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Updated: 1 hour 31 min ago

Bill to ban transgender surgery for minors advances in South Dakota

4 hours 39 min ago

Pierre, S.D., Jan 29, 2020 / 12:26 am (CNA).- A bill aiming to ban sex-reassignment surgery and puberty-blocking medication for minors in South Dakota cleared a House committee Jan. 22, and is set to be debated in the House of Representatives.

HB 1057 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for doctors to dispense puberty-blocking drugs to those under the age of 16 for the purpose of changing or affirming the perception of their sex, and lists a number of surgical procedures including castration, vasectomy, and hysterectomy that doctors would not be allowed to perform on minors.

The bill was set to be debated in the House on Monday, but the House deferred the debate to another day.

The South Dakota Catholic Conference announced its support for the measure Jan. 16.

“HB 1057 would protect boys and girls from harmful medicalization with unknown, potentially life-long consequences,” the conference wrote Jan. 16.

“With deep compassion for the experience of suffering that marks those with gender dysphoria, the Church firmly insists on the dignity of all human persons as created and loved by God, and further expresses special affection for the marginalized and suffering.”

“HB 1057 would ensure children, especially those experiencing distress concerning their sex, are given the chance to develop and grow in understanding the gift of their created nature without pressures towards harmful medicalization,” the conference concluded.

The Republican-sponsored bill is likely to advance in South Dakota as both the House and the Senate hold Republican supermajorities.

The provisions of the bill do not apply to “the good faith medical decision of a parent or guardian of a minor born with a medically-verifiable genetic disorder of sex development.”

The South Dakota bill comes in the wake of an October 2019 decision by a federal judge to strike down an Obama-era requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

The regulation stemmed from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. HHS interpreted “sex discrimination” under this rule to include gender identity, thus mandating the provision of gender-transition surgeries.

In response to the rule, an alliance of more than 19,000 health care professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations combined in two lawsuits against the mandate, saying that it unlawfully required doctors who objected to the procedures to violate their religious beliefs or the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the patient.

Similar bills to the one proposed in South Dakota are under consideration in other states, including ones introduced during the 2020 session in Florida and Colorado that, like the South Dakota bill, would impose criminal penalties for transgender surgery performed on minor.

In other states, like Illinois, Oklahoma and South Carolina, bills are under consideration that provide for the loss of a doctor’s medical license if they perform transgender surgery on a minor.

A bill under consideration in Missouri, HB 1721, would revoke a doctor’s medical license if they administer gender-reassignment treatment, and parents who consent to such treatment would be reported to child-welfare officials for child abuse, the AP reports.

State lawmakers in Kentucky and Texas also have announced plans to file similar bills, the Washington Post reports.

A state representative in Georgia during November 2019 proposed a law that would make it a felony for medical professionals to attempt to change a minor’s gender either through surgery or medication.

 

KC priest Harkins remembered as a 'good man and a good priest'

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 23:31

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 28, 2020 / 09:31 pm (CNA).- Catholics in Missouri and across the country remembered Fr. Evan Harkins Tuesday as a good priest, and urged prayer for the repose of his soul.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph announced the priest’s death on Jan. 28.

Harkins “had apparently taken his own life,” the diocese said in a statement.

“In the face of this devastatingly tragic news, we ask that you pray for Fr. Harkins, his family, and the parish and school communities that he served as well as all of our priests,” the statement added.

Harkins was ordained a priest in 2010, and was serving as pastor of St. James Catholic Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He also oversaw the nearby St. Patrick Catholic Church as parochial administrator. He was, according to his LinkedIn profile, studying at the Catholic University of America for a degree in canon law.

Harkins was ordained a priest at 24 years old, nearly three months shy of the required canonical age of 25, with a dispensation from his bishop. Before his ordination, he told the Catholic Key that he first began thinking about becoming a priest at eight years old.

His parents supported his vocation. The oldest of five children, Harkins attended a seminary high school. He then enrolled at Conception Seminary College in Missouri, followed by major seminary at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.

In 2010, Harkins described to the Catholic Key his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Through her intercession I grew in holiness. A priest stands in the person of Christ, absolving sin, and in the person of Christ saying ‘This is my body.’ Therefore we should be as Christ-like as possible, and part of that is drawing close to His mother, Our Lady,” he said.

Harkins also told the Catholic Key about his enthusiasm for the priesthood.

A priest “brings the channels of Christ’s grace to the sacraments: New life through baptism; absolution through the sacrament of Penance, His love for us and His grace through the Eucharist. A priest is a bridge connecting people to God in a sacramental way, and he extends Christ’s love for His Church, in a human way.”

“I see a lot of pain and sadness in the world. You can see in people’s eyes. Satan makes people unsure of who they are. To me being ordained a priest is to be sent out in to the world to give God to people and His gifts of joy and truth. I think that’s awesome; there is nothing beyond that I could want,” Harkins added.

Priests in Missouri and other parts of the country remembered Harkins on social media.

Fr. Joseph Kelly of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau wrote on Facebook that Harkins “was a few years ahead of me at Kenrick, and I always remember him as humble, quiet, prayerful, always joyful, and had a great love for the traditional liturgy.”

Kelly requested prayers for the repose of Harkins’ soul, and “for all those struggling with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, that they may know there is always hope even in the midst of the greatest darkness.”



Fr. Adam Prichard of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois requested prayers for Harkin’s soul, for his family, and for his parishioners.

“He was a good man and a good priest,” Prichard wrote.

 

Please pray for the repose of the souls of Fr. Evan Harkins, for his family, and his parishioners. He was a good man and a good priest. https://t.co/qa19coLlC2

— Fr. Adam Prichard (@FrAdamPrichard) January 28, 2020  

Fr. Cassidy Stinson of the Diocese of Richmond asked on Twitter that Catholics pray for all priests.

“I know from experience that it can be very hard to seek help and support  when you’re the one called upon to support everyone else,” Stinson wrote.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Evan Harkins, who took his own life this morning.

I know from experience that it can be very hard to seek help and support when you’re the one called upon to support everyone else.

Pray for your priests.

Love your priests. pic.twitter.com/mR5v6StrKw

— Fr. Cassidy Stinson (@TheHappyPriest) January 28, 2020  

Fr. James Clark of Memphis wrote that he and Evans “were good friends in seminary.  I never would have expected such a thing.  May God give him eternal life and console his beautiful family. You are a priest forever, Fr. Evan.”

Heartbroken to hear of the death of Fr. Evan Harkins. We were good friends in seminary. I never would have expected such a thing. May God give him eternal life and console his beautiful family. You are a priest forever, Fr. Evan. pic.twitter.com/uwR0Xx8dO8

— Fr James Clark (@FatherJcl) January 29, 2020  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law,” but adds that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives,” the Catechism adds.

Funeral announcements for Harkins have not yet been announced.

Transport Secretary vows to stamp out 'modern slavery' of human trafficking

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, has announced several new initiatives aimed at combatting human trafficking, vowing to stamp out use of American transport routes for “this modern form of slavery.”

“It is shocking to learn that in this day and age, something so horrible as human trafficking exists, and there are so many people who don’t believe it,” Chao said Jan. 28. 

“But it is happening, and it’s happening in the United States, in our cities, in our suburbs, in our rural areas.” said Chao at the agency’s “Putting the Brakes on Human Trafficking” summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

“Our purpose today is to make a difference, and that’s to make the transportation sector a more effective force against the evil that is human trafficking. Because America’s roadways, railways, airways, and waterways are being used to facilitate this modern form of slavery,” Chao stated.

Chao was joined by members of Congress, officials from multiple states, law enforcement personnel, and leaders of the transportation industry on Tuesday at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C.

USDOT launched its new “100 Pledges in 100 Days” initiative to increase the number of transportation companies promising to train their employees to recognize suspected cases of human trafficking.

Chao called on leaders of transportation companies—in the airline, shipping, trucking, and locomotive industries—to take the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Pledge” to train their employees.

Currently, there are commitments to train more than one million employees to fight human trafficking, according to USDOT, and Chao listed anti-trafficking initiatives already underway at the agency, with the strategies of “detection, deterrence, and disruption.” More than 53,000 agency employees have received mandatory counter-trafficking training, including special instructions for bus and truck inspectors, she said.

The agency is also partnering with the Department of Homeland Security on the Blue Lightning initiative for the airline industry, providing anti-trafficking training for more than 100,000 airline employees.

The Department also announced an annual $50,000 award for individuals or organizations for “innovative” solutions for combating trafficking, as well as $5.4 million in grant selections

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has authored five laws combatting human trafficking, also spoke at the event. 

Smith drafted the International Megan’s Law, named for 7 year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton, New Jersey, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a repeated sex offender in 1994. The law requires convicted child sex offenders to register with the U.S. government before travelling abroad. The government in turn notifies their destination countries, which can refuse to accept the offender.

“Human trafficking is a barbaric human rights abuse that thrives on greed, secrecy, a perverted sense of entitlement to exploit the vulnerable and an unimaginable disregard for the victims,” Rep. Smith said.

Supreme Court allows ‘public burden’ rule for migrants, but Catholic leaders object

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 15:15

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A Trump administration rule defining more low-income immigrants as a public burden may go into effect, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week. Catholic leaders decried the ruling, saying it will harm families’ ability to secure basic services and that it represents a radical departure from American traditions.

“We implore the administration to reconsider this harsh and unnecessary policy and rescind it in its entirety,” Sister Donna Markham O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said Jan. 27. “By allowing this harmful policy to go into effect, the administration imposes a chilling effect on access to basic services, creating fear among eligible individuals threatening family unity and stability.”

“We will be judged on how we treat the hungry, the homeless and the stranger among us and this decision signals a watershed change of course from the best moments of our American heritage of welcoming immigrants and refugees,” Markham said.

The rule change expands the criteria under which immigrants would be ineligible for a green card, encompassing those who use public benefits on a more temporary basis than the previous standards.

Catholic Charities USA said the rule harms families, targets legal immigrants, and could prevent families from securing basic nutrition and housing assistance.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration in a 5-4 vote on Jan. 27 to overturn a nationwide injunction against the rule. The justices did not comment on the merits of the case. However, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a concurring opinion objecting to the use of nationwide injunctions.

The decision means the new rule can go to effect in every state except for Illinois, a separate case. The rule will still face legal challenge in several courts across the country.

Immigrant advocates and several states had challenged the rule, saying it would impose costs on the states and penalize immigrants who rely on temporary government assistance. They objected that it limited access to green cards for low-income immigrants seeking legal entry to the U.S. or seeking to remain legally.

The concept of a “public charge” dates back to at least 1882, when federal lawmakers wanted to ensure that immigrants were independent and would not burden public services.

Since 1996, government regulations had defined a public charge as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning this assistance supplies more than half their income through cash benefits, such as the Temporary Aid for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security, CNN reports.

Previously, fewer than 1% of applicants were disqualified on public charge grounds.

Under the Trump administration rules announced in August 2019, “noncash benefits providing for basic needs such as housing or food” count towards consideration of whether a person would be a public charge. These include most forms of Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.

An immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period could be designated a public charge. Use of two kinds of benefits in a single month would count as two months, the New York Times reports.

Lawyers for the private groups challenging the rule cited Department of Homeland Security estimates that the rule will cause hundreds of thousands of households to forgo benefits for which they are eligible “out of fear and confusion about the consequences for their immigration status of accepting such benefits.” The Department of Homeland Security warned of increased malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women and their infants and children; increased prevalence of communicable disease; and increased poverty and housing instability, the lawyers said in their brief.

New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, whose state was among the plaintiffs to the legal challenge, said the new rule would “radically disrupt over a century of settled immigration policy and public-benefits programs.” The established consensus was that the phrase “public charge” was limited to mean “individuals who are primarily dependent on the government for long-term subsistence,” she argued.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, who defended the rule, asked the Supreme Court to lift the lower court injunctions. He argued that the new rule was a permissible interpretation of the concept “public charge.” It is a lawful goal to discourage immigrants seeking green cards from using public benefits, and enjoinment of the rule would cause “long-term harm” to the government, he said.

Francisco said if any resident aliens not subject to the rule disenroll from benefits for fear they would endanger their immigration status, then “such disenrollment is unwarranted, easily corrected and temporary.”

Susan Welber, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, opposed the new policy. She told CNN the policy aimed to exclude “as unworthy and unwelcome anyone who is predicted to receive even a small amount of food, health or housing assistance at any point.”

“We are very disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision, and the irreparable consequences it will have for immigrants and their families across the nation, but we continue to believe that our legal claims are very strong that we will ultimately prevail in stopping this rule permanently,” she said.

In September 2018, when the initial changes to the rule were proposed, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the rule will be “very harmful to families” and cause fear among immigrant families who are “already struggling to fulfill the American Dream.” The proposed rule “further compounds strict eligibility guidelines already in place preventing many immigrants from receiving federal aid,” they said.
 

 

Judge allows student group’s abortion lawsuit to progress against Notre Dame

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 02:59

South Bend, Ind., Jan 28, 2020 / 12:59 am (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame’s refusal to pay for drugs that can cause early abortions will face further litigation in court, after a federal judge in Indiana allowed a lawsuit to challenge an agreement between the university and the Trump administration.

“Notre Dame stands on firm legal and moral ground in refusing to subsidize the limited number of contraceptive products that can act as abortifacients and harm an unborn child,” Paul Browne, vice president of public affairs and communications at the University of Notre Dame, said in a Jan. 20 letter to the editor of the Notre Dame Observer, a student-run newspaper.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon rejected the university’s motions to dismiss the case on Jan. 16. A pretrial conference is scheduled for early March, the South Bend Tribune reports.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2018, charges that the Catholic university’s failure to provide abortifacient drugs violates a federal requirement dating back to 2012 holding that employer health plans must provide contraceptive coverage.

The lawsuit comes from a group of students allied with national pro-abortion rights NGOs.

Browne told the South Bend Tribune the university’s position is “grounded in the autonomy of litigants, including the government, to settle claims.” He added “we are confident that Notre Dame will prevail.”

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three unnamed students and the group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a 501c4 non-profit not affiliated with or funded by the Catholic university.

“No one at Notre Dame — and no one anywhere —should have to choose between what is right for their body and life and what they can afford,” said the group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In February 2018, University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced that while the insurance plan at the university will not provide abortifacients, the school will fund the use of “simple contraceptives.”

Irish 4 Reproductive Health still objected, contending that the policies follow a February 2018 “secretive deal with the Trump-Pence administration to impose unnecessary and burdensome costs on us and restrict our reproductive healthcare options to methods deemed acceptable by Fr. Jenkins’s coterie of advisors.”

The group of Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students describes itself as an advocate for “reproductive justice.”

“We work to expand access to sexual health resources and information at the University of Notre Dame as well as in our surrounding community. Our feminism is intersectional and sex-positive,” it says on its Facebook page.

The group says the majority of its funding comes from individual donors but it also reports receiving grants from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest performer of abortions, and Catholics for Choice, whose claims to be a Catholic organization have been rejected by the U.S. bishops.

Irish 4 Reproductive Justice works with South Bend-area pro-abortion rights and feminist groups as well as the National Women’s Law Center, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The latter two groups are assisting in the lawsuit, as is the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Fried Frank and Macey Swanson law firms.

Americans United named Irish 4 Reproductive Health as its 2020 Students of the Year.

Named alongside Notre Dame in the lawsuit are the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor.

“The Supreme Court should affirm that it is unconstitutional for the Trump administration to misuse religious freedom to block employees’ and students’ access to birth control,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Jan. 17.

Laser cited similar court decisions in Pennsylvania and California.

The 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, she said, “guarantees employees and students the right to contraceptive coverage.”

The 2010 health care legislation required employer-provided health insurance plans are required to cover certain “preventative services.” Guidance issued under the Obama administration in January 2012 defined these services to include all FDA-approved sterilization procedures and contraceptive methods, including abortifacient birth control pills and IUDs.

Initially, there were no religious exemptions for those opposed to the distribution of contraceptives. The eventual exemption was so narrow in scope it excluded religious orders such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and non-profits like the EWTN Global Catholic Network.

In 2015,  the Supreme Court ruled against the mandate as it applied to Christian-owned business Hobby Lobby and similar “closely held for-profits.”

The Trump administration established new rules in October 2017 allowing companies with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of the mandate. Federal judges blocked the rules in December 2017, resulting in new rules in November 2018.

Judges in California and Pennsylvania issued injunctions against these new rules in January 2019, again halting the Little Sisters of the Poor’s legal case. On Jan. 17, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court said it would again hear the Little Sisters of the Poor’s case.

Americans United, one supporter of the lawsuit against Notre Dame, is historically an anti-Catholic group. Formerly known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church & State, it was founded in 1947 with financial backing and other support from prominent Scottish Rite Masons, Southern Jurisdiction, Phillip Hamburger reports in his 2002 book “Separation of Church and State,” published by Harvard University Press.

In a Feb. 7, 2018 statement, Notre Dame’s president Father Jenkins acknowledged that the use of contraception is indeed “contrary to Catholic teaching.” Attempting to justify the health plan policy, he said that offering contraception in the school health plan was a way to “respect” other religious traditions and conscientious decisions—particularly decisions made by those in the university’s community who rely on access to contraception through the insurance plan.

This step came as a surprise to many, since the university was one of the institutions which sued the United States over the mandate. Prior to the mandate, Notre Dame did not provide contraception coverage in its insurance plans, except when prescribed to treat a medical condition.

Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley criticized the new university policy in a February 2018 Public Discourse essay “Notre Dame Swallows the Pill.” He said the policy was “a giant leap into immorality” that made the university “sole funder and proprietor of a contraception giveaway.”

Bradley cited Notre Dame’s previous claims that justified its lawsuit on the grounds of fidelity to Catholic teaching. In his words, the university argued that “to remain faithful to its beliefs, it could not be involved in any way whatsoever with a process designed to provide contraceptives to its employees, its students, or their dependents.”

Bradley said the allowance for contraception will cause incalculable harm to “so many persons’ minds, bodies and souls.”

“Our moral duty to respect others’ choices does not have anything to do with giving them the means to do evil,” he said.

 

TX judges increasingly denied abortion to minors without parental consent from 2016

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 20:18

Austin, Texas, Jan 27, 2020 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- A study of statistics from Texas suggests that since 2016, judges in the state were less likely to grant permission to minors to procure abortion without their parents’ consent than in previous years.

Thirty-seven states, including Texas, require minors to obtain parental consent before procuring an abortion. In those states, minors can also seek the approval of a judge, in what is known as a “judicial bypass.”

From 2000 to 2015, Texas’ laws mandated that a minor seeking an abortion without parental consent must demonstrate to a judge that they were mature and well-informed, that notifying a parent would not be in their best interest, and that notifying a parent might lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, between 2001 and 2015 the number of times a judge in Texas denied a minor an abortion ranged from zero to six per year, which in turn represented between 0% and 6.2% of the total requests judges received that year. The rate of denial was 2.8% in 2015.

In 2016, the year that Texas implemented a law changing regulations for minors requesting permission for abortions from judges, the number of denials rose to 23, which represented about 10.3% of the total requests that judges received that year. The number of denials dipped to 10 in 2017 (3.1%) and then rose slightly to 12 in 2018 (5.1%).

The data for 2016-18 came from the Texas Office of Court Administration, while that from 2001-15 were based on reports from Jane's Due Process, a group that provides legal representation to minors seeking to procure abortion without their parents' consent.

Reuters reported that one of the changes implemented in 2016 was the removal of the criterion related to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse if the minor tells the parent they are having an abortion. Another change implemented after 2016 required girls to file their petitions in the county they live in, and to include their name, address, and date of birth, Reuters reported.

The study's lead author, Amanda Stevenson, said that the purpose of the judicial bypass process “is to protect minors from a veto of their abortion decision. We find sometimes the process doesn’t protect them from being vetoed. It’s just the judge instead of the parent.”

Texas’ requirements regarding judicial consent for minors to obtain an abortion recieved national attention when a 17-year-old from Central America, known as Jane Doe, obtained state permission in September 2017.

The minor had been in federal custody in a Texas shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement – an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Health and Human Services objected to transporting the minor to abortion appointments.

The government argued that since she is a minor in their custody, it has the right to determine what is in the best interest of the teen, and also stated that it has an interest in not creating incentives for minors to cross international borders in order to obtain abortions.

On Oct. 20, 2017, a three-judge appellate panel ruled that Doe would not be allowed immediately to obtain the abortion. This overruled a Texas district court’s ruling that Doe should be allowed to access an abortion immediately.

However, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision five days later, ordering instead that an adult custodian be found for the teenager, which would remove her from federal custody. The teen subsequently procured the abortion.

Other states attempting to pass “parental notification laws,” such as Indiana, have been blocked by the courts.

Indiana law requires any Indiana minor seeking an abortion to provide the courts with written consent from a parent, but the state allows a minor to petition a court for approval to have an abortion without parental consent.

A 2017 law would have allowed judges to notify parents that their daughters are seeking to have an abortion without consent.

In 2017, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevents judges from notifying parents when minors seek abortions, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction during August 2019 by a vote of 2-1.

Also in 2017, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring more scrutiny for minors who seek an abortion without parental consent, saying that the law violates the minor’s confidentiality by possibly bringing other people from her life into the process.

Efforts are currently underway to remove the longstanding requirement for teens to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion in Massachusetts, a rule that can only be bypassed if the minor is granted permission for the abortion by a state judge. The bill, which state Sen. Harriet Chandler introduced during January 2020, also seeks to establish a state right to an abortion, which would stand even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Legislators back 'School Choice Week' as Supreme Court considers key case

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Political leaders have come out in support of School Choice Week, as the Supreme Court considers a crucial case on the right of parents to public assistance if they choose religious schools.

National School Choice Week is Jan. 26 through Feb. 1. “School choice” is a policy to provide families, particularly low-income families, the option of using public funds such as tax credits, public scholarships or vouchers, to help pay for the cost of sending their children to private schools or charter schools.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has promoted school choice over the years, in line with Church teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ education committee, Bishop Michael Barber, S.J. of Oakland, outlined the conference’s stances on school choice in a March, 2019 letter to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Education Freedom Scholarships.

“In addition to parents having the duty to educate their children, the Catholic Church also teaches that parents should have access to government resources to successfully meet the education needs of their children,” Bishop Barber wrote.

Byrne quoted Pope St. Paul VI’s declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum Educationis: “The public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”

Barber also praised Congress in December for reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which allows for education vouchers.

“The Catholic Church has consistently taught that children have the universal right to an education, and that parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children,” Barber stated, “The Church also teaches that the state has a fundamental obligation to support parents in fulfilling such a right.”

President Trump, in a proclamation for School Choice Week issued last Friday, said that “[e]ach child is a gift from God who has boundless potential and deserves a fair shot at the American Dream.” The president said that “children and their families must be free to pursue an educational environment that matches their individual learning style, develops their unique talents, and prepares them with the knowledge and character needed for fulfilling and productive lives.” 

The USCCB has also weighed in on a recent school choice case, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, currently before the Supreme Court.

A clause in Montana’s state constitution that dates back to 1889, and which was included again in the state’s 1972 constitution, bars public funding of religious schools.

A state scholarship program funded by donations—through which donors could claim tax credits dollar-for-dollar—was created to help low-income parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The state supreme court ruled that the program violated the state constitution and struck it down, saying that it could not be remedied.

Bishop Barber, along with USCCB religious freedom chair Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, stated that “Our country’s tradition of non-establishment of religion does not mean that governments can deny otherwise available benefits on the basis of religious status.”

Legislators have also drawn attention to School Choice Week. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) sponsored the Senate resolution designating the week of Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, 2020 as School Choice Week. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Education Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) were original cosponsors of the resolution.

“I firmly believe that a child’s zip code should not affect his or her access to quality education nor should it affect the child’s future, which is why I proudly support National School Choice Week,” Sen. Scott stated. 

“I have long believed that parents should have an informed and meaningful choice in their children’s education,” said Senator Feinstein.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla,) office tweeted on Monday that he “proudly supports the right of every parent to decide what educational option is best for their child, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic background.”

“Parents should be the ultimate decision makers on where their children go to school,” Sen. Cruz tweeted, adding that “poor and working class parents often have no choice about what schools their children can attend.”

The Joint Economic Committee in the Senate, which runs the Social Capital Project, stated Monday that “Public education aspired to be the common ground on which sectarianism could be put aside to focus on values we all share.” 

“This model is breaking down,” the committee said, “evidenced by parents frustrated at their inability to influence the content or context of their child’s educational experience.”

At Kobe and Gianna Bryant's parish, prayer and Masses for crash victims

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 17:25

Newport Beach, CA, Jan 27, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- Hours before he died Sunday, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant attended Mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, California. His parish is now praying for his soul.

Holy Mass was offered Monday at the parish for the souls of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other victims of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that took their lives, according to NBC 4 Los Angeles.

NBC also reported that parishioners have gathered to pray the rosary for the Bryants, and for the other victims of the crash.

Parishioners said Bryant was a regular part of their parish community.

Heny Russell, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the parish, remembered that Bryant presented a bit of a challenge to her.

"When I give him communion I have to put my arm and feet up like that so I can reach him," Russell said, demonstrating a stretch on the tip of her toes.

“They are very humble people, you know,” Russell told NBC of her fellow parishioners.

Kobe Bryant, 41, was the father of four. Gianna Bryant, 13, was an upcoming basketball player in her own right, who had said she hoped to play for the University of Connecticut. They were killed Sunday, along with seven other people, while en route via helicopter to a youth basketball tournament.

Bryant, his wife, and children, are reported to be regular parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish.

After his death was announced, Catholics reported their experiences of seeing Bryant at Sunday and weekday Mass in other parts of California, and other parts of the country. Some reported seeing him at Mass in their cities whenever the Los Angeles Lakers, the team for which Bryant played for 20 years, were in town.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

       

Ver esta publicación en Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death, alongside his daughter Gianna. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him, and her oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe & Gianna. ? . . . . #kobebryant

Una publicación compartida por Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) el 26 de Ene de 2020 a las 12:44 PST


After Bryant’s death was reported, but before news emerged that his daughter Gianna had also been killed, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez tweeted his condolences.

So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL

— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020 An auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Bishop Robert Barron, also tweeted his condolences.

Friends, I just learned of the shocking death of Kobe Bryant, the legendary basketball icon here in Los Angeles. We pray for the repose of his soul, along with the others killed in the helicopter crash. May the Lord grant them his mercy and welcome them into his heavenly kingdom. pic.twitter.com/3ngYRC0zZn

— Bishop Robert Barron (@BishopBarron) January 26, 2020 Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, Bryant’s bishop, also tweeted a message of prayer.

A message from @OCBishop pic.twitter.com/h13LJpjSWl

— Diocese of Orange (@OrangeDiocese) January 26, 2020 Bryant credited his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s Catholic faith is also reported to have helped the basketball superstar renew his marriage. His wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011.

But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant’s longtime teammate and sometime rival, Shaquille O’Neal, tweeted Sunday that Bryant was “a family man.”

Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah. pic.twitter.com/BHBPN5Wq8V

— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020 Funeral plans for Bryant and his daughter Gianna have not yet been announced.

'We’ve had enough': Pro-life Democrat blasts Mayor Pete

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Pro-life Democrats are “fed up” over the party’s staunch support of abortion and need to let the presidential candidates know it, the leader of Democrats for Life of America said on Monday.

“We’ve had enough,” Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA. 

Day spoke to CNA after Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told her at an Iowa townhall event on Sunday that he would forego the support of pro-life voters to maintain his absolute support for legal abortion.

Pro-abortion presidential candidates “are so afraid of the abortion lobby, and even making any inroads to Democrats for Life, pro-life Democrats, they’re afraid that they’re going to lose all their money and support,” Day said.

Pro-life Democrats throughout the country are frustrated over the party leadership’s increasingly staunch support of abortion, she told CNA.

“We need pro-life Democrats all over the country to go to these [presidential] candidates and ask the question, do you want pro-life Democrats in the party? Because if not, we won’t vote for you,” Day said.

On Sunday evening, Day asked Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, about the party’s tolerance for pro-life Democrats, at a Des Moines, Iowa, townhall event moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

“I am a proud pro-life Democrat. So, do you want the support of pro-life Democrats—pro-life Democratic voters?” Day asked. “And if so, would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party, to ensure that the party of diversity, of inclusion, really does include everybody?”

Buttigieg responded that “I am pro-choice. And I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision [on abortion],” to applause from the audience.

He said that public officials should not be making decisions for women on abortion, and that if Democratic voters would not support him for his stance, “I understand.”

“The best I can offer is that if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line. And in my view, it’s the woman who’s faced with that decision in her own life,” he said.

Day told CNA on Monday that she hadn’t actually asked Buttigieg about his abortion stance because “I know where he stands.”

In May 2019, when asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace if there should be any limits on abortion at any stage of pregnancy, Buttigieg responded “I trust women to draw the line.”

Day said on Monday that “I just wanted to know if he [Buttigieg] thought there was room for us in the party. And he doesn’t.”

She told CNA that pro-life Democrats have been asking his campaign staff since December for a meeting, but no meeting has been offered. Instead, she decided to ask him in person at the townhall.

Buttigieg’s comments came two months after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was asked at a Nov. 20 debate if there is room in the Democratic Party for a pro-life politician.

Warren said the party is “fundamentally” about preserving abortion access and that “abortion rights are human rights,” but added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party.”

Day followed up her first question on Sunday evening by asking if Buttigieg if he would at least support language in the Democratic National Committee platform for 2020 that would recognize “diversity of views” on abortion within the party.

“Would you be open to language like that in the Democratic platform that really did say that our party is diverse, and inclusive, and we want everybody?” she asked the candidate on Sunday.

Buttigieg declined to support that language, instead calling abortion “medical care” that should be universally available.

“I support the position of my party, that this kind of medical care [abortion] needs to be available to everyone,” he said.

While he said earlier Sunday evening that abortion should be left up to women, Buttigieg eventually said he did back limits on late-term abortions in line with the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe decision.

“I support the Roe v. Wade framework that holds that early in pregnancy there are very few restrictions, and late in pregnancy there are very few exceptions,” he said.

He expressed his hope that pro-life Democrats will be willing to support him despite their disagreement on abortion.

“And again, the best I can offer is that we may disagree on that very important issue, and hopefully, we will be able to partner on other issues,” he said.

“I cannot imagine that a decision that a woman confronts is going to ever be better, medically or morally, because it’s being dictated by any government official,” Buttigieg said.

The president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Ilyse Hogue, tweeted on Sunday evening that Day’s question and the applause Buttigieg received for his answer “is a good reminder to differentiate between people who feel personally pro-life and those who are anti-choice like Kristen Day.”

“The latter category believes it’s fine to force their beliefs on others through law. The former does not,” Hogue said.

Day told CNA that despite the applause for Buttigieg’s answer, people sitting around her at the event supported her question to him and expressed disappointment in his response.

A 2019 CNN poll of likely Iowa Democratic Caucus attendees showed around 80% of respondents saying that a candidate’s support for a “woman’s right to abortion” was a “must-have.”

Day said that support for abortion increases among Democratic activists, and that pro-life Democrats need to become more active within the party.

Many voters, Day told CNA, say they support a woman’s choice for abortion, but when it comes to the details of abortion policy, they can not be classified as "pro-abortion."

“A lot of people think that that [abortion] choice should still be there,” but when they learn of detailed policy positions such as legal abortion for all nine months of pregnancy, or the removal of safety regulations of abortion clinics, “when it comes right down to it, most people agree with me,” Day said.

“The abortion extremism,” she said, “this is not going to be a good long-term strategy for them.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, on Monday pointed to a recent Knights of Columbus/Marist poll showing “44% of rank-and-file Democrats want to vote for a candidate who supports common-ground limits on abortion.”

Dannenfelser is also the co-chair of “Pro-Life Voices for Trump,” the campaign’s outreach to pro-life voters.

“The modern Democratic Party is the party of abortion on demand through birth, paid for by taxpayers, and even infanticide. President Trump, in stark contrast, has championed popular legislation to stop late-term abortion and protect babies who survive abortions,” Dannenfelser said. 

The Catholic faith of Kobe Bryant

Sun, 01/26/2020 - 16:08

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 26, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Southern California. Bryant, the father of four, was 41.

Bryant's daughter Gianna, 13, was reportedly killed in the helicopter crash as well, along with another teen and her parent, and the helicopter's pilot. They were reportedly traveling to a basketball game.

Bryant is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He retired in 2016 after a 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the shooting guard won five NBA championships, a league MVP award, two scoring championships, and myriad other distinctions.

Beyond basketball, Bryant was a husband and a father who in 2015 attributed his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

Bryant was raised in a Catholic family, and spent much of his childhood living in Italy. He married in 2001 in a Southern California parish.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

A 2004 decision to place deeper trust in God did not mean the basketball star’s life was thereafter without difficulties, or defined by virtue.

In 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from Kobe, citing irreconcilable differences. But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant and his wife have been reported to be regular parishioners at an Orange County, California parish.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

 

       

View this post on Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe. . . . . #kobebryant

A post shared by Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:44pm PST

 

Bryant also had connected his Catholic faith to a family commitment to help the poor, through the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. The foundation helped fund youth homeless shelters and other projects aimed at serving the poor.

“You have to do something that carries a little bit more weight to it, a little more significance, a little more purpose to it,” he said in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Homelessness “is one that kind of gets pushed on the back burner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault.”

“In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it … that’s not right,” he said.

Funeral announcements for Bryant and his daughter have not yet been announced.

 

How family life led this couple back to the Catholic Church

Sun, 01/26/2020 - 06:00

Gallup, N.M., Jan 26, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- With their children getting older, the Aguilars wanted to find a church home for their family. They visited a few Christian churches close to home, but nothing felt right. They were surprised, the couple said, to find that Catholic Church - the Church of their youth - was the place where they realized they were at home.

Michelle and Andres Aguilar decided to reenter the Catholic Church in 2019, finishing Michelle’s confirmation process and validating their marriage in the Church.

The couple now attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bloomfield, New Mexico, which is pastored by Fr. Josh Mayer. Michelle, 38, owns the oilfield company Ernie’s Pilot Service, and Andres, 33, works as a parole officer.

Michelle was confirmed by Bishop James Wall of Gallup last Easter. She told CNA that the Easter Mass, where her two children also received their first communion, was one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.

“Last April, we all made our sacraments together. I tell everybody that aside from my marriage and my kids’ births, that was the best day of my life. I felt so much joy and it was at the Easter vigil. We [got] home [at] like one in the morning and I could not sleep. I was just so excited from it,” she said.

Michelle and Andres were both baptized and raised in the Church. Michelle attended Mass and catechetical classes with her aunt, but she fell away during her teenage years once her aunt became too busy to take her to Mass. Andres told CNA that he began distancing himself from the Church when he was in his 20s, after a priest who gave a disappointing homily with a judgmental and unkind attitude at his cousin’s funeral.

“The priest at the time made a comment during her funeral. It just kind of shut me out,” he said. “She was murdered … the comment he made was, had she not been living the lifestyle [she] was living, she wouldn't have died. It was like I saw him almost condemn her in the Church.”

“I didn't want to be a part of something group that would condemn people,” he further added.

The couple was civilly married in 2008, three years after their son Augustine was born and a few months after their daughter Cheyann was born - both of whom were baptized in the Catholic Church.

The Aguilars said the family was a major reason for their desire to return to the faith, but they had tried several other denominations before finding themselves in the Catholic Church.

“We wanted to get back into church,” she said. “So we kind of tried different religions. We tried Baptist, we tried Pentecostal, we tried a nondenominational [church]. We just never really liked any of them. It didn't feel like church.”

“Other denominations, it is beautiful there, but they don't have structure, and I need that. I need structure and tradition. … It is so beautiful to see even the older ladies in Mass and it just reminds me of family,” she further added.

Not having found anything that fit, the family took a break from their search. Meanwhile, Augustine started attending Mass with Michelle’s father, who would often have Augustine stay over at his house on Saturday night before Mass. She said, seeing that, she wanted to start attending Mass again as a family.

“I kind of wanted to start going as a family and I spoke to my husband about it and then we decided that we would go,” she said. “We started a friendship with a family here [Adam and Desiraye Benavidez]. They’re really devout and we liked how they put [the faith] first. So we started talking and we decided to join them.”

Andres said the Benavidezs were a big motivator for his rejoining the Church too. He said Adam is a powerful example of a good Catholic father. He said the family possessed a peace and joy he wanted for his own family.

“They have this tradition where they, after mass, all eat breakfast, and I just saw happiness in them,” he said “It just made me want that for my family as well. He owns that peace, like you can't bring that man down. I think his faith has a lot to do with it, and being a part of the church I think really helps him be who he is as a person.”

He said, while he still disagrees with some of the things the priest said at the funeral, he has come to better understand the need to forgive and forget.

“This priest is a human and he sins just as much as I do. He made a mistake. That's the beauty of the church and reconciliation is that you can ask for forgiveness and start fresh.”

Michelle emphasized the important role of the RCIA classes. She said the group watched videos from the Augustine Institute and analyzed scripture prior to the Sunday Mass. She expressed a love for the group, especially Deacon Pat Valdez, who heads the parish’s RCIA class.

“I miss them since I've made my confirmation. I really miss them because it was so fulfilling. I learned so much,” she said.

“[Deacon] would give us the scriptures for the next week and he would break that down. So it was really neat to hear it there, and then on Sunday we'd go and hear it again.”

She said her decision to reenter the Church was verified during the first RCIA class. On the first day, she said, the deacon answered most of the questions she was struggling with, namely the Sacrament of Penance and prayers to the saints.

“I struggled with those growing up. I didn't understand why we were doing that. [During] my first RCIA class, [Deacon Pat] answered both of those without me even asking the question. That was what he talked about. And I was like, okay, this is where I'm supposed to be,” she said.

Both of them described how faith has inspired meaningful interactions with their children, especially for their son who is 15 years old. Michelle said, through the use of the Catechism, she has been able to engage the children in learning, such as looking up answers to moral questions.

“It's been really helpful in those aspects like discipline,” she said. [My son] had messed up and he felt really bad and I could tell it was weighing heavy on him. … [so] he went to confession.”

“We went together and I could just tell when he got out, he felt a relief and I got to explain that to him that you can mess up but you need to ask for forgiveness and then try your best not to make the same mistakes.”

Andres said the faith has given him more patience. He also said that faith has improved communication with Augustine and given him a better perspective on what it means to be a parent.

“Sometimes I can [be] pretty hot-headed and I can be a little strict with the kids, but at the same time I'm learning that being a parent is important in God's eyes,” he said.

“I feel like it's my job now to make sure that my kids have that happiness and the peace that they can find with the Lord and through the church. I feel like I shouldn't deprive them of that anymore.”

Cardinal Cupich: God 'schemes' for our salvation

Sun, 01/26/2020 - 00:01

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- God is a “tricky God” who schemes for the good of humanity and salvation, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in the homily at the Welcome Mass for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. 

“How many times in the scripture have we seen, either telling stories or having encounters with people, who all of a sudden are tricked into salvation,” said Cupich. 

“We think of the woman at the well - all of a sudden she's talking about all sorts of things and then (Jesus) asks her that question: bring me your husband. And then she ends up evangelizing the entire community even though she's the one who is shunned by God.” 

Cupich cited the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which depicts Matthew “cornered” by Christ.

“Jesus is at the doorway. There’s no exit for Matthew,” said Cupich.

The cardinal explained that these “tricks” extend past scripture, and are present in everyday life. 

“How many times in our life have we found ourselves tricked by God?” asked Cupich. These “tricks” include “putting us in situations where, all of a sudden, there was a grace that came from us that we otherwise would have not had.”

These tricks, explained the cardinal, help people to realize they must rely on God, and trust in God and His plan. 

“And yet in our lives so often our spiritual relationship with God, we have this little idea in our mind that we've got to be the one to save ourselves, that we have to do something to earn salvation,” he said. 

Cupich spoke at length about how people today seem more concerned with “image” over anything else. This is misguided, he said, as the “image” of something does not necessarily mean it is the reality. 

“We're in a moment of crisis and the life of the Church, where the brand name of the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged because of bad decisions, and so we might think we need a PR firm to get our image back,” said Cupich. 

“You have to be careful with that though, because the Lord is the one who saved us, but not our image.” 

Cardinal Cupich shared a humorous anecdote from when he was consecrated a bishop in 1998. His young niece took several of the prayer cards with his picture on it and brought it to show and tell at her preschool, where her classmates guessed he was a “ninja warrior.”

“How foolish would it be for me to get into that image of keeping up a reputation as a ninja warrior?” asked Cupich, to laughter. 

“I think of that, because it is foolish as well for us to try to keep up an image that we think (will) please other people,” he said. 

Other people choose to make their image a “central preoccupation” of their lives, he said, but the Christian should not. 

“It is a good test of whether or not we're open to this God who wants us to trust Him,” said Cupich. “A God who in fact schemes to the point of trickiness so that we trust Him.”

Earlier in the day, Cupich delivered the opening keynote address, titled “Our Call to Holiness: Life and Justice for All,” to the meeting. In the address, Cupich said that Christians should look to the actions of Christ as the inspiration for their lives. 

“Our Christian call to holiness is not about being called as individuals, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together, and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and a shared life,” Cupich said during his keynote.  

The cardinal reflected on his experience seeing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, including one that included an image of the Last Supper superimposed with camouflage. A piece of the camouflage exposed the image of Christ, which Cupich said “forc(ed) the viewer to look for the otherwise familiar image of the Lord at table.”

“May the light of the Gospel help us see through whatever camouflages the needy from our sight, whatever impedes us from being evangelized from those on the margins,” he said. 

“For it is in encountering the poor and the marginalized that we are mutually enriched, that we respond to the call to holiness as we take up the social ministry of the Church - because we know that whatever we do for the least of our sisters and brothers, we do for Christ.”

1 killed after car crashes into bus of Covington Catholic students heading home from March for Life

Sat, 01/25/2020 - 13:27

Lexington, Ky., Jan 25, 2020 / 11:27 am (CNA).- One person is dead and others are injured after an oncoming car struck a charter bus carrying Covington Catholic students and chaperones back from the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., local sources have reported.

According to witnesses speaking to WLWT in Kentucky, the car had been traveling in the southbound lane of AA Highway in the city of California, Kentucky, when it crossed the median into the northbound lane and hit the bus head-on.

"I saw a car come across the median and head toward me," Ricky Lynn, a witness driving north on the highway, told WLWT. "I was able to get out of the way."

The car's driver, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told WLWT that a priest on the bus gave the driver of the car a final blessing.

According to officials, four other people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, WCPO in Cincinnati reported.

The passenger side of the bus was significantly damaged in the crash, and passengers in the bus escaped through emergency windows, WLWT reported. The bus was one in a caravan of four, carrying a total of about 200 people who had attended the March for Life on Friday.

In a statement given to local media, the Diocese of Covington said: "This morning, a bus carrying students and chaperones home from the March for Life in Washington, DC was involved in an accident. EMT personnel and the Campbell County police have been at the scene and are handling the matter. Please join us in praying for everyone involved in this accident."

Covington Catholic students were the center of a barrage of media scrutiny following the March for Life last year, when a video published online showed Covington Catholic students as part of a confluence of demonstrators near the Washington Memorial, including some from a Washington-based religious group called the Black Israelites, and some from the Indigenous Peoples’ March.

Initially, a viral video depicted a crowd of teenage boys chanting, dancing, and doing the “tomahawk chop” cheer, while a Native American man played a drum in chanted in close proximity to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who stood silently. The drummer was soon identified as Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Tribe and Native American rights activist.

The students became the subject of widespread condemnation from media figures and some Catholic leaders, who accused them of disrespect, racism, and antagonism.

Later video and reports that emerged showed a more complex picture, depicting the protestors approaching the students rather than the students surrounding them. The students said that they were chanting school songs in response to taunts from the Black Israelites when Phillips approached.

In January of this year, CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann, who sued the network for accusing him of racism in its coverage of the incident.

According to the Washington Examiner and photos posted on Instagram by Catholic Connect, Sandmann attended the March for Life again this year, though it is unclear if he was on the bus that was struck in the accident or in the caravan of busses.

 

New Orleans Saints defend assistance of archdiocese as disclosure

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 20:29

New Orleans, La., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans Saints have said assistance that team personnel offered to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on communications strategy was not a coverup, but disclosure.

The team’s claim comes amid a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the archdiocese. Saints officials said that team personnel offered assistance to archdiocesan officials on how to manage a 2018 report on clerics removed from ministry for alleged sexual abuse, but that the Saints personnel did not act improperly, according to the AP.

At the center of the suit is George Brignac, a deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans who was removed from ministry in 1988 after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Brignac was listed among a November 2018 report of New Orleans archdiocesan clergy who were removed from ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

In July 2019, The New Orleans Advocate reported that attorneys of an alleged victim of Brignac were working to obtain copies of any communications between employees of the New Orleans archdiocese and those of the New Orleans Saints. The alleged victim's lawsuit, which WVUE identified as John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac, says the archdiocese failed to protect him from Brignac.

The attorneys said they had evidence that the Saints' Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, advised the archdiocese on its 2018 clergy abuse report, and that they wanted to understand how the Saints may have been “supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims.”

The AP reported Jan. 24 that lawyers “for about two dozen men suing the church” said documents obtained through discovery demonstrated that the Saints assisted the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior.” They said Bensel and other Saints employees had advised Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the communications made public, which both the Saints and the archdiocese are opposing.

A special master appointed by the court “is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential,” Jim Mustian of the AP wrote. The AP has filed a motion supporting their publication.

Lawyers for the Saints “acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure,” the AP reported.

The football team's lawyers called the assistance “the opposite of concealment” and called claims it had abetted the coverup of crimes “outrageous.”

According to the AP, an archdiocesan attorney had said the request to have the communications released was part of a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and that it was merely an effort to let the media “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

Brignac, 85, was ordained in 1976, and an allegation against him was received the following year. He held pastoral assignments at Cabrini High School, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans; St. Louise de Marillac School in Arabi; and St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.

He was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1977, and was acquitted the next year.

In 1980, Brignac was booked with indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but the allegations were not prosecuted, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

In 1988, charges of abuse of a juvenile were filed, but dismissed by the state.

The New Orleans archdiocese has settled several lawsuits involving Brignac.

One of those settlements, made in May 2018, was for more than $500,000. The victim said he was abused as an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans beginning in 1979. Roger Stetter, the plaintiff's attorney, told the New Orleans Advocate shortly after that “it was a fair settlement, and it was very, very prompt.” He added, “I think the archdiocese is doing a lot to try to curtail this type of abuse. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to weed out possible pedophiles.”

Stetter also said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is “a good man and wants to do right by the victims, even though it may cost the church a lot of money.”

For several years, until shortly after the May 2018 settlement, Brignac served as a lector at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Metairie, adjacent to New Orleans. The New Orleans archdiocese said its leaders were unaware he was lectoring until after the settlement was publicized, and that the priest who allowed it “was wrong to do so.”

In September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape, after a former altar boy said he had been repeatedly raped by the deacon 40 years ago.

Pro-life Democrat calls for 'unity' for life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 19:15

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-life unity comes before party loyalty, a Democratic state senator said Friday at the national March for Life on Friday.

“This is not a party issue. This is an issue of unifying America,” Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D) told CNA in an interview on Friday, before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Jackson addressed the March for Life rally later in the day.

“This is an issue that hits every community, and it’s not about where we come from or what party you’re a part of or a member of. This issue is about America itself and our children,” she said.

Jackson said her views on abortion are rooted in her Christian faith. 

“God hates the shedding of innocent blood,” Jackson said. “So when America really wants to see a turnaround, in our economy and in the things that we are concerned about,” she said, “we have to honor God. And being pro-life is a part of honoring God.”

Jackson was one of a series of speakers from both political parties at Friday’s March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

“I tell everyone Louisiana is the number one pro-life state, and you know why? Because in Louisiana the majority of Democrats that are elected are pro-lifers,” Jackson said at the rally. This is evidence of bipartisan unity on the issure, she said, while exhorting the pro-life movement to the principle into practice.

 “In unity, we must fight like we’ve never fought before,” she said.

The lineup of speakers at the rally most notably included President Donald Trump, the first president to attend a March for Life in person.

Trump addressed thousands of rally participants as his impeachment trial continued in the U.S. Senate on Friday, with House trial managers making their case for a conviction on two counts of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards—whose husband John Bel Edwards is the Democratic governor who signed a “heartbeat” abortion ban into law in 2019—also spoke from the rally stage.

“Pro-life is pro-woman," Edwards said at the rally. “Life is precious in every stage and should be respected and protected.”

Jackson told CNA on Friday morning that, even though Louisiana voters might in general be more pro-life than the rest of the country, other states do have pro-life constituencies which oppose abortion, in whole or in part, and they need to unify behind pro-life candidates from both parties.

“And so that is my concern, that if life is the issue, which it is—doesn’t matter what party you’re a member of—that pro-lifers should support each other,” she told CNA.

“And I’m hoping that what we’re seeing in Louisiana begins to basically move throughout other states.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman, is a national example of a politician deserving of pro-life support, she said. His “Republican constituency” may disagree with some of his votes, she said, but the message of bipartisan unity is making inroads around the country.

Earlier this month, Lipinski told CNA that support from pro-life groups was “not as much as I’d like to see,” as he faces a second consecutive primary challenge from pro-abortion candidate Marie Newman.

Jackson, answering for herself, said on Friday that as a Democrat she had seen support from national pro-life groups including National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List, as well as the group Save the Storks for whom she was a keynote speaker at their annual charity ball on Thursday evening.

Through attending national events, Jackson said she has discovered Democrats from around the country who either oppose abortion or are in disagreement with the party’s radical shift in support of abortion. For instance, the 2016 DNC platform that stated “unequivocal” support for abortion access, and no 2020 Democratic presidential candidate opposes taxpayer funding of abortion.

Jackson said she is working to give pro-life Democrats “a place back in their party.”

“I really believe that we’re on the cusp of really building up the party and understanding that what you believe, or what the party platform is, is not what most Democrats believe,” she said.

At March for Life, Trump gets mixed reviews

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 18:45

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His appearance was greeted by pro-lifers with both excitement and hesitation.

The presence of the president brought with it additional security, similar to when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the pre-march rally in 2017, but higher than his unexpected appearance last year. 

Trump’s decision to attend personally, instead of via video message as in past years, meant attendees were prevented from bringing certain items to the rally, faced long lines, and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Mall.

The extra measures discouraged some potential attendees, who stayed away, worried that the logistics of juggling security and children would be too much. 

Connie Poulos told CNA that she had already decided, reluctantly, to skip this year’s march due rather than face the event solo with her young son, the news that Trump was speaking at the rally made her feel “less bad” about missing the event, fearing the president would alienate non-Republicans. 

“As a pro-life person, I think the movement needs all the help it can get to cross party lines,” she said.

While signs are always commonplace at the March for Life, this year distinctly partisan bent. Familiar “Vote Life” or “Choose Life” signs manufactured by the Knights of Columbus were joined this time by “Pro-Life Voices For Trump” and “Most Pro-Life President Ever” signs with pictures of president. These signs were supplied by the RNC and were distributed at the rally by volunteers.  

Despite hesitation by some, most attendees told CNA they were happy about the president’s appearance.  

“President Trump is one of the greatest presidents that this country has ever had. A man who has a heart after God to do what God has called him to do, in spite of [what] anybody else thinks or [does],” Barbara Bell, who described herself as a “black American who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and loves President Trump,” told CNA. 

Bell, who is 70 years old, told CNA she was attending her fortieth March for Life in 2020. She came down from Massachusetts for the event, and she said she was even more excited than usual when she heard that Trump would be speaking. 

While politically independent, Bell said that she was extremely impressed with what Trump had accomplished during his time in office. 

Mimi Vertrees, an 18 year old attending the March for Life for the first time, traveled to DC from Nashville, Tennessee. She carried a sign reading “Stop Calling Violence Feminism,” and she told CNA that she believed there is a “misconception” about feminism because of its embrace of abortion.

Vertrees said she thought it was “amazing” that Trump was coming to address the March for Life, and that she was “so excited” when she found out he would be coming. She stressed that she thought it was important for the president to be physically present at the event.

One young woman was en route to Washington when she found out that Trump would be speaking at the rally. Quinley Fawks, who traveled 22 hours on a bus from Salisbury, Missouri to attend the March for Life, said that finding out Trump was coming heightened her anticipation. 

After it was announced on Wednesday that Trump would be attending the rally, Fawks told CNA, her bus leader made the announcement, and “everyone was really excited. We were surprised and happy.” 

This was Fawks’ second time attending the March for Life, and she said that she made the choice to embark on the long journey because “We’re here to save the babies.” 

One rally attendee who was not excited to see Trump was Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Richard was dressed as Uncle Sam, and his hat read “U.S. Army Veteran” and “Remove the GOP.” 

Richard was most upset by Trump’s policies at the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents. He carried two dolls, which he said were meant to “represent the young children at the border.” 

While this was Richard’s first March for Life, he said he had been a longtime supporter of the pro-life cause. 

“This is bananas,” said Richard. “We shouldn’t be allowing [Trump] to speak. 

Each year the March for Life winds its way past the Canadian embassy, where a small contingent of Canadians come out to show their support. Valerie Luetke of Oakville, Ontario, was one of the people there this year. 

This said this was her first trip to the March for Life in the United States, but she had attended the Canadian March for Life in Ottawa several times. 

“We just kind of wanted to see how big it is, how passionate [everyone] is, and of course, Trump is speaking,” Luetke said. She told CNA that she found Trump’s speech to be “amazing,” especially since Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is publicly against the pro-life cause. 

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I know not everyone supports him for all of his policies, but I think the fact that he’s here is really amazing.”

States announce pro-life, pro-choice initiatives ahead of March for Life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- On the eve of the 2020 March for Life in Washington DC, lawmakers in several states announced the introduction of potentially significant pro-life legislation, while others announced efforts to preserve legal protection for abortion.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that the state’s Republican lawmakers would pursue several measures aimed at restrcting abortion including a bill which would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which can be around six weeks gestation.

The legislation, which is still under development, would also require a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her baby, and would ban abortions based on race, sex, a Down syndrome diagnosis or the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality.

“We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” Lee said during the Jan. 23 announcement.

The legislative strategy, the Tennessee Lieutenant Governor says, will be modeled after a bill passed in Missouri which includes abortion bans at various stages of gestation and is designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The proposed Tennessee law includes bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as well as at eight, 10, and 12 weeks gestation. The hope is that if one of these bans is struck down in court, the others will stand.

Lee’s office confirmed to The Tennesseean newspaper that the proposed legislation would include an exception allowing for abortions in the case of a mother's life being in danger.

Tennessee lawmakers have pursued a heartbeat bill before, in 2019, but that legislation failed to garner enough support in the Tennessee Senate to advance.

At the time, the Catholic bishops of Tennessee voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges, stating last February that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge. They instead voiced support for “trigger ban” legislation that would ban abortion in the state in the case of the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

Georgia’s governor signed a similar heartbeat bill into law during May 2019, but in October 2019 a federal judge blocked the law from coming into force.

In Kentucky, a Senate panel on Thursday approved a bill that would require doctors and other health workers to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born after a failed abortion. Violating the bill would be a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.

Nearly half of the Kentucky Senate's members have signed on as cosponsors of SB 9, the AP reports.

“Who can dispute that that's a human life?" Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, told the AP.

“It's outside the womb. It's alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?...We want to make sure the law's there to punish those that are trying to do it and get away with it.”

Kentucky law already bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and other pro-life proposals are already under consideration in the state. One such proposal would amend the state Constitution to specify it includes no protection for abortion rights. Another proposal would ban public funds for any agency that performs or counsels patients about abortion, the AP reports.

On the other side of the abortion debate, a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this week said they want to make the state a “safe haven” for abortion rights.

A Virginia Senate committee passed a bill Jan. 23 to undo the state’s 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling, the AP reported.

HB 980 would also roll back state requirements that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them; and would undo building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed, the AP reported.

The Virginia Catholic Conference released information on the House bill and its companion Senate bills Jan. 22, urging voters to oppose the measures and encouraging them to attend the Virginia March for Life in Richmond on February 13, 2020.

Governor Ralph Northam, who is supportive of the measures to relax abortion restrictions this year, in 2019 supported the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.

When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.

 

California abortion mandate violates federal law, Trump administration says

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 16:23

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has said that California state policies violate federal law for requiring abortion coverage in religious groups’ health insurance plans – a mandate that Catholic leaders had charged “directly targeted” Catholic universities that had stopped paying for employees’ elective abortions.

California has 30 days to comply with federal law, and failure to comply could threaten its federal funding, Roger Severino, director of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, said in a Jan. 24 conference call with reporters.

Catholic leaders welcomed the Trump administration’s move, which coincided with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. where President Donald Trump became the first president to address the event in person.

“Today’s announcement is extraordinarily good news for the right to life, conscientious objection, religious freedom and the rule of law,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Jan. 24. “For nearly six years, employers in California – including churches – have been forced to fund and facilitate abortions in their health insurance plans in direct violation of a federal conscience protection law known as the Weldon Amendment. This coercive California policy is abhorrent, unjust and illegal.”

The bishops’ statement came from Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

Severino told reporters the HHS action was a response to complaints from a Catholic mission, Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, and the California-based Skyline Wesleyan Church, the Washington Post reports.

“There is a process, if we do not reach accord, that could lead to revocation of streams of federal funding,” Severino said. “California is a big consumer of HHS funds. We’re giving them 30 days so that we don’t have to cross that bridge.”

The California Catholic Conference filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, but the Obama administration rejected the complaint in June 2016.

“We strongly commend the Trump Administration for taking this critical action to enforce federal law and correct this supreme injustice to the people and employers of California,” the U.S. bishops said. “Sadly, violations of federal conscience laws are on the rise. We hope that this enforcement action, and subsequent actions by the Administration, will stop further unlawful discrimination against people who reject abortion as a violation of the most basic human and civil rights.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was dismissive of the action.

“The Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” Newsom said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The Trump administration’s move could have ramifications for at least five other U.S. states with similar mandates, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Oregon Right to Life has filed suit against the 2017 Oregon law requiring health plans to cover abortion. In October 2019, the Thomas More Society challenged a similar Illinois mandate. New York and Washington also require abortion coverage in private health plans.

The California rule was so broad that churches and other religious groups could not secure abortion-free California health plans for their employees. Its history, however, was rooted in an effort of Catholic universities to reform their health plans to become more consistent with their Catholic identity.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

The action came after the autumn 2013 announcements from two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which said that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions. They said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had secured approval from state officials.

In an October 2013 letter, Santa Clara University president Father Michael E. Engh, S.J., said that the university’s “core commitments” are incompatible with abortion coverage. Before the policy was revised, Santa Clara’s health plan also provided abortion coverage to dependents of faculty and staff.

The universities’ move against abortion coverage drew praise from Catholic and pro-life groups. However, the policy changes drew strong opposition from pro-abortion politicians and advocacy groups, as well as from many faculty and staff at the historically Jesuit Catholic schools. In December 2013, Santa Clara University faculty rejected the anti-abortion changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions. Emails showing this effort were contained in 2017 court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group but date to the time of the controversy.

The emails specifically named the two Catholic universities.

The insurers and the universities agreed to comply with the state’s new pro-abortion requirements. However, the state rules drew strong opposition from the California Catholic Conference, which charged that the state government “directly targeted” the two Catholic universities and violated federally guaranteed civil rights by ordering their health insurance plans to cover abortions.

“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the State of California,” said Bishop Robert McElroy, then an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and chairman of the state Catholic conference’s Institutional Concerns Committee.

McElroy, who became Bishop of San Diego in 2015, characterized the decision as a demand “directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens.”

“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind,” McElroy said Oct. 1, 2014.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

“Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in June 2016. They objected that the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law” and called for Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the Trump administration’s move against the California policy.

“Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life,” said Dannenfelser, who also co-chairs the Pro-Life Voices for Trump National Advisory Board ahead of the 2020 election.

'Pro-Life is Pro-Woman': The 2020 March for Life

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A crowd estimated in at least the tens of thousands flooded the National Mall for the March for Life on Friday.

The annual gathering draws pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and foreign countries to Washington, D.C., marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

The march was kicked off by a rally on the National Mall attended by thousands, where President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life. He did so while Democratic House trial managers were making the case for his impeachment in the U.S. Senate.

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump said. “Every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting."

The president highlighted recent state-level efforts to expand abortion to include all nine months of pregnancy, singling out legislation passed in New York last year as well as controversial comments by Virginia Governor Ralf Northam (D).

Trump was joined on stage by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), March for Life president Jeanne Mancini, Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and others.

Other speakers at the rally included political figures from both Republican and Democratic parties: the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Bel Edwards; House Minority WHIP Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.); Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D); U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition.

“Today, as President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said at the rally, noting that the March was “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

“Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” he said.

Following the speeches from the rally’s main stage, the march proper began, progressing up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court.

Carrying the giant March for Life banner at the front of the crowd is regarded as a privilege, bestowed on a different group each year.

For 2020, students at Oakcrest School in McLean, Virginia—a Catholic all-girls middle and high school—led the march. Oakcrest administrators said that the school had a long history of supporting life and participating in the march each year, with classes suspended for the day to allow students and teachers to attend. The banner was carried by members of the school’s student-run Respect Life Club.

Behind Oakcrest, students at Colorado Christian University carried flags ahead of the main body of the march. The estimated tens of thousands of marchers moved up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill were a few hundred pro-abortion demonstrators had gathered earlier in the day.

Now in its forty-seveth year, the theme of the 2020 march,“Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” was chosen to mark the centennial anniversay of women’s right to vote in the United States with the passage of the 19th Ammendment in 1910. The march’s theme was chosen to counter the narrative put forward by abortion supporters that the practice “empowers” women. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told CNA when the theme was announced that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial” and to show that real “empowerment” meant valuing the lives of mothers and their unborn children.

In an op-ed published Friday morning, Mancini said that “abortion does not improve the lives of women and, unlike many who claim to be part of the women’s movement today, the suffragists wanted no part of it.”

“Abortion not only destroys women’s offspring, it can also cause lasting physical harm and psychological trauma. It’s a violent step backward that disproportionately affects women,” Mancini said.

“It has been 100 years since the suffragists won women the right to vote. They did so over time with single-minded focus and perseverance, and, in the end, gave voice to their voiceless sisters."

"We should not take for granted the progress they made. This November, we should use their victory to give voice to the voiceless unborn. They too deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” said Mancini.

Trump at March for Life: 'I am truly proud to stand with you'

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 14:07

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 12:07 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump addressed the annual March for Life Friday, telling pro-life demonstrators that he is an advocate for the right to life of unborn children, and calling for a federal prohibition on late-term abortion.

The president spoke about his commitment to the unborn, his administration’s record on abortion policy, while criticizing Democrats at the state and federal level for their positions on human.

He is the first president to attend in person the March for Life, which began in 1974 and has become one of the largest annual political events in the country.  

“All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” Trump told the crowd, which spanned across a large section of the National Mall and which the president described as a “tremendous turnout.”

“We’re here for a very simple reason, to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential,” the president said.

As President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said.

“Together we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life.”

“You embrace mothers with care and compassion, you are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love,” the president told the crowd.

Trump especially praised the college and high school students in attendance at the March for Life.

“Young people are the heart of the March for Life, and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation. The life movement is led by strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students, who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us, who fought to raise the conscience of our nation and uphold the rights of our citizens,” Trump said.

The president’s attendance at the March for Life was announced earlier this week. In 2019 Vice President Mike Pence attended the march, and in 2018 Trump welcomed pro-life leaders to the White House Rose Garden on the same day as the event.

The president’s unexpected attendance at the event led to heightened security. Initial security announcements said that no strollers would be permitted at the event, leading to criticism from attendees who had brought children to the event. Security organizers eventually relented on the stroller policy, saying the initial prohibition was the result of a miscommunication

Trump took the stage shortly after noon to chants of “four more years” from some, but not all, in the crowd. Some attendees held signs distributed by the president’s campaign team, some of which read “Most Pro-Life President Ever.”

Before he spoke, Trump greeted leaders on the stage while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A played. Before he had taken the stage, songs from the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner played, as well as The Animals’ 1964 “House of the Rising Sun,” had played for the crowd. The songs are frequently played at Trump events.

The president’s attendance was welcomed enthusiastically by March organizers. As she introduced Trump, March for Life president Jeanne Mancini thanked the president for coming.

Describing the March for Life as a “pro-life and pro-woman” event, and the “largest human rights demonstration in the entire world,” Mancini told Trump that “your presence here today makes a very powerful statement.”

“You are leader of the free world and you stand for life. Thank you for being here. Thank you for everything you’ve done for life. And thank you for everything you will be doing for life in the years ahead,” Mancini said, seeming to make reference to the president’s upcoming election.

The welcome marked a stark contrast to a March 2016 statement from Mancini, who responded to remarks from Trump calling for the imprisonment of women who undergo abortions as “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”

“Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," Mancini added in 2016.

But Trump has made efforts since his 2016 election to respond to the policy proposals of pro-lfe leaders, administration officials say.

On Friday, he touted some of those efforts, mentioning his expansion of the Mexico City policy that bars federal funding from supporting abortions in foreign countries, along with his 187 appointments to the federal bench, among them two justices of the Supreme Court. The president also mentioned new regulations on Title X policies that block abortion providers from some federal funds.

Trump said that his administration is concerned about protecting religious liberty, and is “taking care of doctors, teachers, nurses, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” the president said, to applause from the crowd.

Trump has faced fierce criticism from the U.S. bishops’ conference and other faith leaders for his immigration and social welfare policies, and did not make mention of those issues during his speech. Nor did he mention his recent drone strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which has also drawn criticism from faith leaders who have raised concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could enter another war in the Middle East.

The president also did not mention directly his reelection, but he did tell the crowd that “Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades, and you can even say, for centuries. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortions all the way up until the moment of birth.”

Trump mentioned the 2019 passage of New York state’s Reproductive Health Act, which ushered in a wave of legislation in several states aimed at expanding legal protection for abortion. He also mentioned Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, who in 2019 made public comments that seemed to support allowing a child who survived a botched abortion to die without medical treatment.

The president did not mention Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat scheduled to speak at the March for Life shortly after Trump. Jackson sponsored a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius. That law, now under judicial review at the Supreme Court, is expected to pose a challenge to the binding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Trump is currently subject to impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, which he did not mention directly in his speech. He did, however, aim to connect his political challenges to his pro-life advocacy.

“Sadly the far left is actively working to erase our God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square, and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

“They are coming after me, because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win, because we know how to win.”

“We all know how to win. You’ve been winning for a long time. You’ve been winning for a long time,” Trump told the crowd.

As he closed his remarks, the president told the crowd his attendance was a “very special moment.”

“It is so great to represent you. I love you all...God bless America.”

As Trump left the stage, the Rolling Stones 1969 classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played over the speakers.

 

Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

 

 

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