor first.
 
When patients stayed at the facility beyond the time they were profitable for the company, court records indicate, Harris ordered them to receive higher doses of “whatever narcotic was being used, generally morphine, Dilaudid or Ativan.” This overmedication was intended “to hasten their deaths,” Murphey said in the court document. Harris has no medical training.
 
An FBI search warrant says Harris sent a text to a nurse that reads “You need to make this patient go bye-bye,” NBC DFW reports.
 
Murphey said the falsification of paperwork and of orders not to resuscitate patients was done in order to avoid paying for ambulance trips to a hospital in case a relative called 911.
 
In a March 2016 statement Novus said: “We have not and would not — ever — willfully harm any patient.”

 

How can the US Church reach young adults? By building relationships

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 18:11

Washington D.C., May 21, 2018 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The question of how the U.S. Church can better reach young adults who are not actively engaged in their faith was at the heart of a three-day conference in Washington, D.C. last week.

Michael Gormley, podcast host and coordinator of evangelization at a parish outside Houston, said that he believes many in the Church are still operating under a mindset of “If we just teach them in the right way, use the right programs, hold the right events, they’ll come pouring back in.”
 
“And I think it completely misses the point that we’re not even on their radar,” Gormley said. “The biggest problem is we need to go where people are, and not expect them to come to us.”
 
The National Young Adult Ministry Summit was organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Some 130 attendees from 60 dioceses, hailing from as far as Fairbanks, Alaska, gathered at the National Shrine of St. John Paul II May 15-17.

Themes of the summit were tied to the preparatory and pre-synod document for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, which will be held this fall in Rome.

Throughout the summit, participants attended various breakout and small-group sessions that were tailored to different segments of the young adult population. People were split up based on if they worked on the diocesan or parish level, in order to better connect with people from similar positions.

While the attendees came from diverse backgrounds and locations, many were struck by how similar their struggles have been in engaging young adult Catholics. Common issues facing young adults in Catholic parishes included a longing for “authentic friendships,” as well as struggles with reaching people from the peripheries of society.

“Even though you’re talking to and meeting people from all across the U.S., from various job positions, with various responsibilities within their jobs, the same kind of things are coming up in young adult ministry,” said Ken White, director of youth and young adult ministry at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Newport News, Virginia.

“Ultimately, the solution is building relationships with people.”

White said one of the biggest issues facing young adults in his parish was simply a lack of time to commit to parish activities, as people tend to be busy both with jobs, families, and other activities.

Young adults at Gormley’s large parish in The Woodlands, Texas, face similar challenges, but in different contexts. In the Houston area, Gormley explained, many young adults work jobs in the oil industry where, although they make quite a bit of money, they do not have time to form relationships or commit to many parish activities.

“Our big goal with them is trying to find time in their busy lives to do more than just a social,” he said. For Gormley’s parish, that came in the form of theology on tap, which he said has proved quite popular.

Additionally, Gormley’s parish has seen success in launching a small-group ministry, with different types of groups for singles, older adults, and people with children.

While there is a large segment of well-to-do young adults in Gormley’s parish, he said he also has to focus on providing support for the marginalized members of society--particularly the wives and girlfriends of the men he meets during his work in prison ministry.

“It’s so easy to ignore them, because they’re not [seen as] ‘good people,’” he explained.

One of the presentations at the summit highlighted the need to pay attention to the sometimes-neglected categories of young adults in a parish, particularly single parents, those with addictions, divorcees, and people who have graduated from high school but may not attend college.

“Calling attention to what young adults are going through gets multiplied once you get to the peripheries of the Church--that’s an area that’s kind of scaring us,” said Gormley.

 

 

How US churches are celebrating Mary, Mother of the Church

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 08:03

Los Angeles, Calif., May 19, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- May 21 will mark the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, added to the Roman calendar this year by Pope Francis.

The annual memorial is intended to foster Marian devotion among Catholics. Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said this celebration will help promote affection for Christ and his mother.

“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed,” he said in a March 3 letter.

For the inaugural celebration of the memorial – which will be held annually on the Monday after Pentecost – some dioceses are planning special Masses, processions and prayer services.

The Archdiocese of Detroit has invited Catholics to 5:30 p.m. Mass at Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon will celebrate the Mass with Bishop Gerard Battersby concelebrating. Priests from around the archdiocese will also participate.

A traditional May Crowning will follow Mass, followed by a procession through the center of Detroit’s Greektown. Michelle St. Pierre, marketing manager for the Michigan Catholic, said they hope for large and diverse crowd.

“Watching everyone processing through the streets with the statue of the Blessed Mother will be a beautiful witness to the fact that while each of us is unique, we all have one mother: Mary, Mother of the Church,” she said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles urged his archdiocese to celebrate this new memorial with prayer and celebration of the Eucharist. He encouraged people to join him for Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at noon.

Additionally, the archbishop called on all members of the archdiocese to have an image of the Virgin Mary in their home. An image of the Blessed Mother, personally blessed by Archbishop Gomez, will be offered to any family within the archdiocese who is interested, through the diocesan Angelus News publication.

Calling the memorial a “prophetic rediscovery of an ancient devotion,” the archbishop said he hopes it will bolster modern Catholics’ recognition of Mary’s role in the Church, as well as the infinite love of God.

“The first Christians understood Mary to be the perfect symbol of the Church’s spiritual motherhood. And to know that Mary is the mother of the Church is to begin to understand the depths of God’s love for us,” he said.

“Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a mother to us and turn all of us to have a new love for her and for Jesus and for our mother the Church.”

The Marian title of “Mother of the Church,” was given to the Blessed Mother by Bl. Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council. It was also added to the Roman Missal after the Holy Year of Reconciliation in 1975.

Subsequently, some countries, dioceses and religious families were granted permission by the Holy See to add this celebration to their particular calendars. With its addition to the General Roman Calendar, it will now be celebrated by the whole Roman Catholic Church.

Title X restrictions on Planned Parenthood a 'major victory'

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 18:57

Washington D.C., May 18, 2018 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life advocates lauded a federal government proposal that aims to remove Title X funding from programs and facilities that promote and perform abortions.

“For too long, Title X has been used to subsidize the abortion industry. We need to draw a bright line between what happens before a pregnancy begins and what happens after a child has been created,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.

In a May 18 statement, Dolan called the proposal “greatly needed and deeply appreciated.”  

“Abortion always takes the life of a child and often harms the mother, her surviving children, and other family and friends as well. Most Americans recognize that abortion is distinct from family planning and has no place in a taxpayer-funded family planning program,” he said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, hailed the move as “a major victory” for the pro-life movement that helps “disentangle taxpayers from the abortion business.”

“The Protect Life Rule doesn’t cut a single dime from family planning,” she said. “It instead directs tax dollars to Title X centers that do not promote or perform abortions, such as the growing number of community and rural health centers that far outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities.”

The Health and Human Services Department on Friday filed a proposal with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that abortion is not treated as a method of family planning under Title X.

While federal law currently prohibits money received through the Title X Family Planning Grant Program from being used for abortion, pro-life advocates have long voiced concern that this regulation is not always enforced.

The proposal will require a “bright line” of physical and financial separation between Title X programs and any program or facility that performs abortion, or supports or refers for abortion as a family planning method.

It will not decrease the amount of Title X funding, which annually provides $260 million for “family planning” purposes, including contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate who previously worked as a Planned Parenthood director, said in a statement that there was “never any separation of funds,” and that all money the clinic received, regardless of source, went into one account.

“It was all about the bottom line,” she said.

Title X funds make up a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s funding, money that Johnson believes the organization will recoup through its network of high-profile donors and supporters.

"They should have no problem making up those taxpayer dollars though with the support of celebrities, the fashion and tech industries, and Hollywood icons,” said Johnson. “But I’m grateful that my tax dollars will not fund Planned Parenthood.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the proposal “is an attempt to take away women’s basic rights.”

“Under this rule, people will not get the health care they need. They won’t get birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, or even general women’s health exams.”

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the proposal a “dangerous rule” that “should send shivers down the spine of everyone who ever wanted to know the facts and the truth about their own healthcare.”

However, Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), stressed that Planned Parenthood would not explicitly be defunded under the new proposal. Instead, it would be required to separate abortion from its services in order to continue receiving Title X funds.

“The Protect Life Rule is about choice. Planned Parenthood can stop performing abortions or stop receiving family planning funding,” Smith said. “For too long the abortion giant has utilized Title X funding—up to $60 million annually—to further their core mission of destroying unborn human life. The 1970 program is in dire need of reform, and today’s actions lead the way in redirecting the same amount of taxpayer dollars from the abortion industry to actual health care providers.”

Rep. Smith, the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was one of more than 150 members of Congress who sent a letter to the Health and Human Services Department in April, asking that Title X dollars be prohibited from going to organizations that perform abortions.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), another signatory of the letter, also applauded the proposal.

“The abortion industry should not be the recipient of taxpayer funded family planning programs,” she said. “This proposed rule will distinguish between health care facilities that provide family planning services and clinics whose business models promote, facilitate, and perform the inhumane act of abortion.”

While the new proposal could lead to Planned Parenthood losing about $60 million annually from Title X funding, the organization is still eligible to receive some $400 million from Medicaid reimbursements annually. Federal Medicaid funds are prohibited from going toward elective abortions, although pro-life advocates have also questioned how thoroughly that regulation is enforced.

The new HHS rule is based off a regulation issued by President Ronald Reagan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, but was later reversed by President Bill Clinton. The new regulation differs from that of the Reagan era in that it will not ban Title X recipients from counseling clients about abortion.

Last year, Trump signed a repeal of an Obama-era regulation which had prohibited states from denying federal funds to health clinics solely on the grounds that they provided abortions.
 

How Meghan Markle's Catholic school is celebrating the Royal Wedding

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 18:25

Los Angeles, Calif., May 18, 2018 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- Flash mobs, sparkling lemonade, and video toasts to the happy couple are just some of the ways that a Catholic high school in California is celebrating their most popular alumna, soon-to-be royal Meghan Markle.

An American actress best known for her role on the T.V. series “Suits,” Markle attended middle school and high school at Immaculate Heart Catholic school outside of Los Angeles.

The school has taken the highly-anticipated wedding as a chance for celebration, including an outdoor pre-wedding celebration on Tuesday, complete with a group dance, fancy hats, toasts to Markle and both American and British flag-waving.  

Current Immaculate Heart students told media that they take inspiration from the fact that one of their own, who is a U.N. advocate for women and known for her humanitarian work, is being celebrated on the world stage.

“The idea that someone like her, who has had an upbringing so similar to ours, will now be able to voice her concerns on a global platform as an internationally recognized figure is a story that impacts so many young women, especially the young women at our school,” student Mia Speier said in a toast to Markle at the Tuesday event.

“She is from Los Angeles, she's half black, so I feel like no matter what ethnicity you are, no matter where you're from, you could actually make a big change in the world,” Immaculate Heart senior Chloe Hightower told "Good Morning America."

While teachers at the school recalled Markle as a bright and compassionate student with a knack for remembering names and stories, Markle says the teachers made a lasting impression on her as well.

Maria Pollia is an Immaculate Heart theology teacher whom Markle remembers especially fondly. In a recent interview, Markle recalled how Pollia inspired her when she said that “life is about putting others' needs above your own fears.”

“Yes, make sure you are safe and never, ever put yourself in a compromising situation, but once that is checked off the list, I think it's really important for us to remember that someone needs us, and that your act of giving/helping/doing can truly become an act of grace once you get out of your head,” Markle recalled in an interview for the book “The Game Changers: Success Secrets from Inspirational Women Changing The Game and Influencing The World.”

Pollia said she was humbled and proud to hear of her impact on Markle, whose humanitarian work since high school has impressed her former teacher.

“This is something that I think really fuels her, her joy and her heart. And I think it's wonderful to know that she is still that person, and that now with her place in the world, she'll be able to do that on an even greater scale,” Pollia told CNN. “I think that they are both very aware of that. And I think it's wonderful that they will be companions to each other on that journey.”

“She's bringing not just beauty and grace and smarts, but she's bringing this world consciousness,” Christine Knudsen, another former teacher of Markle's, told ABC News.

Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry has raised eyebrows not only for her Catholic ties, but also for her being half black, divorced, and an American, obstacles which just a few years ago may have disqualified the couple from ascending to the throne.

Father James Bradley, a Catholic priest in the U.K. and a former Anglican, told CNA in November that the excitement surrounding royal weddings “shows that even when, in some sense, the marriage isn’t everything we would want it to be, society as a whole has a natural inclination towards the good and towards what marriage represents.”

“So people see the goodness of marriage, even people who are opposed to the institution of marriage will cheer when a couple like this get married, or get engaged, because it takes a very hardened heart not to be happy that two people are seeking this good.”

Prince Harry and Markle will be married in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on Saturday.

Immaculate Heart will be hosting a (early) watch party for students and their families - most coverage of the event begins between 1-2 a.m. Pacific time.

 

Empty cradle, empty pews? What the low birth rate means for Catholics

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 18:15

Washington D.C., May 18, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Demographic reports indicate that the U.S. birth rate is at a 40-year low, with significant declines among Hispanic women. That low birth rate could mean declining Mass attendance because couples with children are more likely to attend church, one demographer says.

“It is the case that Catholics, Hispanic or not, tend to become more active in their faith when they marry and have children,” said Dr. Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Georgetown University-affiliated Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

“Thus, going to Mass frequently may not necessarily make a couple more open to having more children. Instead, having children may encourage parents to incorporate their faith in their family life more and thus lead to higher levels of attendance.”

Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass weekly on average have 2.89 children, compared to non-Hispanic Catholics who have 2.35, said Gray, citing General Social Survey figures.

“So it is accurate to say that more frequently Mass attending Catholics have more children,” Gray told CNA. “Hispanics who are not Catholic have 1.8 children, on average. Nearly half of Hispanic adults are not Catholic, 46 percent.”

At the same time, there are other aspects of the birth rate to consider.

“A growing rate of disaffiliation from Catholicism among Hispanics along with slightly lower rates of Mass attendance among Hispanic Catholics over the last decade could be having an effect on fertility decisions,” Gray added. “The economy is also important.”

The U.S. reached a 40-year low in the fertility rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control provisional estimate for 2017. There were about 3.85 million births last year, a total fertility rate of about 1.76 births per woman.

By comparison, the total fertility rate in 2007 was 2.08 children born per woman, with total births numbering as high as 4.31 million.

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Charlottesville, Va.-based Institute for Family Studies, said the Hispanic birth rate appears to have declined the most.

“Solidly half of the missing kids over the last decade would have been born to Hispanic mothers, despite the fact that Hispanics only make up about a quarter of fertility-age women,” Stone said at the Institute for Family Studies website.

From 2008-2016, Hispanic women’s age-adjusted fertility rate fell from 2.85 births per woman to 2.1. They had about 19 percent fewer babies than they were on pace to have before 2008. This numbers about 2.2 million “missing births,” according to Stone.

By comparison, non-Hispanics’ fertility rate fell from 1.95 births per woman to 1.72. About 2.3 million “missing births” would be from these mothers.

Stone credited the birth rate decline among all groups mostly to changes in marriage and marital status.
“Births to never-married women are down more than births to ever-married women,” he said.

Since 2007, the age-adjusted fertility rate for married women is down 14 percent, while the never-married fertility rate is down 21 percent.

The statistics indicate the birth rate is falling more slowly for women with graduate degrees than women with bachelor’s degrees, while the birth rate is falling most for women with no bachelor’s degrees.

“Fertility declines are most strongly associated with factors that are race- or region-specific, not broadly class-specific, as different economic classes appear to have quite similar trends,” Stone said. “This doesn’t rule out all economic causes: there are important interactions between race and socioeconomic class.”

He suggested that economically-oriented solutions may have only “modest direct effects” on the birth rate.

The CARA research blog, edited by Gray, took a look at a similar time period, 2010-2016. It found a net loss in the U.S. Catholic population of 0.9 percent.

“This is a dynamic that is happening at the level of the family where it meets the parish community. Something is disconnected,” Gray said in a March 12, 2018 post.

Decline in marriage rates between Catholics and non-Catholics also mean a decline in non-Catholic spouses who convert to Catholicism. In 1996, 31 percent of all marriages were between Catholics and non-Catholics, compared to only 23 percent in 2015, Gray said.

“The most common reason given by adults converting to Catholicism for switching their religion is that they are marrying a Catholic. Fewer marriages in the Church between Catholics and non-Catholics will result in fewer adult entries into the faith.”

The retention rate among Hispanic Catholics appears to be slipping.

In 2010, 77 percent of Hispanics who were raised Catholic remained Catholic when surveyed, compared to 64 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics. By 2016, only 69 percent of Hispanic Catholics remained Catholic, compared to about 63 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics.

In 2010, 63 percent of all Hispanic adults in the U.S. self-identified as Catholic, compared to 54 percent six years later.

“Declining affiliation among Hispanic Catholics should be of great concern to the Church because a majority of Catholics under the age of 18, those of the iGen, are Hispanic,” said Gray, referring to the generation after the Millennials as “iGen.”

He suggested that descendants of immigrants from predominantly Catholic countries often show diminishing religious affiliation over time.

“Coming from a very Catholic country to one with abundant religious pluralism … is a dramatic cultural change,” he said.

The numbers could also reflect differences among Hispanics by national origin.

“In the United States, majorities of self-identified Mexicans, Dominicans, and Salvadorans self-identify their religion as Catholic,” said Gray. “However, minorities of Cubans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans say they are Catholic.”

More Mexican residents of the U.S. are returning to Mexico than entering, with a net population decline of about 140,000 U.S.-residing Mexicans from 2009 to 2014.

Catholic immigrants’ numbers are also on the decline compared to other immigrants.

Their chapel caught fire, but Salesian sisters remain thankful

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 17:30

Newark, N.J., May 18, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a fire destroyed their chapel just days before Pentecost, a community of Salesian sisters expressed gratitude for the first responders who extinguished the flames and saved the church’s tabernacle.

“Though our hearts are heavy, we are fortunate to be able to report that no one was harmed and that firemen were able to rescue the most precious item in the chapel: the tabernacle,” the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco reported in a statement on Friday.

At 1:39am on May 18, a fire broke out at the sisters’ school, Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, New Jersey.

The blaze was a four-alarm fire, meaning at least 168 firefighters were on the scene. Fire departments from four municipalities provided support. The fire was finally snuffed out at 4am. The cause of the fire has not been released.

The chapel is regularly used by the school, and by the sisters residing nearby. The church was expected to be used for the school’s baccalaureate Mass on June 1 and commencement on June 2. The chapel was built in 1976 and renovated in 2016.

“During a morning assembly led by Principal Sr. Marisa DeRose, FMA, our community wept as photos of the charred altar, pews, and melted Peragallo pipe organ were shared, along with a warning to students to keep far from the building,” the statement said.

Despite their sorrow, the community expressed gratitude that the fire did not spread to other areas of the campus, and a donation to rebuild the chapel was received before the school day began.

“The Sisters, students,faculty, and staff of the Academy are devastated by this loss, but remain thankful to the dedicated firemen who contained the fire before it could cause additional damage to our facilities,” the sisters said.

“A testament to the strength of our community, the first donation to help rebuild the chapel was received from a faculty member before the school day had even begun; upon hearing about the blaze on the fire scanner radio, she was immediately moved to help.”

Mary Help of Christians Academy opened its doors in 1924. According to the academy’s website, the school teaches young women in the “charism of reason, religion and loving kindness as inspired by Saint John Bosco and Saint Mary Mazzarello.”

Church leaders offer prayers after school shooting near Houston  

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 15:22

Houston, Texas, May 18, 2018 / 01:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Church leaders voiced their closeness to victims of a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday, calling Catholics to pray for all those affected.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said that he was “deeply saddened” to receive news of the shooting.  

“My prayers, along with the prayers of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, are with the victims and families of those killed and injured in this horrific tragedy,” he said in a statement.

“During this most difficult and challenging time, I know the Archdiocesan community will unite to support and offer healing to those affected. As a society, we must strive for a way to end such acts of senseless gun violence in our schools and communities.”

Shortly before 8 a.m. Friday, police were called to respond to a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, Texas.

Officials confirmed 10 fatalities in the shooting – nine students and one teacher. At least 13 other people were injured, including at least two law enforcement officers, according to local media reports.

One 17-year-old male suspect is in custody and a second person of interest has been detained. Both are teenagers and are believed to be students at the school.

The Santa Fe Independent School District later reported that possible explosive devices had been found both at the high school and off campus. Law enforcement officials were working to render the items safe, the school district said.

Local officials at a press conference asked for prayers.

In a second statement later in the day, Cardinal DiNardo spoke in his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lamenting the “ever-growing list of those impacted by the evil of gun violence.”

“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”

Prayers were also offered by Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, where in recent years shootings have taken place at both an elementary school and a facility for those with developmental disabilities.

“My prayers for those who died in this morning's tragic school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, their families, those injured and the entire school community,” Bishop Barnes said on Twitter. “May they receive God's strength and His consolation in this time of shock and sadness.”

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay tweeted that the students and families at the school would be remembered at a previously scheduled Mass taking place Friday morning.

“Our hearts are heavy hearing the news about Santa Fe High School. My prayers are with all those who are impacted by this horrible and senseless act. May the families of the victims experience the healing power of Jesus' love,” said Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver also offered prayers on Twitter.

 

'A call from God' - Why these Catholic couples became foster parents

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., May 18, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It was a quiet Thanksgiving for Kerry.

She and her husband had just retired from the military, and they were home in Colorado Springs with Kerry’s mother-in-law, whom they were taking care of at the time. But the house, with two extra, empty bedrooms upstairs, felt just a little too quiet.

Kerry had no children of her own, but it was around that time that she felt God calling her to foster parenting.

“I just saw this article in the paper for a foster agency and it really spoke to me and I said ‘Ok God this is what you want me to do? Because I’m a little bit old for this.’ But...I felt I was just really made to do this and God said, you can do this!”

It’s something that many Catholic foster parents have in common - the feeling that God called them to open their homes and hearts to foster parenting.

Kerry and her husband began fostering through a local Christian agency called Hope and Home, and after meeting the licensing requirements, embarked on a six-year foster care journey, in which they fostered a total of 10 kids, adopted two, and provided respite care for several other “kiddos,” as Kerry affectionately calls them.

“Foster care is a learning experience, and is probably the hardest yet most rewarding thing I've ever done,” Kerry told CNA.

For foster care awareness month, CNA spoke with four Catholic foster parents about their stories, and the faith that inspired them along the way. Only first names have been used to protect the children who have been or are still in their care.

“The greatest of our foster-heartbreaks has become my life's work” - Kerry, Colorado Springs

Kerry’s family learned a lot, the hard way, from their first foster care placement, a two-year-old named Alex.

“It was hard, as Alex had suffered abuse and neglect and was terrified of all things to do with bedtimes,” Kerry said. “We spent the first week sitting outside the door of his bedroom, because he was terrified to have us in there and yet terrified to be alone.”

About seven months after Alex had been placed in their care, he was returned back to his biological father. Kerry strongly objected to that plan, telling their caseworker that she believed the father was not ready to take his son back.  

Kerry’s objections were overruled, and Alex went home with his biological dad. Nine months later, Kerry learned that Alex had died of severe head trauma while in the care of his dad’s girlfriend. It was because of Alex that she began to research and advocate for the prevention of child abuse.

“The greatest of our foster-heartbreaks has become my life's work,” Kerry said. “I am part of our county's Not One More Child Coalition, the secretary for our local Safe Kids Colorado chapter, and the Chair of the Child Abuse Prevention Committee for our local chapter of the Exchange Club,” she said.

“We are also working to establish a child abuse prevention nonprofit called Kyndra's Hope - named for another local foster girl who actually entered foster care in hospice, as she was not expected to live due to the severe physical abuse by her biological parents. Thanks to the prayers of her adopted mom, Kyndra is now a lively 10-year-old who, despite her disabilities, has beaten the odds.”

Kerry has adopted two of the 10 of her foster children, and provided respite care for numerous others.

Kerry said she felt relief and belonging in her local Catholic parish, because several other families have adopted children and blended families, “so to just go and sit and be a normal family with all the other people there was just really wonderful some days,” she said.

One of the main patron saints she leaned on as a foster parent was St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

“I was always praying to him for myself and for my kiddos who were really lost, just to help us all find ourselves,” she said.

“What do my pro-life duties entail?” - Scott; Lincoln, Nebraska

Scott and his wife were newlywed “classic, orthodox Catholics” living in Lincoln, Nebraska. While they had no known medical issues, they tried for six years to get pregnant, but it just wasn’t happening.

After mourning the loss possible biological children, the couple began to talk about adoption. While the idea of foster care surfaced at the time, “It scared us a little bit,” Scott told CNA.

They knew that many of the children they would encounter would come from difficult situations, and as first-time parents, they weren’t sure they would be able to handle that.

They adopted a son, Anthony, but they still felt the desire for more children. When they considered a second adoption, they were encouraged to look more seriously into foster care.

They took the foster parent preparation class, but still felt some hesitation, and so they “kicked the can down the road” a little longer. But something happened at their city’s annual Walk for Life that stayed with Scott.

“We go to the Walk for Life every year, and there’s a lady there every year, she had this sign and it basically said ‘Foster, adopt or shut up.’ That was what she was saying as a counter-protest to a pro-life group,” Scott recalled.

“It’s something that stuck with me because I thought you know, what do my pro-life duties entail?”

Soon after, he and his wife felt called by God to open up their home to foster children. They told the agency, thinking they would wait another year or two before getting a placement.

Ten days later, a little two-year-old named Jonathan came to stay with them. Even though he was young, the family has had to work with him on some deep-seated anger issues and speech delay problems.  

“This is really pro-life,” Scott said of foster care and adoption.

“This birth mom chose life, but she can’t raise this child, and so my wife and I are going to take the ball and we’re going to do the hard work and we’re going to get through this.”

“I really feel like God called us to this, and called us to this little boy,” he added. “You can’t ignore the call - or you shouldn’t - it’s similar to a vocational call in my opinion.”

Something else that struck Scott throughout the process was how much foster parenting is promoted in Evangelical churches, including those sponsoring their family’s agency- and how infrequently he heard it mentioned in Catholic ones.

“I would say that [Evangelicals] do a fabulous job in their churches as far as promoting foster care and getting lots of families to participate,” Scott said. “And we’ve got the one true faith, so I want our families and couples to learn about this and possibly participate in it,” he added.

“I know it’s not for everybody, but there’s lots of different things other than taking a child that you can do,” he said, such as mentoring a child or offering support to other foster parents.

“We’ve always had a special spot in our heart for kids in foster care” - Jami; Omaha, Nebraska

Jami’s family, like Scott’s family, experienced a time of infertility before deciding to look into foster care or adoption as a way to grow their family.

But they were also drawn to it in other ways. Before they were married, Jami and her husband had volunteered at a summer camp that united foster care kids with siblings living in other foster homes.

“We volunteered for that as camp counselors, so we’ve always had a special spot in our heart for kids in foster care, so we wanted to try it out for that reason also,” Jami told CNA.

Jami had also grown up in Omaha, Nebraska, the home of Boystown, a temporary home for troubled boys and youth founded in 1917 by Servant of God Father Edward Flanagan.

“I have a special relationship with him, even when I was younger, I used to think he was so cool,” Jami said. “And all through us fostering, I would pray to him and through him because he knows, he helped these kids in trauma.”  

Jami and her husband took an infant, Bennett, into their home. His older sister was placed in a different foster home while they waited to see if the children could be reunited with their mother.

It was an “emotional rollercoaster,” Jami said, because she knew she needed to bond with Bennett, while she also had to be prepared to let him go at any moment.

“I would pray through Fr. Flanagan and tell him just ‘please.’ I trust God and his choice in whether this kid goes home or not, because that was also really hard - I was feeling guilty for wanting to keep the baby, because it’s not yours. We’re there to help the parents,” she said.

“So I really believe that (Fr. Flanagan) was holding this whole situation, he just took care of it,” she said.

“The most challenging thing is letting yourself go, letting yourself bond with the child and not trying to protect your own heart,” Jami said, “and then coping with the emotional roller coaster because that can put a lot of stress on yourself, your husband, the whole family.”

“But the most rewarding part is helping these families, helping the parents have the time they need to overcome whatever challenges they’re facing,” she said. “And getting to bond with the (child) is such a gift because literally if you don’t give it who will? And that is such a gift to give a child.”

“This is hardcore Gospel living” - Michaela; St. Louis, Missouri

Michaela’s foster parent journey differs from many others. She and her husband already had children - four of them, all in grade school or younger - when she felt God was calling her to consider adoption.

When the topic of adoption was brought up during her bible study, “my heart just started burning for adoption, the Spirit was moving within me, but I knew that was not something I could just impose on my family or my marriage,” Michaela, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, told CNA.

She decided to keep the inspiration quiet, and told God that if this is something he really wanted from her family, then her husband would have to voice the same desires first.

So she never mentioned it to her husband. But one day, some time later, he came to breakfast and said out of the blue: “I think we’re being called to adoption.”

As their research into adoption began, they realized that they didn’t feel called to infant or international adoption - two of the most common routes. They realized that God was actually calling them to foster care.

“It was exactly the desire of our heart, it was where God was calling,” Michaela said.  

The prerequisites for foster care include classes that prepare foster parents for worst-case scenarios - children who come from broken, traumatic situations who will exhibit difficult behaviors.

But to Michaela’s surprise, “They come and they’re just the most innocent children, this pure innocence comes from a broken life, they don’t resemble the brokenness that they come from.”

Michaela’s family is relatively new to fostering - they started just six months ago - and already they’ve had four children between the ages of one and seven placed with their family.

One of the most rewarding things about foster parenting has been the lessons her biological children are learning from the experience, Michaela said.  

“These aspects of the Gospel we cannot teach our children - I cannot teach you how to lay down your life for someone else. But I can show you with this,” Michaela said.

“This is Gospel, this is hardcore Gospel living.”

The hardest part about foster parenting can be letting go - the goal of foster parenting is not to keep the children, but to provide them a temporary home while their biological family can get back on their feet, Michaela said.

Michaela said that’s a concern about foster parenting that she often hears: “What if I get too attached? Isn’t it too hard?”

“These children deserve to be attached to, so they deserve us to love them so that it hurts us when they leave,” she said.

For this reason, she asks case workers to let herself and her children accompany the foster child to their next home - whether that’s with their parents or with another foster or adoptive family.

“It’s super hard for us, but it’s really good for the kids to see us cry, to know that they are loved that much, that someone would cry over them,” she said.

Michaela said she found great support as a foster parent through the Catholic Church and also through other Christian denominations.

“Our own church totally opened their arms to us, and brings over clothes and car seats and was just hugely supportive and welcoming when new kids come to church,” she said.

“Other churches have provided meals - there’s just such a community within the church, within foster care. They’re all telling us they’re praying for us - so it’s the bigger body of Christ within the foster community,” she said.

Michaela encouraged couples who are considering becoming foster parents to trust God and lean on their faith, even when it may seem like a difficult or impossible task.

“When he calls us to those scary, unknown places he provides, he just shows up in ways that we could have never planned for or imagined,” she said. “He does, he makes a way.”

Adoption and foster care programs for Catholic families can be found through local Catholic Charities or Catholic Social Service branches.

 

 

 

 

Trump plan could strip Title X funds from abortion providers

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 21:01

Washington D.C., May 17, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration on Friday will announce a plan to ensure that Title X family planning funding does not go to programs or facilities that promote or perform abortions, CNA has learned.

The measure would dramatically curtail federal funding to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood.

According to a Trump administration official, the Health and Human Services Department will file a proposal with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that abortion is not treated as a method of family planning under Title X.

While federal law currently prohibits money received through the Title X Family Planning Grant Program from being used for abortion, pro-life advocates have long voiced concern that this regulation is not always enforced.

The proposal will require a strict physical and financial line of separation between Title X programs and any program or facility that performs abortion, or supports or refers for abortion as a family planning method, the official said.

It will not decrease the amount of Title X funding, which annually provides $260 million for family planning purposes, including contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

The new rule is based off a regulation issued by President Ronald Reagan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, but was later reversed by President Bill Clinton. The new regulation differs from that of the Reagan era in that it will not ban Title X recipients from counseling clients about abortion.

The Trump administration official said the proposal will aid in transparency and integrity, allowing better monitoring of Title X fund recipients. It will also require Title X recipients to document how they follow state laws on reporting suspected cases of sexual assault, incest and rape.

Planned Parenthood would not explicitly be defunded under the new proposal. However, it would be required to separate abortion from its services in order to continue receiving Title X funds.

Last year, Trump signed a repeal of an Obama-era regulation which had prohibited states from denying federal funds to health clinics solely on the grounds that they provided abortions.

Trump also reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

His administration has cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over the agency's support for Chinese coercive population control programs.

As Hawaii volcano rumbles, Catholic agencies help those in need

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 18:45

Hilo, Hawaii, May 17, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With ongoing volcanic activity continuing to threaten the area surrounding Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, local Catholics are offering a helping hand to those who have been evacuated.

Fr. Ernest Juarez Jr. of Sacred Heart Parish in Pahoa said that the parish has “opened its doors to be a centralized location for the different government agencies, and for the [affected] public to come and get information, permission cards to enter the affected area, and other kinds of assistance.”

The parish said in a statement this week that it has worked “to contact members of the parish who live in affected neighborhoods to find out how we can help.”

Relief efforts have included sign-up sheets to offer temporary rooms or houses for those who have been evacuated, as well as transportation and assistance with other personal needs. The parish has been collecting pillows and blankets, preparing meals for distribution at the food pantry, and offering to talk and pray with those staying in a shelter.

“The main needs are housing, transportation, and money,” Fr. Juarez told CNA.  

Blankets, toiletries, and tents are also needed. Food has been abundant, thanks to the generosity of donors, he said.

In the early hours of May 17, the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted for the second time in two weeks, shooting a plume of ash and smoke 12,000 feet into the air. The previous eruption, which took place May 3, was followed by earthquakes and the emergence of 21 fissures, some in residential neighborhoods. More than 117 acres of the island have been covered by lava.

According to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures, mostly homes, since the lava began spewing. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory also issued a hazardous fumes warning due to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide in the air.

Some 2,000 Hawaiians were evacuated in the days following the initial eruption.

Fr. Juarez said that “attitudes and emotions are everything you can imagine” – relief at being safe and hopefulness about returning home, frustration and heartbreak at damaged houses, worry for neighbors, and uncertainty over what will happen next.

While the situation is overwhelming for some, Fr. Juarez said, the people of Hawaii are in good hands with the state, local and national response teams.

“The people who are scared are those who don't understand what is going on here and are scared for us,” he stressed, adding, “No one is in any danger as long as they heed the instructions put in place for safety.”

Although local schools were closed for the day and levels of sulfuric gas and volcanic smoke are high, the priest said that “lives are not in danger.”

“It is predicted that the trade[winds] will return tomorrow, and all of the bad air will blow out to the ocean,” he said. “If that happens, our air will be fine.”  

Fr Robert Stark, director of the Diocese of Honolulu’s Office for Social Ministry, said that the diocese is involved in relief efforts primarily through HOPE Services Hawaii, which was founded by his diocesan office and is located near the eruption area.

“HOPE is working closely with state and county government to respond to the most vulnerable affected by the eruptions,” Stark told CNA. “HOPE was asked by state and county to convene the service providers in the area to coordinate their response.”

In addition, he said, HOPE is helping with both fundraising and offering direct assistance to those affected by the volcano.

Catholic Charities of Hawaii will be working in the coming weeks and months to help those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, aiding with temporary housing subsidies and emergency house repairs.

“We understand that certain agencies and first responders are there…to ensure the health and safety of those being affected,” said Terry Walsh, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawaii. “[Our] role is to assist those affected through recovery efforts during these disasters.”

The agency said in a statement that is also assisted in “long-term recovery efforts during the last lava flow through Puna in 2014 and following the 2006 Hawaii Island earthquake.”

The state agency has applied for $10,000 emergency seed grants through Catholic Charities USA.

Catholic Charities Hawaii is also asking for donations to assist those affected by the volcano, as well as continued recovery efforts in Kauai and Oahu, where severe flooding and landslides last month damaged hundreds of homes and causes some $20 million in damage to public property, according to Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency.

Letter asks Trump to remember political prisoners in North Korea negotiations

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 18:29

Washington D.C., May 17, 2018 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As President Donald Trump prepares for a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, religious freedom advocates are urging the U.S. president to negotiate the release of the remaining prisoners in North Korea’s labor camps.

On May 17, more than 50 scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates sent a letter to President Trump and key foreign policy leaders requesting that the U.S. incorporate human rights in the nuclear negotiations set for June 10 in Singapore.

While acknowledging that the successful denuclearization of North Korea would “benefit all of humanity,” the letter recommends specific terms that could be added to a negotiated agreement to assist those suffering from North Korea’s human rights abuses.

“We also implore you to recognize that there are tens of thousands of other men, women, and even children -- most of them North Korean citizens and many of them Christians -- being brutalized by Kim and his regime,” reads the letter written by the Religious Freedom Institute.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, was among the letter’s signatories, alongside a number of Catholic scholars, including Princeton Professor Robert George and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz.

Elliot Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; Nicholas Eberstadt, a founding director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; Winston Lord, former U.S. Ambassador to China; and Greg Mitchell, co-chair of International Religious Freedom Roundtable, were also among the signatories.

The letter recommends four particular requests that President Trump should negotiate with Kim Jong Un. These include allowing the International Red Cross access to all of North Korea’s prisons within one month of any signed agreement and “the immediate release of substantial numbers of prisoners of conscience.”

There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.

These prison camps have been documented by Google Earth satellite imagery, and detailed in the biographies of North Korean defectors were formerly imprisoned, such as Shin Dong-Hyuk’s “Escape from Camp 14” and Kang Chol-Hwan’s “The Aquariums of Pyongyang.”

Photographs of suffering North Korean citizens, as well as the United Nations human rights commission report on North Korea and other documents are attached to the letter to President Trump.

The 400-page United Nations report found that the gravity, scale and nature of the “unspeakable atrocities” committed by the North Korean regime “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” according to the UN report published in 2014.

Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and others were also sent copies of the letter.

Earlier this month, Secretary Pompeo traveled to North Korea, bringing home with him three Americans who had been imprisoned in North Korea. According to the White House, the prisoners’ release by North Korea was a gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit.

In recent days, North Korea has threatened to cancel the highly anticipated summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in objection to the continuation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on May 16 that this threat from North Korea to cancel the talks was “fully expected” and that the White House is hopeful that the summit will still take place.

Foster parents join Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services in discrimination lawsuit

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 16:39

Philadelphia, Pa., May 17, 2018 / 02:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of foster parents and social workers appeared in court on Wednesday, asking that the city of Philadelphia rescind its decision to ban a Catholic organization from placing children in foster homes.

The plaintiffs of Sharonell Fulton et al. v. City of Philadelphia told a US District Court May 16 that they are being discriminated against because of their agency's deeply-held religious beliefs.

For over a century, Philadelphia has worked with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) to facilitate the placement of children in foster care. Catholic Social Services has assisted with home visits, training of foster parents, and placements. At any given time CSS serves about 120 foster children in 100 foster homes. In 2017, the charity says it helped more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area.

In March, CSS was informed that the city would no longer be referring foster children to the agency for assistance. Philadelphia then passed a resolution calling for an investigation into religiously-based foster care services, after a same-sex couple claimed they were discriminated against by a different faith-based agency.

CSS has not been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Catholic Social Services will not stand in the way of anyone who wants to try and become a foster parent,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Becket is providing counsel for the case.

“They’re simply asking that they can continue to serve the children of Philadelphia consistent with their faith.”

The suit's lead plaintiff, Sharonell Fulton, has "fostered more than 40 children over 25-plus years as a foster parent. She has cared for children with significant medical needs and is currently caring for two special needs foster children," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims that Fulton "could not provide the extensive care that these special-needs children require without the support she receives from Catholic Social Services."

Other plaintiffs include a foster parent recognized in 2015 as one Philadelphia's "Foster Parents of the Year," and a long-time social worker, herself a foster parent, who claims that she would likely discontinue providing foster care to children if she could not work with CSS. The agency itself is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

If the city declines to renew its current contract with CSS, which expires at the end of June, there’s a chance that children in CSS foster-care placements will be immediately removed from their homes. Windham, however, is hopeful that this will not be the case.

Since the policy went into place, Philadelphia has put out calls for new foster parents, as the city is facing a severe shortage. According to Windham, there are at least a dozen empty foster homes in the city--which are empty because they work with CSS.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Chief Communications Officer Kenneth Gavin told CNA that the archdiocese is disappointed that the city decided to stop partnering with CSS, despite its history of providing care for children.

“Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) recognizes the vital importance of the foster care program in our city and is proud to provide safe and nurturing foster environments to young people in need. We have been providing those environments for over a century. We were extremely disappointed when the City ceased new foster care child intakes with CSS in late March of this year,” said Gavin.
 
Gavin said the foster care program provides care “for all those in need with dignity, charity, and respect regardless of their background.” Given that the Philadelphia is in “a foster care crisis,” Gavin said he hopes that CSS will be permitted to continue providing care for needy children.
 
The lawsuit is expected to be heard later this year.
 

 

Judge rules California assisted suicide law was wrongfully 'rushed'

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 18:42

Sacramento, Calif., May 16, 2018 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- California’s assisted suicide law was wrongly passed in a special legislative session, ruled a California judge this week.

Though the ruling might only be temporary, one terminally ill woman at the May 15 hearing was grateful for it.

“The bill’s proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness. I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Choice is really an illusion for a very few,” Stephanie Packer said, according to the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Angelus News. “For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable ‘treatment’ that is offered them.”

Packer said that her insurance company would not fund potentially life-saving chemotherapy treatments for her lung cancer, but instead offered her “aid-in-dying” drugs that would cost her $1.20. The action made the married mother of four a vocal opponent of assisted suicide laws, including California’s the End of Life Option Act.

Judge Daniel Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court ruled on Tuesday that lawmakers had unconstitutionally passed the law in a 2015 special session of the legislature dedicated to health care funding. The judge has postponed his judgment for five days to allow the state to file an emergency appeal.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra voiced strong disagreement with the ruling and said he plans to appeal it.

The judge’s decision drew support from other foes of the legislation.

“The act itself was rushed through the special session of the legislature, and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this,” Stephen G. Larson, head counsel for a group of doctors who filed a legal challenge to the law, told the Sacramento Bee.

The bill lacked an adequate definition of terminal illness and a provision exempting from legal liability the doctors who prescribe the drugs, according to Larson’s clients.

However, Larson challenged the bill specifically on the fact that the special session was called “to address funding shortages caused by Medi-Cal.”

“It was not called to address the issue of assisted suicide,” he said.

Under the law, lethal prescriptions may be given to adults who are able to make medical decisions if their attending physician and a consulting physician have diagnosed a terminal disease expected to end in death within six months.

The initial legislative effort to pass an assisted suicide bill failed in committee during the 2015 regular season, following months of media attention to the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with an aggressive brain tumor who moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of legal physician-assisted suicide there.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, who backed the bill, charged that the judge’s decision interfered with Californians in the process of securing the lethal drugs under the law.

“It's a reminder for all of us that there are those out there who would like to take our rights away,” she said. “When we move forward, there are those who would like to drag us back.”

Harry Nelson, a healthcare attorney in Los Angeles who represents several doctors who have prescribed lethal prescriptions, told the Los Angeles Times he thinks it is unlikely the law will be permanently overturned. He believes the legislature will be able to reinstate the law with any changes the court believes to be necessary.

Matt Valliere, executive director of the New York-based Patients Rights Action Fund, applauded the ruling. He said it affirmed that assisted suicide advocates “circumvented the legislative process.”

“It represents a tremendous blow to the assisted suicide legalization movement and puts state legislatures on notice regarding the political trickery of groups like Compassion and Choices,” he said.

In the first seven months after the law took effect in June 2016, there were 111 people who chose to end their lives under it, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Including California, seven states and the District of Columbia have legal provisions allowing assisted suicide, National Public Radio reports.

In January 2018, the California Catholic Conference reiterated its opposition to assisted suicide and criticized the lack of data collected and the lack of transparency of the law’s implementation.

“There is far too much still not known about how this law is put into practice – especially as it pertains to disabled, elderly and other populations,” the conference said Jan. 24. “California is failing to properly investigate some very fundamental questions such as whether patients were coerced into the procedure or somehow influenced and, especially for Medi-Cal patients, whether they had the option of good, effective palliative care.”
 

 

Archbishop Chaput: New Pope Francis movie is a beautiful tribute

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 16:54

Philadelphia, Pa., May 16, 2018 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- The upcoming film, “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” has won praise from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who applauded the movie’s compelling portrayal of the Holy Father.

The director “weaves an on-going, intimate, one-on-one interview with the pope throughout the film. It’s a hugely effective technique; one has a sense that Francis is looking directly at, speaking directly to, the individual viewer,” the archbishop wrote in a May 14 column.

The hour-and-a-half documentary offers an intimate look at the pope’s travels, acts of charity, and speeches. It shows the pope’s response to social issues around the world, including immigration and the value of family life.

Distributed by Focus Features, the movie will be released in select theaters on May 18. Archbishop Chaput reviewed the film at an early screening. Additionally, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago hosted a screening and discussion on May 14.

The film is co-written and directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders. Nominated for three Academy Awards, Wenders’ previous films include “Wings of Desire,” “Buena Vista Social Club,” and “Salt of the Earth.”  

The director’s work is largely “marked by a Christian-inspired spirituality,” Archbishop Chaput said, pointing to filmmaker’s Catholic upbringing.

“He focuses compellingly on the pope’s concern for the environment, the poor, and immigrants. He also captures the pope’s vigorous commitment to marriage, the family, and the complementarity of men and women.”

Among the most powerful scenes, Archbishop Chaput said, are the pope’s visits to “immigrants, the poor, the sick, the Shoah memorial Yad Vashem in Israel, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”

The archbishop did critique the film on a few points, saying the movie felt too lengthy and did not fully portray Catholic teachings on the human person.

“Wenders also misses (or avoids) the opportunity to present the holistic Catholic vision of human dignity that Francis serves, i.e., the reason why Catholic concerns for the unborn child, the disabled, the elderly, the environment, and the immigrant are inextricably linked in a network of priorities.”

Additionally, he said the film was incomplete in its portrayal of Saint Francis of Assisi, who inspired Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to take on the name of Pope Francis.

“Its portrait of Francis of Assisi, while useful to the narrative, is selective and only lightly acquainted with the real saint, who was a complex and formidable man concerned for Creation as a reflection of God’s glory, not as a limited natural resource.”

However, Archbishop Chaput said, they flaws do not detract from the beauty and substance of the film. He encouraged Catholics to support “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” coming to theaters this Friday.  

“Wenders and Focus Features (and the Holy Father himself) deserve our gratitude for offering the world such an exceptional encounter with the Successor of Peter. May it touch thousands of hearts.”

 

Military bases under consideration to hold undocumented children

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 13:54

Washington D.C., May 16, 2018 / 11:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Federal officials are evaluating U.S. military bases as temporary shelters for immigrant children who will be separated from their parents after crossing the border illegally under a new Trump administration policy.

While final decisions have not yet been made, the Washington Post reports that Department of Health and Human Services officials are visiting military bases in Texas and Arkansas to examine their suitability for housing children.

About 100 shelters currently exist, but they are close to capacity, and it is estimated that thousands of additional children could be placed in government care under the new immigration policy, the Wall Street Journal says.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings on May 7. The goal is for “100 percent” of those who cross the border illegally to face charges of “improper entry by an alien,” which can result in up to six months in prison.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions said, according to National Public Radio. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border.”

Under previous practice, people caught illegally crossing the border were returned to Mexico after a guilty plea and a brief detention. The violation is a misdemeanor under federal law.

With parts of Central America plagued by drug and gang violence, illegal border crossings in the U.S. increasingly consist of families or unaccompanied minors. While adults can be detained in immigration jails, the federal government is prohibited from holding immigrant children in jails.

Military bases may be used to shelter children whom the government has separated from their families, as well as unaccompanied minors. The children will receive foster care through the Department of Health and Human Services.

A department official said that the average time of custody for children in HHS care is 45 days, and 85 percent of children are released to a parent of adult relative in the U.S., the Washington Post reports.

Military bases were previously used to house children for several months during the child migrant crisis of 2014, when other resources were exhausted.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA May 10 that the policy change will “erode judicial efficiency, taking away resources to prosecute the most dangerous, in favor of prosecuting every parent.” The new policy could cost up to $620 per night to detain a family of one parent and two children.

Furthermore, she said, entering the border with one’s child is not automatically an instance of child smuggling.

“Many of these families are willingly turning themselves over to Border Patrol. They are not hiding. They are asking for protection, they are vulnerable and looking for safety,” she said.

Under the zero tolerance policy, immigrants detained at the border could receive federal criminal convictions even if they have valid asylum claims and are judged to have a right to stay in the U.S., CNN reports.

Intentionally increasing forced family separations at the border “is inhumane and goes against our Catholic values and the sanctity of the family,” Feasley said.

Family separation is “extremely traumatic” for children to experience, especially after a lengthy, stressful trip to the U.S. and possible traumatic experiences in Central America, she said. Very young children have been separated and left with strangers, many of whom do not speak their language.

“Then these children are put into shelter facilities which are confined spaces. The experience is doubly traumatizing,” she continued. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned against the long lasting emotional trauma and harm that separation can cause children.”

Feasley also warned that the new policy does not address “the pervasive root causes of migration,” such as state- or community-sanctioned violence, poverty, forced recruitment into gangs, lack of educational opportunity, and domestic abuse.

She said that policy solutions should consider those factors, and that Catholics in the pews should “remember the human dignity of all families and children who arrive, and look to assist these families in productive ways that help them comply with our immigration laws – ensuring that they know their rights and responsibilities in this country.”

 

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