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Brian Sims, doxing state rep, was subject of ethics investigation

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 11:15

Harrisburg, Pa., May 7, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- The lawmaker who confronted a woman praying outside Planned Parenthood May 2 was the subject of an investigation by Pennsylvania’s State Ethics Commission, after questions were raised in 2017 regarding speaking fees he received while in office.

The state’s ethics commission opened an investigation into state Rep. Brian Sims following a 2017 complaint that he had violated Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act. Sims is accused of accepting honoraria, including fees and free travel and accommodation, in violation of policies governing state legislators.

Sims has confirmed that he is under investigation, but says the complaint is a political “hit” and the “cost of politics in a city like Philadelphia.”

The lawmaker, who has filmed himself offering money to social media users to identify and “dox” women and teenagers, said in June 2017 that: “This was done to hit me where I’m strongest – and I think I’m strongest in my ethics.”

Media outlets in Pennsylvania first reported the investigation May 2017, following the leak of a letter from the ethics commission, in which executive director Robert Caruso said that a “full investigation” had been launched following a complaint against Sims.

The ethics commission has not reported whether the investigation has concluded.

Sims allegedly failed to report thousands of dollars worth of travel expenses, which he later reimbursed out of his official campaign funds, following a series of high-profile speaking engagements and trips overseas, made in connection with charitable fundraising.

A 2016 investigation by City&State Pennsylvania found that despite a rule prohibiting legislators from accepting honoraria, including speaking fees, Sims earned more than $40,000 from such activity following his election in 2012.

Sims has repeatedly insisted that the events were given in connection with his national role as an LGBT activist, and were not connected to his legislative work.

According to the City&State report, Sims was billed as a state representative in advance of a 2015 engagement to speak about LGBT issues to employees at Microsoft corporate headquarters in Seattle, suggesting a conflict with Pennsylvania ethics law.

Sims also failed to declare travel and accommodation he received from Microsoft in connection with the event. Though he initially suggested that the event had been arranged spontaneously while he was on a trip to California visiting friends, Sims made the trip in the company of a professional political consultant retained by Sims in 2013. City&State also found the event had been promoted by Sims months before it took place.

According to media reports, the ethics investigation into Sims’ conduct includes a 2015 engagement at Penn State University at which he was again billed as “Rep. Brian Sims” and promoted as speaking “about his career as a legislator and on current legislation before the House.”

The state representative has also come under scrutiny for an apparent pattern of behavior concerning the reimbursement of travel expenses using campaign funds.

In 2015, Sims joined six other Pennsylvania lawmakers on a trip to Israel organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. While all six of the other legislators declared $2,500 in reimbursements for travel and expenses from the JFGP to the state ethics board. Sims did not record any amount, and later saying that he “did not realize that Federation had subsidized my travel to the extent that they had” and had reimbursed the cost using campaign funds eight months later.

The City&State report identified several other instances where Sims appeared to fail to declare receipt of free travel, only to reimburse the expenses from campaign funds months later.

Speaking to City&State, Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said of Sims’ behavior “there’s a pattern here that raises questions,” and that “the questions merit an investigation by the ethics committee.”

“These delayed payments or reimbursements certainly raise questions about the origin of the money that paid for these trips in the first place,” said McGehee. “You can’t simply make things right by paying for it all with campaign funds later.”

Sims has defended his record as a “committed progressive” and said that his commitment to transparency is demonstrated by his record as “an avid social media user.”

Catholic conference supports Iowa budget cuts to abortion providers

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 01:01

Des Moines, Iowa, May 6, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- A budget bill became law in Iowa last week, adding restrictions to grants for abortion providers and Medicaid for gender reassignment surgery.

Tom Chapman, executive director for the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA the budget was a step in the right direction.

“There is no obligation to fund abortion providers,” said Chapman. “We’ve been working on that part of the issue for many years so we are very pleased to see that.”

Governor Kim Reynolds signed the Health and Human Services budget bill into law May 3 after it passed through the Senate and House in April. According to the Des Moines Register, the state will fund $1.9 million in health programs, including aid for veterans, elderly people, and children.

The law will also remove a five-year waiting period before pregnant women are covered by Medicaid. These women have to be lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States in order to qualify.

The budget will not provide grants to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, to administer sexual education. Des Moines Register reported that it will cease $260,000 from being sent to sex information programs of Planned Parenthood. The law will continue to fund the sexual education of numerous other organizations.

According to the NBC 13, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Executive Director Erin Davison-Rippey claimed that the organization provided the same services as other groups: “We’re delivering the same services that other providers are delivering. These are all age appropriate, medically accurate sex education that is generally provided in school settings to young people, sometimes community settings as well depending on the grant.”

Republican Representative Joel Fry argued that the budget is consistent with public opinion: “We have consistently heard from Iowans that they do not want their hard-earned tax dollars used by organizations whose primary business model is providing abortions.”

Chapman told CNA that funding abortion clinics for these services is unnecessary because other organizations who do not provide abortions administer the same things. He said the new restriction allows for a more objective approach to sex-education.

“I think it presents and opportunity to provide services more objectively if you are separating it from the abortion issue,” he said. “It represents the interests of parents who want to help direct that education,” he further added.

The law would also allow for areas of local government to opt out of Medicaid and other state funds to be used for sex reassignment surgery. Under the bill, the state is not required to fund any “cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedure related to transsexualism, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder.”

Chapman said that while all people deserve compassion, the Church is clear about the definition of sexual identity. He also said there is no requirement on the government's behalf to fund gender reassignment surgery.

“From the Catholic Church perspective, we believe that there really is no separation from the self and the body. You know, we are one integrated unit as men and women,” he said.

“We have to treat everyone with compassion and proper medical care. I think this is something we have to keep in mind as people are treated. At the same time, I think certainly from the governors perspective and the legislators perspective there is no obligation for the government to pay for those surgeries,” he added.

After harassing woman outside Planned Parenthood, Penn. lawmaker says Christians are 'Bible Bullies'

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 23:33

Philadelphia, Pa., May 6, 2019 / 09:33 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania lawmaker has said that pro-life activists and Christians are bullies, after he faced criticism for a video he livestreamed, in which he angrily confronted a woman praying outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.

“Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values,” Pennsylvania state representative tweeted May 5, after the pro-life group Live Action criticized a video Sims livestreamed May 2.


Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values. #BeReal

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 5, 2019



In the May 2 video, which Sims livestreamed on Twitter and the Periscope app, the lawmaker can be seen approaching a woman outside of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The woman, by herself, can be seen praying the rosary across the street from the Planned Parenthood.


Push back against Planned Parenthood protestors, PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege, & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please! #YouAreStrongEnough

— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) May 2, 2019


While Sims solicits donations for Planned Parenthood, he refers repeatedly to the woman as an “old white lady.”

As he approaches her, he says “I have a couple questions for you, ma’am. How many children have you clothed today? How many children have you put shoes on their feet today? Have you fed any children today, or have you say stood out in front of a Planned Parenthood, shaming people for something that they have a Constitutional right to do?”

“You can pray at home,” Sims tells the woman.

“Who would have thought that an old white lady would be outside of a Planned Parenthood telling people what’s right for their bodies? Shame on you,” Sims can be heard saying.

“You’re allowed to be out here,” Sims says to the woman, who can be seen continuing to pray the rosary. “That doesn’t mean you have a moral right to be out here. Shame on you. What you’re doing here is disgusting. This is wrong. You have no business being out here.”

Sims can be seen continuing to speak to the woman for several minutes, while she continues to pray and does not engage him. He repeats the phrase “shame on you,” while calling her an “old, white, lady,” repeatedly.

Later, Sims asks the woman to “talk about your Christian faith. About how your Christian faith believes in shaming people. About your Christian faith believes in telling people that you know what’s right for their bodies. About how your Christian faith believes that you know what’s right for their families.

Several minutes into the video, Sims can be seen obstructing the woman’s path with his camera. “Get out of my way,” the woman says. “Get your camera out of my face.”

“No,” the lawmaker tells her.

He then says to the livestream audience: “If you know who this woman is, and you can give me her address, we’ll protest outside of her home. Let’s go protest out in front of her house and tell her what’s right for her body.”

The practice of soliciting or publishing online an individual’s address and other personal details in order to elicit harassment is known as doxing. It is illegal in many jurisdictions.

As the nearly nine-minute video continues, Sims continues to berate the woman, and her religious faith, after she asks him to leave her alone. He calls her prayer “a racist act of judgment.”

“This Planned Parenthood has done more for civil rights in America than this person will ever do for anyone’s rights,” Sims says, while continuing to solicit funds for Planned Parenthood.

“Hasn’t fed a child today. Hasn’t put shoes on a child today. I’m sorry, ma’am, how many Catholic Churches are you protesting, out of 400 priests in Pennsylvania indicted for child molestation. I don’t remember seeing at those protests. I was at them. Instead you’re dragging people for their Constitutional rights. Shame on you,” Sims says to the woman.

“Shame on you.”

400 priests in Pennsylvania have not been indicted for child molestation. Sims seemed to be referring to a July report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, which noted 300 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct during a period of seven decades.

The woman is apparently not the only one to be the subject of videos livestreamed by Sims. In an undated video tweeted by Live Action May 6, Sims can be seen approaching five people, most of whom appear to be teenagers, outside of the same Planned Parenthood. He characterizes them as “white people,” and “psuedo-Christian protestors who have been out here shaming young girls for being here.”

Sims says in that livestream video that he will give $100 to anyone who can identify the names and addresses of the young people.


UPDATE: Watch PA Rep @BrianSimsPA offer up $100 for the identities & addresses of 3 TEENAGERS who are fighting for the lives of preborn children.

This is despicable.

— Live Action (@LiveAction) May 6, 2019



“We’re actually just praying for the babies, and we believe that women deserve more,” one of them can be heard saying.

Sims, 40, has represented the 182nd district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013. A Democrat, Sims worked as a legal advocate for same-sex marriage and was the first person to identify as gay elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Shortly before posting his livestream interrogation of the woman, Sims tweeted “Planned Parenthood protesters are scum! I’ve spent years as a patient escort witnessing firsthand the hate, vitriol, hostility and BLATANT RACISM they spew. You can ‘pray for a baby at home.’ You sure as hell can feed a kid or clothe one instead. Old, fake, White, wrong!”

Law enforcement officials have not yet said whether Sims will face charges for his engagement with the woman.


Civil appeals court dismisses legal challenge, says Sheen's body can go to Peoria

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 19:01

Albany, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The New York Court of Appeals has dismissed an appeal of an earlier judgement allowing Venerable Fulton Sheen’s remains to be moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria, in accordance with his family’s wishes.

The May 2 dismissal of the Archdiocese of New York’s appeal could pave the way for the Illinois-born archbishop’s beatification.

“After almost three years of litigation, the New York Archdiocese’ legal arguments have now been rejected at all three levels of the New York state court system,” the Diocese of Peoria said May 6.

“Although the New York Archdiocese may technically have legal options remaining, they are contrary to the wishes of Archbishop Sheen and his family, and would serve no genuine purpose except to delay the eventual transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains,” it added.

Archbishop Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living.” He authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure among Catholics in the U.S. until his death.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002 after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

However, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

The New York archdiocese, however, has said that Vatican officials have said the Peoria diocese can pursue Sheen’s canonization regardless of whether his body is at rest there.

In March 2019, the New York appeals court unanimously ruled that Sheen’s remains be transferred to Peoria.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.

An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.

Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.

In June 2018, the Superior Court of New York ruled in favor of Cunningham’s request that Sheen’s body be moved to Peoria. The Archdiocese of New York then announced that the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were appealing the decision.

Now, a New York appellate court has again sided with Cunningham, ruling 5-0 that Peoria may have the body. The court found that Sheen lived his life with heaven and sainthood as his ultimate goals, which should be considered in the present dispute.

The Diocese of Peoria voiced hope that the beatification efforts for Sheen may now move forward, with Sheen’s body in Peoria. In a March statement, the diocese said that the courts have had ample opportunity to consider the arguments raised by New York, but have ultimately found them unavailing.

Both the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York have repeatedly voiced prayers that the beatification cause may move forward in a timely manner.

Archbishop Sheen’s intercession is credited with the miraculous recovery of a pronounced stillborn American baby from the Peoria area. In June 2014, a panel of theologians that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that the baby’s recovery was miraculous – a key step necessary before someone is beatified.

The baby, later named James Fulton Engstrom, was born in September 2010 showing no signs of life. As medical professionals tried to revive him, his parents prayed for his recovery through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

What does the Catholic Church teach about vaccines?

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 18:28

Washington D.C., May 6, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- More than 760 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year, the CDC says. Currently, 23 states have been affected, with 60 new cases reported in the last week. The majority of cases have been concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, with outbreaks in New Jersey, Washington, and California as well.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But experts say a decline in vaccination rates has left some communities particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, among them communities with religious objections to vaccinations.

As the U.S. continues to faces its worst measles outbreak in a quarter-century, the national debate about vaccines has been reignited, and with it, questions about whether Catholics can and should vaccinate.

One reason that some people decline the measles vaccine in particular has to do with the fact that it was developed from cell lines descending from aborted fetal tissue.

The vaccines for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), hepatitis A, and chicken pox are the only remaining vaccines that were developed in these cell lines, and for which there are no alternatives on the market.

But this does not mean that Catholics are prohibited from receiving these vaccines, explained Dr. Jozef Zalot, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a non-profit research and educational institute committed to applying the moral teachings of the Catholic Church to ethical issues arising in healthcare and the life sciences.

Zalot pointed to a 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life which considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared in cell lines descended from aborted fetuses. The Vatican group concluded that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

This conclusion, Zalot said, is based on a framework for evaluating ethical dilemmas, “when you’re in a situation where you want to do good, but in doing so, there’s some level of cooperation in an immoral act.”

Moral theologians weigh the level and type of cooperation in the evil act – in this case two abortions performed in 1960s from which the cells lines were developed – as well as the good of public health that comes from vaccinating.

“One is morally free to use the vaccine, despite its historical association with abortion, if there is a proportionately serious reason for doing so,” the NCBC says in its Frequently Asked Questions about vaccines, drawing from the conclusions of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“In practice, the risks to personal and public health could permit its use. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

No additional abortions are performed to maintain the vaccines, and no cells from the abortion victims are contained in the vaccines themselves, the NCBC notes.

Other concerns regarding vaccines involve side effects. Internet groups have voiced concerns that vaccines could be linked to negative outcomes including autoimmune disorders, autism, and learning disabilities.

However, the science does not substantiate claims that vaccines pose a significant threat, according to Dr. Paul Cieslak, an infectious disease specialist with the Oregon Health Authority.

Speaking as a Catholic physician and father of six children – all of whom are vaccinated – Cieslak told CNA that while all medications, including vaccines, have the potential for side effects, vaccines are largely safe.

To be approved by the FDA, he said, vaccines undergo clinical trials with hundreds or thousands of people. Once they are licensed for use in the general population, there are additional systems set up to look for possible side effects.

“When you give vaccines to millions of people, some of them are going to develop a disease or get sick [in a way] that’s completely unrelated to the vaccination,” he said, so further examination is necessary to determine whether the vaccine caused the adverse event.

If something concerning surfaces in the reporting system, known as VAERS, it is referred to the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a group of healthcare organizations around the country. They monitor data on patients coming in with certain symptoms and problems, to see if these symptoms are more likely to arise in patients who have recently been vaccinated.

“Those systems give a lot of reassurance that the vaccines are safe,” he said, noting that 15 articles were published last year “looking into various suspicions that were raised, and basically weren’t finding anything.”

Cieslak said that parents making the decision of whether to vaccinate their children should keep the common good in mind.

“I would argue that there is a rationale rooted in social justice that people should get their children vaccinated for the greater good. The Church does tell us that we are our brother’s keeper, and we can protect other people.”

In particular, those who cannot receive vaccines – children who are too young to receive them, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems – benefit from what is called “herd immunity.” If enough of a community is vaccinated, it becomes much more difficult for a disease to spread through a population. This protects those who are most vulnerable to the disease and its complications.

In a 2017 document on vaccines, the Pontifical Academy for Life noted a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others…,especially the safety more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”

Still, some parents maintain religious or philosophical objections to vaccinating. All 50 states currently allow exemptions to vaccine requirements for those with certain medical conditions – such as life-threatening allergies to a vaccine or a chronically compromised immune system. All but a few states allow exemptions for philosophical and religious objections as well.

In the wake of the ongoing measles outbreak, several states have proposed tightening or removing these exemptions. And at least five Democratic presidential hopefuls - Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Eric Swalwell, and Tim Ryan – have indicated that they would favor removing religious and personal belief exemptions from vaccine requirements.

The removal of vaccine exemptions is extremely concerning to people like Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group that works to “prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education.”

“Vaccines are pharmaceutical products that carry a risk of harm and failure,” Fisher told CNA. “People should not be forced by law to violate their conscience when making decisions about vaccination for themselves or their minor children.”

“Every person is different, born with different genes and a unique microbiome and epigenetic history. We do not all respond the same way to pharmaceutical products and doctors cannot reliably predict who will be harmed by vaccines,” she continued. “One-size-fits-all vaccine policies discriminate against those who are biologically vulnerable to suffering vaccine reactions.”

Zalot agreed that requiring people to inject a foreign substance into their children’s bodies without exemptions is troubling.

“That would raise a lot of concerns for me, to make a blanket statement that a parent has no conscience rights, or parental rights in terms of vaccinating or not vaccinating,” he said, clarifying that he was speaking for himself and not the NCBC.

This becomes tricky when objections are based on arguments that lack scientific backing, he said.

“It really is a balancing act,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make a blanket statement. You have to really look at the individual situation and make a judgment from there.”

Zalot also stressed, however, that parents who do not vaccinate must realize that there may be consequences of that choice – for example, they may not be able to attend certain schools that require students to be vaccinated.

“A parent could exercise a conscientious right not to vaccinate, but at the same time, they have to accept the consequences of that.”

Times Square ultrasound draws thousands

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 17:00

New York City, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A live, 4D-ultrasound of a 36-week gestation baby was broadcast in Times Square on Saturday, as part of Focus on the Family’s “Alive in New York” celebration.

“Alive in New York” was conducted in partnership with the pro-life organizations And Then There Were None and Save the Storks. The event drew a crowd estimated in the thousands, and it is believed to be the largest pro-life demonstration in New York state history.

In addition to the ultrasound, the event included musical performances and speeches from pro-life advocates.

Times Square, widely seen as the center of the nation’s largest city, was chose as a venue in response to New York state’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year. That law deriminalized abortion, while removing almost all restrictions on the procedure in New York.

“Our nation, and our society, is at a crossroads. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. Now is the moment to unite with one voice to proclaim the sanctity of life. The truth will be visible to all in Times Square – at The Crossroads of the World,” said Focus on the Family in a statement released prior to the event.

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the abortion industry to form And Then There Were None, was given an ultrasound as part of the event. Johnson is 36 weeks pregnant with her eighth child.

During the ultrasound, Johnson exclaimed to the crowd “This right here is a baby. It’s not a cat, it’s not a parasite. This is a human being with a heartbeat, with its own DNA that is separate from my body.”

Johnson is also the subject of the new film “Unplanned,” which depicts her story and ideological conversion into the pro-life movement. In the film, she is motivated to leave the abortion industry after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion of a second-trimester pregnancy.

New York’s bishops were extremely critical of the Reproductive Health Act as it made its way through the state legislature.

“Words are insufficient to describe the profound sadness we feel at the contemplated passage of New York State’s new proposed abortion policy. We mourn the unborn infants who will lose their lives, and the many mothers and fathers who will suffer remorse and heartbreak as a result,” the bishops of New York state said Jan. 17.

“The so-called 'Reproductive Health Act' will expand our state’s already radically permissive law, by empowering more health practitioners to provide abortion and removing all state restrictions on late-term procedures. With an abortion rate that is already double the national average, New York law is moving in the wrong direction.”

The bishops recalled their pledge “to offer the resources and services of our charitable agencies and health services to any woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, to support her in bearing her infant, raising her family or placing her child for adoption. There are life-affirming choices available, and we aim to make them more widely known and accessible.”

Tenn. bishops urge governor to stop executions

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 15:57

Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Tennessee have requested that the new governor halt four executions planned for this year, reiterating the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote April 23 to Governor Bill Lee.

The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.

The letter welcomed Lee's Republican administration and asked him to reconsider a recent plan from the state to fast-track death sentences.

The bishops said the death penalty is both unneccesary and faulty, stating that “nationally, we have seen many people released from death row after they have been found to have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person.”

The bishops added that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society,”

“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” they said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”

Lee’s administration has inherited a two year plan by former Governor Bill Haslam to fast-track the execution of nine men on death row, as the state's supply of lethal injection drugs is in flux.

The first scheduled execution is that of Donnie Johnson on May 16. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. The bishops noted that “even their daughter has spoken against his execution.”

Tennessee has also scheduled the executions of Stephen West Aug. 15, Charles Wright Oct. 10, and Lee Hall Dec. 5.

The bishops drew attention to St. John Paul II's role in commuting the death sentence of Darrell Mease in Missouri in 1999: “At that time, the pope called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary.”

St. John Paul II “said that it is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society,” they said.

The statement encouraged Lee to converse with the bishops and investigate the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. The bishops said they would happily provide further information on the subject and go over any questions the governor may have.

Nebraska dioceses: Privacy law impedes providing AG with some records

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:50

Lincoln, Neb., May 6, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- At a hearing in Lincoln on Thursday, the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln explained that they have not provided the state attorney general with some records because of privacy laws.

The Nebraska attorney general's office issued subpoenas in February to some 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

While the vast majority of requested records have been submitted, psychiatric evaluations, medical records, and confidential settlement agreements have not.

“Those are the only things we have not turned over,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said at a May 2 hearing in Lancaster County District Court, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The pscyh evals and medical records are protected by federal privacy laws, he said: “If the court would order us to turn those records over, we would be happy to do so. But we won’t violate federal privacy laws.”

Similarly, settlements include confidentiality clauses agreed to by abuse victims: “That victim expects us to honor that confidentiality agreement, and that’s what we’re going to do, unless ordered otherwise by a court,” McNeil stated.

In 2018 the attorney general's office asked that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses indicated their cooperation with that request.

This March, the Omaha archdiocese and the Lincoln diocese applied for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope and to set deadlines that can be reasonably met.

At the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post acknowledged that many of the requested records are being submitted.

But he complained of the omissions, and said some records were redacted, with some names being substituted by initials.

McNeil explained that the Omaha archdiocese had not redacted the records and that initials were regularly used in correspondence, in part to preserve victims' privacy.

In March, the archdiocese said it had submitted more than 11,500 pages of records to the attorney general's office.

The Lincoln diocese said in February that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island, the third diocese in the state, said Feb. 26 that “while we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion. The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

The Lincoln diocese announced last month that it is adopting new, comprehensive safe environment policies and that it will investigate the alleged misconduct by Msgr Leonard Kalin, the former vocations director.

The diocese also released a list of diocesan priests against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported.

Scientists join call for moratorium on embryonic gene editing

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 17:01

Milwaukee, Wis., May 4, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A group of 62 doctors, scientists, and bioethicists have issued an open letter urging a global moratorium on experiments that alter human genes that can be passed on to subsequent generations, a practice known as “germline editing.”

“Although we recognize the great scientific advancement represented by gene editing technologies and their potential value for an improved understanding and possible treatment of human disease, we strongly believe the editing of human embryos that results in births carries serious problems for which there are no scientific, ethical, or societal consensuses,” the letter from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy reads.

The organization sent the letter April 24 to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

“As a result, we contend that such human genetic manipulation should be considered unacceptable and support a binding global moratorium until serious scientific, societal, and ethical concerns are fully addressed,” it reads.

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while somatic cell gene therapy is in principle morally licit, “because the risks connected to [germline cell therapy] are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”

The instruction also warned against a “eugenic mentality” that aims to improve the gene pool, adding that there could be social stigmas and privileges applied to people with certain genetic qualities, when “such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human.”

The April letter is not the first time prominent scientists have addressed the issue of germline editing; in 2015, a group of five scientists published an op-ed in the journal Nature warning that “heritable human genetic modifications pose serious risks, and the therapeutic benefits are tenuous.”

In March of this year, a different group of 18 scientists took to the pages of Nature to call for a global moratorium on the practice of editing human DNA to create genetically modified babies, until the international community can develop a “framework” for how to proceed in an ethical manner.

At least four scientists have signed their names on both the March and April letters.

The two recent calls for a germline editing moratorium come in the wake of ethical questions surrounding the purported actions a Chinese biophysicist who claims he created the first genetically modified babies late last year.

The biophysicist, He Jiankui, says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

“The alterations induced by Dr. He in these two girls would be expected to have been introduced into human germline cells, which would make the changes heritable and therefore passed on to future generations,” the letter asserts.

“Dr. He proceeded without clear medical need, in a surreptitious manner lacking any meaningful public or scientific community discussion or consensus, and without any regulatory approval.”

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

In a December 2018 letter signed by 150 Chinese scientists, He was condemned for ignoring ethical guidelines. The letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” and said, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

In the April letter, the scientists drew attention to scientific questions surrounding germline editing that, in their view, must be addressed before scientists proceed. These include how artificial changes to an embryo’s genes “might interact with existing human genetic diversity when these new alterations are passed on to future generations.”

Clinical germline editing is currently banned in the United States and in 30 or so other countries throughout the world, including China.

“Before this status quo is revisited, it is vital that extensive discussions and engagement take place among all major stakeholders, including members of the scientific, medical, patient, caregiver, policy, legal, ethical, and faith communities,” the letter reads.

These stakeholders must be consulted before any more germline editing takes place, they say, and “effective and easily accessible mechanisms” must be developed “for reporting potential violations.”

The scientists in the April letter noted the potential for gene editing in somatic cells which do not result in births or the passing on of manipulated traits.

“In somatic cells, certain types of gene editing will likely have important scientific and medical applications, including their use to treat patients living with genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia, beta-thalassemia, blindness, muscular dystrophies, and hemophilia, as well as cancer and many other diseases,” the scientists wrote.

Azar has not yet issued a response to the April letter.

CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in early 2017. He explained that somatic cell gene editing may be morally legitimate when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.”

He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

Calif. attorney general investigating LA archdiocese sex abuse files

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:45

Los Angeles, Calif., May 3, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- The California Attorney’s General’s Office this week wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, announcing that it will be conducting an investigation of its handling of sexual abuse allegations involving minors, starting with accusations made as early as 1996.

The letter was dated Thursday, and addressed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to Archbishop Jose Gomez. It was obtained and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

In the Angelus News, the diocesan paper for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, archdiocesan spokesperson Carolina Guevara said that “the Archdiocese has not officially received the letter from the Attorney General, however, we will be responding cooperatively as we have with the past three Grand Jury investigations of the Archdiocese.”

The investigation comes shortly after the archdiocese paid its largest abuse settlement to an individual to date - $8 million to a female teenager, who was sexually abused and abducted by a teacher at her Catholic high school in 2016.

Becerra’s investigation will include accusations made against clergy as well as those made against members of religious orders and against employees and volunteers for the archdiocese, the letter indicated. It will be a “review of your archdiocese’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving children, including whether your archdiocese has adequately reported allegations of sexual misconduct, as required under California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act,” the letter to Gomez stated, according to the L.A. Times.

The review will look at past actions that the archdiocese took against those accused of abuse, including cases properly reported to authorities, as well as actions taken against those who failed to properly report abuse. The letter asked the archdiocese to preserve for review all documents relating to allegations of sexual abuse against clergy or employees, including any secret archives, legal documents, personnel files and internal review board files.

The investigation is similar to those being conducted in other states, including Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The L.A. Times noted that it is unclear if Becerra’s investigation will include any other Catholic dioceses in the state.

The investigation is the latest of several moves on the part of the state and the archdiocese to improve transparency and reporting on cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

In November 2018, Becerra announced the creation of an online reporting form for easier reporting of accusations of abuse against California clergy.

“To date, the Office of the Attorney General has not informed the Archdiocese of any reports made to their online reporting form concerning the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Guevara told Angelus News.

In December 2018, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles updated its list of priests credibly accused of abuse of minors, which had last been updated in 2008. That same month, former Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar resigned after a previous accusation of sexual abuse was found to be credible.

The archdiocese emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation in their latest statement.

In a statement published by Angelus News, it said, “The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to transparency and has established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victim-survivors in our parishes, schools and ministries.”

“The Archdiocese has also already cooperated with two state and one federal investigation and continues to fully cooperate with all civil authorities. Allegations of abuse involving minors whether by a member of the clergy or a layperson are reported to law enforcement, public announcements are made at the places where the person has served, and if found credible the person is permanently removed from any capacity according to the Archdiocese’s Zero Tolerance policy,” it stated.

“The Archdiocese does not tolerate anyone who does harm to a child or vulnerable person and remains committed and vigilant in ensuring that parishes, schools and ministries are safe places for everyone in our community,” it added.

Forgiving the unforgivable: Exhibit highlights stories of abuse survivors

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic University of America hosted a recent special exhibit to share the stories of survivors of clerical sexual abuse and how they have coped with the trauma of their experiences. Nine people are profiled by undergraduate students.

The exhibit was on display from late April until May 1.

The Hope and Healing Story Gallery was supported by The Catholic Project, an initiative of the Catholic University of America focused on renewal and healing within the Church; Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice organization; and the Catholic University of America’s PEERS students group, which serves to teach students about substance abuse, mental health awareness, sexual assault and violence education and prevention.

“The idea for this exhibit came about in the midst of the conversations about what renewal in the Church looks like,” reads the story gallery’s introduction. “We realized that we couldn’t continue to talk about healing and renewal without hearing from those who experienced sexual abuse. We needed to hear their stories.”

The profiles were written by seven undergraduate students at the Catholic University of America. Among the survivors who stories were told was Michael, who lives in Lake Forest, IL.

Michael was abused by a priest from the age of 12 to 16, and he did not speak of what had happened until nearly 30 years later. He then reported his abuser to the Archdiocese of Chicago and began therapy sessions.

Michael was instrumental in creating the Healing Garden at the Archdiocese of Chicago, which is a “neutral, sacred place” for survivors of abuse. The Healing Garden plays hosts to events for abuse survivors and their families each year.

In his profile, Michael spoke of his belief that repeated annual events are more effective for survivors than the “one-and-done” healing services.

“The one-and-done Mass doesn’t do it, coming together every year does,” he said. And while he is an abuse survivor, he does not consider his experience as the main part of his story. Rather, he said “My story is what I’ve done since that time” in working to help other survivors like himself.

“The acts of abuse, imposed upon me and other children, are my abuser’s story,” he said.

Another profiled survivor is Miguel, from Katy, Texas. He has relied on the example of the saints in his journey of healing from abuse. He is the founder of the St. Maria Goretti Network, works to help victim survivors with their own emotional recovery and ability to forgive their abusers.

Along with St. Maria Goretti, Miguel said that he was inspired by St. Josphine Bakhita, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, two saints that experienced grave injustices during their lives. St. Josephine Bakhita was a victim of human trafficking and was sold as a slave, and St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

“Maria, Josephine, and Maximilian showed me how to forgive the unforgivable,” said Miguel.

Alabama bill to send abortion doctors to jail sets up Supreme Court fight

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 13:30

Montgomery, Ala., May 3, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make performing an abortion a Class A felony offence. The Human Life Protection Act would mean doctors who perform abortion could face years in prison.

The bill was carried in the House by a margin of 74-3 on April 30. It must now be passed by the state Senate and approved by Gov. Kay Ivy (R).

Unlike so-called “trigger laws” passed in other states, which would outlaw abortion in the event that the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade is overturned, the Alabama measure would come into effect within a year of being signed into law.

Under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, abortion is defined as a constitutional right. If the Human Life Protection Act were to become law, it would face an immediate challenge and likely be prevented from coming into force. Supporters of the bill said their intention is to use the ensuing court battle to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v Wade.

State Rep. Terri Collins (R - Decatur) said that the law is designed to “confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person."

"This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is," Collins said.

As a Class-A felony, performance of an abortion would carry a potential prison sentence of 10-99 years but, the bill’s supporters noted, would only apply to doctors and not to mothers.

Collins underlined that the bill “makes it a criminal offense to perform an abortion as a doctor. The woman would be held blameless.”

Following the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have speculated that the Supreme Court could be open to revisiting abortion in an upcoming judicial session.

In anticipation of a possible change by the court, several states have passed legislation either restricting or entrenching abortion in state law.

The Human Life Protection Act goes further in attempting to outlaw abortion then other recent efforts.

Several states have passed so-called “heartbeat bills” which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Alabama bill would criminalize abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

While it does contain an exception for circumstances where the health of the mother is at serious risk, a proposed amendment which would allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest was defeated 72-26.

During the debate, state Rep. John Rogers (D- Birmingham) sparked controversy when he argued that abortion was necessary because unwanted children would be eventually killed, whether or not they were born.

“Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later,” Rogers said.

The representative also said that mothers should be able to abort “retarded” or “half-deformed” children.

Other critics of the bill noted the likely expense to the state which would be incurred by years of legal appeals, and suggested that it was a waste of government resources.

Rep. Rich Wingo, (R-Tuscaloosa), said the bill went to the heart of human dignity for the unborn, and noted that in his district a single clinic performed 3,500 abortions a year.

“There are more abortions in Tuscaloosa than births,” Wingo said.

Stronger conscience protections for doctors, nurses approved by HHS

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 09:15

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services has released a new rule allowing medical professionals to refuse to take part in procedures because of their religious or conscientious objections. The rule covers controversial services like abortion and sterilization.

The HHS rule, announced May 2, has been in development for more than a year. It will strengthen a series of Congressional laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses. Under the rule, medical providers may opt of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform the procedures.

Enforcement of the rule will fall under the department’s Office of Human Rights and come into effect two months from publication in the Federal Register.

The new rule was first announced last year, following the creation by HHS of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office of Human Rights. Creation of the division included a mechanism for medical workers to complain directly to the department about cases of discrimination or forced participation based on religious beliefs or conscience objections.

A statement released by the department said that it had received more than 240,000 submissions during the consultation period, and that the new rule would replace previous 2011 regulations which have proven “inadequate.”

The director of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, Roger Severino, said in a statement that the rule “ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.”

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Severino said. “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”

Abortion activists have said that the new rule will severely curtail access to such procedures in rural and other communities.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, released a statement calling the Trump Administration “determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law.”

The text of the rule acknowledges that several submissions were made during consultation regarding the possible limitation on access to abortion and sterilization procedures in some communities, saying these submissions proved the inadequacy of previous conscience protections.

“The Department observed that it was contradictory to argue, as many commenters did, both that the rule would decrease access to care and that the then‐current conscience protections for providers were sufficient,” the text of the rule reads.

“If the Department’s new rule would decrease access to care because of an increase in providers’ exercise of conscientious objections, it would seem that the statutory protections that existed before the regulation did not result in providers fully exercising their consciences as protected by law.”

Speaking out, hopeful, and waiting for change

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 06:00

New York City, N.Y., May 3, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Esther Harber says she was raped by a priest in 2010. Nine years later, through grace and her own courage, Harber’s story, and her life, are moving forward in hope.

Harber is not naive. She knows the story isn’t over yet. And for now, she’s waiting, and praying, for change.

In 2010, Harber was working as a lay missionary in New York City, focused on serving women and children in need.

Harber often went to Mass and confession at Holy Rosary Parish in the Bronx. Early that year, she told a priest during confession that she had been sexually abused as a child, and was struggling with bitterness as she worked through it.

The priest was Fr. Edwin Erhimeyoma, a Nigerian, in New York for doctoral studies at Fordham University.

“It was at that time that he tried to ‘baptize me in the Holy Spirit,’” Harber said, referring to a Catholic charismatic practice in which a person is prayed over, in order to “stir up” the graces of baptism and confirmation. This often involves placing hands on the person being prayed over.

“I was extremely uncomfortable and I kept asking him to back away, back away, and he finally did. And I was so shook up about it.”

She said that she told the parish pastor, Fr. Robert Quarato, about the incident. He promised, she told CNA, to speak to Erhimeyoma.

“From that point on,” she said, “I rarely spoke to him. And then at some point I started feeling a little guilty for having ‘ratted on him,’ or whatever, just for whatever reason I did. Looking back I can’t really understand my logic then, but I made some sort of peace with him.”

“And it was from that point that our relationship took a different turn.”

She said she began talking with Erhimeyoma after Mass occasionally, especially about spiritual healing. She said the priest encouraged her to make an appointment with him, and that they met around Easter in 2010.

They met in Erhimeyoma’s office.

“There were no windows. There was no one around.”

Harber said the priest again tried to pray over her.

“He had me close my eyes, and he was encroaching very much into my space and touching me in places that he shouldn’t have been.”

After that encounter, the two started texting. Harber said that the Erhimeyoma would sometimes text “I love you” and call her “sweetheart.”

“Part of me really enjoyed the attention,” she said. “I was really hungry for love at that point in my life…I was a pretty broken person at that point.”

Harber said they started talking more frequently.

In the autumn, Harber said, “things started to get more bold. He was a lot more aggressive.”

Erhimeyoma’s behavior, she conceded, likely fit a pattern of grooming. Such behavior, according to resources developed by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, is “a pre-meditated behavior intended to manipulate a potential victim into complying with sexual abuse.”

Among the most common tactics used in grooming behavior is “emotionally blackmailing the victim into compliance.”

Over time, “the victim can become groomed to the point that he/she believes to be in an apparent ‘loving relationship’ with the offender,” the USCCB says.

Grooming behavior often targets individuals who are emotionally unstable, who have suffered abuse before, or who seem likely to be easily manipulated. Experts say those who would engage in grooming often recognize the subtle signs that a person might be particularly vulnerable to coercion or manipulation.

As a child, Harber was a victim of sexual abuse. Those who are sexually abused as children have a much higher likelihood of being abused as adults than those who are not, studies show. More than a third of those abused by a family member in childhood are abused by a partner or someone close to them in adulthood, according to one study.

Still, Harber told CNA she believes she bore some responsibility for the relationship. That she recognized that it was inappropriate, and that she needed to define more concrete boundaries, but she didn’t. Studies show consistently that a person who suffers sexual abuse will struggle, often for life, to set appropriate boundaries in relationships.

Psychologist Veronica Lenzi told CNA that because sexual assault is a serious violation of a person’s dignity, it causes a profound level of trauma. That trauma can make it difficult to recognize inappropriate behavior in relationships. A person who has been sexually abused may have “cognitive dissonance” about what love, respect, and friendship ought to look like, Lenzi said.

Harber, though, did begin to realize her relationship with Erhimeyoma fit an unhealthy pattern, and she tried several times to end the friendship. She struggled to do so.

“It was very spiritualized,” she told CNA, adding that the priest used knowledge of her past, and her faith, to manipulate her in their friendship.

“He would tell me, ‘I just want you to be free with me,’” she said.

“As time went on,” she said, “and I tried more and more frequently to kind of get away from was like an addiction...You know it’s destructive, you know it’s bad, but you can’t leave. And I was just caught in this cycle.”

In October 2010, things escalated.

In that month, Harber, who had been discerning religious life, learned she would not be accepted into a religious community she’d hoped to join.

“I was pretty crushed,” she said.

She said she texted the priest to share with him the news, and he responded: “Don’t worry, honey, I still need you.”

That evening, he asked to spend time with her. She suspected he might want to be sexually intimate, but, she said, “I thought he just wanted to be there for me as a friend. I guess in my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t true.”

“I didn’t want to have sex with him. I didn’t have sexual feelings,” she said, telling CNA she was resolved not to succumb to any advances he might make.

Still, she said, she didn’t want to be alone. And, though she know says it was a mistake, she agreed to meet him at a church. She hoped the sacred setting would be enough to deter any inappropriate intentions on Erhimeyoma’s part.

When Erhimeyoma arrived at the empty church narthex, she says he told her, as he had before, “I just want you to be free with me.”

“I told him I just needed a hug.” But Harber said that when they embraced, the priest began to kiss her forcefully.

Harber said she pulled away. She said the priest told her he would leave, if she wanted him to.

“So part of my story is that I was also abandoned many times growing up. So it’s like a huge fear of mine, is abandonment. And he knew that. And he was playing into that. He just knew way too much about my psychological makeup. Because he played it perfectly.”

Harber said she felt personally and emotionally stuck in her conversation with Erhimeyoma. She wanted him to leave, but she didn’t want to be alone.

A person who has suffered abuse can “perpetuate paradoxes of woundedness,” Lenzi told CNA, feeling panicked and trapped even in situations that she knows could be dangerous.

Harber said she asked the priest not to leave. But he began to kiss her again. Eventually, she said, he began to disrobe her.

“I was like ‘No. No. No No.’”

“He said, ‘You are so lucky. Any other guy wouldn’t have stopped right now.’ And I just felt a pit feeling in my stomach. I just felt trapped. I didn’t feel like there was any way for me to get out.”

“I can’t even begin to express the power differential in the relationship. I was in such a way that I couldn’t say no again.”

Harber said Erhimeyoma instructed her to perform a sex act, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She told CNA she was paralyzed with fear.  

“I was just so frozen,” she said.

“The next thing I know, I was flipped over, my face was on the floor.”

The priest raped her, Harber said.

Harber told CNA she had no idea what to do next.

She said she went to the restroom, and “I come back, and I’m just, like, shaking. This is so sickening for me to say now, but I asked him to, just, hold me for a minute-- and I can’t believe I asked that from him, but he was so annoyed with the request.”

“We went into the nave, into the pews, and he looks up at the tabernacle, and he’s like ‘Isn’t it amazing, we’re in the presence of God.’ And I just felt my whole self crumble at that moment.”

“He made God a co-conspirator, you know?”

Harber said she soon told her therapist and then her pastor. She said she showed him text messages between her and Erhimeyoma.

After having to wait three weeks, she had a meeting with officials of the Archdiocese of New York: Monsignor William Belford, Vicar for Clergy, and Fr. Thomas D’Angelo, who was coordinator of international priests.

“It was very intimidating for me,” she said of the meeting.

She said she told Belford and D’Angelo that she was intimate with the priest, and that she emphasized twice that she had not consented to their sexual encounter. It would be years, she said later, before she could use the word “rape” to describe her situation.

But, Harber said, because she emphasized that she did not consent, the Archdiocese of New York should have assisted her in contacting the police.

Instead, she told CNA, archdiocesan officials seemed focused on removing the priest from the parish, but not on her well-being. She said she was told it would take a while for the priest to be removed from the parish, and that she should stay away from her parish until that happened.

She said she felt interrogated in the meeting, especially by Belford.

“I felt like a piece of meat, and just a problem they wanted to go away.”

The Archdiocese of New York told CNA that in 2010 a woman, whom it declined to name for privacy reasons, came forward “claiming that she and Fr. Erhimeyoma had had a sexual encounter after several months of a growing relationship, and that she was feeling upset by it.”

“When confronted by our Vicar for Clergy, Fr. Erhimeyoma admitted the encounter, and, as a result, was told that his faculties were withdrawn, he could no longer serve in New York, that we would not be able to provide him a recommendation to any other diocese in the country, and he would have to go back to his home diocese. His bishop was informed of the reason why he was no longer permitted to serve in New York,” the archdiocese said.

Erhimeyoma told CNA he had admitted a relationship with Harber, but he declined to respond to questions about whether the relationship was sexual.

“I didn’t sexually assault her, ever,” he told CNA. He declined to respond to additional questions.

“I have forgotten about all of these things,” Erhimeyoma added. “I do not wish to go back there anymore.”

Though Erhimeyoma left the Archdiocese of New York, and apparently forgot what had happened, Harber said she did not forget.

In June 2013, Harber heard on social media that the priest was living in New York City to continue his graduate studies.

She emailed Ed Mechmann, director of the Safe Environment Office in the Archdiocese of New York. She recounted her experience with the priest, and asked if he was back in New York.

Mechmann told her by email he had read her account “with great sadness,” and that he had not found any evidence that the priest was in active ministry in the archdiocese.

Mechmann and Harber continued corresponding. The archdiocese helped Harber find and pay for a therapist. She saw a social worker near for a while, but he seemed unqualified to deal with her trauma. She struggled to find a qualified therapist in the Dayton area, where she was then living. Eventually she began driving an hour to see a therapist in Cincinnati.

In one 2013 correspondence with Mechmann, Harber wrote that she did not consent to the sexual act with Erhimeyoma.

“I just zoned out and let him go,” she wrote. “I did not fight, but I did not consent. I don’t know if I personally could call it rape- although, I know some definitely would. I do know it was an extreme violation to my person.”

The police were not contacted in response to Harber’s disclosure. A spokesman for the archdiocese told CNA that “at that time, she was still ambivalent about the encounter,” adding that “her correspondence with the archdiocese mainly focused on whether Father Erhimeyoma was in the country (he was not) and assistance for counselling.”

Years later, in a 2018 email, Mechmann explained to Harber that “based on the information that was available to me in 2013, I concluded that the conduct did not satisfy the legal definition of rape, and that is why we did not refer the matter to law enforcement at that time. I understand that the Assistant DA has now concluded that Fr. Edwin’s conduct could have been prosecuted as Rape in the Third Degree.”

In another 2018 email, Mechmann wrote that when he was in contact with Harber in 2013, he was unaware of the violent nature of the sexual encounter.  

“I was not aware of your more detailed explanation of what happened,” Mechmann wrote, referencing a description of physical force Harber had recounted to him only in 2018.

“If I had known that, I would have come to a different conclusion, because that is clearly the use of physical force to overcome your spoken opposition. But at the time, our correspondence dealt with the questions of whether Fr. Edwin was still in active ministry (and I discovered he was not) and how we could arrange for therapy for you (which was the main subject we discussed). We never got into the details of the assault. Looking back I wish we had,” Mechmann wrote.  

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA a policy for handling complaints regarding non-consensual sexual relationships, or those that violate pastoral relationships, was promulgated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in 2016.

But, the archdiocese said, an “older policy was in effect when the complaint against Fr. Erhimeyoma was sent to us.”

Still, “had she described the encounter in 2013 in the way she described it in 2018,  it would have led to different action being taken by the archdiocese, including notifying law enforcement,” the spokesman added.

Harber told CNA archdiocesan officials were not experts in sexual abuse or coercion, and often seemed uncertain about how to engage with her, or understand why she had difficulty telling her story.

While Harber said it was obvious Mechmann was trying to help her, and she praised him for being the first person to apologize to her for what she experienced, she sometimes wondered whether other decision-makers made similar efforts to help her, or understood how.

She also wondered why the archdiocesan process for addressing allegations of child abuse seemed so different from the process from addressing claims from adults, she said.

Harber said she wonders why her claim couldn’t have been handled in the same way that claims of child sexual abuse are: through a diocesan review board, composed of psychological experts with specific training related to sexual assualt, along with law enforcement officials, and other experts in understanding sexual abuse, and its aftereffects.

She also said it was not until later in 2013, or in 2014, that “I was finally able to say for myself that this was rape.”

“Before then, it was so complex and it carried so much guilt that even though I knew logically ‘no means no, and that’s rape,’ it wasn’t until much further along that I had the emotional strenth, and got proper therapy, to say ‘this really was rape.’”

Harber’s experience, in that sense, is not uncommon. Psychologists say that victims of sexual assault often minimize their experience, find ways to presume responsibility for it, or deny it outright. It can take years for victims of sexual assault to be able to fully articulate their experience.

Lenzi told CNA that some victims of sexual assault or other kinds of trauma minimize or deny experiences to protect themselves from by being retraumatized. “When you start feeling that violation of yourself again, the body seizes up, and you go into denial.”

“Denial and minimization are surface things,” Lenzi said, “but what’s happening underneath is panic.”

Self-blame, Lenzi said, is also a common response to sexual assault and other kinds of trauma, and often requires extensive therapy to overcome.

Harber said she wrote to Erhimeyoma’s bishop in Nigeria in 2014, but received no reply. The Diocese of Warri did not confirm for CNA whether it received that letter.

The priest remained in ministry. Harber moved on with her life. By 2018, she was married, and had a child.

In the summer of 2018, after the Theodore McCarrick sexual abuse scandal began, and after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing clerical sexual abuse and cover-up, Harber felt again that she needed to speak out.

“I saw these two women on the TV, and they were crying, and I just saw the anguish on their face, and I got so mad. I was like ‘Lord, why did no one speak up for them?’ And then it was like a light bulb- ‘Edwin could be doing this right now, and you’re not speaking up for them.’”

She wrote to her own bishop, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. She stated directly that she had been raped by Erhimeyoma. Schnurr forwarded the letter to the Bronx District Attorney, and to the Archdiocese of New York.

As soon as it received that letter, “the Archdiocese of New York reached out to Fr. Erhimeyoma’s bishop in Nigeria once again, relating this new information, and making clear how serious the allegation was,” an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA.

By the time the matter reached a prosecutor, the statute of limitations in the case had expired.

After it received Harber’s letter, the archdiocese, and Cardinal Dolan in particular, reached out to Harber for a meeting. This, she said, eventually gave her a sense of hope. She said she started to believe that the archdiocese was willing to learn from her experiences.

Harber and Dolan met at the beginning of April.

Harber told CNA she had four goals for that meeting:

She wanted the archdiocese to assist her financially with her therapy expenses; she said that initial financial assistance covered less than 20% of her therapy bills.

She wanted assurance that Dolan had contacted the priest’s bishop.

She wanted the archdiocese to initiate a process for psychological examinations for all foreign priests.

And she wanted the archdiocese to develop a process for adults to report instances of clerical sexual abuse or coercion, for a diocesan review board to hear sexual abuse or coercion cases involving adults, and for the archdiocesan Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to be opened to adult victims of clerical sexual abuse or coercion.

Harber said she wanted more than just to be heard at the meeting.

“I can feel heard, and that might be a healing thing personally, but this isn’t just about me.”

“My therapist hears me. My husband hears me. If you really want to show me as a victim that you care, do something. Stop being afraid of this scandal and bring it to light.”

“The fear of scandal is what caused the perpetuation of this abuse,” Harber said.

“When the rubber meets the road, is he going to care for his flock?” she asked, regarding Dolan.

CNA spoke with Harber after she met with Dolan. She said it was “a very positive meeting.”

“He really acknowledged, I believe in a very genuine way, and I was surprised with how much he shared with me, and how open he was.”

She told CNA she was encouraged when Dolan apologized to her for her experience, and for how the Archdiocese of New York handled her case.

“The fact that he apologized for both what Edwin had done but also for how the diocese handled it. It made such a difference because it was like, ‘Ok, at least you see your mistake.’”

“I think the directness with which he apologized to me made a difference.

Esther said it mattered to her that “he called it a rape” while diocesan officials previously had not done so.

“It was very clear to the cardinal that it was rape,” she said. It also mattered to her that he recognized that “it was not handled well by the diocese.”

While positive, she deemed the meeting a partial success.

“I had four goals going in there, and two of them were met, one of them was listened to, and one of them was kind of brushed over,” she told CNA.

Dolan agreed that the archdiocese would further assist Harber with her therapy bills, and that he would contact Erhimeyoma’s bishop.

In fact, a spokesman for the Diocese of Warri told CNA that Bishop John ’Oke Afareha first received a letter about Erhimeyoma from the Archdiocese of New York in January 2019. At that time, the spokesman said, Arareha restricted Erhimeyoma’s priestly ministry, and began a canonical investigation into the matter.

That investigation is ongoing, the spokesman said, and Erhimeyoma, “does not have charge of a parish at this time.”

Harber said Dolan also assured her that “he is working on a process for adults to report such things,” and that he expects June’s U.S. bishops’ conference meeting to develop protocols on the subject.

New York’s archdiocesan spokesman told CNA that Dolan has asked Judge Barbara Jones, whom he appointed to review archdiocesan handling of abuse allegations, “to also examine how we respond to allegations of misconduct with adults, to see if there are ways we can improve our response.”

But Harber said Dolan did not respond to her request that all foreign priests be subject to a psychological examination before being permitted to minister in the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of priests serving in the U.S. are foreign born, and Harber told CNA she is concerned, because they are not all subject to the rigorous psychological screening that is typical in U.S. seminaries.

Dolan, she said “just acknowledged that there is no process of psychological screening for foreign born priests. So that part was a little underwhelming. I don’t know if that is part of his plan of action...I just don’t know.”

Harber told CNA she is now waiting to see how Dolan will follow through on his assurances.

“We have seen that there is a lot of talk but not a lot of action. It remains to be seen how things progress.”

“I expect him to begin to put in a solid practice for adults, and to make the point that adults can not have a consensual relationship with a priest because of the power differential. I hope that there would be something in place to protect people from priests who break their vows or promise of celibacy,” she said.

While she remains faithful to the Church, she said, she is struggling to trust.

“I wouldn’t say that my faith hasn’t wavered. There have definitely been times of desolation and there have been times when it has hurt very badly, because I feel betrayed not only by the priesthood, but by the leadership of the Church..”

Harber said she told Dolan she continues to struggle to trust priests and Church leaders, and that she has grown cynical.

“While that’s something I need to work on, I have a deep love for the Church. And that’s something I need to remember, and that we all need to remember, that the Church is much bigger than any cardinal, bishop, priest, or any sort of malfunction thereof. That Christ is bigger than that.”

“What I need is action. What the Church needs is action. And my hope is the Cardinal Dolan will take action. Because when he acts, the Church will listen.”

Catholic Charities defends serving teen trafficking victims without abortion

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 19:06

Sacramento, Calif., May 2, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- Catholic Charities of the East Bay (CCEB) in California is remaining firm in its conviction against referring teenage victims of sex trafficking for contraception and abortions at a new facility, while emphasizing that medical care is not the new facility’s primary mission.

“We are not licensed to provide medical services,” said Mary Kuhn, spokesperson for CCEB. “We provide therapeutic services, shelter, case manage, and make sure the girls are getting either homeschooling or the right school, all of that...We're not involved in their medical decisions.”

Catholic Charities is planning to open a home for teenage victims of sex trafficking, but has faced opposition from neighbors and critics who oppose the Church’s teaching on contraception and abortion.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the planned home will house up to 12 teenage sex-trafficking victims, ages 12 to 17, in Sequoyah, a forested neighborhood of the eastern Oakland hills. The facility, a former rectory, is still awaiting state approval to begin operations.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley had approached the diocese with an initiative to tackle human trafficking in the area. The new facility will be named “Claire’s House,” after O’Malley’s mother.

Kuhn told CNA that the biggest problem faced by social services agencies and advocacy groups for victims of sex trafficking is a lack of supportive homes, and Claire's House is intended to fill that need.

The district attorney approached Oakland Bishop Michael Barber in 2015, along with other faith-based agencies in the area, asking for their help in addressing the problem of sex trafficking.

“There's a lot of support for this program in Alameda County and the greater Bay Area,” Kuhn told CNA.

“Unfortunately there are a few people that are, quite understandably, nervous or opposed because they really just don't want this near where they live.”

The president of the Coalition of Residents Protecting Sequoyah, the neighborhood where the home will operate, has expressed concern about human traffickers coming to the neighborhood looking for girls they have abused.

“Claire's House is not a safehouse, and it's not a shelter," Kuhn clarified.

“And that's really important...a safehouse means you're hiding from someone, and a shelter means you're getting a bed, but little else. Claire's House is a home, and it's a home for healing. It's a home for girls who have already been separated from their exploiter,” she said.

The young people that the house will be serving will primarily be referred to the house by the county social services agency, and will be children that are already in the foster care system.

Without a place like Claire's House, Kuhn said, they could be placed in a foster home with a family that "really isn't prepared to provide the sort of therapeutic services and support that they need, because of their experience [of being trafficked].”

“They're not coming in as an emergency placement or a crisis situation, so there is an assessment process. So they're at a place where they are contemplating where to go next in their lives, and they just don't have housing and they don't have a place where they can be kids again.”

In alignment with Catholic teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception and abortion, the facility will not make appointments for clients at clinics that provide contraception or abortion and will also not provide transportation to those facilities.

Instead, the home will post a sign in a common area that explains the teens’ medical options. It will be up to the teens’ parents or guardians to arrange for abortion or contraception if they so choose.

“We are not a provider of medical services,” Kuhn clarified.

Per the house's licensing, they contract with a third party medical provider who Kuhn said is equipped to work with the vulnerable group that they serve.

If there are conversations or decisions regarding abortion or contraception, that would be between the girls, their doctors, and their guardians. She said the house will likely not talk to the girls much about those topics, but that pro-life pregnancy resources are a service Catholic Charities of the East Bay would like to provide in the future.

“They do have access to third-party medical care providers,” she said.

“Of course, we'll talk about health and hygiene, life skills, things like that. But our goal is to get them stabilized, enable them to pursue their education, get them the therapeutic services they need, and enable them to start participating in things kids do.”

The overarching Catholic values that come from their work help the teenagers to heal, she said.

“A lack of supportive homes for children who have left their exploiters— that is the single biggest problem that's faced by social service organizations and advocacy groups, and Claire's House fills this desperate need,” she reiterated.

The survivor led-community is supportive of the house, she said, and she said she hopes that other Catholic Charities organizations around the country can follow the same model.

“We are a national system, and we have deep experience serving people on the margins,” Kuhn said.

“And other entities would have a difficult time matching what Catholic Charities is able to do.”

The home plans to begin accepting its first clients as soon as the state approves a care license for the facility. Kuhn said Catholic Charities of East Bay will not be publicly announcing when they begin their services out of respect for the privacy of the children.

Kansas legislators fail to override veto of abortion pill reversal law

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 18:10

Wichita, Kan., May 2, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- By a single vote, the Kansas legislature failed to override a governor’s veto of a bill requiring doctors who administer the two-pill abortion drug regimen to tell women that the abortion pill can be reversed.

In the Kansas Senate, 27 senators voted to override. Only 83 legislators in the House of Representatives voted to override, one short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Rep. Jan Kessinger, an Overland Park Republican, had voted for the bill but voted against override. Citing discussions with constituents with different views of the bill, he said he decided the issue needs more research, the Wichita Eagle reports. Kessinger said he doesn’t believe the legislature should be “in the medical practice,” and the bill is not necessarily the best medical decision but he also does not believe the bill will be harmful.

The initial passage of Senate Bill 67 had drawn some support from several Democratic legislators, but they did not back an override of the veto from Gov. Laura Kelly. Kelly, a Democrat, had campaigned on support of legal abortion and had criticized a Democratic gubernatorial primary rival for voting in favor of abortion restrictions in the Kansas legislature.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman has said lawmakers will reconsider the vote, and he voiced hope that a re-vote will result in an override.

A chemical abortion is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone, also known as RU-486, and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

Backers of abortion pill reversal say the abortion can sometimes be reversed if a woman takes high doses of progesterone after she takes the mifepristone but before she takes misoprostol, though this must be done quickly.

Under the Kansas proposal, if a clinic that dispenses the abortion drug fails to display a notice about the reversal procedure, it could be fined $10,000. A doctor who fails to notify a patient could face misdemeanor charges for the first offense and a felony for the second offense.

Gov. Kelly said the Kansas legislation “forces health care providers to adhere to a government mandate not adequately supported by medical science.” She characterized it as “unnecessary legislation that would interfere with the relationship between women and their physicians.”

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, (R-Wichita), voted to override the veto.

“The idea that we can give an opportunity for a change of heart in deciding to have an abortion is a right that every single woman should have,” she said.

Mary Kay Kulp, executive director of Kansas for Life had characterized the bill as “common sense legislation” that “empowers women with information that could help them save their babies, should they change their minds about completing their medication abortions.”

The Kansas Supreme Court, in a 6-1 April decision, for the first time ruled that the state constitution protects the right to abortion. Its decision upheld dismemberment abortions, known technically as dilation and extraction abortions.

The ruling could affect many state abortion regulations and hinder any efforts to restore legal protections to unborn babies if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and other precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Other abortion reversal notification legislation passed the Oklahoma legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Sitt on March 25.

Arizona legislation similar to the Kansas bill was passed in 2015, then repealed in 2016 after legal challenges and a failure to find a credible expert willing to defend it. The State of Arizona had to pay Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers more than $600,000 in attorney fees and other costs spent fighting the law, the Associated Press said.

Dr. George Delgado, M.D., a pro-life California doctor, has been a leader in medical interventions to reverse the effects of the abortion pill regimen. He and several other researchers wrote another analysis of abortion pill reversal in the journal Issues in Law and Medicine in April 2018.

In observations of 754 patients who sought abortion pill reversal before taking the second drug, the researchers said that intramuscular progesterone had a reversal rate of 64% and high dose oral progesterone had a reversal rate of 68%.

Their report’s methodology has drawn some objections from other researchers, who argue that simply failing to take the second abortion pill may have similar results to undergoing the reversal protocol. However, its supporters say the protocol does not have significant drawbacks, because it does not harm the woman or baby.

Equality Act advances amid warnings over religious freedom

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., May 2, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved a controversial equality bill paving the way for a full vote on the floor of the House. Critics of the bill warn that the legislation will damage religious liberty and conscience rights.

The Equality Act forbids “discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.”

The bill also defines the terms “sex,” “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity.”

Critics of the measure have pointed out the lack of conscience protections in the text, raising concerns that it would encroach on basic freedoms of speech and religion.

Ryan Anderson, author and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA that he is concerned that the Equality Act would entrench transgender ideology in American law.

“The Equality Act would penalize many Americans who believe that we are created male and female and that male and female are created for each other,” said Anderson.

The bill also establishes that “public accommodation” includes all “places or establishments that provide (1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays; (2) goods, services, or programs; and (3) transportation services.”

It also includes a provision that would require people be able to access the shared facility, such as a locker room, restroom, or dressing room, that they feel best corresponds with their gender identity.

“It would violate the privacy and safety of women and girls, the conscience rights of doctors and other medical professionals, and the free speech and religious liberty rights of countless professionals,” Anderson said.

Conscience rights and religious liberty related to issues of gender identity and sexual orientation have become increasingly contested issues. A Catholic hospital group was sued in March after refusing to allow an elective hysterectomy procedure as part of a gender reassignment surgery.

Stephen White, Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and author of the book Red, White, Blue, and Catholic, told CNA that the measure was intentionally radical in scope.

"The Equality Act is deliberately written to give radical sexual ideology the force of law: nature, religion, custom, science, and common sense be damned.”

The bill is supported by the Business Coalition for the Equality Act, whose affiliates include major corporations such as Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Google, Verizon, and Visa.

White warned that the trend of large business backing a deeply progeressive social and political agenda is a cause for real concern.

“That such a bill, which explicitly circumscribes religious objections to the LGBT agenda, enjoys the enthusiastic support of so many major corporations ought to be a wake-up call to anyone who still needs it," White said.

The bill, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI),  is sponsored by all House Democrats, except Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). Two House Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and John Katko (R-NY), also co-sponsor the bill. It passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in a 22-10 vote along party lines.

Lipinski’s refusal to co-sponsor the bill has been highlighted by Marie Newman who is challenging him in a primary election. Newman said in a fundraising email that Lipinski was “bucking the Democratic Party” on the issue of LGBT rights.

Lipinski, a practicing Catholic and one of the few vocally pro-life Democrats in Congress, said that he is opposed to discrimination, but is concerned that the legislation could encroach on religious liberty.

“I believe that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination and afforded equal treatment under law in public life,” said Lipinski to Roll Call. “LGBTQ members are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and peers, and their sexual orientation or identity should not lead them to be treated any less than others.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court rules against abortion pill law

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 02:16

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 2, 2019 / 12:16 am (CNA).- The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law restricting the way in which the abortion pill is used.

The 7-1 decision rejected H.B. 2684, a five-year-old piece of legislation signed into law by then-Governor Mary Fallin.

In 2000, the FDA approved a medical abortion protocol that involves administering two drugs, several days apart. The drugs are approved for use up to 49 days in pregnancy.

One year later, 96% of medical abortions were not following this protocol, the Oklahoman reported.

In 2014, Oklahoma enacted a law requiring doctors to follow the on-label protocol for medical abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued, saying the regulation posed an undue burden on women and arguing that no other state had this requirement.

In 2016, the FDA endorsed an off-label usage of the pills. a medical abortion can be sought three weeks later into the pregnancy. Women are given a smaller dose of the drug and are permitted to self-administer it rather than take it in the presence of a physician.

Critics of the off-label use argued that women faced greater risks of complications – including serious bleeding – from using the medication further into pregnancy.

The state Supreme Court disagreed, calling it “unimaginable that the FDA would revise and update a protocol to one less safe or less effective than the original it approved 16 years earlier.”

The court ruled that the Oklahoma regulation “places a substantial obstacle in the path of women’s choice and places an undue burden on the woman’s rights,” according to the Associated Press.

The Center for Reproductive Rights welcomed the court’s decision as a victory.

Senate President Pro-Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), decried the ruling, saying the law was a reasonable effort to protect women’s health and safety.

“This measure was intended to protect the health and safety of women who sought a medication abortion by requiring the abortionist to follow the instructions on the pill bottle,” he said, according to The Oklahoman.

The abortion pill law was one of several abortion restrictions enacted by Oklahoma in recent years.

Last week, the state enacted a law requiring physicians to notify women seeking drug-induced abortions that a reversal procedure is available if they change their after taking their first of the two pills in the abortion regimen.


How Catholics in Camden help working families get homes of their own

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 19:19

Camden, N.J., May 1, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Affordable housing is a problem for many Americans, but for the low-income residents of Camden, a Catholic non-profit is working hard to make sure they have the budgeting skills, the life skills, and the community connections to become homeowners—and to stay that way.

“Anyone can work on converting abandoned houses. What makes us different is that we’re actually totally invested in our families,” Pilar Hogan of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society told CNA. “We see this as a means to creating some homeownership wealth.”

“We’re really starting to see a vibrant difference in our neighborhood.”

Some potential clients aren’t where they need to be financially and need years before they can think of buying a home.

“The one thing that I always tell them is not to ever give up,” Rosie Figueroa, director of counseling at St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, told CNA. “I always tell them ‘I will tell you when to give up’. And that doesn’t happen easy.”

St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society was begun by Monsignor Robert “Bob” McDermott, who passed away in early 2019. He grew up in East Camden in the 1940s and 1950s when it was a working-class neighborhood. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Camden and decades later, in 1985, returned to become pastor of his childhood home parish, St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral.

“When Father Bob moved back in the mid-80s, he was really struck by the dilapidation and the deterioration,” said Hogan. “Right across from the church were four or five abandoned burned-out houses.”

Hogan said the area showed “a lack of hope.” Residents who looked out their windows were only able “to see buildings crumbling.” They wouldn’t hear children playing in the streets and they wouldn’t find a safe place for families.

Camden, N.J. has a reputation for being a city that has seen better times. The city overlooks Philadelphia from the east side of the Delaware River. Its 74,000 people suffer high unemployment and high crime. In 2012 it ranked as the poorest city in the U.S.

The city is “consistently ranked as one of the poorest and actually one of the most violent cities in the U.S.,” Hogan told CNA.

Back in the 1980s, one of Father McDermott’s parishioners, a Vietnamese refugee, could not find adequate housing for his family of nine. The priest founded the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society to respond to the family’s need—and to respond to the hardships of life in Camden. The society renovated a home for the family and used that effort as a starting point to transform the neighborhood.

Now, the organization identifies vacant and abandoned houses to renovate and sell to people who need a home – after giving careful training to low-income clients about budgeting, the homebuying process, and what it takes to be a homeowner.

“When we started working, one in every six houses was abandoned,” said Hogan. “We’re now up to 1 in 40. We’re really making a difference. We have entire blocks now that don’t have an abandoned house on it.”

The society claims success in stabilizing the East Camden neighborhood, citing low vacancy rates and high homeownerships that are both better than Camden in general, its website says.

Since Father McDermott started St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society more than three decades ago, it has graduated 3,000 people through its education program. It has helped with 450 home repairs and sold close to 1,000 homes. Once people buy, they rarely leave. Eighty-five percent of these homeowners still live in the home they bought from the non-profit.

Behind each number is a personal story.

“The exciting part is when we hand over keys to a family,” said Hogan. “A lot of them just look at us like they never felt that this was going to happen.”

Figueroa described the joy of closing day for clients: “sometimes they start crying, sometimes they run out and start screaming with their kids.”

One beneficiary family was paying very high rent--so high that when they later became homeowners, their mortgage payment was only two-thirds the cost of their previous rent payment, Hogan said.

“The conditions were so bad that a young mother and young father spent most of their day in the car. The kids did their homework in the car, the kids ate in their car,” Hogan recounted. Their vermin-infested rental apartment was in such bad shape that "they wanted to limit the time that the kids were in that environment.”

Now they have gone through the St. Joseph’s program and have a home of their own.

“She couldn’t have been more pleased with the fact that she was now controlling her life in a much better way, and the lives of her children,” Hogan added. “She was still working, like she had been before, but now the house was hers and she could keep it clean. And do everything she needed to do to keep her kids safe.”

“This woman was all smiles,” she said.

Figueroa said the mother is now back in school, which she wasn’t able to do before. The father recently received a promotion at work. Contributing to this, she said, is “the fact that now they have their home, that space for their kids, and that backyard for the kids to play in, and for them to barbeque.”

The typical client of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, according to Hogan, is “a hardworking, dedicated small family.” Typical household income ranges from $20,000 to $35,000 per year. Clients are mainly Latino, but many come from Camden’s African-American community or its small South Asian communities.

Figueroa said clients face housing issues and financial difficulties. Some need to learn how to save or to budget money. Sometimes their credit isn’t what it should be, or they need to learn how to apply for grants, programs and loans.

“Those are things that we help them address when they come here,” said Figueroa. “A lot of them don’t know anything about banking. We help them maintain banking accounts, a line of credit and help them use it properly.”

“We teach them about savings and the importance of long-term savings,” she added.

It’s not always easy to become a homeowner, especially in Camden.

“Sometimes the suggestions that we have for people are harder,” said Hogan. “It’s things like: you’re going to have to work on finding a better job or taking a second job.”

Other priorities for the society are teaching civic responsibility to clients. This includes caring for their new home and caring for their neighbors. They ask beneficiaries to take leadership training or neighborhood organizing, clean a park, support local organizations, and act with others “to change the entire neighborhood.”

“Camden is more than simply everyone’s perception of the city. We are changing that and we are working on that every day, which I think is reverberating throughout the city of Camden,” said Hogan, pointing to new restaurants, festivals and stores.

“It’s really a community on the rise and that’s exciting for us too.”

The St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society is affiliated with NeighborWorks America, an umbrella group with 240 similar groups nationwide.

Its website is

Archbishop Gregory promises transparency during state investigation

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 17:45

Atlanta, Ga., May 1, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the state of Georgia have vowed to be open and transparent as the attorney general conducts an investigation into clerical sex abuse in the state.

In a statement released by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta on Tuesday, April 30, the archbishop said that both he and Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah, had “offered [their] full support and cooperation to Attorney General Chris Carr for a third party file review of both Georgia dioceses.”

According to Gregory, both he and Hartmayer have cooperated fully with authorities regarding the investigation and file review, and they have all agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding.

At the conclusion of the review, a report detailing sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the state will be released.

“I reiterate my genuine concern for all who have been hurt directly or indirectly by abuse of any kind by anyone and I renew my commitment to healing, transparency and trust,” said Gregory. “I believe this review is an important step in the long journey forward.”

Carr, the Georgia attorney general, told an Atlanta news station that the investigation was months in the making, and that there has already been an agreement into how the review process and investigation will be conducted. The investigation will be run by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

In November, the Archdiocese of Atlanta released a list containing the names of 15 priests, deacons, and seminarians who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors. Every individual on the list was either dead, removed from active ministry, or had been convicted of a crime.

Carr is urging any and all victims of sexual abuse to come forward. He said he is unsure how long the investigation and review will take.

On April 4, Gregory was announced as the new Archbishop of Washington, DC. He will be leaving the Archdiocese of Atlanta later this month, and installed in Washington on May 21. At a press conference announcing his appointment to the Archdiocese of Washington, Gregory pledged to be truthful and transparent during his time leading the archdiocese, as he had during his time in Atlanta and leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"I walked away from my time as president [of the USCCB] knowing this one thing: that I told them the truth as best as I could. And that's what I will do with the Archdiocese of Washington,” said Gregory at the April 4 press conference.

During his time leading the USCCB from 2001-2003, Gregory helped shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis, playing a leading role in the drafting and implementation of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms.

Gregory is currently part of a special task force, along with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, charged by the USCCB with examining proposals for increasing episcopal accountability in matters of clerical sexual abuse.