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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 32 min 7 sec ago

Tennessee parish responds to immigration raid with support, prayer

1 hour 2 min ago

Knoxville, Tenn., Jun 25, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The April day nearly 100 workers were taken into custody in the country’s largest worksite immigration raid in a decade, St. Patrick’s parish center in Morristown, Tenn. opened to the community and donations started pouring in.

The parish center stayed open until 3 a.m. the night of April 5. Husbands, wives and children gathered together, trying to find out what had happened to their relatives and community members, waiting as 43 of the 97 people in custody were eventually released back to their families.

In the days following, donations of food, clothing, toiletries, and money poured in to the parish.

“We had a lot, I mean a surplus of things. We were running out of room, we had to move things down to the [church] basement,” Veronica Galvan told CNA.

The director of religious education at St. Patrick and a resident of Morristown for 23 years, Galvan was well-known in the community, located about 45 miles northeast of Knoxville, and the first to ask the pastor, Fr. Patrick Brownell, to open the church the day of the raid.

“I just went ahead and told people to go there if they didn't feel safe at home or work,” she said. “They expressed that fear and I wanted to make sure that was taken care of and they could feel safe somewhere. So we opened up the doors to whoever wanted to come.”

For the first two weeks the center “was crazy,” she said. Every day, more than 200 people who had been affected, either directly or indirectly, gathered at the parish. More than 100 volunteers came and went throughout the day from around the wider community, including lawyers, doctors, priests, and other religious ministers.

Three religious sisters originally from Mexico also came to help and to pray with people, Fr. Brownell said.

Quickly, they ran out of space for physical items and had to ask people to give only money. In most of the cases, those in police custody following the raid were the primary or only breadwinners of their families, and people needed help just to continue to pay their bills.

Galvan said with the money they received they paid the families’ bills for two months. With the more than $50,000 received through a GoFundMe campaign set up by local Hispanic and Latino aid group H.O.L.A. Lakeway, $1,000 was given to each worker to go toward their bond.

A prayer vigil was held in the community April 9 and Fr. Brownell has left the church accessible at night via a door code, so that if anyone wants to go the church to pray at night they can.

Now, two and half months later, things feel like they have returned to normal, St. Patrick’s youth ministry coordinator, Colleen Jacobs, told CNA: “I think there is some good to that, but as a community I think we should still feel more outrage than we do right now. I myself feel like, should I be doing something? What should I be doing right now?”

As of June 13, 35 of the 54 people taken out of state and held in an immigration detention facility have been released on bond and are back with their families.

But as they await court dates and a lengthy legal process which could result in deportation, they are not legally allowed to work or drive. And the money the community and St. Patrick's raised has run out.

This is one of the purposes of a weekly meeting still taking place at the church. A group of those affected created the meeting for additional support and training on things like driving and paying bills, for those who had relied on detained family members for these tasks.

Other organizations, including Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, are working to ensure workers have access to legal counsel and help with their court cases.

Though it is unknown exactly whom taken in the raid was a member of St. Patrick and St. John Paul II mission church in nearby Rutledge (names are kept as private as possible for security), there were certainly Catholics among them, Fr. Alex Waraksa said.

The assisting priest for Hispanic ministry in Morristown, who also assists at four other area churches, he was present to speak with people at the parish center following the raid.

It was “a place to be during the day and get different types of support,” including prayer, he said.

In some cases, church records on sacraments can help workers in their legal case because it provides a record of the depth and length of their ties to the community, Waraksa said. Unfortunately, there have been godparents and parents who, detained, have missed seeing their children receive the sacraments.

St. Patrick has tried to reach out to youth, too, following the raid. Wednesdays the church hosts youth nights for middle and high schoolers, with usual attendance at about 160 students, about half Hispanic, half non-Hispanic, Jacobs said, noting that it is a lot for a town of not many Catholics.

Morristown's population is around 30,000,  with around 900 families attending St. Patrick, though Waraksa said some families may bounce among the areas’ Catholic churches for Mass.

Jacobs was nervous that the students would not show up for youth group the week following the raid, though. The fear had been so strong the first few days afterward, not only did many people not go to work, Fr. Waraksa said, 500-600 students didn’t show up at school.

Regardless, Jacobs and others worked with a community organizer from a neighboring town to host an evening on community activism and how to enact change.

That night not only did most of the students show up, the usual 30-40 adult leaders were accompanied by another 35-40 counselors from the local schools and healthcare systems.

“The youth could see that there was an outpouring of love from all the adults, from all different types of organizations across the community,” Jacobs said, “so that was really powerful in itself.”

They created small groups that allowed the kids to talk about their feelings, and Jacobs noted the trauma not only for kids who had parents and other relatives taken, but also for the kids whose friends and classmates had been affected.

“It’s kind of hard to explain [the raid] to a kid when you’re trying to teach them the values of love of neighbor and... to accept people no matter their skin color, or what their background is, [and] then you have adults doing the exact opposite,” she said.

Though the overall responses from the churches in Morristown and Rutledge were positive, St. Patrick’s pastor, Fr. Brownell, said not all the voices were united on the issue.

He said if you take the non-Hispanic part of their community, “many of them are split down the center [on immigration], very much like the rest of the nation.” The criticism he heard was only from a small number of people, though those few were vocal, he noted.

Jacobs said she thinks prayer is important, and that it is something they are trying to let the kids know: “Even though we know what is going on isn’t right, we can do as much as we can and then remember to keep everyone in your prayers.”

“What the… fallout is going to be I don’t know, but it’s really, really tough.”

Unfortunately, the Morristown Hispanic community faced another tragedy, when two teens from Guatemala were found to have drowned in a local lake June 19. Fr. Brownell and other staff members of St. Patrick worked to help organize the joint funeral this week.

“Right now, I think the community is a bit numb, the Hispanic community,” Brownell said, “because they don't know where things are going.”

Most are with their families, “and that's a good thing. But I can only imagine that it’s a depressing situation... not knowing what the outcome will be... and there’s a good chance the outcome will be deportation. So it’s sort of biding time.”

Meet Sair Del Toro: Hispanic evangelist extraordinaire

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 14:15

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 24, 2018 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- If you ask Sair del Toro to tell you her story, she tells you the stories of other people. Women who have escaped abusive relationships. Gang members who have given their lives to Jesus. Teenagers who found healing after abortion.

She hardly mentions her role in those stories. But her role should not go unnoted. Those stories of conversion, or healing, or freedom, have one thing in common: Sair del Toro.

“I think when you give yourself freely to the Lord, beautiful graces and things come out, you can be a witness,” Del Toro told CNA.

Del Toro is director of Magnifica, the Spanish-language apostolate of Endow, a ministry that forms study and fellowship groups for women. She also hosts a daily radio show on Radio Guadalupe in Los Angeles, where she talks about theology, philosophy, Mary, the saints - “any subject.”

But Del Toro wasn’t always working for the Lord.

From wedding planner to bride of Christ

Although she grew up with a Catholic mother, Sair and her siblings withdrew from the faith. At one time she hated the Church, she said, because she was only paying attention to the bad news about it.

By the time she was 28, Del Toro was a well-known secular radio personality and wedding planner in Seattle, Washington. She drove a new Mercedes and had an apartment on the top floor with a view of the lake.

“Everything was perfect,” she said, “But I had something missing, I didn’t have love, I just had money. So every time that I was walking in my condominium I was like oh my God, I’m missing something.”

It was then that she started to ask God: “Where are you? Who are you?”

She started going back to church. Someone told her that if she wanted to find God, she should look to the Blessed Sacrament. So one day, she says she snuck into the adoration chapel to hug the tabernacle, wanting to see if God was really in “the little box.”

“I walked in there, I hugged Jesus Christ, and he came out and he hugged me. And I felt the presence of him in my heart and in my brain and in my soul - he was hugging me. It was the biggest hug of my life,” she said, and that love that she felt would forever change her life.

She left her high-paying job and swanky apartment and decided to join a convent in Omaha, Nebraska.

Del Toro’s mother was not so convinced of her quick conversion.

“My mom thought that I was crazy,” she said. So crazy, in fact, that she says her mother took her to be examined at a psychiatric hospital, which turned out to be run by nuns.

Del Toro said she was questioned by the doctor about whether she listened to God, heard his voice, loved him - questions she was afraid to answer honestly, if it meant she’d end up in a psych ward.

Still, she felt God urging her to tell the truth, so she responded - “Yes.” The doctor concluded that she wasn’t crazy - she was just in love with God.

After spending a few years in religious life, Del Toro felt God calling her to marriage. She left the convent and moved back to her home in Mexico, where she worked for several Catholic ministries, including the Mission for the Love of God, a ministry that aims to consecrate political leaders to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Over the course of three years, she says the ministry helped convince 75 percent of Mexico’s governors to consecrate themselves, their families and their work to Jesus.

“Most of the governors are secular, they’re totally opposite of what we do in the Catholic Church,” Del Toro said. “I used to somehow convince them to consecrate their work, family and all their soul to the Lord, which is crazy in Mexico because the majority of them are Masons.”

In 2013, Del Toro moved back to the United States to teach Theology of the Body to couples in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, before taking her current position with Magnifica.  

Converter of gang members

When Del Toro isn’t converting governors, she’s converting rooms full of hardened ex-gang members.

A few months ago, Del Toro was asked to give a presentation to a group in Houston - 200 people, mostly Hispanic men, who were hardened, tattooed ex-gang members and drug dealers.

“It’s very hard when you walk into a room like that,” Del Toro recalled. “I was thinking - ‘What is God going to do to me now?’”

She was scheduled to speak for two hours. She spoke for four - “because they needed more help than we were thinking.”  But by the end, she says, God had converted the room.

“We consecrated all of these people which was a miracle, because most of these people...have killed people, they were involved in very dirty and heavy business, they sold drugs, so for them to say yes to the Lord, it’s not like for you and for me, it’s a completely different thing,” she said.

“These people that we never thought would be consecrated to the Lord, they’re changing their lives and their families too,” she added. Del Toro said she looked for common ground with the ex-gang members, and told them that the hierarchy of the Church was much like the hierarchy of a gang - but on the side of the Lord rather than on the side of death and despair.

“So when you teach them how the church works, how God works, how the respect works, it’s actually the same thing but into the army of God,” she said.

“I’m telling them...your life is going to change, because you’re going to...be happier than ever, you’re going to be with the truth of grace, and you’re going to live forever. So they feel like they really have something now, they’re worth something...we give them the hope of life, of eternity,” she added.

Del Toro takes little credit for her own efforts - it’s the work of God, she says.

“I can’t convince them, that was God doing his work.”

Magnifica miracles

Del Toro says she gets a front-row seat to the work of God through her work with Magnifica. One woman, Rachel (whose name has been changed), approached Del Toro recently to tell her the story of her life.

When Rachel was just 14, she snuck out of her parents house to go to a party. That night, she was kidnapped and brought from Mexico City to the U.S. border, where she was sold to a man who kept her in captivity for 10 years.

Rachel had two little girls by her captor, and was never allowed outside. Eventually, a neighbor called the police, and Rachel and her daughters were rescued. She connected with Del Toro through her Theology of the Body classes, and is now finding help and healing in the Church through her Magnifica group.

“The beauty of this one is that they were never mad at anyone,” not even their captor, Del Toro recalled. “She’s always happy, always smiling, thanking God for everything.”

There are many other stories like this, of women like Rachel who have experienced domestic violence and don’t know where to turn until they start building trust with people like Del Toro. According to the National Latin@ (sic) Network, one in three Latinas have experienced domestic violence.

Another woman, Monica (whose name has been changed), approached Del Toro after meeting her through Magnifica.

Like Rachel, Monica had been kidnapped for several years by her ex-husband. He abused her and used her body to extinguish cigarettes; he also drove screws into her skin.

Although she was able to leave him, her second husband was also abusing her “almost every day,” recalled Del Toro. “Her body is completely destroyed, but you never see that because she’s always covered,” Del Toro said. “But every time that I think about her, I feel like she is like Jesus Christ, she was put...on that cross.”

Monica’s husband is now in jail, and she now works to help other women that she meets through Magnifica groups.

“She helps others with smaller problems without (talking about her past),” Del Toro said.

“She is absolutely amazing, and that’s when God shows you hope for humanity, because when you see someone in bad shape with that kind of problem, you’d think they would want nothing to do with God, but that’s not true,” she said. “These people want everything to do with God and they want to help others.”

“So there’s always hope out there,” she added, “and God through these programs has been giving us so much grace to help others without doing too much. He does his work and he does it well, so you just need to sit next to him and enjoy the miracles that he’s doing all around us in our Church.”

Del Toro said Magnifica groups have been specifically designed to meet the spiritual, and practical, needs of Hispanic women, especially those who are immigrants to the United States.

When she approaches Hispanic women about Magnifica, Del Toro first gets to know them, asking them about their families and their lives. Most women who begin attending Magnifica are looking for a community, she said. “We meet and read for an hour and a half and then we have food, we have a party, all of us together with the kids,” she said.

She also has to train her Magnifica facilitators to be prepared to help women who are dealing with domestic violence, post-abortion trauma, and other serious issues that are prevalent among women participating in Magnifica groups.

“Hispanic mothers, they have a harder time here, they’re coming from the low class... so we have to be patient, we have more single mothers in our program, we have more abortions,” she said, because abortion clinics often intentionally build facilities in lower class neighborhoods.

“I have to make sure my facilitators understand all of this, because they are not jumping into a regular reading group, we’re talking about serious problems,” she said. “And I always say to them, you might find out horrible things, but no matter what you find out, it’s always the Lord next to you, and next to them. That’s why these girls are walking into your group, so give thanks to the Lord because these girls are getting into your groups.”

Lessons for the Church

Del Toro’s ministry experiences with Hispanic Catholics offer lessons for the Church in the United States, which is increasingly made up of people of Latin American origin.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the US is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

Del Toro is a leader with V Encuentro (Fifth Encounter) a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers held in order to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs, the next of which will be held in Texas in September.

“The culture is completely different,” Del Toro said of Hispanic/Latino culture versus white Americans.

For example, and as evidenced partly by her own success stories, “A Latin opens their heart very easily and they give themselves to the Lord right away,” she said. “They’re more affective than Americans, Americans have to think. A Latin is just like, this is what I feel, so I’m jumping, no matter if it’s right or wrong.”

There’s also a stronger cultural devotion to the faith - and particularly to the Blessed Virgin Mary - beginning in the home for many Hispanics, she said.

“You listen to your mother pray the rosary your whole entire life,” she noted. “Americans in general, they’re not very close to the rosary, but for us it’s normal to always have a rosary and pray it throughout the day your whole life.”

In fact, she said, Mary is usually the best place to begin the evangelization of Hispanics.

“Our Lady is always around us, Our Lady of Guadalupe is in every single street corner, you have her in houses, everywhere, we are very connected to her. So when you work through her, very few people will close the door to her...sometimes they reject Jesus, but if you work through Our Lady? Piece of cake.”

In her work with V Encuentro, Del Toro said she tells her groups to be aware of the different problems that Hispanic women face, like domestic abuse, increased rates of single motherhood, and abortion.

“They need help and they need big protection, because if we don’t protect these women, the next generation is going to become worse and worse, so this is the time to do something real.”

Del Toro said the two biggest mistakes she sees the Church making today, especially when it comes to evangelizing to Hispanics, are failing to be direct about sin, and not taking the time to develop real relationships with people. When Catholics stop talking about what “the Church” should be doing and instead focus on what they can be doing as Christians, it’s much more effective, Del Toro said.

“You think that a program will change them? No, they need to feel the love, and if you don’t feel the love from someone else in there, you’re not going to change,” she said. “Another thing is stop to talk about the Church only. Why not give the example? Why not live the life you’re supposed to live? Because to talk about the Church is very easy. But follow the Gospel? That’s the hard part.”

“Listen to them first of all,” she said, to understand them and their lives. Only after you listen can you talk to them about God.

“Give them a good example. Hug them. Ask them - what can we do for you? How can I help you? How often do we ask that?” she said.  “We don’t want to have the trouble, we don’t want to have one more thing because (we’re) so busy, so we forget very easy things that are the basic things. Simple things like that would make a huge change in the community.”

That’s what Del Toro has been striving to do during her many years in ministry.

“The people that know me know that what I do I do through my heart, otherwise I could be doing different things for a lot of money,” she said. “But my (goal) is heaven and I want to be a saint, I really want to be a saint. So I just relax, letting God do whatever he wants to do with me.”

But she’s called in a special favor from heaven. She needs Mary’s protection.

“I told Mary - don’t leave me alone my entire life!”

 

Why hundreds are still drawn to the powerful legacy of the 'Rosary Priest'

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 08:38

Easton, Massachusetts, Jun 24, 2018 / 06:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly three decades after his death, Father Patrick Peyton still receives fan mail.

People from all over the world submit letters and electronic notes - intercessory prayer requests and stories of prayers answered in the name of Father Peyton - to the desk of Father David S. Marcham.

Marcham, who is now vice postulator for the Cause of Venerable Patrick Peyton and director of the Father Peyton Guild, first discovered the many prayer requests and gratefully triumphant notes during a chance visit to Holy Cross Ministries in Easton, Massachusetts. The prayerful notes inspired him to join the effort in spreading Fr. Peyton’s message by advancing his cause for sainthood.

“Fr. Peyton has the ability through his message and through his intercession to work on the level of our individual families, but also to work worldwide,” he said.

Father Patrick Peyton (1909-1992) was a dynamic advocate for family prayer and a trailblazer in radio broadcast and televised evangelization.

Like many Irish families, Peyton grew up praying the Rosary. His devotion to Mary deepened when he was healed of advanced tuberculosis with no explanation, shortly after his ordination. He credited the intercession of the Blessed Mother for his recovery, and became committed to spreading the importance of prayer through Mary.

In doing so, he caught the attention of Hollywood.

After World War Two ended, Peyton began a radio show to pray in thanksgiving for peace. His show reached wide audiences with his passionate calls for family prayer, and it featured prominent public figures, from President Harry Truman to New York’s Archbishop Spellman. A strong proponent of the Rosary and a firm believer in its power, Peyton had each guest pray the Rosary for the world to hear.

However, executives of the radio station wanted to explore the idea of bringing in Hollywood stars. Peyton ambitiously called Bing Crosby, who had just seen his big break in Going My Way--a movie about a priest who created a church choir to help a group of boys reorient their lives.

“After Father Peyton explained what he was doing, [Bing Crosby] said, ‘Of course I’ll be on the program!’” said Father Willy Raymond, the current Holy Cross Family Ministries president and previous director of Family Theater Productions, both of which Father Peyton began.

“With [Crosby’s] name on it, it really got the nation’s attention,” Raymond added.

Family Theater Productions continues Peyton’s legacy in the film industry, providing a community for Hollywood Catholics and producing spiritual content. One of its most recent efforts, The Dating Project, was recently released in April, and the program Catholic Central provides short, informative films geared toward young people.

Along with promoting prayer in his shows, Peyton held “Rosary Rallies” around the world - from Peru to the Philippines to Papua New Guinea - earning him the title that he still bears to this day of “The Rosary Priest.”

Last December, Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of Fr. Peyton, declaring him “Venerable.” The priest’s information is currently under review for further advancement toward canonization.

An event celebrating the declaration of Fr. Peyton as Venerable drew a crowd of around 700 people to Holy Cross Family Ministries in North Easton, Massachusetts earlier this month.

Attendees - families, notable Catholic figures and international dignitaries alike - took part in the festivities. Auxiliary Bishop Arthur Colgan of Lima, Peru, celebrated the June 10 Mass. Raymond Flynn, former mayor of Boston and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, was also present, along with Shane Cahill, Irish Consul General in the U.S., and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y.

Included in the celebration were three key parts of Father’ Peyton’s faith-based daily routine: a Eucharistic Procession, a celebration of the Mass and the praying of the Rosary.

“Every day, no matter how busy he was, Father Peyton prayed the Rosary many times during the day… he always made a holy hour with Eucharistic Adoration as a part of his day,” said Fr. Marcham. “And he also, every day, celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”

Everyone present at the June 10 prayer event was given a blessed Rosary, and many took Rosaries for their loved ones who could not make it, said Marcham. Each family was also provided with a Rosary prayer kit.

Marcham was inspired by the turnout at the event. He said many attendees found it “spiritually uplifting to hear that Father Peyton’s cause is progressing… they also found it was spiritually uplifting to be part of it.”

The sweeping commonality that “every one of us comes from a family” - along with the late priest’s zeal for holiness - is what still draws people to Fr. Peyton, said Marcham.

Many, he said, speak of the “realization of how something is going on in every person’s family - even the ones that look like they’re perfect from the outside.”

“Father Peyton offers a way for us to have God’s grace help us to reconcile, to heal, to move through challenges.”

Like the families of the post-World War era, modern families face difficulties, said Marcham.

“We basically have schedules and structures of life today that have family members going in all different directions,” he said, adding that many modern families struggle with high divorce rates, opioid addictions, misuse or overuse of technology and a demanding corporate culture.

“Making sure that God is welcome in the home is absolutely essential to give meaning and purpose to people’s lives,” Fr. Raymond added. When a family is rooted in prayer, he said, children “grow up knowing and trusting that God is real, that he’s present, that he loves them, and he’s going to be with them through thick and thin.”

Both priests recalled Fr. Peyton’s popular saying, “The family that prays together stays together.”

“We need the biggest promoter of this message we could get, and he’s the one,” Father Marcham said.

Marcham and his colleagues’ mission is “not to glorify Father Peyton,” he clarified. “It’s to make people aware of him and his holiness and his efficacy of his intercessory prayer. And really, the purpose of all this is to draw all of us and invite everyone to join...in this to grow closer to our Blessed Mother and our Lord.”

“I’m encouraging everyone and inviting everyone to join me.”

#BigFertility: New documentary aims to shed light on the surrogacy industry

Sat, 06/23/2018 - 18:40

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 23, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Becoming a surrogate mother seemed like a natural option for Kelly Martinez, who enjoyed helping people and liked being pregnant.

Just 20 years old, she thought working with big surrogacy agencies was a safe way for her to help couples have a family.

Instead, however, she says she was instructed to lie to the French consulate about being the biological mother of the children she was carrying. She was told to sign legal papers in French, which she did not understand. She did not receive a copy of the documents, and no translator was offered to her.

Ultimately, Martinez says she was manipulated, lied to, locked in a legal battle, and left with a stack of medical bills. She now sees the surrogacy industry differently – as an industry centered on profit.

Martinez’s story is being turned into a feature-length documentary called #BigFertility, a film produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which aims to show the dangers behind the big money involved in the surrogacy industry.

“Kelly’s story is particularly unique because of the international dimension and how the industry exploited her over and over again,” said Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.

“Her story shows how she was lied to, lied about, financially ruined and almost lost her life,” Lahl told CNA.

Martinez became a three-time surrogate mother. She became a surrogate for a French couple and a Spanish couple, despite the practice being illegal in all forms in the couples’ home countries. She also became a surrogate mother for a couple in the U.S. Throughout the documentary, Martinez talks about the medical risks, exploitation, and abuse she says she faced during the surrogacy process.

“I have now had my eyes opened to the fact that this is really about money, not about the children,” Martinez says in the trailer for #BigFertility.

The international scope of Martinez’s experiences, Lahl said, points to the overarching concerns that surrogacy around the globe presents. Martinez has now become an advocate against “big surrogacy,” and has spoken at various events around the world about her experience, including to members of Spanish Parliament and the United Nations.

Surrogacy has long been a controversial topic because of its connection with exploitation, abuses, and ethical concerns. The #BigFertility documentary is hoping to bring more of these concerns to light through Kelly’s story and experiences.

“Pushing back on the false narrative that surrogacy can be regulated and prevent problems, #BigFertility will show that the industry cares most about profits and least about the women used as paid breeders,” Lahl said.

The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network is also running a kickstarter page to finalize and market the documentary, which will be launched this fall.

Pa. court indefinitely blocks release of clergy sex abuse report

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 19:02

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 22, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The release of a Grand Jury report detailing cases of clerical sex abuse in six of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania has been blocked by the state’s Supreme Court for unspecified reasons.

The court released the unsigned order June 20, but did not state which individuals or groups had applied for the stay or the reason behind the application. It also does not state for how long the stay applies or when the report could be published in the future.

“And now, this 20th day of June, 2018, the Applications for Stay are granted. The Honorable Norman A. Krumenacker, III, and the Office of the Attorney General are enjoined from releasing Report No. 1 of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury pending further order of this Court,” the order, issued by the state’s Supreme Court, reads. Krumenacker is a Cambria County judge who has overseen the Grand Jury proceedings.

The stay indefinitely delays the release of a report that has been more than two years in the making, during which time victims of past abuse have recounted incidents of sexual abuse to the jury. Legal experts have told local news sources that the depth and breadth of this investigation is almost unprecedented among clerical sex abuse investigations that have taken place in the United States.

The two non-participating dioceses in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, have already undergone similar investigations.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has headed the investigation, said in a May 21 statement that he believed dioceses and bishops were behind the push to block or delay the publication of the report.

However, the participating dioceses - Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, and Scranton - and their bishops have all said that they did not apply for the stay, and that they support the publication of the report.

“We anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter, and support the release of the report which will give victims a voice,” Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie said in a statement. “Until the report is released, we will continue our efforts to identify abusers and provide counseling and assistance to victims.”

“The contents of the report will be painful, but it is necessary for the report to be released in order for us to learn from it and to continue in our efforts to be responsive to victims and to create safe environments for our children,” the Diocese of Scranton said in its statement. “With regards to the stay, it's important that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take all the steps it deems necessary.”

“The Diocese of Harrisburg has fully cooperated with the Office of the Attorney General. The Diocese and Bishop Gainer strongly support the release of the Grand Jury report and have not filed anything to cause the stay ordered (Wednesday),” spokesman Mike Barley said in a statement. “However, as we have stated before, it is critical that this report is accurate.”

Diocesan officials told CNA that they were unaware whether those who had applied for the stay had ties to the Church.

Ed Palattella, a reporter for the Erie Times, wrote that it is believed that those who filed for the stay petition were not diocesan officials, but others who were named in the report.

Because the majority of those named in the report would be priests, it is likely that a priest or group of priests named in the report filed for the stay.

According to an order from Krumenacker written earlier this month, anyone who is named in the Grand Jury report is given notice of their inclusion in the report and is allowed to file a rebuttal. However, once approved by a Grand Jury, written reports cannot be amended. All documents regarding the report remain sealed and so the identity of the party or parties who filed for the stay cannot be confirmed.

Victims said that the delay of the release of the report is causing further harm to those who have experienced clerical sex abuse.

State representative Mark Rozzi told The Inquirer that the stay order was a “travesty of justice and insult to all victims of childhood sex abuse.”

“It’s just like it’s been since Day One with me, kick us to the curb. Let the trash on the curb get old, maybe we’ll rot and die and go away. We’re not going away. I’m not going away, and I can promise that to all the victims across the commonwealth,” he said.

Last month, Krumenacker rejected an attempt by defense lawyers to stall the publication of the report. Defense lawyers said that the state’s interest in protecting their unidentified clients’ reputation and due process were enough to halt the publication of the report.

Krumenacker dismissed the request, arguing that “The commonwealth’s interest in protecting children from sexual predators and persons or institutions that enable them to continue their abuse is of the highest order.”

The request was appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which ordered the stay June 20.

Murdered nuns' opposition to death penalty leads to life in prison for killer

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 14:21

Jackson, Miss., Jun 22, 2018 / 12:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A man convicted of the 2016 slayings of two religious sisters in Mississippi will not receive the death penalty and will instead spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rodney Earl Sanders, 48, pled guilty on Thursday to murdering Sr. Margaret Held, SSSF, and Sr. Paula Merrill, SCN, as well as the theft of Held’s car. The two were found stabbed to death and sexually assaulted at their home in Durant, Mississippi, on August 25, 2016. They worked as nurse practitioners at a medical clinic near their home. Their bodies were discovered after they failed to arrive to work.

Sanders did not give a motive for his crimes. At the time of the murders, he was living in a shed across the street from the sisters’ home. He was arrested and charged the day after the crime. Police said he was a person of interest from the beginning of the investigation.

Held was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, which is based in Milwaukee, and Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, from Kentucky.

While Sanders was indicted for the sexual assaults, those charges were not included in his guilty plea, according to the Associated Press. Sanders was eligible for the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison after the judge took into account the fact that Held and Merrill were opposed to the death penalty and would not want their killer executed.

In a statement at Sanders’ plea hearing, Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said that the two sisters were “two of the most gentle persons you could ever know,” who based their lives on “peace, justice, and the love of God.”

Gatz said the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were in favor of the plea agreement as it took away the possibility of the death penalty for Sanders.

“We have longed for justice with regard to our two beloved sisters,” she said. “And so, we support this plea agreement for life in prison without parole. It is justice that recognizes all life is valuable. It is justice that holds out hope, always, that love can break through the hardest barriers.”

Speaking directly to Sanders, Gatz said that her congregation would “never forget what you did to them,” and that many people had suffered as a result of his actions.

“But, because we believe in Christ and his gospel, we forgive you. We have learned over these couple of years that your life has had much turmoil and pain. We want you to know that we will pray that you can find peace.”

Held and Merrill were “examples of goodness, examples of Christ-like love,” said Gatz, “and nothing and no one can ever take that away.”

Des Moines diocese defends legality of school grants

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 12:49

Des Moines, Iowa, Jun 22, 2018 / 10:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After reviewing $844,000 worth of grants that were given by Polk County, Iowa to local Catholic schools a few years back, the Diocese of Des Moines said that it believes the grants complied with state law.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Des Moines has concluded that there is nothing improper associated with the technology grant,” the diocese said in a June 21 statement.

It added that after reviewing the relevant facts and law involving the Polk County grant, “We agree completely with Polk County that the Community Development Grant was entirely legal and proper.”

Iowa state law says that government officials “shall not appropriate, give, or loan public funds to, or in favor of, an institution, school, association or object which is under ecclesiastical or sectarian management or control.”

In 2011, after the Polk County Board of Supervisors learned that it could not give grant money directly to church-affiliated schools, Catholic school supporters formed a separate corporation through which to route the grant money.

Called Education for the 21st Century, the corporation is now defunct. During its two years in operation, 100 percent of its reported revenue came from Polk County grants, according to the Des Moines Register.

The grant money was taken from gambling revenue accrued by the Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel.

The Polk County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 in 2012 to give $400,000 to the corporation. The year after, the board approved $444,000 to the corporation.

With the money, new technology equipment was bought for St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Augustin, St. Pius X, St. Theresa, Christ the King, Holy Trinity, Holy Family, and Sacred Heart schools. The money was used to purchase iPads, cameras, computers, projectors, and whiteboards.

“If Iowa taxpayer money was, in fact, intentionally funneled to religious schools, that is unacceptable and a misuse of the taxpayers' public dollars,” said Mark Stringer, executive director of ACLU Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.

However, county supervisors have defended financial assistance to Catholic schools. They say that going forward, such assistance can be given directly to the schools, thanks to a 2017 Supreme Court ruling which held that states cannot discriminate against religious schools by making them ineligible for non-religious amenity funding programs.

The Diocese of Des Moines stressed that the Catholic Church “did not manage or control the foundation that received the grant,” and that grant money was not used for religious purposes, but “for purchasing learning technology that was provided to Christian and parochial schools.”

The diocese noted that Catholic schools already receive state funding for transportation and textbooks, “in recognition of the fact that families choosing a religious education are taxpayers.”

“Providing this form of support that does not directly advance religion is entirely consistent with the law,” the diocese said. “In fact, as the US Supreme Court has recognized, a law or policy that expressly discriminates against an otherwise eligible recipient and disqualifies them from a public benefit because of their religious character, is a clear violation of the United States Constitution.”

The former legal advisor for Polk County’s School Board, Michael O’Meara, told the Des Moines Register that he had told the board that they could only support Catholic schools if they did so via an entity that was not under ecclesiastical control.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman said she will not review the case. Her chief of staff and legal counsel noted that the county attorney appeared to have been consulted and approved the grants.
 
 
 

 

Study finds mounting global restrictions on religion

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 02:06

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2018 / 12:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Government restrictions on religion continued to rise across the globe in 2016, according to a recently released Pew study, which linked the stifling of religion to nationalist parties and organizations.

“This marks the second year in a row of increases in the overall level of restrictions imposed either by governments or by private actors (groups and individuals) in the 198 countries examined in the study,” said the Pew report.

The research found that 42 percent of countries experienced high or very high levels of overall religious restriction, which included hostile acts by government or private individuals or groups. This number is up from 40 percent in 2015, and 29 percent in 2007.

“This marks the biggest number of countries to fall in this top category since Pew Research Center began analyzing restrictions on religion in 2007,” Pew said.

“The share of countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of government restrictions…rose from 25 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016,” the study found. “Meanwhile, the share of countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of social hostilities involving religion…remained stable in 2016 at 27 percent.”

The Middle-East and North Africa experienced the highest median level of government restrictions on religion, while Europe and the Americas were the only areas to experience an increase in median levels of social religious hostility.

Additionally, the research pointed to nationalist groups’ role in the rise of religious restrictions, particularly through targeting specific ethnic and religious minorities.

“In many countries, restrictions on religion resulted from actions taken by government officials, social groups or individuals espousing nationalist positions,” the Pew study noted.

Around 11 percent of countries saw government actors who “at times used nationalist, and often anti-immigrant or anti-minority, rhetoric to target religious groups in their countries in 2016,” – a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

European countries experienced this attitude most strongly, with around 33 percent having nationalist parties making statements against religious minorities, while 12 percent of Asia-Pacific countries shared a similar experience.

“Typically, these nationalist groups or individuals were seeking to curtail immigration of religious and ethnic minorities, or were calling for efforts to suppress or even eliminate a particular religious group, in the name of defending a dominant ethnic or religious group they described as threatened or under attack.”

Additionally, there was a 5 percent increase in countries where organized groups aimed to overtake public life at the expense of a religion.

The most popular targets for religious restrictions were Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“Looking at religious groups, harassment of members of the world’s two largest groups – Christians and Muslims – by government and social groups continued to be widespread around the world, with both experiencing sharp increases in the number of countries in which they were harassed in 2016,” the study said.

This research, which included 198 countries making up 99.5 percent of the world, comes from Pew’s ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion, which analyzes the “extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.”

These levels were measured by government laws and policies, acts of individual or group hostility against religion, including armed conflict and terrorism. Harassment of religious groups was gathered by data relating to physical or verbal assaults, arrests, detentions, desecration of holy sites, and discrimination against religious groups via employment, education and housing.

The 2016 year was the most recent year in which data was available.

 

Farm bill with SNAP restrictions passes narrowly in House

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 18:59

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- On Thursday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the 2018 farm bill, H.R. 2, which included controversial changes to food assistance programs that Catholic leaders had voiced concern over.

The Farm Bill is the main agricultural and food policy guide for the country. It provides funding for a number of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries.

The party-line vote was 213-211. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 20 Republicans voted against it. The same bill failed in May, when 30 Republicans voted against the legislation.

The most controversial element of the bill was a provision to change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously called food stamps.

The farm bill would tighten restrictions on eligibility for SNAP. It would require people between the ages of 18 and 59 who receive SNAP to either have a job or participate in a job training program for 20 hours per week. Adults with disabilities or young dependents are exempted from this requirement.

Penalties for not complying with work requirements increase under the bill, from one month ineligibility to one year for a first violation, and from three months to three years for a second violation.

When the farm bill was being discussed in April, representatives from the U.S. bishops conference, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Rural Life, and the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul wrote a letter to leaders of the Congressional Agriculture Committee.

“Efforts to improve state workforce training programs by providing case-management, streamlining workforce programs, providing increased training slots and setting minimum standards are welcomed,” they said.

"However, the new workforce training program appears to lack sufficient investment to meet the additional demand for meaningful job training and skill building that will be generated by the new requirements,” they said in the April letter. The letter noted that the majority of SNAP recipients currently work.

“Moreover, rural communities may find compliance especially challenging given that job training programs are often located far away, and there is insufficient access to transportation,” the letter said.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the passage of the farm bill was a step “moving toward a poverty-fighting system,” where Americans will be able to move out of a cycle of poverty.

“This is a big deal,” said Ryan in a statement published on his website.

Ryan referred to the SNAP reforms as “critical,” saying they will “close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and encourage people to move from welfare to work.”

“These reforms will return agency to people, rather than keeping it in government, empowering individuals to reach their full potential and make the most of their lives.”

President Donald Trump, posting on Twitter, said that he was “so happy to see work requirements included” in the version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives.

“Big win for the farmers,” said Trump.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where a bipartisan compromise bill is expected to be debated next week.

The Catholic Church's long history of resettling refugees in the US

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 18:26

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church has resettled nearly one-third of all refugees received by the United States since 1980 through a public-private partnership with a high rate of successful integration of refugees into society, according to a report released in June 2018.

The Center for Migration Studies report examines data on 1.1 million of the refugees resettled in the U.S. from 1987 to 2016. These refugees came from more than 30 countries, including Ukraine, Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia and Burma.

“What we've found is that they are integrating, contributing, and accomplishing a lot in the United States after starting from basically nothing. Not surprisingly, we found that refugees with the longest residence have integrated the most fully in the country, and we provide statistics on how that progresses over time,” said Donald Kerwin, the primary author of the report, at a World Refugee Day event at the U.S. Capitol building.

Frances McBrayer has seen this successful integration firsthand in her experience as senior director of refugee services of Catholic Charities Atlanta.

“More than 90 percent of the refugees that we have resettled through Catholic Charities Atlanta were self-sufficient in 2017 within 6 months of arrival,” said McBrayer at the June 20 event.

“That means they are working, paying their own bills, and they are not receiving government cash assistance,” she continued.

This rapid success can be partially attributed to the committed volunteer efforts of local communities, according to McBrayer, who said that Catholic Charities Atlanta had 874 volunteers working with refugees last year.

Parish volunteers are matched with incoming refugee families, whom they accompany in everything from English practice and job applications to American grocery shopping.

In partnership with its affiliates, the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services resettles approximately 30 percent of refugees arriving in the U.S. each year through a network of more than 100 diocesan offices.

“In the United States, we offer a model public-private partnership,” said Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy for the U.S. bishops, at a congressional briefing co-hosted by Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the U.S. bishops conference.

The U.S. also has one of the safest refugee programs in the world, Feasley said, as each refugee is required to go through extensive vetting, including a series of very rigorous interviews by the Department of Homeland Security.

“They will have their information checked by the FBI. They will have their information checked by the NSA. They will have much of their biographical information verified as well as going through a security check and a health check. All of this will occur before a refugee is ever finally selected to be admitted to the United States.”

Feasley explained how the U.S. refugee resettlement program as we know it today emerged out of the ad hoc charitable actions of faith-based groups in response to the Vietnam War. As a result, Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, which laid out a definition of who counts as a refugee and how resettlement would work.

The American Catholic involvement with refugee resettlement dates back even earlier, as documented in an archive exhibit at The Catholic University of America on the American Catholic Church’s refugee aid from the late 1930s to early 1950s.

Despite this history, the U.S. is on pace this year to resettle the lowest number of refugees in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, according to the 2018 CMS report.

There are currently some 25.4 million refugees worldwide who have fled their countries to escape conflict or persecution, according to statistics released by the UN refugee agency on June 19. This constitutes the largest increase in refugees in a single year that the UN has ever documented.

Bishops' video series encourages prayer, action for Religious Freedom Week

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 02:33

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 12:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a video series for Religious Freedom Week 2018, inviting Catholics to pray and act in support of religious liberty.

“We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice, we have a duty to seek common ground in public life whenever possible,” says Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in one video.

“But we also need to work vigorously in law and politics to protect our faith and to form our culture in a Christian understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom. To do that, we need to defend our religious liberty.”

An eight-video YouTube series offers reflections on the importance of religious liberty.

The videos feature members of and consultants for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ standing committee for religious liberty.

Each day, a different bishop challenges Catholics to reflect on how religious freedom is connected to elements of the public square, such as medicine, immigration, and education. Other topics discussed in the video series include Christian persecution in the Middle East, and the importance of publicly proclaiming one’s faith.

Religious Freedom Week, held by the U.S. bishops’ conference, is observed this year from June 22-29. The theme for this year is “Serving Others in God’s Love.”

The conference website includes a list of suggested reflections, prayers, and actions that may be followed by parishes, families, and individuals during the week.

In the second video of the series, Archbishop Chaput highlights the importance of truth in politics, saying “dishonest language leads to dishonest politics, and dishonest politics leads to bad public policy and bad law.” He urges Catholics defend truth in the public sphere.

“As Catholic citizens, we owe it to our country to speak and to act in a spirit of truth and to insist on the same behavior from other people, including our elected and appointed leaders.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska says that Catholic education is a key part of the Church’s mission.

“But there are forces in our society and culture which would like to inhibit our freedoms…to be able to teach what we believe is the truth about the human person, about the dignity of life as well as God's plan for marriage between a man and a woman,” he says, emphasizing the need for religious freedom in education.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, notes the role that the Church plays in immigration and refugee resettlement.

“The Church has long sought to serve the unique needs of people on the move: from providing for basic needs, to assisting with resettlement, to offering legal services to help newcomers navigate the system of their host country.”

However, he warns, in recent years, Catholic entities have faced legal challenges because they will not facilitate abortions as part of their work with migrants.

“Those that try to force the Church to choose between unborn children and migrant children are undermining religious liberty,” Bishop Vasquez cautions.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who chairs the religious freedom committee, concludes the video series by appealing to viewers “to pray that we might continue to take steps to make room within our culture for the exercise of religious freedom” and “to use that religious freedom in the public square well.”

Tucson bishop elaborates on ‘canonical penalties’ for immigrant family separation

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 19:00

Tucson, Ariz., Jun 20, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A bishop who suggested last week that the Church consider canonical penalties for Catholics involved in the separation of families at the United States’ southern border said Wednesday that penalties are not central to a discussion of immigration reform.

On immigration reform,  “the critical issue at hand isn’t canonical penalties, even if the concept has intrigued many. The real issue is children being used as pawns in a contorted effort at punishing their parents or deterring future asylum seekers,” Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson wrote in a June 20 op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star.

At a meeting of the US bishops’ conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., June 13, Weisenburger asked if the bishops’ canonical affairs committee could offer “recommendations, at least to those of us who are border bishops, on the possibility of canonical penalties for Catholics who are involved in this.”

“For the salvation of these people’s souls,” he added, “maybe it’s time for us to look at canonical penalties.”

His remark drew national attention, though some canon lawyers questioned what exactly Weisenburger had in mind.

Weisenburger, himself a canon lawyer, did not mention specific canonical penalties; note what delicts, or canonical crimes, might be pertinent; or indicate whether he intended for penalties to apply to law enforcement officials, lawmakers, or others.

The bishop’s op-ed elaborated on his earlier remarks. Though it attempted to offer clarity, it did not specifically denote what penalties or processes the bishop had in mind.

In his op-ed, Weisenburger said he was not suggesting that Catholics involved in family separation be excommunicated. That penalty, he said, “can be imposed only at the end of a process seeking the conversion of the sinner and reconciliation for the community.”

Weisenburger suggested that canon law offers “lesser options preceding excommunication, such as prayer and penitential practices,” though he did not specify whether those options should also be understood as penalties, which, according to canon law, also must ordinarily be preceded by a legal process.

The bishop’s op-ed seemed to suggest that he intended that canonical penalties would apply to mostly to lawmakers, and not to law enforcement officers.

“As far as the question of canonical penalties for Catholics goes, again, the matter is quite complex. Canonical penalties are not ‘one size fits all.’ In a Christian ethic, legislators and political leaders who facilitate sinful actions have the greater share in responsibility for the resulting violence to human dignity,” he wrote.

The bishop lamented that family separation policies have caused “harm and anguish” for “good and faithful immigration workers.”

“Indeed, the average immigration officer — even if he or she recognizes the inherent evil in the action — might accurately conclude that he or she is able to be a force for good within his or her employment, aiding the situation more than contributing toward the harm of children. In such cases the immigration officer might be justified in his or her endeavors. And of course, immigration officers — like nurses ordered to participate in abortion — clearly deserve the option of conscientious objection,” he wrote.

Some canon lawyers have suggested to CNA that Weisenburger’s comments might have been intended to evoke canon 915, which prohibits Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” from receiving the Eucharist. That prohibition is not technically a “penalty” in canon law, though it is sometimes referred to as one. However, Weisenburger’s op-ed said that he did not intend to suggest that the Church should “deny people the sacraments.”

Bishop Weisenburger declined to be interviewed for this story.
 
Weisenburger’s op-ed encouraged Catholics to think more carefully about the moral issues involved in immigration policy, rather than the canonical.

Encouraging Catholics to address the “ethical and moral quagmire” at the border, the bishop said that he prays daily “that we will awaken from our slumber and resume walking in the ways of justice, truth, and human rights, leaving the discussion of canonical penalties altogether unnecessary.”

 

US bishops ask that immigration reform protect families, Dreamers

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 18:01

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States bishops have asked Congress to compromise on immigration reform to give legal protections for undocumented youth, known as “Dreamers,” and ensure respect for human dignity and families at U.S. borders.

A June 19 letter to the House of Representatives stated that the bishops cannot endorse changes to the immigration system that “detrimentally impact families and the vulnerable” as contained in new legislation brought before the House this week.

“We welcome the opportunity to dialogue with lawmakers and to discuss possible opportunities for further compromise,” wrote Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the bishops’ committee on migration.

The letter stated immigration legislation should be “bipartisan, provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, be pro-family, protect the vulnerable and be respectful of human dignity with regard to border security and enforcement.”

Vasquez also reminded House members that family separation at the border can be ended without legislation at the discretion of the administration.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 ending the policy of family separation, except when there is a risk to the child's welfare. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan indicated that the lower chamber will vote Thursday on an immigration bill.

H.R. 6136 on border security and immigration reform was introduced June 19 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and includes a proposal of a framework for Dreamers potentially to receive permanent residence and later citizenship in the U.S.

The framework would include the same criteria outlined in the DACA program, initiated by President Obama in 2012, which postponed deportation of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30, who had been brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. since June 2007.

The new bill would require applicants also to have no more than one non-traffic-related misdemeanor, including for immigration-related offences; and if not a student or primary caregiver, to demonstrate the ability to maintain an income of at least 125 percent of the poverty line.

The new bill is on the schedule to be considered by the House in the coming week, along with H.R. 4760, which was introduced Jan. 10.

Vasquez responded to immigration bill H.R. 4760 in a statement Jan. 10, calling for financially sound, effective, and safe measures to strengthen national security at the U.S. border, emphasizing that Dreamers and their families “deserve certainty, compassion, generosity, and justice.”

He also acknowledged the nation’s right to control its borders, but cautioned against the introduction of “unrelated, unnecessary, or controversial elements of immigration policy – especially those that jeopardize the sanctity of families or unaccompanied children – into the bipartisan search for a just and humane solution for the Dreamers.”

LA archbishop welcomes Trump immigration order

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 17:35

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles said he “welcomes” an executive order signed Wednesday by President Trump, and called on Congress to act on immigration reform.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday titled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” intended to end the practice of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border, while maintaining the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy illegal entry into the United States.

The executive order said that detained families will be held together, “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”

In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice-President of the bishops’ conference, said “I welcome the President’s executive order ending the cruel family separation policy. Now Congress needs to act on immigration. With my brother (bishops) @USCCB, I am disappointed about the bills the House will vote on tomorrow.”

“We need a bipartisan bill like the #USAAct that provides a clear path to citizenship for #Dreamers and secures our borders. And we need it now,” Gomez added in a subsequent tweet.

The executive order laid the blame for family separation on Congress for its “failure to act” as well as court orders that “have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.”

“The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary), shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members,” the order reads.

Minor children are not currently permitted in detention facilities where adults are held. This new executive order calls for the Secretary of Defense to provide the Secretary of Homeland Security with existing facilities that can be used to house a family unit. If these facilities do not exist, they will be constructed.

The 1997 Flores consent decree limits the amount of time that undocumented immigrant children can be held by the federal government, whether they crossed the border with relatives or by themselves. In Wednesday’s executive order, the attorney general was instructed to “promptly file a request” with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify this agreement. With the requested modifications, undocumented immigrant families would be able to be detained together during criminal proceedings.

The Attorney General was also ordered to prioritize any cases involving a detained family.

The US bishops’ conference did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. The conference, as well as individual bishops, have been vocal in opposition to family separation at the border.

Speaking at the signing, President Trump said he “didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” and that “it's a problem that's gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations.”

“So we're keeping families together, and this will solve that problem,” said Trump.

“At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero-tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

 

Catholic Charities Fort Worth hosts migrant children separated from parents

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 17:07

Fort Worth, Texas, Jun 20, 2018 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As thousands of children have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border in recent weeks, Catholic Charities Fort Worth has opened its doors to shelter the unaccompanied migrant children.

“…Catholic Charities Fort Worth has received and is assisting children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border,” said Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth in a June 19 statement.

“The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and Catholic Charities Fort Worth, as in the past, will live out the mission to help those in need,” Olson continued, noting that “Catholic Charities staff stands ready to expand the program as needed.”

The Trump administration’s immigration policy has garnered international attention for its zero-tolerance stance at the border, which has enforced the separation of migrant children from their parents who have be detained by border officials as a way to deter illegal immigration.

The United Nations condemned the separation policy June 5, saying it was “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

Olson additionally condemned the practice, saying supporting it “lacks compassion, promotes hardness of heart, and further desensitizes us to our mission and responsibilities as Christians to give comfort to the afflicted and to promote respect for human life…”

“The unwarranted separation of parents from their children not only harms those relationships but undermines the right to life, the respect for legitimate authority, and all other basic human rights in society,” Olson remarked.

“The use of separation of children, including babies, from their mothers and fathers at the U.S./Mexican border as a tool for implementing the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy is sinful because it undermines the right to life of the vulnerable, directly traumatizes those who have already been injured, and undermines the role of legitimate authority,” he continued.

According to the administration, the policy has separated around 2,342 children from their parents between May 9 and June 5. The federal government is in charge of providing shelter for the migrant children who have been taken from their parents.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth has been hosting a number of migrant children in an effort to serve the families torn apart by the immigration policy. The Star-Telegram reported Catholic Charities was contracted with the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to Pat Svacina, a spokesman for the Diocese of Fort Worth.

To protect the privacy of the children, Catholic Charities did not release any information on the children they were sheltering at their 26-bed facility.

An online statement from Catholic Charities Fort Worth offered ways to help, encouraging individuals to donate to their Unaccompanied Children program or help create welcome boxes. They are also looking for foster parents through the International Foster Care Program who can provide a safe haven for the children who have been separated from their parents.

“I call on each of us to examine our own consciences and interior lives if we in any way take cruel delight in these actions done in the name of our government and in the name of the security of our borders,” said Olson.

“Separating children from their mothers and fathers in an already traumatic time in their lives as immigrants seeking asylum is inhumane and morally wrong without due regard for the safety and protection of the children and informed consent of their parents.”

Abortion clinic will not receive Texas bishops’ emails, court rules

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 15:26

Austin, Texas, Jun 20, 2018 / 01:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 23 bishops of Texas will not have to turn over emails and other communications to an abortion provider, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The ruling came in response to a Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) appeal from  an order from a trial court on Sunday requiring the bishops to hand over private documents to Whole Woman’s Health, a chain of abortion facilities in the state.

Whole Woman’s Health filed suit against the State of Texas two years ago over a law that requires aborted fetal remains to be either buried or cremated. Previously, the remains were treated as medical waste and thrown into a landfill.

Although the bishops are not party to the lawsuit, Whole Woman’s Health attempted to acquire various communications from the TCCB concerning abortion. These included private email and internal communications between bishops.

The bishops had previously offered to bury aborted fetal remains for free in Catholic cemeteries in Texas.

The bishops had requested emergency protection of their emails and other documents from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which put a halt to Sunday’s order. The court ordered additional briefs to be submitted by Monday, June 25.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the TCCB, said that the bishops deserve privacy from the government in their communications.

“Government should not have unbounded power to insert itself into the private conversations of any group, much less the leadership of the Catholic Church,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket.

“Constant surveillance of religious groups is a hallmark of totalitarian societies, not a free people.”

Rassbach’s sentiment was echoed by Texas bishops, who reiterated the importance of being able to have private deliberations amongst themselves.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, from the Diocese of Austin, said that he and his brother bishops have “not just a right, but a duty to speak out on issues that concern justice, mercy, and a consistent ethic on life.”

To do this, Vasquez said, it is critical that they be able to deliberate with each other privately prior to issuing a statement on a topic. He said the court’s ruling was “vital” for the Church.

“Children are not disposable,” said Bishop Edward J. Burns from the Diocese of Dallas, comparing the lawsuit to the policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S. border.

“We believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception. We also believe that we have a right to discuss in private how to address this issue and uphold the dignity of every human life, and that while upholding the sacredness of life may seem at odds with some people, our religious liberties and religious rights should not be eroded.”

 

Courage apostolate's 2018 conference to recall founder's mission

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 13:08

Bridgeport, Conn., Jun 20, 2018 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Courage International, an apostolate of the Catholic Church which serves people with same-sex attraction who seek to live a chaste life, will host its 30th annual conference this July, focusing on the faith of its founder, Fr. John Harvey, OSFS.

This year would have been Harvey’s 100th birthday. The conference will be held July 12-15 at Villanova University in Philadelphia.

Featuring speakers such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and EWTN’s Johnette Benkovic, the theme of this year’s conference is “Faithful to a mission.” Several bishops have also confirmed their attendance.

"The program will focus on themes that were important to Father Harvey’s spirituality and pastoral approach, and we plan to include a number of speakers who worked closely with Father Harvey during the 28 years that he led the Courage apostolate," said Father Philip Bochanski, Courage International's executive director, in a June 19 statement.

Harvey was the director of Courage International from its inception in 1980 until his retirement in 2008. He died in 2010, at the age of 92.

Courage offers a 12-step program for people with same-sex attraction, similar to the program in Alcoholics Anonymous. The five goals of Courage International are chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and “to live lives that may serve as good examples to others.”

Courage discourages the use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian” to refer to members, saying the organization “sees persons with same-sex attractions first and foremost as men and women created in the image of God.”

Since its founding, the organization has grown to have over 100 chapters in 14 countries. There is also a companion support group, EnCourage, for families and friends of those with same-sex attraction. Members of both Courage and EnCourage will share their personal testimonies at the conference.

 In 2016, Courage and EnCourage received canonical status as a diocesan clerical public association of the faithful.

Immediately preceding the 2018 conference, there will be a “clergy day” for priests, deacons, and seminarians, featuring seminars aiming to teach clergy how to minister properly to people with same-sex attraction.

Texas pro-life laws face sweeping legal challenge

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 03:04

Austin, Texas, Jun 20, 2018 / 01:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dozens of pro-life laws in Texas are being challenged in a lawsuit claiming that they pose an undue burden on women, but a national pro-life group says abortion regulations are important for women’s health and safety.

Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United For Life, said she believes that the courts will agree that the existing laws are constitutional, protect the interests of women, and do not constitute an “undue burden” on women.

“Americans United for Life expects the federal courts involved in these lawsuits to recognize these critical interests and protect the lives of women seeking abortion through reasonable, constitutional health and safety regulations,” she told CNA.

Some of the laws being challenged by the suit include those requiring an abortion to be performed by a doctor, mandating that a women view an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion, and requiring the parents of a minor consent prior to her abortion.

The suit also seeks to legalize telemedicine abortions, in which a doctor communicates with a patient through a video conference for a medical abortion. Presently, this practice is banned in Texas.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 2013 Texas law that required abortions to take place in a surgical center and required doctors who performed abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. These requirements were interpreted by the Supreme Court to be an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

The 2013 law saw over half of the state’s abortion facilities shut down, and since then, only three have resumed operations.

Plaintiffs in the current case are hoping to use the 2016 ruling as precedent to challenge other pro-life laws in the state.

The plaintiffs in the current case are Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, the Lilith Fund, the Texas Equal Access Fund, the West Fund, and Dr. Bhavik Kumar, who is the medical director at Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. Whole Woman’s Health, a chain of abortion clinics throughout Texas, was the plaintiff in the 2016 Supreme Court case.

The suit also claims the University of Texas System, which includes 14 public universities in Texas, is discriminatory as it does not permit students to receive credit for internships at locations that provide abortions, nor does it place students in field rotations at places that offer abortions.

The laws being challenged by the lawsuit are hardly unusual in the United States, nor are they unique to Texas. The majority of states have a mandatory waiting period of typically 18-72 hours before an abortion and require either parental notification or consent for a minor’s abortion. Twenty-three states have laws requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound before an abortion or inform women about the availability of an ultrasound.

Foster noted that courts have acknowledged and upheld abortion regulations as an important part of protecting women’s health and safety.

“[The abortion industry] would prefer that women not know what the Supreme Court has...acknowledged that abortion can be risky to a pregnant woman’s health, and thus states have an ‘important interest’ in protecting women’s health and a ‘legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other procedure, is performed under circumstances that ensure maximum safety for the patient’,” she said.

Americans United for Life has released a report documenting hundreds of safety violations in various abortion facilities throughout the United States, including in Texas. The report claims that clinics have had instances of unlicensed staff, poor protocol and unsanitary medical conditions, at times resulting in severe health complications or death for patients.

Chaput asks Notre Dame student for youth synod advice

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 21:00

Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 19, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput turned over his weekly Catholic Philly column to a University of Notre Dame student, who hopes an upcoming Vatican synod will encourage young people to take personal responsibility for the “decisive missions” of vocations and Christian discipleship.

“It’s a very exciting time to be a young American Catholic,” wrote Notre Dame senior Daniel Lindstrom.

In a brief introduction to Lindstrom’s column, Chaput wrote that “With a world synod of bishops focusing on young people set for this fall, listening to the young and those involved in guiding them is important. So this week, as in recent weeks, I’m turning over my column to someone who can speak directly from the experience of a young adult.”

Lindstrom, the graduate of a Philadelphia-area Catholic high school, wrote that despite the “trouble the Church faces today, much more hope is blooming.” He cited programs such as FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Culture Project, and other organizations for their work in helping to “establish and fortify pockets of young, faithful Catholic leaders.”

While these groups are important, and form Catholic communities, Lindstrom wrote, it was the sudden death of a residence hall director on Notre Dame’s campus that sparked the realization that while community is important, solitude is equally so. In the end, explained Lindstrom, a person will be alone with God.

“The priest’s words and God’s grace caused me to switch perspective for a moment,” said Lindstrom, “and imagine how I might rely on God’s embrace at my life’s end much differently than the way I do now,” in a community of Catholics at Mass.

“After all the vitality of these young years, when we near the end of our journeys, our discipleship will depend on our own inner lives,” Lindstrom noted. Our inner selves, he explained, are “vulnerable and exposed,” and are alone with Christ.

“It’s in listening with the ears of our hearts that we’re given the opportunity to say yes to God’s call,” said Lindstrom, and that this “personal yes” is the start of a person’s vocation.

“With renewed focus and zeal on the part of the Church, young people can claim their faith and set off of on faith’s great adventure.”

On Tuesday, a working paper for the synod was released that focused on questions about sexuality and gender issues, among other social and moral issues.

The synod will be held October 3-28, in Rome. Chaput is a delegate to the meeting.

 

Chicago Catholic Charities provides showers for homeless people

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 19:09

Chicago, Ill., Jun 19, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two weeks ago, Chicago's Catholic Charities opened hygienic services offering homeless persons showers and a place to do laundry in the city's River North neighborhood.

“Our guests will have comfort of a warm shower, toiletries, bedding, clothing,” said Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“These small mercies which most of us take for granted can help preserve health and restore hope to those who live at the margins of society. They can be a first step toward a life of self-sufficiency.”

On Wednesdays, guests at the St. Vincent Center at 721 N LaSalle Drive may claim a 30-minute shower spot from 10 a.m. until noon. Each person is given soap, toothpaste, shaving equipment, deodorant, and a set of clothes. The clients will also have access to a washers and dryers.

A trial of the program began two weeks ago and it was officially unveiled June 18. Since it began, the scheduled spots have been booked solid. The operating hours will expand depending on an increase of volunteers.

There are more than 80,000 homeless people in the Chicago area, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Catholic Charities in Chicago has provided food and other social services to impoverished people five days a week, serving more than 250 people a day.

Matthew Shay, 27, a substance abuse counselor for Catholic Charities, administers the program’s intake. As a former addict and vagabond, Shay insisted that cleanliness influences positive change on a practical and symbolic level.

“When they give up hygiene, they’re mentally giving up and feeling hopeless,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune.  

“So when you provide that to somebody who doesn’t have it, it provides a sense of normalcy that common Americans take for granted. It’s a simple pleasure for us – simple pleasures that are really a privilege.”

In the last three years, Pope Francis inspired Rome-based facilities to provide laundry and bathroom services. In 2015, bathrooms were opened at St. Peter’s Square to provide showers and haircuts to homeless people. Two years later, a volunteer run laundromat was opened in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome.

 “The Pope’s Laundry” was opened after Pope Francis’s apostolic letter Misericordia et misera, challenging Catholics “to give a ‘concrete’ experience of the grace of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.”

Charitable works has been a major feature of Pope Francis' pontificate. The Pope has previously invited homeless men and women to dine with him and to experience the Sistine Chapel. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to attend to people on the “peripheries” of society, expressing the importance of the works of mercy.

“To want to be close to Christ demands to be near to our brothers, because nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a concrete sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy is made visible and tangible in concrete and dynamic action.”

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