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Tucson bishop: US policy puts migrants at risk of violent crime

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 17:59

Tucson, Ariz., Dec 5, 2019 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- The U.S. government’s “Remain in Mexico” policies put vulnerable migrants at risk of kidnapping, rape, cartel violence, gang activity, and other dangers across the border, the Catholic Bishop of Tucson, Arizona said this week.

“The Migrant Protection Protocol is a policy that does not provide protection to these most vulnerable people and in fact has placed them in significant danger in cities that cannot adequately assist them,” Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson said Dec. 2. For these reasons I call on others of good will to oppose this policy and to join me in communicating this opposition to our congressional delegation.”

The Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, were announced in January 2019 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These policies have meant between 50,000 and 60,000 asylum seekers, mainly families with children, have remained in border cities like Tijuana, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros while their cases are processed by immigration courts – a procedure that may take years.

“The numbers of people forced across the border have overwhelmed the cities, the humanitarian aid organizations and the Mexican Government,” Weisenburger said.

Sanitary conditions in some areas are so bad in some areas that 2,500 people share only three toilets. Pregnant women receive only one bottle of water per day. Families and children live in “makeshift tents on sidewalks,” the bishop said.

“In addition to the inhumane conditions in which the people must remain, they are subject to extortion and kidnapping by cartels and gangs, 364 rapes and assaults have been reported in one city, and daily threats of violence when the family has no money to pay the extortion,” said Weisenburger.

The government’s “Remain in Mexico” policy had not been implemented in the Tucson Sector until Nov. 22, when a change in policy was announced. The Department of Homeland Security decided the sector was a “weak link” in its efforts to detain undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, the bishop reported.

“The policy is not to apply to children traveling alone, pregnant women, people who are ill or with disabilities or those who were determined to face violence in Mexico,” he said. Still, he added, “There is reason to believe this policy has not been adequately implemented and that many of these most vulnerable people are living in the streets in the city of Juarez where they will be taken from Tucson.”

The bishop emphasized the Christian duty to aid migrants, asylum seekers and others in need.

“As Catholics, we are bound by faith to see all people as one family created in the image of God. We are called to offer hospitality to those who need us,” he said. “We are required to treat all with dignity and respect because they are our sisters and brothers. We are called to walk in solidarity with migrants on their journey.”

He pointed to the work of the Tucson diocese’s Catholic Community Services, which has been operating its migrant shelter Casa Alitas for six years. So far in 2019 it has aided 20,000 people, mainly families with children, as they travel to meet their sponsors and take part in the legal process to seek asylum.

“All people assisted at Casa Alitas are provided medical screening, clothing, food, assistance with transportation, a clean bed and a safe place to recover from the trauma of an arduous journey,” he said. “Few if any of these resources are available in Juarez.”

“Instead of care, concern and dignity these same families are being pushed into the street facing danger and the uncertainty if and when they will be given to opportunity to present their case to an immigration official,” said the bishop.

A Catholic-run migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, across the U.S.-Mexico border from the city of Juarez, closed in mid-2019 because the migrants it would have assisted were barred from entering the country. After opening in 2018, before the policies changed, the shelter had been taking in 40 to 80 migrants per day after the migrants were cleared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

As a whole, the U.S. bishops have been critical of the Trump Administration and previous administrations’ handling of migration.

In a March 13 joint statement, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services said the “Remain in Mexico” policy “needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols.”

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement said.

The Trump administration has justified its policies on several grounds, including the need to limit the number of false asylum claims.

The number of asylum claims has dramatically increased over the last decade, with very few asylees being allowed to stay. In 2009, there were 35,811 people who applied for asylum in the United States, and 8,384 were granted. In 2018, that number had more than quadrupled to 162,060 claims, with 13,168 actually granted.

Pelosi fumes: 'I don't hate anybody. I was raised Catholic'

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Thursday rejected the suggestion that she “hates” President Donald Trump, and said that her Catholic faith prevents her from hating anyone. 

"I don't hate anybody. I was raised in a Catholic house, we don't hate anybody—not anybody in the world,” said Pelosi. She had been asked by a journalist during her weekly press briefing if she “hates President Trump.”

Pelosi had earlier announced the House Democrats would begin drafting the articles of impeachment. 

"As a Catholic I resent you using the word 'hate' in a sentence that addresses me," a visibly angered Pelosi said, pointed her finger at the journalist. She went on to claim that she prays for Trump “all the time.” 

“So don't mess with me when it comes to words like that," she added. The Speaker said that any disagreement with Trump was rooted in policy, not in who he was as a person. 

Pelosi has in the past encouraged people to pray for President Trump. In October, Pelosi said that people should pray for the president’s health after she abruptly left a meeting with the President. In September, Pelosi said that she prays for the Trump family “all the time,” and that she “wish(es) that he would pray for the safety of other families and do something courageous on guns.” 

On Twitter, Trump said that he did not believe Pelosi prays for him, “not even close,” and that Pelosi had suffered a “nervous fit” during her briefing. 

“She hates that we will soon have 182 great new judges and sooo much more,” said Trump. “Help the homeless in your district Nancy,” he added. 

Pelosi has repeatedly cited her Catholic faith in the political realm, and used it to justify her positions, especially her long-standing support for abortion. Pelosi’s statements have occasioned significant pushback from members of the Catholic hierarchy at different times. 

In 2008, in her second year as Speaker of the House, Pelosi stated on an August 24 episode of “Meet the Press” that "as an ardent, practicing Catholic, [abortion] is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition,” and that her faith “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.” 

At least 22 bishops released statements correcting Pelosi on this statement, and clarified the Church’s teachings on abortion. 

“While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development,” said a statement published Aug. 25, 2008 by Cardinal Justin Rigali and then- Bishop William Lori. 

At the time, Rigali was the chair of the USCCB’s pro-life activities committee, and Lori led the USCCB Committee on Doctrine. Lori is now the Archbishop of Baltimore and Rigali retired in 2011. 

In June 2013, Pelosi opposed a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation and said that the bill was an effort to ensure that “there will be no abortion in our country.”

“As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this,” she said at the time. “I don't think it should have anything to do with politics.”

Diocese of Rochester confirms it requested Fulton Sheen beatification delay

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 14:50

Peoria, Ill., Dec 5, 2019 / 12:50 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Rochester confirmed on Thursday that it had requested a delay of the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, which had been scheduled for Dec. 21 until it was postponed indefinitely earlier this week.

But an official in the Diocese of Peoria said the Rochester diocese has not disclosed all of its interventions to delay the beatification.

“A person’s cause for beatification must entail a review of the person’s entire life. In this regard, the Diocese of Rochester has considered the tenure of Archbishop Sheen as the Bishop of Rochester,” the diocese said in a statement Dec. 5.

The diocese noted it had particularly considered the issue of Sheen’s role in “priests’ assignments.”

“The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen’s cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification,” the diocese said.

The statement came one day after CNA's first reported Dec. 4 that Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester had asked the apostolic nuncio to the United States to delay the beatification, citing concerns about an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into the dioceses of New York state.

Sources told CNA that Matano was especially concerned that the attorney general could time the release of an announcement concerning Sheen to coincide with the beatification, potentially marring the celebration with allegations of scandal.

The Dec. 5 Rochester statement said the diocese had requested a delay “prior to any announcements of the beatification.”

The diocese said it had “provided the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for  the Causes of Saints through the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio with documentation that expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen at this time without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments.”

Msgr. James Kruse, an official in the Diocese of Peoria involved in advancing Sheen’s cause, told CNA that while the Rochester diocese had raised those concerns before the beatification date was set, it also raised them again in recent weeks. Two other officials connected to the beatification cause confirmed Kruse's statement.

Kruse said the Rochester press release did not acknowledge that fact.

The priest told CNA that Matano sent a letter to the apostolic nuncio Nov. 19, after the beatification was announced, saying that he could not support the scheduled beatification and requesting that it be delayed.

“They did not agree with the fact the beatification date was set and announced, and asked that further consideration be done,” Kruse told CNA Dec. 4.

Kruse told CNA Dec. 4 that the issue in question is the case of Gerard Guli, a former Rochester priest.

“Guli is the issue,” he told CNA.

The priest was ordained in 1956, and from 1963 to 1967 served in parishes in West Virginia. According to a document issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in 1963 the Diocese of Rochester received an allegation that in 1960 Guli committed abuse or misconduct against adults, not minors.

Kruse told CNA that the priest “returned from Wheeling to help his sick parents” in 1967.

Sheen became Rochester’s bishop in October 1966.

Some have claimed that Sheen gave Guli an assignment in the Diocese of Rochester, despite the 1963 allegation against him, Kruse said, and that Bishop Matano was concerned the NY attorney general would identify this issue in any report or announcement.

But Kruse said that Sheen never assigned Guli to ministry.

“We have studied extensively Sheen’s administrative decisions regarding Guli, and he never put children in harm’s way,” Kruse said.

“And in talking with Guli, assignments that some say Sheen gave him, Guli says ‘I never served there.’”

“And so this whole concept that Sheen appointed a pedophilic priest, that’s just not true,” Kruse added.

“The documents clearly show that Sheen’s successor, Bishop Hogan, appointed Guli, and it’s at that assignment that Guli offended again.”

“It’s [Bishop] Hogan who appointed Guli to the parishes in the towns of Campbell and Bradford where Guli offended, and it’s part of the reason that led to his ultimate removal and laicization, as well as other issues.”

Hogan was Sheen's successor.

In 1989, Guli was arrested for an incident of abuse involving an elderly woman. The priest was serving at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish at the time. He was subsequently laicized.

Guli was not mentioned in the Diocese of Rochester’s Dec. 5 statement, and the diocese declined to answer questions about the priest Dec. 4.

“We have known about the Guli issue for quite a long time and all of that has been thoroughly examined…that all of the life and everything has been vetted, and in the end, Sheen is exonerated in things. And likewise, Rome has vetted all of that also,” Kruse told CNA.

The Rochester diocese said Dec. 5 it “appreciates the many accomplishments that Archbishop Sheen achieved in his lifetime in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide through media, thereby bringing the message of Jesus to a vast audience.  His legacy in the area of communications made him a prophet in the future use of mass media to advance the teachings of Jesus, a phenomenon recognized by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”

On Dec. 3, the Diocese of Peoria said the delay of Sheen’s beatification is “unfortunate especially because there continue to be many miracles reported through Sheen’s intercession.”

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision. In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and will be affected by this news. He is firmly convinced of the great holiness of the Venerable Servant of God and remains confident that Sheen will be beatified. Bishop Jenky has every intention of continuing the Cause, but no further date for Beatification has been discussed.” the diocese added.

For its part, the Diocese of Rochester said that “a beatification process reminds us that we are all called to be saints to live with the Lord eternally in heaven, praying that the Lord judges us worthy to behold Him face to face in that beatific vision that brings everlasting joy. From his place with the Lord, Archbishop Sheen enjoys eternal peace and joy in the everlasting presence of God, Our Father, whom he did serve with dedication and zeal for the salvation of souls.”

 

 

Sex abuse accusation against Tulsa priest 'unsubstantiated'

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 21:01

Tulsa, Okla., Dec 4, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An accusation that a priest sexually abused a minor during an assignment nearly 30 years ago was “unsubstantiated” and the accused priest may return to ministry, the Diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma has said after a third-party investigation was completed.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa thanked the accused priest, Father Joe Townsend, for “his cooperation and patience during this difficult ordeal.”

The accusation stemmed from his service as associate pastor from June 1988 to June 1991 at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Tulsa.

“After a thorough investigation that was both victim-centered and respectful of the rights of the accused, Bishop Konderla, in agreement with the third-party investigators and in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board, a board of primarily lay persons, has found the allegation against Fr. Townsend to be unsubstantiated,” Harrison Garlick, chancellor and in-house counsel of the Diocese of Tulsa, said in a Dec. 3 memorandum.

Townsend was put on administrative leave after the allegation in mid-2019. The diocese announced the accusation and asked anyone with possible knowledge to come forward.

The ruling means the priest is removed from administrative leave and may again exercise public ministry in the Tulsa diocese.

Garlick said the priest will enter “a season of healing and rest” and will not be considered for a pastoral assignment until summer 2020.

“The diocese has notified law enforcement of the findings of this investigation and remains committed to cooperating with civil authorities,” Garlick said. “Bishop Konderla extends his gratitude to all who participated in this investigation, everyone who came forward to share information, and those who generously kept all involved in their prayers.”

Open windows for reporting expected to trigger avalanche of new abuse cases

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 20:18

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Open windows for reporting incidents of child sexual abuse regardless of when they occurred could lead to a wave of thousands of new abuse cases against Catholic clergy and billions of dollars in lawsuits, a recent report from the Associated Press estimated.

“A trickle becomes a stream becomes a flood,” James Marsh, a New York lawyer who represents abuse victims, told the AP. “We’re sort of at the flood stage right now.”

In total, eight states have opened “look back” windows, which allow adult victims of sex abuse to come forward with allegations from their childhoods, even if they have passed the statute of limitations. Seven more states have significantly relaxed their statutes of limitations, allowing victims to come forward much later in life than previous laws had allowed.

In August of this year, New York opened up such a window for one year, as part of the Child Victims Act. Prior to this, victims had until the age of 23 to come forward with cases of childhood sexual abuse. After the open look back window closes, victims will now have until the age of 55 to come forward.

New Jersey opened a two-year window for victims Dec. 1. After that window closes, a new law extended the statute of limitations on reporting childhood abuse from 20 years of age to 55.

California’s three-year “look back” window will open Jan. 1, 2020, and victims will be awarded triple in damages if they can prove there was an attempt on the part of the Church to cover up the abuse. Once the window has closed, victims will be able to come forward with childhood abuse cases up until the age of 40, instead of the previous limit of 26 years of age.

According to AP interviews with lawyers and clergy abuse watchdog groups, the number of cases that will come from just those three states could lead to at least 5,000 additional cases of abuse, with lawsuit payouts that “could surpass the $4 billion paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.”

The other states that have opened up look back windows are Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina, along with the District of Columbia. Most states have temporary look back windows, though Vermont’s window will never expire, allowing anyone to come forward with an allegation of childhood sexual abuse at any time.

Seven other states have increased the age at which adults may come forward with cases of childhood abuse; in many cases, the increase was by more than a decade.

The relaxed or temporarily eliminated statutes of limitations have victims cheering, lawyers competing for sex abuse clients, and the Church preparing for another onslaught of cases.

“I was sitting in my living room and someone came on TV, ‘If you’ve been molested, act now,'” 57-year-old Ramon Mercado told the AP. “After so many years, I said, ‘Why not?’”

Mercado told the AP that he had been quiet about the abuse he had suffered as a child in the 1970s so as not to upset his mother, who recently died.

Many of the cases being brought forward include priests already on the public “credibly accused” lists that many dioceses have.

But some cases, like Mercado’s, name priests who are dead, and are not already on such lists, complicating the possibility of defense on the part of a diocese.

“Dead people can’t defend themselves,” Mark Chopko, former general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the AP.

“There is also no one there to be interviewed. If a diocese gets a claim that Father Smith abused somebody in 1947, and there is nothing in Father Smith’s file and there is no one to ask whether there is merit or not, the diocese is stuck,” he added.

Steven Alter, a lawyer who has represented multiple sex abuse victims and is collecting more clients, insisted to the AP that “it’s not a cash grab.”

“They (victims) want to have a voice. They want to help other people and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I haven’t had one person ask me about the money yet,” he said.

The new wave of abuse cases comes after several years of sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in the United States, including the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailing decades of abuse cases, which triggered an avalanche of victims to come forward and investigations of clergy sex abuse in dioceses across the country.

The newly relaxed or eliminated statutes of limitations in these 15 states will further strain diocesan finances, with dioceses looking to victim compensation funds or selling valuable real estate as ways to pay victims.

Victim compensation funds are currently being used in several dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New York, every diocese in the states of New Jersey and Colorado, and several dioceses in Pennsylvania and California.

These funds offer to settle with victims outside of court, which means that victims are compensated more quickly, but at a lower amount than what they might have won in court, according to the AP. Compensation funds are formed by donations taken up specifically for that purpose, and are not funded by donations made to Catholic schools, seminaries, or other ministries.

Since setting up its fund in 2016, the Archdiocese of New York has paid “more than $67 million to 338 alleged victims, an average $200,000 each,” the AP reported.

In a 2018 op-ed for the New York Daily News, Dolan said that the use of victim compensation funds “surpasses endless and costly litigation — which can further hurt the victim-survivors; it insures fair and reasonable compensation; and prevents the real possibility — as has happened elsewhere — of bankrupting both public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Still, bankruptcy may be in the future for some already financially strained dioceses, which also leads to less compensation for victims than if they were to win at a trial. A Penn State study cited by the AP of 16 dioceses and other religious organizations that had recently filed for bankruptcy were able to settle with sex abuse victims for an average of $288,168 per case.

Paul Mones, a Los Angeles lawyer who has successfully prosecuted millions of dollars worth of sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church, told the AP that if these newly-revealed cases are taken to trial, the amount that the Church will owe in victim compensation could be “astronomical.”

Chaldean archbishop: Iraq unrest signals rejection of post-2003 settlement

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 18:01

New York City, N.Y., Dec 4, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The largest protests in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein signal the rejection by most Iraqis of the country's post-2003 structure and government, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil told the UN Security Council Wednesday.

Since the beginning of October, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis has been protesting government corruption. They have also objected to Iran's influence over their country's internal affairs. More than 420 have been killed by security forces.

The protests are “a rejection of a sectarian-based Constitution, which has divided Iraq and prevented it from becoming a unified and functioning country. Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair, especially to the youth of Iraq,” Archbishop Bashar Warda said at a Security Council meeting on Iraq held in New York City Dec. 3.

He added that Iraqi youth “have made it clear that they want Iraq to be independent of foreign interference, and to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.”

Archbishop Warda noted that Christians and other minorities “have been welcomed into the protest movement by the Iraqi Muslims,” which “demonstrates real hope for positive changes in which a new government in Iraq … will be much more positive towards a genuinely multi-religious Iraq with full citizenship for all and an end to this sectarian disease which has so violently harmed and degraded us all.”

He also highlighted the non-violent nature of the protests, especially in the face of the crackdown by security forces.

“At stake is whether Iraq will finally emerge from the trauma of Saddam and the past 16 years to become a legitimate, independent and functioning country, or whether it will become a permanently lawless region, open to proxy wars between other countries and movements, and a servant to the sectarian demands of those outside Iraq,” the archbishop stated.

He said that if the protests lead to a new government with a new constitution “not based in Sharia but instead based upon the fundamental concepts of freedom for all … then a time of hope can still exist for the long suffering Iraqi people.”

“If the protest movement is not successful, if the international community stands by and allows the murder of innocents to continue, Iraq will likely soon fall into civil war, the result of which will send millions of young Iraqis, including most Christians and Yazidis, into the diaspora,” he added.

Archbishop Warda urged the international community not to support “false changes in leadership which do not really represent change.” He chared that “the ruling power groups do not intend to give up control, and that they will make every effort to fundamentally keep the existing power structures in place.”

He said Iraq's government has a a “broken nature,” with a “fundamental need for change and replacement.”

“The first step must be the initiation of early elections,” stated the archbishop. He call for freedom of the press before and during the elections, as well as UN monitoring and observation “by all major parties in Iraq so that the elections are legitimate, free and fair.”

For Archbishop Warda, “only in this way can a new government set a course for the future of an Iraq which is free of corruption and where there is full citizenship and opportunity for all.”

Marginalized Iraqis look to the international community for “action and support,” he added. “We hold you all accountable for this. Iraq, the country which has so often been harmed, now looks to you all for help. We believe we have a future, and we ask you not to turn away from us now.”

After his briefing of the Security Council, Archbishop Warda said that Christians and other minorities in Iraq stand with “Muslim protestors as together they seek a better life, based on equality regardless of religious belief. Either Iraq will develop as these protestors hope, moving away from political violence and the current sectarian power structure and taking its rightful place among nations who respect the rights of all regardless of their faith, or it will slide backwards, a fate previewed in the killing of protestors and most notably with the genocide and other carnage at the hands of ISIS. In this latter case, Iraqi sovereignty too will be undermined as its strong neighbors meddle in its internal affairs.”

Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, said his community will not have public Christmas celebrations, “out of respect for the dead and wounded among protesters and security forces, and in solidarity with the pains of their families,” The New Arab reported Dec. 3.

“There will be no decorated Christmas trees in the churches or streets, no celebrations and no reception at the patriarchate,” he stated.

The Iraq protests, which began Oct. 1, are largely in response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for electoral reform and for early elections.

Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters. Some 17,000 protesters have been injured. According to the BBC, at least 12 security personnel have died amid the unrest.

Prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced Nov. 29 he would resign, though he will remain as interim PM until his successor is chosen. The announcement came shortly after Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia spiritual leaders in Iraq, called on parliament to withdraw its support from the government.

Iraq's constitution, adopted in 2005, establishes Islam as the state religion and the foundation of the country's laws, though freedom of religion is guaranteed. The constitution was largely backed by Shia Arabs and by Kurds (most of whom are Sunni), and opposed by Sunni Arabs.

This post-2003 settlement includes a quota system based on ethnicity and sect, which has fostered corruption and patronage.

In the Fund for Peace's Fragile States Index 2019, Iraq ranked 13th out of 178 countries, placing it in an alert category for state vulnerability and in the company of Haiti and Nigeria.

And Iraq was ranked 168 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, in the company of Venezuela.

Senate confirms pro-life lawyer as federal judge

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Thursday confirmed Sarah Pitlyk, a Catholic lawyer and advocate for pro-life activist David Daleiden, as a judge for the Eastern District Court of Missouri.

Pitlyk, confirmed by a vote of 49 to 44, was a special counsel at the Thomas More Society, a legal firm that specializes in pro-life and religious freedom cases. She was nominated by President Trump to the district court in August.

In her favor were 49 Republicans, with 42 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voting against her confirmation.

The new judge once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and studied as a Fulbright Scholar at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven. While at Yale Law School, she founded the group Yale Law Students for Life.

“Pitlyk is highly qualified with a world-class education and extensive legal expertise. She is principled and committed to fairness. Recent attacks on her record were clearly partisan, motivated in part by her success in litigating pro-life cases,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Tuesday before Pitlyk’s nomination.

Planned Parenthood, in a press release, called Pitlyk “extreme and unfit to judge.” They pointed to Pitlyk’s record defending pro-life measures, such as Iowa’s “heartbeat” bill, and her opposition to St. Louis’ city ordinance on abortion.  

The St. Louis ordinance, which was enacted in 2017 and overturned by a federal court in 2018, would have forced pro-life groups to take contradictory stances such as employing abortion proponents or renting space to abortion clinics.

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously said that Pitlyk was “not qualified” for the position because she lacked trial and litigation experience.  

“Ms. Pitlyk has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal. She has never examined a witness. Though Ms. Pitlyk has argued one case in a court of appeals, she has not taken a deposition. She has not argued any motion in a state or federal trial court. She has never picked a jury. She has never participated at any stage of a criminal matter,” the ABA committee stated in a Sept. 24 letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

In her time at the Thomas More Society, Pitlyk defended pro-life advocate David Daleiden who in 2015 first produced tapes of secretly-recorded conversations with officials at Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue procurement companies.

Daleiden meant to expose the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters; a federal district court in San Francisco in November ruled that his Center for Medical Progress had caused Planned Parenthood “substantial harm” with the videos, and ordered the group to pay $870,000 in damages.

Pitlyk also submitted a brief on behalf of 67 Catholic theologians and ethicists in the case Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

“Catholic moral and theological principles, which are shared by many other Christian traditions, indicate that providing health insurance coverage for these objectionable services could cause objecting employers to become unacceptably complicit in actions forbidden by their religious faith,” the brief stated.

Rochester bishop requested Fulton Sheen beatification delay, sources say

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 16:00

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen was delayed at the request of Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, according to several sources close to the beatification process.

The bishop is reported to have requested the delay due to concerns that Sheen could be cited in the final report covering an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into New York’s bishops and dioceses.

In September, New York’s attorney general began an investigation into whether any of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses had covered up acts or allegations of clerical sexual abuse. Sheen was Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969.

The bishop, who was a prolific author and television personality, was set to be beatified on Dec. 21, the last step before a person can be declared a saint.

A “postponement” of the beatification was announced by the Peoria diocese, where Sheen is buried and would have been beatified, on Dec. 3.

The diocese said that “a few members of the Bishops’ Conference” had “requested a delay,” adding that “the Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen’s virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated.”

According to a source close to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Matano contacted the apostolic nuncio after the beatification date was set, to express concerns that Sheen could be named in a report by the attorney general, or accused of insufficiently handling allegations of abuse during his tenure as Rochester’s bishop.

There was apparently specific concern that such an allegation against Sheen could be timed to coincide with the beatification on Dec. 21, sources told CNA.

“A beatification is a celebration,” an official close to the Secretariat of State told CNA about the decision to postpone. “The purpose is to help the faith of the people, not to be an occasion for scandal and problems, nothing is lost by waiting and maybe some things are avoided.”

“There has been a great deal of impatience in some parts about [Sheen’s beatification], but in the normal course of these things this all is happening very fast - look at [St. Cardinal John Henry] Newman and how long the wait was.”

Several senior U.S. archbishops were consulted on the matter before the final decision to delay was made by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. The U.S. bishops consulted reportedly reached consensus that it would be “imprudent” to proceed with the beatification plans until after the attorney general’s report has been released and the matter resolved.

The Rochester diocese has released and updated a list of clergy accused of sexual abuse going back several decades, including those subsequently removed from ministry, sentenced to a life of prayer and penance or laicized. The majority of the accusations were brought forward decades after Sheen finished his tenure as bishop in the diocese, even including those which allegedly took place while Sheen was bishop.

Fr. Gerard Guli, a Rochester priest, was reportedly laicized during Sheen’s tenure as bishop of the diocese. The priest was ordained in 1956, and from 1963 to 1967 served in parishes in West Virginia. According to a document issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in 1963 the Diocese of Rochester received an allegation that in 1960 Guli committed abuse or misconduct against adults, not minors.

Sheen became Rochester’s bishop in October 1966. In October 1967, according to multiple reports, Guli was laicized.

Guli later returned to ministry in the Diocese of Rochester, and in 1989 was arrested for an incident of abuse involving an elderly woman. The priest was serving at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish at the time.

According to several sources, after Guli was laicized in 1967, he did not return to ministry in the Diocese of Rochester until after Sheen’s term as bishop had ended.

The Diocese of Rochester declined to respond to questions from CNA about Guli, and whether his case in particular might be connected to the beatification postponement.

The Diocese of Peoria’s Dec. 3 statement said that “the life of Fulton Sheen has been thoroughly and meticulously investigated. At every stage, it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

An official close to the beatification process told CNA that “the officials of the cause in Illinois looked very carefully at every part of his ministry as a bishop in New York. They did not find that he handled cases badly.”

Still, the official said, “now we will just have to wait and to see.”

In August, New York state law opened a window in the statute of limitations for vicitms of child sexual abuse to file civil or criminal complaints concerning historic offences. The one-year window was created through the Child Victims Act, which also altered New York’s statute of limitations for filing criminal claims and civil claims for survivors of child sexual abuse.

Over 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day of the window, include an allegation against a sitting bishop and a RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo and the Northeast Province of the Jesuits. Claims were also filed against laicized former archbishop and cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

In September, the Rochester diocese filed for bankruptcy protection, amid a flood of abuse lawsuits.

"This is a very difficult and painful decision, but after assessing all reasonable possibilities to satisfy the claims, reorganization is considered the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions," Bishop Matano wrote in a Sept. 12 letter.

"We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ."

The Diocese of Rochester declined Dec. 4 to answer questions from CNA, but did provide a statement.

“The decision to postpone the beatification of Archbishop Sheen was solely the decision of the Holy See. Respecting the competency of the Holy See in this matter, the Diocese will decline further comment.”

 

New Buffalo apostolic administrator pledges 'openness' with victims

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 14:25

Buffalo, N.Y., Dec 4, 2019 / 12:25 pm (CNA).- Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany spoke to the press Wednesday following his appointment as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, and emphasized that although he is not yet sure how exactly he will divide his time between the two dioceses he is now tasked with shepherding, he trusts Pope Francis’ decision to appoint him.

“I’m not here as a knight in shining armor. I’m not here as the fix-it man. I’m just here as a spiritual father,” Scharfenberger told the press Dec. 4.

“Fear is useless, it’s faith that counts, my personal relationship with Jesus Christ— I believe that He loves me and that He loves every person,” Scharfenberger said.

He stressed his desire for “openness” in moving forward with the diocese, and pledged to work toward healing for those who have been hurt.

Bishop Richard Malone, who has for over a year faced heavy criticism for his handling of cases of clerical sexual abuse in the diocese, asked Pope Francis for an “early retirement” during last month's ad limina visit in Rome, and on Wednesday Pope Francis accepted his resignation.

The Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. announced in October that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation and canonical inspection of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome. The details of DiMarzio’s apostolic visitation have not been released, and the Vatican has not suggested that Malone has been formally accused of any particular canonical crime.

Malone said he had been made aware of the “general conclusions” of the report and the conclusions had factored into his discernment to resign, but that he had done so “freely and voluntarily.”

When asked if he had read DiMarzio’s report, Scharfenberger said that he had not. Reporters pressed Scharfenberger on whether he had met with or spoken with Malone about the situation in the diocese, and Scharfenberger said he and Malone had met on a bus in Rome, and that Malone had “spoken from the heart” about the difficulties he was facing in the diocese.

Scharfenberger said he thinks Malone made a prudent decision to withdraw as bishop when he did, and that he does not have any immediate plans to meet with Malone. Meeting with him “is not my job,” he said, adding that the only communications about the situation he has had are with the nuncio.

Scharfenberger emphasized that his position as apostolic administrator is by definition temporary, and the decision of who will ultimately lead the diocese is entirely up to the Holy See.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the mission of the Church,” he said.

“I try to open my heart, but ultimately my confidence is in the Lord...I say, ‘Lord Jesus I trust in you.’”

When asked by a reporter whether he thinks there is a need for a complete house cleaning of all of Malone’s advisors in the diocesan chancery, including Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz and Attorney Terry Connors, Scharfenberger said he thinks “a clean sweep” of Malone’s advisors is “too broad a stroke,” but that he would look into it.

In his statement, Malone announced his intention to continue to reside in the diocese as Bishop Emeritus, “and to be available to serve in whatever ways that our Apostolic Administrator and new bishop determines is best.”

The bishop emeritus becomes a member of the clergy, Scharfenberger said, and added that it would be within the scope of his office to “limit” Bishop Malone if necessary.

Scharfenberger said his commitment is to be physically present in the diocese at least one day a week. Options for connecting digitally, such as live streaming, will also be considered, he said.

“The time that I give is not limited to me being physically present,” he said.

“In my heart is a desire to be a parish priest,” he said, adding that he wants to hear how he can help the people of the Buffalo diocese.

Scharfenberger, who has previously served on a diocesan review board, said it is his goal to encourage parishes in the diocese to be places where people feel welcome and comfortable talking about abuse they may have faced.

Scharfenberger said when he speaks to a congregation, he tends to think that 20-25% have suffered some form of abuse, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence. He said a priest once estimated to him it could be as high as 50%.

“We’re all hurting,” he said, adding that his number one priority is “openness in conversation, particularly with those who have been hurt the most.”

Scharfenberger said although there’s no question that trust in the hierarchy in Buffalo has been broken and compromised, he urged the faithful not to “judge [all priests] as a class.” When asked if he would release the personnel files of all priests in the diocese accused of abuse, he pledged that “anything I can do within the scope of canon law, I will do.”

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry. In one recording, the bishop is heard to say that if the media were to report on the situation, “it could force me to resign.”

“I have acknowledged on many occasions the mistakes I have made [in not] addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behavior between adults,” Malone said in his Dec. 4 statement.

“In extensive listening sessions across our Diocese, I have heard your dismay and rightful concerns. I have been personally affected by the hurt and disappointment you have expressed, all of which have informed our actions. I have sought your understanding, your advice, your patience and your forgiveness.”

Scharfenberger urged any victims of abuse to immediately contact law enforcement before contacting the diocese.

Foes of Louisiana abortion regulation file briefs with Supreme Court

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 02:30

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA).- A Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals has drawn opposition from medical groups and national Democratic politicians, who have filed briefs against it.

Backers of the law say it is a commonsense measure that protects women’s health and supports the dignity of life. Opponents argue that it places an undue obstacle on women seeking an abortion.

In October the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, which requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. When then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law in 2014, it was promptly challenged in court.

The requirement could shut down at least two of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics, the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights has said.

Louisiana state officials are defending the bill.

“Women deserve better than incompetent providers that put profits over people,” Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill told National Public Radio.

However, foes of the law have filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the plaintiff, the Shreveport-based abortion clinic June Medical Services.

Among the groups signing on to one amicus brief were the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The medical groups’ brief said the Louisiana law is similar to the Texas law struck down in the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

In the Hellerstedt case, the court ruled that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state, as it had decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that state abortion laws could not pose such an obstacle.

The Supreme Court faulted the Texas law, which required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges. A “working arrangement” was already in place between hospitals and abortion clinics in the state, the court found. The provision could have meant the closure of around half the clinics in Texas.

While a district court permanently barred the Louisiana law from taking effect, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court overturned that decision in January. It ruled the law was sufficiently different from that of Texas. Unlike Texas, few Louisiana hospitals require doctors to see a minimum number of patients. While most abortion clinics in Texas would have closed because of the law, only one doctor at one Louisiana abortion clinic is unable to obtain privileges.

In February, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from taking effect.

In response, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, said that the law simply required “basic health standards” of abortion clinics. He said that the court’s stay, together with the abortion industry fighting the law, are “further evidence of how abortion extremism actively works against the welfare of women.”

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat from Monroe who sponsored the Louisiana legislation, in October said the case concerns whether a state is able “to enforce its duly enacted laws aimed at protecting the health and safety of its citizens.”

“Together with my colleagues, our legislature passed the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act by a wide bipartisan margin to protect the health and safety of women,” she said, according to the Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate. “Abortion has known medical risks, and the women of this state who are often coerced into abortion deserve to have the same standard of care required for other surgical procedures.”

Though the legislation sponsor is a Democrat, national Democratic leaders have weighed in against the bill. Nearly 200 Members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have submitted a brief opposing the Louisiana law, National Public Radio reports.

The American Bar Association has also filed an amicus brief against the Louisiana law. It objected that the law is contrary to existing pro-abortion precedent and the case “raises significant concerns about adherence to basic rule of law principles.”

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D., a Florida-based radiologist who is a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, in October told CNA the law did nothing more than provide commonsense protections for women’s health.

The law “ensures that women suffering from dangerous complications do not show up at emergency rooms where doctors who don’t know them can only guess at the surgical intervention that was done at the abortion facility,” she said.

Louisiana law currently bars abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy and requires a 24-hour waiting period between the first consultation and the abortion procedure.

Two other Louisiana laws restricting abortion could take effect, pending judicial decisions regarding similar Mississippi laws: a restriction on abortion to 15 weeks into pregnancy; or when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks into pregnancy.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed both laws and cited his pro-life positions in his recent successful re-election campaign.

Archbishop Sheen was accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 16:43

Peoria, Ill., Dec 3, 2019 / 02:43 pm (CNA).- A 2007 lawsuit filed by laicized priest Robert Hoatson alleges that Bishop Fulton Sheen witnessed and covered up an act of clerical sexual abuse, apparently while Sheen was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York.

The lawsuit, filed while Hoatson was priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, catalogs a number of instances of clerical sexual abuse Hoatson claims to have witnessed or heard about. Hoatson said he had learned about a number of those instances of abuse through his ministry of pastoral counseling.

Among those instances is one involving Sheen.

The lawsuit said that Hoatson “is counseling a victim of a New York Archdiocesan priest whose sexual abuse continued for over ten years. One day, while the victim was being abused in the offices of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City, Bishop Fulton Sheen walked in on the abuse, called the victim a slut, told the priest to put his pants on, and did nothing to report the incident or comfort the victim. Bishop Sheen covered-up the crime.”

Hoatson told CNA Dec. 3 that at the request of the victim he would not comment on the allegation at this time, citing her desire for anonymity and confidentiality.

“The victim just wants to remain quiet about it, and has asked me not to say anything more,” he told CNA.

In his 2007 lawsuit, Hoatson claimed that “the priest abuser remains a pastor and had a prominent role in national television coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. When the plaintiff wrote to the promoter of the cause of canonization of Bishop Sheen to inform him of Bishop Sheen's actions, his letter was ignored and went unanswered. Bishop Sheen's sainthood is steamrolling ahead despite his cover-up of child sexual abuse, while the plaintiff continues to be harassed, retaliated against, and fired.”

The same lawsuit also alleged that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was “actively homosexual,” also naming Archbishop John Myers, Cardinal Edward Egan, and Bishop Howard Hubbard.

“These bishops have been compromised in their positions and status as employers by predators and pedophiles in ministry and motivated to retaliate against the plaintiff for exposing criminal acts, corruption, immorality, hypocrisy and criminal acts by predators and amongst bishops,” the suit claimed.

The lawsuit was initially filed federally, and dismissed, and the lawyer who filed it was sanctioned by the court, which suggested that the suit was seeking publicity and was “littered with wholly irrelevant, inflammatory, and embarrassing facts concerning defendants and non-defendants alike that have no bearing on the actions brought.”

The suit was subsequently filed in state court and then dismissed.

Hoatson was laicized in 2011 and now leads an organization called Road to Recovery, through which he has offered support to victims of clerical sexual abuse, and advocated for changes to Church teaching and discipline on clerical issues.
 
Sheen was due to be beatified at a Mass in Peoria, Illinois Dec. 21
.

“With deep regret, Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C, Bishop of Peoria, announces that he has been informed by the Holy See that the beatification of Fulton Sheen will be postponed,” the diocese announced Dec. 3.

The diocese said that on Dec. 2 “the Holy See decided to postpone the date of Beatification, at the request of a few members of the Bishops’ Conference who have asked for further consideration.”

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision,”the statement added.

“In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news.”

Jenky is “firmly convinced of the great holiness” of Sheen, and “remains confident that Sheen will be beatified.” The cause for Sheen’s beatification and canonization will continue and, the press release stated, there have been “many miracles” reported through Sheen’s intercession, including some as recently as the last three weeks.

The Peoria diocese stated that the delay was not the result of any allegations of abuse of a minor.

“In our current climate, it is important for the faithful to know there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor,” the release added.

 

Fulton Sheen beatification postponed

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 15:10

Peoria, Ill., Dec 3, 2019 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- The scheduled beatification of Ven. Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has been postponed after several U.S. bishops asked that the cause be given more time for examination. The Diocese of Peoria announced the delay on Dec. 3.

Archbishop Sheen's beatification was set to take place on Dec. 21. 

“With deep regret, Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C, Bishop of Peoria, announces that he has been informed by the Holy See that the beatification of Fulton Sheen will be postponed,” said the press release from the diocese. 

The diocese originally received word from the Vatican on Nov. 18 that the beatification had been approved to take place the following month. But the diocese said that on Dec. 2 “the Holy See decided to postpone the date of Beatification, at the request of a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration.” 

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision,” said the press release. “In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news.” 

Jenky is “firmly convinced of the great holiness” of Sheen, and “remains confident that Sheen will be beatified.” The cause for Sheen’s beatification and canonization will continue and, the press release stated, there have been “many miracles” reported through Sheen’s intercession, including some as recently as the last three weeks. 

The Peoria diocese explicitly stated that the delay was not the result of any allegations of abuse of a minor. 

“In our current climate, it is important for the faithful to know there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor,” added the release. 

It was not revealed in the release which, or how many, bishops requested the delay, nor did the release state what prompted these requests. 

The diocese said that throughout the investigation of Sheen’s life during the beatification process, “it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.” 

The diocese says they are “confident” that any further investigation into the life of Archbishop Sheen will only result in positive discoveries that will only bolster the case for his beatification. 

“The Diocese of Peoria has no doubt that Fulton Sheen, who brought so many souls to Jesus Christ in his lifetime, will be recognized as a model of holiness and virtue.” 

There is no indication from the diocese of when they expect a rescheduled date for the beatification. The Diocese of Peoria and the USCCB did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment in time for publication.

Pete Buttigieg cites Gospel in campaign ad

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 17:30

Charleston, S.C., Dec 2, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg quoted the Gospel of Matthew in his first statewide ad in South Carolina, the latest in the candidate’s references to Christianity in his campaign messages. 

The ad opens with a clip from an Iowa speech Buttigieg gave Nov. 1: 

“In our White House, you won’t have to shake your head and ask yourself: What ever happened to ‘I was hungry and you fed me; I was a stranger and you welcomed me’,” a reference to Matthew 25:35. 

The ad will be released on Tuesday in South Carolina television markets. 

Although he has polled better in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg polls at an average of 6.5 points in South Carolina, behind former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 

As the first southern state in the primary process, South Carolina is generally considered an important campaign milestone, and primary performance in the state is regarded as an indication of a candidate’s national electability. 

The South Carolina primary is especially a key indicator of support for candidates among black voters, who make up 30% of the state’s electorate and 60% of Democratic primary voters.

Buttigieg has come under harsh criticism for his record on racial issues during his term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and has only 4% support among black voters nationwide. Some political analysts have suggested his Gospel-themed video is intended as an overture to churchgoing black voters in the state.

In the ad, Buttigieg stresses a need to “unify the American people,” saying that unification “doesn’t mean pretending that we’re all the same. It means unifying around issues from wages and family leave to gun violence and immigration. The hope of an American experience defined not by exclusion, but by belonging.” 

Among black voters in South Carolina, Buttigieg has less than 1% support. 

In November, Buttigieg was accused of fabricating support among black leaders in South Carolina, several of whom who denied giving his campaign permission to list their names as supporters.  Nearly half of a campaign list of black supporters in the state were found to actually be white people. 

The Buttigieg campaign also admitted to using a stock photo of a Kenyan woman and child to promote his “Douglass Plan for Black America” on the campaign website. The campaign said it did not know the picture had originated from Africa and has since removed it. 

Buttigieg, a baptized Catholic who now attends an Episcopalian Church, has repeatedly invoked his Protestantism to support his stance on a range of political issues, including support for same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, he said that those who opposed same-sex marriage had a problem “with my Creator.” Buttigieg is in a civil same-sex partnership. In recent months he has also invoked his religious affiliation to criticize Republican tax and immigration policies.

In an April appearance on Meet The Press, Buttigieg also defended earlier remarks in which he appeared to question President Donald Trump’s belief in God, and suggested that Evangelical Christians who support President Trump are hypocrites. 

Trump, said Buttigieg, is not following scriptural imperatives for believers to care for widows and immigrants, and therefore is not behaving in a Christlike manner.

“The hypocrisy is unbelievable,” said Buttigieg. “Here you have somebody who not only acts in a way that is not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture in church, where it’s about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants, and making sure that you’re focusing your effort on the poor--but also personally, how you’re supposed to conduct yourself.”

Self-described white born-again/evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, with 81 percent in favor compared to only 16 percent voting for Hillary Clinton.

Catholics, particularly Hispanic Catholics, supported Trump in 2016 at higher levels than they did Mitt Romney in 2012. The last time a Republican presidential candidate won majority support among Catholic voters was George W. Bush in 2004.

In response to Buttigieg’s comments on biblical imperatives, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked the mayor his thoughts on abortion. Buttigieg, who considers himself pro-choice, said he thinks abortion is a moral question that should be decided by a woman and her doctor, not by “a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.”

The Church teaches that abortion is the deliberate ending of an innocent human life, and is a grave sin.

Norbertine Fathers in California launch digital Advent calendar

Sun, 12/01/2019 - 16:11

Orange, Calif., Dec 1, 2019 / 02:11 pm (CNA).- A religious order in southern California is kicking off Advent with a digital calendar that allows Catholics to go more in-depth as they prepare for the Christmas season.

The virtual calendar was launched on the first Sunday of Advent by the priests of the Norbertine order from St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, California.

The website, advent.theabbotscircle.com, will include daily reflections, videos, music, and commentaries.

Each day, the calendar will delve into a different Advent-related topic, such as the meaning behind Advent candles and wreaths, historical information about the magi and shepherds, and a brief biography of St. Nicholas.

The calendar also includes Christmas music performed by the Norbertine Fathers, and explores questions such as “Should Christmas be only for Christians?”

The goal of the project is to offer a “different way of engaging the faithful, and … help them prepare their hearts and minds for Christmas,” according to a press release.

“We hope that this Advent calendar will help Catholics around the world learn more about their faith, grow in their faith, and help them prepare themselves for Christ’s coming at Christmas,” said  Fr. Charbel Grbavac, one of the members of the community.

“We hope and pray that this Advent calendar will be a source for good, faithful fruits,” he added.

As canons regular, the Norbertine Fathers are religious priests who live in community and share a charism and common life of prayer. During the week, they are teachers and preachers in area schools, colleges, and catechetical programs. On weekends, they preach in more than 30 local parishes.

Last year, the Norbertines launched a digital library called “The Abbot’s Circle” to provide video, audio, and written resources on the Catholic faith beyond the bounds of their abbey and apostolates in southern California.

The Abbot’s Circle website is available to subscribers and includes video, podcasts and written reflections, as well as chant recordings and audio lectures and a documentary on the fathers called “City of Saints.”

St. Michael’s Abbey recently completed a $120 million capital campaign to support the construction of a new abbey. With nearly 50 priests and more than 30 seminarians, the order is running out of space for its new members.

Grbavac said the community is enthusiastic about the new digital Advent calendar, which they see as a means of furthering their mission to evangelize and renew the Church.

“Our order was founded by St. Norbert, a Catholic reformer who sought to renew the Church in difficult times and to preach to the faithful,” he said, “and we have been working recently to use digital media as a new way to fulfill his mission and engage the faithful and renew the Church.”

Duluth's Bishop Paul Sirba dies unexpectedly at 59

Sun, 12/01/2019 - 14:44

Duluth, Minn., Dec 1, 2019 / 12:44 pm (CNA).- Bishop Paul Sirba of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota died on Sunday, after suffering a heart attack before offering Mass. He was 59 years old.

“It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I must inform you of tragic news regarding our Bishop,” said a Dec. 1 statement from Fr. James B. Bissonette, who had been the diocesan vicar general until the bishop's death. The office of the vicar general ceases upon the death of the diocesan bishop.

“Words do not adequately express our sorrow at this sudden lost of our Shepherd,” Bissonette said.

Bissonette’s statement was distributed to clergy throughout the diocese and was read after Masses on Sunday.

Sirba went into cardiac arrest Sunday at St. Rose Church in Proctor, Minnesota, and was immediately rushed to a hospital, where attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. He received last rites from Fr. John Petrich, a hospital and prison chaplain in the diocese, and was pronounced dead shortly after 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Sirba was reportedly preparing for Mass when he fell ill.

“We have great hope and faith in Bishop Sirba’s resurrection to new life, and have confident assurance that he will hear the words of our Lord, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter in the joy of your master,’” Bissonette's statement added.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made. Sirba is survived by his mother, three siblings, and their families. His brother, Fr. Joseph Sirba, is a priest of the Diocese of Duluth.

Sirba, a native of the Twin Cities, was ordained a priest in 1986 at the age of 25, and consecrated as a bishop in 2009. Sirba was just 13 days away from the 10th anniversary of his episcopal consecration.

Before he became the ninth bishop of Duluth, Sirba was a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. From 2006 until 2009, he was the director of spiritual formation at the Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul.

Catholics in Minnesota and beyond expressed disbelief and grief at Sirba’s sudden passing.

“The Archdiocese of St Paul & Minneapolis grieves with the Diocese of Duluth over the passing of their beloved shepherd, Bishop Paul Sirba, recalling his many years of joyful service as a son of this local Church.  May he rest in peace,” tweeted Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver told CNA Sunday morning that the bishop's death was “tragic,” noting that Sirba was “a really good and holy bishop.”

Fr. Scott Jablonski, a priest of the Diocese of Madison who knew Sirba from seminary, said that his passing was “heartbreaking news” for the diocese, and remembered him fondly.

“Bishop Sirba was my spiritual director during my first two years of seminary in St. Paul, including that first year when my father died after a battle with cancer,” said Jablonski. “Bishop Sirba was a very good priest and he helped me tremendously. He will be deeply missed.”

The Diocese of Crookston, which is located in northwestern Minnesota, directly bordering the Diocese of Duluth, tweeted that “Our hearts are with the faithful of the Duluth Diocese as they have lost their shepherd, Bishop Paul Sirba, very suddenly today as a result of cardiac arrest. May he rest in the peace of Christ.”

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a priest and blogger, wrote that he had known Sirba since the 80s and the two were friends.

“Paul was prayerful and gracious and real gentlemen, a priests’ priest,” wrote Zuhlsdorf on his blog. “I have it on good authority that he was an exceptional confessor and spiritual director as a priest.  And he played a heck of (a) good game of ping pong.”

The Minnesota Catholic Conference mourned Sirba as someone who was “a holy man who shone with the serenity of faith and the joy of Jesus in everything he did.”

“We will miss him dearly,” the conference wrote.

 

For the first time, most Americans prefer life imprisonment to death penalty

Sat, 11/30/2019 - 18:59

Washington D.C., Nov 30, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- For the first time in more than three decades, a majority of Americans favor life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

A Gallup poll released this week found that 60% of survey respondents said life without parole is the preferable sentence for a person convicted of murder, while 36% said the death penalty is preferable.

This is the first time in Gallup’s 34 years of tracking that respondents have favored life imprisonment over the death penalty. In the 1980s and '90s, Americans showed a clear preference for the death penalty for convicted murderers.

The latest survey was conducted in October, and polled 1,500 adults living throughout the United States.

The past five years has seen a shift among all major subgroups toward favoring life imprisonment, Gallup said. Two-thirds of women, and a little over half of men surveyed support life imprisonment over the death penalty.

Almost 8 in 10 Democrats favor life imprisonment without parole to the death penalty, while almost 6 in 10 Republicans favor the death penalty.

But while life imprisonment is generally seen as a better punishment for murder, a majority of Americans still approve of the use of the death penalty, Gallup found. Fifty-six percent said they approve of the death penalty as a punishment for murder, and 42% said they oppose its use.

These numbers have remained roughly consistent in recent years, but are down from the 1990s, when up to 80% of Americans voiced approval of the death penalty.

“The percentage of Americans who are in favor of the death penalty, generally, has fallen to 45-year lows,” said Gallup Senior Editor Jeffrey Jones. “And when given an explicit alternative, for the first time in at least 30 years, more say life imprisonment with no possibility of parole is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty.”

Jones noted that state laws have changed alongside public opinion on the death penalty.

“Five states have abolished the death penalty this decade, leaving 29 where it is legal,” he said. “Several states where the death penalty is legal have instituted moratoriums on its use or are considering abolishing it. Many recent cases that have cast doubt on death penalty convictions in light of new evidence may be helping to move public opinion away from it.”

In 2003, the Obama administration placed the federal use of the death penalty on hiatus, while the Justice Department reviewed execution protocols. The move followed a series of rulings against the three-drug cocktail that had been linked to botched executions in several states.

The Trump administration announced over the summer that it is planning to resume federal use of the death penalty. Attorney General William Barr has ordered executions to be scheduled for five inmates on death row, although court challenges have halted the executions from moving forward.

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.

 

Is it weird that Catholics venerate relics? Here's why we do

Fri, 11/29/2019 - 14:02

Houston, Texas, Nov 29, 2019 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- “We are many parts, but we are all one body,” says the refrain of a popular '80s Church hymn, based on the words of 1 Cor. 12:12. 

While we are one body in Christ, if you happen to be a Catholic saint, the many parts of your own body might be spread out all over the world. 

Take, for example, St. Catherine of Siena.  

A young and renowned third-order Dominican during the Middle Ages, she led an intense life of prayer and penance and is said to have single-handedly ended the Avignon exile of the successors of Peter in the 14th century.

When she died in Rome, her hometown of Siena, Italy, wanted her body. Realizing they would probably get caught if they took her whole corpse, the Siena thieves decided that it would be safer if they just took her head. 

When they were stopped on their way out by guards outside of Rome, they said a quick prayer, asking for St. Catherine of Siena’s intercession. The guards opened the bag and did not find the dead head of St. Catherine, but a bag full of rose petals. Once the thieves were back in Siena, Catherine’s head re-materialized, one of the many miracles attributed to the saint. 

The head of St. Catherine of Siena was placed in a reliquary in the Basilica of St. Dominic in Siena, where it can still be venerated today, along with her thumb. Her body remains in Rome, her foot is venerated in Venice. 

From the Shroud of Turin, or the finger of St. Thomas, to the miraculous blood of St. Januarius, or the brain of St. John Bosco, the Catholic Church keeps and venerates many curious but nevertheless holy artifacts, known as relics, from Jesus and the saints. 

To the outsider, the tradition of venerating relics (particularly of the corporeal persuasion) may seem like an outlandishly morbid practice. 

But the roots of the tradition pre-date Jesus, and the practice is based in Scripture and centuries of Church teaching. 

While it’s one of the most fascinating traditions of the Church, it can also be one of the most misunderstood. 

Father Carlos Martins, CC, is a Custos Reliquiarum, which is an ecclesiastically appointed Curate of Relics with the authority to issue relics. 

He is a member of Companions of the Cross, and the head of Treasures of the Church, a ministry that aims to give people an experience of the living God through an encounter with the relics of his saints in the form of an exposition. The ministry brings expositions of various relics throughout North America by invitation. 

In the following interview with CNA, Fr. Martins answers questions and dispels some common misunderstandings about the tradition of relics. 

First of all, what is a relic? 

Relics are physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Our Lord. They are usually broken down into three classes: 

First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh.

Second class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book (or fragments of those items). 

Third class relics are those items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first, second, or another third class relic of a saint.

The word relic means “a fragment” or “remnant of a thing that once was but now is no longer.” Thus, we find in antique shops “Civil War relics” or “Relics of the French Revolution.” Obviously, we are not talking about these kinds of relics but rather sacred relics.

Where did the Catholic tradition of venerating saints’ relics come from? 

Scripture teaches that God acts through relics, especially in terms of healing. In fact, when surveying what Scripture has to say about sacred relics, one is left with the idea that healing is what relics “do.” 

When the corpse of a man was touched to the bones of the prophet Elisha the man came back to life and rose to his feet (2 Kings 13:20-21).

A woman was healed of her hemorrhage simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:20-22).

The signs and wonders worked by the Apostles were so great that people would line the streets with the sick so that when Peter walked by at least his shadow might ‘touch’ them (Acts 5:12-15).

When handkerchiefs or aprons that had been touched to Paul were applied to the sick, the people were healed and evil spirits were driven out of them (Acts 19:11-12).

In each of these instances God has brought about a healing using a material object. The vehicle for the healing was the touching of that object. It is very important to note, however, that the cause of the healing is God; the relics are a means through which He acts. In other words, relics are not magic. They do not contain a power that is their own; a power separate from God.  

Any good that comes about through a relic is God’s doing. But the fact that God chooses to use the relics of saints to work healing and miracles tells us that He wants to draw our attention to the saints as “models and intercessors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828).

When did the veneration of relics begin?

It was present from the earliest days of Christianity, during the Apostolic age itself. The following is an account written by the Church in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) when its bishop, St. Polycarp was burned alive:

“We adore Christ, because He is the Son of God, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord. So we buried in a becoming place Polycarp’s remains, which are more precious to us than the costliest diamonds, and which we esteem more highly than gold.” (Acts of St. Polycarp, composed approx. 156 AD)

Polycarp was a significant figure. He was converted by John the Apostle, who had baptized him and subsequently ordained him a bishop. Thus we see that from its outset the Church practiced devotion to the remains of the martyrs. 

What is the spiritual significance of relics? 

I think that St. Jerome put it best when he said:

“We do not worship relics, we do not adore them, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator. But we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.” (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).

We venerate relics only for the sake of worshiping God.  

When we collect relics from the body of a saint, what part of the body do we use? 

Any part of the saint’s body is sacred and can be placed in a reliquary. Any and every bone may be used. In addition, flesh, hair, and sometimes blood, are also used. Sometimes everything from the tomb is dispersed from it. Sometimes a tomb is preserved.

At what point in the canonization process are items or body parts considered official relics by the Church? 

Before the beatification takes place, there is a formal rite whereby the relics are identified and moved (the official word is “translated”) into a church, a chapel, or an oratory. Put simply, the grave is exhumed and the mortal remains are retrieved.

Only the Church has the juridical power to formally recognize the sanctity of an individual. When the Church does this – through beatification and canonization – their relics receive the canonical recognition as being sacred relics. 

There is an importance difference between beatification and canonization. Beatification is the declaration by the Church that there is strong evidence that the person in question is among the blessed in heaven. Nevertheless, beatification permits only local devotion. That is, devotion in the country in which the individual lived and died. When Mother Teresa was beatified, for instance, only in India and in her native Albania was her devotion permitted. Her Mass could not be celebrated, for example, in the United States, nor could her relics be placed within its altars.

Whereas beatification permits local devotion, canonization, on the other hand, mandates universal devotion. It grants to the canonized individual the rights of devotion throughout the universal Church.

The Church allows saints’ body parts to be scattered for relics, but forbids the scattering of ashes of the deceased who are cremated. Why is that? 

Every person has a right to a burial. This means that the community has a duty to bury the dead.  

Every human society and culture throughout time has felt this duty. The dead have always been buried, and archaeology has never discovered a human community that did not practice this.  One could rightly say, therefore, that burying the dead forms part of our human cultural DNA. 

The theological term for this instinct is natural law. Nature has imprinted a law within the human heart that manifests itself in the practice of burying the dead as a final act of love and devotion, or at least an act of respect and propriety.  

It should be no surprise, then, that the Church lists as one of the corporal works of mercy burying the dead. Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.

There is flexibility in the kind of burial. Remains may be buried in the ground, in the sea, or above ground within, for example, a cave or columbarium. The point is that a burial occurs within a single place, such that it can be said that the person “occupies” the place as a final location of rest. The human heart longs for this. We see people arriving at graves and speaking to the grave as if they were speaking to the deceased. And they do so differently than they might speak to the dead at home. At the grave, they speak to the dead as if they are in a place.  

For this reason, among others, the Church has always taught not only that it is completely beneath the dignity of human body to have its remains “scattered,” but also completely beneath basic human sensibilities. People need a place to encounter and meet the dead in their physicality.  

Nevertheless, the saints, as members of the body of Christ, have a right to have their remains venerated. And this right, flowing from their dignity as members of the Body of Christ, supersedes their right to have their remains remain in burial.   

What is the proper way to keep relics? Are lay Catholics allowed to have first class relics in their homes? 

Relics are very precious. They are not something that was alive at one time and is now dead. In the case of first class relics, we are talking about flesh that is awaiting the general resurrection, where the soul of a saint will be reunited with his physical remains.

As such, the way we treat relics is of the utmost importance. Ideally, relics should be kept in a Church or chapel where they can be made available for public veneration. 

The highest honor the Church can give to a relic is to place it within an altar, where the Mass may be celebrated over it. This practice dates from the earliest centuries of the Church. In fact, the sepulchers of the martyrs were the most prized altars for the liturgy.  

As an alternative to encasing them within altars, they may be installed within a devotional niche where people may venerate them. Such shrines are important as they afford people a deeper experience of intimacy with the saint.

The Church does not forbid the possession of relics by lay persons. They may even keep them in their homes. However, because of the many abuses that have been committed concerning relics, the Church will no longer issue relics to individuals – not even to clergy.

These abuses included failing to give them proper devotion (neglect), careless mistreatment of them, discarding them, and in some cases, even selling them. The abuses were not necessarily committed by the person to whom the Church had originally bequeathed the relics. But when such persons became deceased, and the relics were passed on by inheritance, they were often subject to great vulnerability. With the eclipse of the Christian culture in the western world, faith can no longer be taken for granted, even among the children of the most devout people.

Thus, to protect relics, the Church only issues them to Churches, chapels, and oratories.

How important is the authenticity of the relic? How does the Church go about determining authenticity of very old relics from the beginning of the Church? 

The authenticity is critically important.

But for the ancient saints, determining identity is much easier than you might think.  It was tradition to build a church over top of a saint’s grave. That is why St. Peter's Basilica is where it is, or why St. Paul Outside the Walls is there. Both encompass the tomb for the saint, which is located directly beneath the altar.

Modern archaeology has only affirmed what the ancient tradition has believed.

...

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 11, 2017.
 

Meet the monks who decided to go green years before Laudato Si

Fri, 11/29/2019 - 05:00

Arlington, Va., Nov 29, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical Laudato Si' was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship.

“This really is a re-founding,” Fr. James Orthmann of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. told CNA, a “real renewal and a re-founding, and in a real sense getting back to our traditional roots.”

Since 2007, the community has taken concrete steps to be better stewards of the earth in the tradition of the Cistercian Order, while also reaching into the outside world to draw more Catholic men to their monastic life.

The abbey was founded in 1950 after a planned Trappist abbey in Massachusetts burned down. The Diocese of Richmond offered to accept the monks and they procured 1200 acres of pasture on the Shenandoah River in Northwest Virginia, just in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

However by the early 2000s, the community had shrunk along with the overall number of religious priests and brothers in the U.S., which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1965. The community’s Father Immediate – the abbot of their mother house – suggested in 2007 they start planning how to sustain the abbey for the long-term.

The monks discussed their most important resources and “literally everybody talked about our location, our land,” Fr. James recalled. “As monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, we have a vow of stability. So we bind ourselves to the community and to the place that we enter.”



The Trappists have a long history of settling in valleys and caring for the land, dating back to their roots in the Cistercian Order and their mother abbey in Citeaux, France, founded in 1098. Monks at Holy Cross Abbey began farming the land in 1950 but as the community grew older, they leased out the land to local farmers and made creamed honey and fruitcake for their labor.

“We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land,” Fr. James explained. “The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”

So what specifically have the monks done to become better environmental stewards? First, they reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could be more environmentally sustainable in the Cistercian tradition.

A group of graduate students made the project their master’s thesis. The result was a 400-page study, “Reinhabiting Place,” with all sorts of recommendations for the monks. With these suggestions as a starting place, the monks took action.

First, they turned to the river. They asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease 600 acres of their land to stop his cattle from grazing in the river. This would protect the riverbanks from eroding and keep the cows from polluting the water, which flows into the Potomac River, past Washington, D.C., and eventually feeds the massive Chesapeake Bay.

They fenced off tributaries of the river and planted native hardwoods and bushes on the banks as shelter for migratory animals and to attract insects and pollinators to “restore the proper biodiversity to the area,” Fr. James explained. They also leased 180 acres of land to a farmer for natural vegetable farming.

Most of the abbey’s property was put into “conservation easement” with the county and the state. By doing this, the monks promise that the land will forever remain “fallow,” or agricultural and undeveloped, and they receive a tax benefit in return. The county provides this policy to check suburban sprawl and retain a rural and agricultural nature.

The community also switched their heating and fueling sources from fossil fuels to propane gas. They had a solar-fed lighting system installed in two of the guest retreat dorms, and they pay for the recycling of their disposable waste. The monks stopped making fruitcake for a year to install a new more energy-efficient oven and make building repairs.

The have even started offering “green burials” at Cool Spring Cemetery in the Trappist style.

Normal burials can cost well over $7,000 with embalming fluids and lead coffins that can be detrimental to the soil. A Trappist burial, by contrast, is “rather sparse” and “rather unadorned,” Fr. James explained. A monk is wrapped in a shroud and placed directly on a wooden bier in the ground.

The Trappist burials, while quite different from a typical modern burial, actually have an earthy character to them that’s attractive, Fr. James maintained.

After the “initial shock” at seeing such a sparse burial for the first time, “oddly enough, it’s very cathartic and you have a real sense of hope,” he said. The burials are “a lot less formal” and “people [in attendance] are more spontaneous,” he noted, and there’s “even a certain joyfulness to it.”

With their “green burials,” the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container like a wooden coffin, and buried in the first four feet of the soil. By one year, just the skeleton may be left, but it’s a harkening back to the Ash Wednesday admonition, “Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

And this contrasts with the complicated embalming process of normal funerals where chemicals like formaldehyde can seep into the ground.



The monks have already touched lives with their example of stewardship.

Local residents George Patterson and Deidra Dain produced a film “Saving Place, Saving Grace” about the monastery’s efforts to remain sustainable, for a local PBS affiliate station. The affiliate’s general manager had looked at the story and thought everyone needed to hear it.

The monastery has been an “example” to the county’s leadership with its care for the land, Patterson said. Dain, a retreatant at the monastery some 15 years ago, is not Catholic but found her time at the abbey “inspiring” and as a lover of nature praises their sustainability initiative.

All in all, the communal effort for stewardship is “helping to renew our life,” Fr. James said of the community.

Papal statements on the environment have given a boost to their efforts. “There was a lot of supportive stuff from the time of Pope Benedict about the environment,” Fr. James recalled, particularly in his 2008 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which upheld the responsibility of man to care for the environment.

This “helped bridge” any gulfs that kept certain members of the community from fully embracing the sustainability initiative, Fr. James said.

Parts of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment Laudato Si' are “so sophisticated in (their) grasp of environmental teaching,” he continued, and it’s quite a support to have popes promoting environmental stewardship amidst the bureaucratic tediousness of upgrading the abbey’s land and facilities.

“At the end of the day, I can open up Laudato Si' and say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done’,” he said.

The community hopes too that it can be a sustainability model for developing countries that might not be able to afford high-tech and expensive solutions to environmental problems. Their facilities are simple by nature and not sophisticated, and the monks’ consumption is already low because they take a vow of poverty.

Plus, retreatants at the monastery can observe first-hand the changes made and consider what they can do in their own lives to be more caring for the environment.



However, in its “re-founding” efforts, the community has also explored ways to attract more vocations to the abbey.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost most of our seniors first to illness, aging, and then death. So in a sense, the community has a whole new profile right now,” Fr. James said. The abbey was founded to be “separate” from the cosmopolitan world, but young men are not actively seeking out the monastic life like they did in the 1950s and '60s.

So the community created a new website and continuously update it with new posts. They started hosting “immersion weekends” where men come and live with the monks for a weekend, praying with them. They expanded their local profile in the community by hosting teenagers to earn their school community service hours. “Only two students had realized we existed here,” Fr. James recalled in a telling moment.

“We’re reaching out to men of all ages, and it’s probably even more likely, given the limits of our way of life, that nowadays it’s going to be older men who are coming to this vocation,” Fr. James admitted. “This way of life and its limits make much more sense to people who have tried their quote-unquote dream, have been disillusioned by the result, and they’re yearning for something more.”

What distinguishes Holy Cross Abbey and the Trappist way of life? Their vocation to community life, Fr. James answered, “the silence, the discipline of silence, and daily familiarity with the Scriptures.”

The monks follow an intense daily schedule of prayer, contemplation, and work that includes 3:30 a.m. prayer and a “Great Silence.” They don’t leave the abbey grounds and don’t own private property.

“It’s a lifestyle that very much will develop one’s interiority, spirituality, relationship with God,” he said. “It’s a vocation of adoration, done in community, and offered to the world around us through hospitality here in this place.”

And the modern world offers special challenges to a man discerning this vocation, he admitted.

“There’s not much in the pop culture to invite a person to even think about interiority. And in fact it can be rather threatening to people,” he said. “Initially,” when one begins to seriously cultivate an interior life, “it’s the negative stuff that comes up.”

However, “with guidance you realize that’s the negative face of very important, unrecognized resources. And our vulnerability is perhaps the greatest resource we have in life. (Even if) that’s not the message you’d get from watching Oprah.”
 
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 2, 2015.
 

Death in the modern age – and how to prepare as a Catholic

Thu, 11/28/2019 - 14:03

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2019 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- Death. It’s a subject seen as sad, morbid and fearful, something that people would rather not think about, and certainly not discuss.

Yet for Catholics, death is an essential part of the faith.

“For those who die in Christ's grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The celebration of the sacraments hearken for a kind of death: death to self, death as a consequence of sin, a remembrance of Christ’s death and entrance into eternal life.

As the 20th century priest Fr. Henri Nouwen remarked, “Dying is the most general human event, something we all have to do.”

The question, he asks, is “Do we do it well?”

Hiding from death

Advances in medicine and technology have drastically increased life expectancies in the past century. In 1915, most people would not expect to live past age 55. A child born in the US in 2017 is expected to see their 85th birthday.

As a result, death has become something distant and even foreign, argues Julie Masters, a professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

“We get lulled into thinking death doesn’t hit us very often, because it waits until people are very old,” she told CNA. “We know that younger people do die, that middle aged people do die, but in this country, the majority of people who die are going to be older people.”

The average American in the 21st century simply doesn’t have the experience with death that previous generations had, she said. And this lack of experience can lend itself to fear and a tendency to ignore the uncomfortable unknown of the future.

“So we’ll put it off until we have to talk about it, and when we do talk about it, then we get in a pickle because we’re not sure what people want,” Masters said.

Hiding from death can have other consequences, as well. Cultural unease and inexperience with death can affect how we approach loved ones as they die.

“If we’re uncomfortable with death, if someone is dying, we may be unwilling to visit them because we don’t know what to say, when in reality we don’t need to say anything,” Masters said. “We may be less available to comfort them.”

Avoidance of death can also impact vulnerable members of society who are not actively dying, Masters warned.

“Our uncomfortableness with dying may be symptomatic of our desire to control dying and death,” she said. When that control or the fear of becoming a “burden” gives way to conversations about physician-assisted suicide, she continued, “we look at the most vulnerable and say ‘are they really worthy of living, think of all the resources they’re taking up?’”

“Each step in that slope, it gets easier to get rid of people who are no longer valuable or are vulnerable. Yet don’t we learn from the vulnerable?” she questioned. “They’re the ones who teach the strong what’s most valuable in life.”

But Masters also sees a desire to move towards a broader discussion of how to die well. She pointed to the spread of Death Cafes and other guided discussion groups that encourage conversations about death, dying and preparation for the end of life.

Churches can offer a similar kinds of programming, she suggested: “People want to talk about it, they just need the place to do that.”

What does it mean to have a ‘happy death’?

While a person may plan for their death, ultimately the circumstances of one’s passing will be out of their control. However, everyone can aspire to a “good” or “happy” death, said Fr. Michael Witczak, an associate professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America.

He told CNA that the essential qualities of a happy death are being in a state of grace and having a good relationship with God.

The idea of a happy death, or at the very least the aspiration of it, gained popular consideration in the Ars Moriendi – a collection of 15th Century Catholic works laying out the “Art of Dying,” he noted.

The texts elaborate on the temptations – such as despair – that face the dying, questions to ask the dying, advice for families and friends, how to imitate Christ’s life, and prayers for the bedside.

Resources such as these, from ages of the Church that had a more daily experience of death, Fr. Witczak suggested, can be a good resource for beginning to live “intentionally” and to think more about death and how to die well.

Masters agreed that intentionality is key in shifting the cultural mindset on death and dying.

“What if people approached death with the same joy that they greet the birth of a new baby?” she asked.

It’s a fitting analogue, she argues. Both processes – birth and death – are the defining markers of human life, and natural processes that all the living will experience. Both processes also open the door to a similar set of unknowns: What comes next? What will it be like afterwards? How will we cope?

She added that the modern tendency to view death with suspicion and trepidation – or to ignore it altogether – reflects something about the culture.

“If we’re so afraid of death and dying, I have to wonder if we’re also afraid of life and living.”

Last wishes

Discussing death is the first step in making practical preparations for it.

Without planning, Masters said, loved ones may not know a person’s preferences for treatment, finances, or funeral preparations, which can lead to sometimes sharp divides between friends and family.

“When we get comfortable talking about death,” she noted, “we can let people know what our wishes are, so that hopefully our wishes are followed.”

Thorough planning includes setting advanced directives and establishing a power of attorney who can make medical decisions on one’s behalf if one is unable to do so.

It is also important to be aware of different care options in an individual’s geographic location. These include palliative care, which focuses on improving quality and length of life while decreasing the need for additional hospital visits. Not just limited to end-of-life situations, palliative care is available for a range of long-term illnesses, and seeks to relieve pain rather than cure an underlying condition.

Hospice care is also an option when the end of life approaches. At this point, the goal is no longer to extend the length of life, but to alleviate pain and offer comfort, while also helping mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to prepare for death.

Funeral planning and creating a will are also important steps in the preparation process. Even for the young or those without material possessions, planning for one’s death can be useful for grieving friends and family members, Masters said. She explained that the idea of creating an “ethical will” is a Jewish tradition in which a person writes a letter or spiritual autobiography, leaving behind the values and morals they found important in their life to pass on to the next generation.

The practice, which is growing in popularity, is available to anyone “to put down into words what’s given their life meaning,” and can have special meaning for those who “feel, because they don’t have a lot of wealth or a lot of possessions, that they have nothing to leave their family.”

Masters pointed to a student of hers who wrote an ethical will shortly before passing away in college and the example of her own grandparents instilling the recitation of the Rosary as people who left behind some of their most meaningful gifts to their loved ones.

“It’s a testament to what that person believed in. What a gift that is!”

Paul Malley, president of the non-profit group Aging with Dignity, stressed that planning the more specific details of end-of-life care can help respect a person’s dignity during illness or on the deathbed.

“Those who are at the end of life, whether they may be suffering with a serious illness or disability, tend to have their dignity questioned,” he told CNA.

The sick and dying are often isolated, receiving care from medical professionals, he explained. And while advanced care planning often focuses on decisions regarding feeding tubes, ventilators, and other medical treatment options, that discussion “doesn’t tell your family anything about what dignified care means to you.”

“It’s important not to just talk about caregiving in terms of medical issues,” Malley stressed. “That’s a small fraction of a day – the rest of the day plays out at the bedside.”

Aging with Dignity promotes planning for acts of comfort, spiritual issues and family relationships in order to make the time surrounding death easier and more dignified for all involved.

“These issues were never talked about when it came to end-of-life care or advanced care planning.” Among some of the requests participants make, he elaborated, are small acts of comfort like cool cloths on a forehead, pictures of loved ones in a hospital room, favorite blankets on a bed, or requests for specific family or friends to come visit.

Planning to incorporate what Malley calls “the lost art of caregiving,” was important to his own family when his grandmother died. “One of the most important things for her was that she always wanted to have her feet poking out of the blanket because her feet were hot,” he recalled.

Although nurses and care providers would often bundle her feet up to try to keep her warm, her family was able to untuck her feet afterwards so she could stay comfortable.

“That might be something that sounds very trivial, very small, but for her, for my grandmother, laying in that bed where she couldn’t get up and couldn’t reach down to pull up her own blanket, having her feet stick out at the edge of the blanket was probably the most important thing to her all day long,” Malley said.

The end of the earthly pilgrimage

For Catholics, spiritual preparation for death should always include the sacraments, Fr. Witczak said.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, important for all the faithful throughout their lives, is a particularly important spiritual medicine for those nearing death.

Additionally, Anointing of the Sick should be sought for those who have begun to be in danger of death due to sickness or old age, and it can be repeated if the sick person recovers and again becomes gravely ill, or if their condition becomes more grave.

“The Church wants people to celebrate the sacrament as often as they need to,” Fr. Witczak said.

The Eucharist can also be received at the end of life as “viaticum,” which means “with you on the way.”

“It’s receiving the Lord who will be with you on the way to the other side,” said Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

He added that the Eucharist can be received as viaticum more than once, should a person recover, and can also be given even if someone has already received the Eucharist earlier during the day.

A good death is a gift

Prayer, reception of the sacraments, and seeking forgiveness from God and one another can mark death as a time of peace, Fr. Petri said. Death can also be a time of surprise, as it “either amplifies the way a person has lived their life or it causes a complete reversal,” with some people undergoing profound conversions or surprising hardenings of the heart during their last days.

“Much of it really does rely on the will of God,” he reflected, adding that we should all pray for the grace of a holy death.

Dying a happy death is not only a blessing for the person dying, but can be a gift to others as well, Fr. Petri said, noting that family and friends can be drawn closer to one another and to God as the result of a holy death.

Masters agreed, adding that “the dying can serve as examples or role models,” by teaching others how to die without fear.

Ultimately, Fr. Witczak said, Christians “do” death differently because Christians “do” life differently.

“I think as human beings, death is a topic we’re afraid of and we’re told not to think about, and the Christian tradition keeps trying to bring it before people, not to scare people, but rather to remind people of their ultimate destiny,” he said.

“This is not simple and it’s something people ultimately have to learn for themselves, but it’s the important task of life. I think what the Church tries to do is to help people live their life fully and even live their death as an entryway into the life that is promised to us by Jesus Christ.”

Looking toward death and the vulnerability that surrounds it can be a vital way of encountering death – and overcoming the fear of it, he said.

Masters agreed, noting that those who have had encounters with death or profound suffering often “look at life differently.”

“They understand it is so fleeting. But because they know how close death is they look at life in a different way.”

For many people, this different approach to life includes an increased focus on family, friends and service, she said. “That’s how you’re remembered at the end of the day: what did you do for other people?”

Starting with even the most basic conversations about death, she added, can be beneficial for those wanting to confront mortality.

“When you can acknowledge that you’re going to die, you can begin to live your life.”

Does 'gender affirming' treatment really improve mental health?

Thu, 11/28/2019 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A reporter and a researcher who reviewed literature on “gender affirmation” have raised concerns about growing political and academic support for life-altering surgical procedures.

“We don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know,” Madeleine Kearns, a William F. Buckley fellow in political journalism at the National Review Institute, told CNA of the long-term results of “gender affirmation” practices.

“And so if the answer keeps being we don’t know, it does raise the rather glaring question that why on earth are we doing it? What evidence suggests this is necessary?” she asked.

Kearns wrote a Nov. 21 article in National Review, “The Tragedy of the ‘Trans’ Child,” which discussed cases of gender dysphoria, as well as efforts to influence the debate over “gender affirmation” practices.

There are three main responses to a child exhibiting signs of gender confusion, Kearns wrote in National Review. Two of them are “talk therapy” to find out what underlying issues might be influencing the child’s confusion, and “watchful waiting” to see if children “grow out” of the stage.

The third route is so-called “gender affirmation,” which presents a radical departure from previously-accepted medical practice, Kearns said. It involves practices which could seriously or permanently alter a person’s development.

“Gender affirmation” could involve having a child’s community reinforce their desired sex to them—“a form of social-psychological treatment,” Kearns said—or administering puberty-blocking drugs or cross-sex hormones followed by puberty-blocking drugs. Surgical intervention would be the most drastic action, she said.

Kearns shared her conclusions with CNA from researching various studies that purportedly showed minimal or even salutary effects of gender-affirmation on the mental health of children with gender dysphoria.

Many of these studies, she told CNA, are actually very limited in scope, because of the novelty of “gender affirmation” techniques, or they disregard other standard research safeguards, such as control groups.

Society still does not know with certainty how a child will feel 10 to 15 years after gender affirmation procedure, Kearns said.

A recent study claimed that sex-reassignment surgery might actually benefit recipients in the long-term. The American Journal of Psychiatry in October published the results of a Swedish study that aimed to discover the rates of mental health treatment for persons diagnosed with “gender incongruence” who had also undergone sex-reassignment surgery.

Persons with “gender incongruence” in the study had significantly higher rates of “a mood and anxiety disorder health care visit”—around six times that of the general population, the study said.

Yet it was another claim in the study that made headlines—that the rates of mental health visits among persons with gender incongruence who also had gender-affirmation surgery actually declined over time.

The Swedish study claimed specifically that mental health problems declined after a period of ten years post-surgery.

That claim was picked up in the press as possible support for gender affirmation. “When transgender people undergo sex-reassignment surgery, the beneficial effect on their mental health is still evident — and increasing — years later, a Swedish study suggests,” Reuters reported earlier this month.

But the sample size in the Swedish study was extremely small, Professor Mark Regnerus, sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, subsequently wrote in the online journal The Public Discourse.

The Swedish study collected data of more than 9.7 million people. Only 2,679 were diagnosed with “gender incongruence,” and of these, 1,018 people had undergone sex-reassignment surgery, he noted.

Out of this population of just over 1,000, only 19 people had gone more than 10 years after having surgery. Thus, the study was basing this claim upon a national sample of 19 people.

Regnerus, in his Public Discourse piece, put the numbers in perspective: “if a mere three additional cases among these 19 had sought mental health treatment in 2015, there would appear to be no discernible overall effect of surgery on subsequent mental health.”

“It’s important to keep some perspective here—how national debates and discourses are being driven by quite small shares of the population,” Regnerus said in a written statement to CNA.

And it is these types of studies that are fueling the rise of gender-affirmation of children—despite a lack of deep knowledge about the effects of these surgeries ten years down the road, Kearns said.

“Again, it’s important to note that the studies related to children are very, very new,” Kearns said. Children, especially those supportive of gender affirmation, may answer that they feel great after surgery.

Yet in 2016, Paul R. McHugh, M.D., the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Lawrence S. Mayer, M.B., M.S., Ph.D., then a scholar in residence in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. 

“Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes,” they concluded.

And as to their condition ten years later, “nobody has a crystal ball,” Kearns said. And with the adult population, there is only “very ambiguous research.”

Many serious medical studies include a “control group” for comparison’s sake. However, some studies used to tout the positive effects of gender affirmation “completely disregard that,” she said. “They don’t really tell you anything except for the foregone conclusions of the ideologues running them and funding them.”

The push to use limited or unsound research in favor of gender affirmation should concern everyone, she said.

“This should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue of scientific integrity,” Kearns said. “This is not secular versus religious, this is not Democrat versus Republican.”

“And I really do think that we are living through this tremendous medical scandal which our children’s children will hang their heads in shame about.”

 

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