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Updated: 1 hour 42 min ago

Florist who lost religious liberty case says all freedoms are at stake

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 05:03

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2017 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Washington florist fined for not serving a same-sex wedding out of conscience says the state's supreme court “violated” her freedoms by ruling against her on Thursday.

“What the court decided was that now the government has the power to separate me from my livelihood and my faith,” Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., told CNA in an interview.

“They're trying to compel me to design something that goes totally against my personal conscience, and they violated my right to free speech and expression.”

Stutzman, sued by the state of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, lost her appeal at the state’s supreme court on Thursday. She says she declined to serve a long-time customer’s wedding because of her Christian beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The court had upheld a lower court’s decision, which ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s law barring discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. The lower court ordered her to pay a fine and legal costs, which stand because of Thursday’s decision. Stutzman will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the 24 hours since the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, Stutzman admitted she has received both calls of support and “hate calls.” Her faith, she said, “just increases day by day,” however.

Although the court ruled that she violated an anti-discrimination law, Stutzman said she still serves gay and lesbian customers and had a 10-year friendship with Rob, the man whose wedding she would not serve.

“It’s not about discrimination at all. Rob was one of my favorite customers,” she said. When he approached her at the shop to ask her to serve his wedding and she declined, “we talked about his mom walking him down the aisle, and we talked about his marriage, and I recommended three other florists to him and we hugged each other and Rob left,” she recalled.

“I love working with Rob, and I would be so excited if he just came back into my shop today and I could wait on him for another ten years. I really miss him.”

Stutzman said she has not had contact with Rob recently other than seeing him at court, and the last personal contact was at the deposition where they hugged and talked. She has received support from other gay and lesbian customers to act according to her beliefs, she said.

Now Stutzman’s livelihood is threatened, as she is liable for the state’s fines and the legal costs were estimated to top $2 million by the end of the case.

Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom who argued Stutzman’s case before the Washington Supreme Court, said that the American Civil Liberties Union is actively fighting other religious freedom appeals throughout the country.

“They are not about protecting freedom. They are about taking it away from those who don’t share their ideology and their radical beliefs,” she said.

“Civil liberties travel together,” she insisted, explaining that countries where freedom of religion is threatened “have less freedom in many other areas as well.”

“We know that this right that’s at issue in Barronelle’s case is essential to having a just and inclusive and a stable America. And we all need to stand for that,” Waggoner said.

President Donald Trump promised in 2015 to “preserve and protect our religious liberty” as a “first priority” in his administration, Waggoner noted, and he must sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections for individuals and religious organizations.

Although a federal order would not affect Stutzman’s case at the state level, it would still be “a sign and good first step to restore balance and to show the states that this needs to be done,” she insisted.

Stutzman hopes her case “speaks in volumes” that “it’s not just my freedom, it’s everybody’s freedom, whether you’re religious or not” that is at stake.

“Rob has the freedom to act on what he believes about marriage and I’m just asking for the same,” she said.

How the possible Vatican-China agreement could be problematic

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Feb 18, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong expressed serious concerns about a possible agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointing of bishops.

The agreement would essentially allow the government to pick candidates for bishops and put pressure on the Pope to veto them.

“Because how can you allow the initiative of selection of bishops in the hands of an atheistic government and totalitarian government? I want it to start from the Holy See,” Cardinal Joseph Zen said.

Cardinal Zen spoke to CNA of the possible agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the ordination of bishops there. The current Archbishop of Hong Kong has expressed hope that it will come about.  

Currently, Cardinal Zen explained, “the Vatican approves certain names of people” as candidates and the government does “pay attention” to these names, approving some of them.

“The Chinese government accepts this compromise instead of having more problems,” he said.

In the new proposal, however, episcopal candidates would be elected by the clergy, with the Pope having the final say of accepting or vetoing the candidates.

The problem, Cardinal Zen insisted, is that the government will inevitably meddle in the clergy’s election. “There is no real election in China,” he said.

The pressure would then be put on the Pope if he must repeatedly veto government-appointed candidates.

Hong Kong’s current archbishop, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has defended the new proposal, noting that the Chinese government must now recognize the Pope as the supreme head of the Church and insisting that the final authority on appointing bishops rests with the Pope.

“I would prefer the other way around,” Cardinal Zen insisted. The government has not shown promise that it would accommodate the Vatican’s past concerns, but rather has proven that it wants control over the church in China.

“Even after so much dialogue,” he said of the government, “still they were so unkind to the Church.” He pointed to the recent ordination of two bishops where Lei Shiyin, an excommunicated Chinese bishop “forced his presence to the ordination” and “took part” in it.

The incident was a “slap in the face of the Holy Father,” Cardinal Zen said. “How can the government allow such things? Or even to order such thing? It’s very unkind. It’s a way to say ‘we are still the masters’.”

The state has also meddled in the internal affairs of Catholic schools in Hong Kong, he said, which could prove especially detrimental in the future.

“As church we have full freedom,” he added, “but we have suffered a heavy drawback, which is they have taken away our right of running education. They have changed the law.”

While all schools are state-subsidized, the church under the old plan would “present the management committee” for the schools to the government, usually composed of teachers, parents, and alumni. This committee would be “approved” on formality. A new law has changed that, he said.

“We have no mechanism to intervene. Because until now, until the new law, we run the schools inside the system,” he said.

Now the Church would recommend only 60 percent of the management committee and wouldn’t even “have full control” over that percentage.

“So there is no guarantee anymore the school would go on according to our vision and mission,” he said.

The “underground” Catholic church in China “enjoys a certain amount of freedom” as opposed to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, he said, as the government “tolerates” its underground existence as whole villages may be Catholic and priests say mass in homes.

“The majority of the priests and bishops in the official church, they may, in their heart, still very much united with the universal church, but they are under tight control,” he said.

And the situation “is not changing at all, because the system is already very well established at the national level,” he added. The current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jingping is about “tightening control,” he said, and “there is really no foundation for any optimism.”

More state legislatures recognizing pornography is harmful

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 05:02

Richmond, Va., Feb 18, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Virginia could become the third state to officially recognize the harmful effects of pornography.

By a vote of 82-8, the Virginia House of Delegates on Feb. 2 passed a resolution recognizing that pornography leads to “individual and societal harms.”

The resolution says pornography is biologically addictive and hurts families. The use of pornography may normalize violence and abuse, lead to the hypersexualization of teenagers, and increase acceptance of risky behavior, the resolution said.

Nine delegates did not vote on the resolution, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.

The measure was introduced by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, a Republican from Prince William. The original wording recognized pornography as a “public health crisis,” but that language was changed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Both chambers of the South Dakota legislature unanimously passed a resolution against pornography. The Jan. 31 vote in the House was 65-0, following a 35-0 vote in the Senate.

The South Dakota resolution used wording that recognized pornography as a public health hazard. The language was identical to that of a resolution the Utah legislature passed unanimously in March 2016.

Other countries are also considering the effects of widespread pornography.

In December 2016 the Canadian House of Commons unanimously approved a motion introduced by MP Arnold Viersen instructing health officials to examine the public health effects of violent pornography on adults and children.

Canada’s last major public study on sexually explicit material was the 1985 Fraser Committee Report.

“It is appalling that the last time Canada studied the impact of violent sexually explicit material was 30 years ago, before the invention of the internet,” Viersen said in March 2016. “This is a public health issue, it’s a women’s equality issue and it is time for Parliament to make this a priority.”

Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, backed the Canadian resolution. She citied research showing “neurologic changes to the brain that mimic drug addiction.” Other research indicated a link between pornography and increases in sexual dysfunction and even sexual violence.

“Once a social or health issue involves problems that affect individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct, responsibility shifts from individual accountability to holding the forces and influences that cause it accountable,” Hawkins said in December.

She said it is “vital” for all countries with heavy internet use to study the effects of pornography on younger generations. She suggested there needs to be a public health campaign against “the use and normalization of pornography.”

About 27 percent of children are exposed to pornography even before puberty, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said.

Pope Francis encourages meeting of popular movements in California

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 19:12

Stockton, Calif., Feb 17, 2017 / 05:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Friday sent a message of encouragement to the hundreds of religious and community leaders participating in a meeting of popular movements being held this week in California.

“It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom the Lord Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue pouring out all of his immeasurable mercy and salvation upon them,” Pope Francis said in his Feb. 17 message to a regional meeting of popular movements being held in California.

“Here are the roots of the authentic humanity that resists the dehumanization that wears the livery of indifference, hypocrisy, or intolerance.”

The Feb. 16-18 conference being held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton, was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.

The PICO network was a recipient of part of a $650,000 grant from George Soros' Open Society Foundations. Documents from the foundations posted to DCLeaks.com claimed the grant was part of a strategy to use Pope Francis’ U.S. visit to shift the priorities of the Catholic Church in the United States  “to be a voice on behalf of the poor and communities of color.”

“PICO and FPL have been able to use their engagement in the opportunity of the Pope’s visit to seed their position in the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression,” the memo said.

The conference aims to promote the structural changes for greater justice in racial, social, and economic areas.

 “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice,” Pope Francis said in his message to the meeting. “How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”

The Pope confronted the “invisible tyranny of money” as a disability and restriction to human dignity and the common good. He also discouraged corrupt acts which leads to the benefit of a few and to the ruin of many families.

“The economic system that has the god of money at its center, and that sometimes acts with the brutality of the robbers in the [Samaritan] parable, inflicts injuries that to a criminal degree have remained neglected. Globalized society frequently looks the other way with the pretense of innocence. Under the guise of what is politically correct or ideologically fashionable, one looks at those who suffer without touching them.”

Pope Francis said we must instead respond with change to a system that better reflects loving our neighbor as ourselves. Emphasizing the need for immediate action, he said it is our responsibility to pay attention to present realities, which if unchecked may develop a dehumanizing system that is harder to reverse.

“These are signs of the times that we need to recognize in order to act. We have lost valuable time: time when we did not pay enough attention to these processes, time when we did not resolve these destructive realities. The direction taken beyond this historic turning-point … will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements.”

The call for action comes at a time of immigration reform and a refugee crisis.

Pope Francis reiterated the question of the lawyer to Christ in the Gospel of Luke: “Who is my neighbor? … My relatives? My compatriots? My co-religionists?” He recognized that the lawyer's hope may have been for Christ to label neighbors and non-neighbors.

“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” the Pope exhorted. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart. That is to say, if you have that capacity to suffer with someone else. You must become a Samaritan.”

Recalling that those at the conference have a commitment “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants,” Pope Francis affirmed this choice and shared reflections on “the ecological crisis” and that “no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist.”

“The ecological crisis is real,” he emphasized first. “Science is not the only form of knowledge, it is true. It is also true that science is not necessarily 'neutral' — many times it conceals ideological views or economic interests. However, we also know what happens when we deny science and disregard the voice of Nature. I make my own everything that concerns us as Catholics. Let us not fall into denial. Time is running out. Let us act. I ask you again – all of you, people of all backgrounds including native people, pastors, political leaders – to defend Creation.”

“No people is criminal and no religion is terrorist,” Pope Francis then said. “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist. No people is criminal or drug-trafficking or violent.”

He recognized, however, that “there are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.”

“The wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real,” he continued, identifying the world’s suffering as a “gangrene” whose stench has become unbearable, leading to more hate, quarrels, and even a “justified indignation.”

In the face of this crisis, he said Christians have an opportunity to impact the world: “We also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark.”

He ended his message in reference to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi: “let us give everything of ourselves: where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, let us sow pardon; where there is discord, let us sow unity; where there is error, let us sow truth.”

In the course of his message, he thanked Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Bishop Armando Ochoa of Fresno, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Bishop David Talley of Alexandria, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“I would also like to highlight the work done by the PICO National Network and the organizations promoting this meeting,” Pope Francis also said. “I learned that PICO stands for 'People Improving Communities through Organizing'. What a great synthesis of the mission of popular movements: to work locally, side by side with your neighbors, organizing among yourselves, to make your communities thrive.”

Catholic thinker Michael Novak remembered with gratitude

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 16:38

Washington D.C., Feb 17, 2017 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The theologian, philosopher and Catholic commentator Michael Novak died Friday, drawing remembrances for his insights and influence on religion in public life.

“We are immensely grateful that he could end his academic life as he began it, as a member of our community,” Catholic University of America president John Garvey said, calling Novak a man of “great intellectual honesty.”

“Unlike some scholars, Michael Novak made it a point to reflect on new and different topics, always with a fresh and dynamic perspective,” Garvey said.

Novak died Feb. 17 at the age of 83.

He was a student at Catholic University of America in 1958 and 1959. In 2016 he was named a visiting fellow at the university’s The Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship. He taught special topics in management and lectured on human ecology.

The center’s director, Andreas Widmer, stressed Novak’s pioneering role in considering the intersection of faith and economics. He said he and his colleagues were touched by Novak’s “kindness and humility,” his generosity with his time, and his encouragement for others.

“You would never have known from working with him that this was a man who had counseled popes and changed the course of history,” Widmer said.

St. John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher considered Novak a friend, Catholic University of America said.

Novak was the author of numerous books, most prominently the 1982 work The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He contended that democratic capitalism is “neither the Kingdom of God nor without sin,” but better than all other known systems of political economy.

“Such hope as we have for alleviating poverty and for removing oppressive tyranny — perhaps our last, best hope — lies in this much despised system,” he said.

The book was published around the world and had a particular impact among anti-communist dissidents in Eastern Europe. The book was illegally distributed in Poland by the Solidarity movement, the Washington Post reports.

His other books include Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter’s Questions About God, a 1998 work he co-authored with his daughter Jana.

Novak wrote on human rights, economic systems, the history of labor unions, U.S. ethnic history, and the role of churches in the modern world.

He was born to a Slovak-American family in Johnstown, Pa. on Sept. 9, 1933. His studies for the priesthood took him to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and he was ordained for the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1960. Within months of his ordination, he left the priesthood and was later laicized.

He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stonehill College, a Bachelor of Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a master's degree in history and the philosophy of religion from Harvard.

Novak worked as a journalist in the early 1960s, writing for the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal before working for Time Magazine in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. He would go on to serve as an editor at Commonweal and Christian Century magazines, religion editor for National Review, a contributing editor for First Things magazine and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

According to Novak’s website, his political work included the 1968 campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy and speechwriting for Democratic vice presidential nominee Sargent Shriver during Sen. George McGovern’s unsuccessful 1972 presidential campaign. He became an opponent of the Vietnam War after initially supporting intervention.

He would turn away from left-wing politics and the Democratic Party to join the Republican-trending neoconservative school of thought. Under President Ronald Reagan, he was named as U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations and served on the Board of International Broadcasting that oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Liberty.

He served in multiple academic positions, teaching at Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, and Ave Maria University. In the early 1970s, he helped design a new humanities program for the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.

He joined the American Enterprise Institute think tank in 1978, where he worked as a scholar until his retirement in 2010.

Among Novak’s many achievements were his work to launch many academic institutes and seminars, including the Tertio Millennio Seminar that aimed to bring together North American and Eastern European students to discuss Catholic social teaching.

George Weigel, one of Novak's collaborators, wrote in the National Review that "both Church and nation have lost one of their most imaginative and accomplished sons."

Weigel remembered Novak "first and foremost" as a teacher, who "offered a model of patient counseling and courteous listening that our students will long remember."

Novak's honors include the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

Ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Novak went to the Vatican to argue that the war would be justified on the grounds of self-defense against Iraq’s then-leader Saddam Hussein. His remarks tried to counter some high-level Vatican critics of a war on Iraq.

Though Novak was careful not to criticize him personally, opponents of the war included St. John Paul II.

At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson had brought Novak to Rome for an embassy-sponsored lecture series, but Nicholson stressed that Novak did not represent the U.S. government or its embassies.

Novak is survived by three children and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Karen Laub-Novak.

Christian florist loses religious liberty case, will appeal to US Supreme Court

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 17:35

Seattle, Wash., Feb 16, 2017 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Washington state florist must pay fines and legal costs for conscientiously objecting to serving a same-sex wedding, as the state’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision on Thursday.

“It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees,” Kristin Waggoner, senior counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Washington Supreme Court, stated Feb. 16.

“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” she added.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., declined to serve the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer who had requested her service, citing her Christian religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

After hearing of the incident, the office of the state attorney general wrote her that she was violating the state’s law by discriminating on basis of “sexual orientation,” and asked her to stop declining such weddings. Stutzman refused out of conscience.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the state of Washington eventually sued her and a lower court ruled against her, ordering her to pay a fine and legal costs.

She appealed her case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s desicion on Thursday, saying that as a business owner Stutzman had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law despite her religious beliefs.

“The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the court’s opinion stated.

“We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case – refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding – constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD.”
 
The law “does not compel speech or association,” the court added, stating that it “is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations.”

Stutzman has announced that she will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We stand to lose everything we worked for and own,” she stated back in October, noting that legal fees from the case could top $2 million by the end of the case.

Religious freedom advocates decried the ruling.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it “shortchanges our nation's most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity.”

With Stutzman facing the loss of her business and personal assets, “it’s no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom,” Waggoner stated.

“Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice.”

House votes to allow states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The House voted Thursday to allow states to choose not to fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers with federal dollars, repealing an Obama administration rule from December.

“As a registered nurse, I know that vulnerable women seeking true comprehensive care deserve better than abortion-centric facilities like Planned Parenthood,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who introduced the resolution, stated before its Feb. 16 passage.

Back in December, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that states cannot deny federal Title X family planning grants to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood simply because they perform abortions.

States, the administration said, could only deny funding to clinics that did not provide the services for which Title X funds are meant.

While federal dollars cannot directly fund abortions, pro-life leaders insist that taxpayer dollars going to the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood free up resources for them to perform more abortions.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, called the rule a “parting gift to the abortion industry.”

Black introduced H.J. Res. 43 to repeal the rule, under the Congressional Review Act. The resolution passed the House on Thursday 229 to 188.

The move comes as pro-life groups are reporting poor care and abuses at Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide, from affiliates using taxpayer funds for abortion-related services to many clinics not providing prenatal care to clinics setting monthly quotas for abortions or abortion referrals.

“Planned Parenthood which, according to their latest annual report, performed 323,999 abortions in a single year, does not need or deserve taxpayer dollars,” Dannenfelser insisted.

“We look forward to swift passage of this resolution in the Senate so that it can receive President Trump’s signature,” she said.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie of The Catholic Association commented: "We applaud the House for voting to rescind a last minute Obama Administration regulation that allows states to take their tax payers’ hard-earned dollars away from the severely limited Planned Parenthood abortion centers and redirect them to comprehensive health care clinics ... Passing this resolution lets states fund the health clinics that are true lifelines for poor women."

Black claimed that states were for decades allowed to pick which health providers they thought were best to receive Title X funds, and that the Obama administration’s rule set “unprecedented new parameters” on states’ use of the funds.

In her state of Tennessee, she said, the state did not cut Title X funds but directed them to county health departments and community health centers.

"We thank Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)  for leading this measure to restore states’ freedom in choosing Title X providers," Christie stated. "The Obama Administration’s ruling defies states’ right to choose Title X providers, including the ability to exclude abortion providers like Planned Parenthood."

States are not cutting health grants, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, insisted, but are redirecting the funds “to other health clinics that provide women’s health care and don’t engage in abortion.”

In issuing its December rule, the Obama administration had claimed that the states’ actions against Planned Parenthood and other clinics had led to “limitations in the geographic distribution of services and decreased access to services.”

However, that was not the case, members maintained on Thursday.

“Prior to the Obama rule, 5 states had chosen to award their Title X funds to non-Planned Parenthood entities,” Smith said. “These five states – Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio – account for nearly $16 million in annual Title X funding and serve over 279,000 individuals a year.”

“According to HHS’s own 2015 Title X Family Planning Annual report, our state provided care under Title X to more than 75,000 Tennesseans,” Black stated. “That means we served even more citizens than more populated states like Michigan and Virginia.”

Messages from alleged Denver visionary not approved by Church

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:14

Denver, Colo., Feb 16, 2017 / 02:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New claims that messages from alleged visionary Charlie Johnston have been approved by the Church are false, the Archdiocese of Denver clarified on Wednesday.

 

Mrs. Beckie Hesse, who posts on Johnston’s blog under the name “Beckita,” seemed to claim in a Feb, 7, 2017 blog post that Johnston’s alleged visions “have been fully approved by the Church.”

 

“In order to ensure that the faithful are correctly informed, it is necessary to publicly state that Mrs. Hesse’s claim is false,” the Archdiocese said in a statement in response to the post.

 

“The events of 2016/17 have shown that Mr. Johnston’s alleged visions were not accurate and the Archdiocese urges the faithful not to condone or support further attempts to reinterpret them as valid,” the statement concluded.

 

Charlie Johnston is a blogger who claims to have received visions and messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel and other saints for most of his life. He has blogged about his visions and predictions since 2014 on a Wordpress site entitled “The Next Right Step.”

 

His predictions include warnings of a worldwide civil war, as well as many political predictions, including that President Barack Obama would not finish his second term and the toppling of the U.S. government. He has also written about how to survive if the U.S. government were to start rounding up conservative Christians into detention camps.

 

Since 1998, Johnston has warned about “The Storm”, a period of major political and more upheaval, which he claims the world is in the midst of right now. He has predicted a rescue from “The Storm” at the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary by October 2017. As his many of his predictions regarding the election and other events proved inaccurate, Johnston announced after Inauguration Day that he was stepping aside from the public scene. Hesse has been posting from his blog this month.

 

Johnston has said his followers should not focus on his predictions, but instead on doing the will of God in the moment, hence the title of the blog.

 

But those same predictions garnered enough attention and followers that Archbishop Samuel Aquila with the Archdiocese of Denver launched an investigation into his writings and speeches. A special commission composed of two theologians and a canonist reviewed material from his blog, videos of presentations from various parts of the country, and an archive of his writings from as far back as 1998.

 

The findings of the commission, which were released in a statement in March 2016, urged extreme caution among the faithful when it came to Johnston’s messages, and also announced that Johnston would not be approved as a speaker for the Archdiocese.

 

“After reviewing the commission’s findings and in keeping with his pastoral office, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has decided to strongly advise the faithful to exercise prudence and caution in regards to Mr. Charlie Johnston’s alleged divine visions and messages. As has been demonstrated with other alleged apparitions, the danger exists of people placing greater faith in a prediction than in Christ’s words and promises,” the Archdiocese announced in a statement last year.

 

“For those who are disappointed by this finding, the archdiocese encourages them to seek their security in Jesus Christ, the sacraments, and the Scriptures. The faithful should also remember Christ’s words: ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mt. 24:36).”

At the Mexico border, Catholic bishops unite for migrants

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:02

Brownsville, Texas, Feb 16, 2017 / 02:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Catholic bishops of both countries stressed the right of people to migrate and the need for the Church to welcome them.

“In this difficult moment in our history we hear the cry of our migrant brothers and sisters whose voices reflect the voice of Christ Himself,” the bishops said in a joint statement.

“We reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life. If these are not given they have a right to migrate.”

Regarding the right to migrate, they cited Pope Pius XII, whose 1952 apostolic constitution “Exsul Familia Nazarethana” addressed issues of migration and refugees after the Second World War.

The bishops pledged to monitor the suffering of migrants on both sides of the border and voiced support for Catholic agencies and individuals that offer spiritual, legal and material assistance to migrants.

“In the Church there are no strangers, migrant families should feel at home in every church as their homeland,” the bishops said, citing St. John Paul II.

The biannual meetings of the bishops from the border dioceses of Texas and northern Mexico began in 1986 to help show the communion of the universal Church. The meetings have always kept a focus on the lives and pastoral needs of migrants.

The joint message that came from the latest meeting was titled “The cry of Christ and voice of the migrant moves us.” It was published in English and Spanish.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as immigrants and refugees sought for a place to live and work hoping for a compassionate human response,” the bishops said. “Today this history repeats itself.”

The bishops recounted visiting detention centers and respite centers for mothers and their adolescent and minor children. The condition of these places have been described as “intolerable and inhumane.”

They invoked Jesus’ words from Matthew 25, when he describes the Last Judgment welcoming those who will inherit the Kingdom of God “because I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was hungry and you gave me food.”

For the bishops, the U.S.-Mexico border region has a culture of its own.

“The border cities consider themselves to be sister cities and friends, because they share the same land, the same faith, the same traditions, the same culture in solidarity,” they said. “We bishops shall continue to follow the good example of Pope Francis; we shall seek to construct bridges rather than the walls of exclusion and exploitation.”

Pope Francis had blessed a cross at the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez during his February 2016 visit. This cross has become “a sign of unity between the countries,” the bishops said.

At the same time, the bishops described the “anguish” of those who have to live on the peripheries of society. Many migrants face extortion in the workplace, fear the constant threat of deportation and separation from family and friends.

“Over the years we have seen first-hand the suffering that is caused by a broken immigration system caused by political structures and economic conditions that result in threats, deportations, impunity and extreme violence,” they said.

The current presidential administration is making these realities evident, according to the bishops.

“We can sense the pain of the separation of families, loss of employment, persecutions, discrimination, racism, and unnecessary deportations that paralyze the development of persons in our societies and the development of our nations leaving them of hope,” they said.

The bishops described immigration as a global phenomenon driven by economic and social conditions. Poverty and insecurity makes families feel that migration is the only way to survive.

“The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he or she faces the violence, criminality and inhuman policies of governments as well as the world’s indifference.”

Migrants are often subject of punitive laws and mistreatment by authorities, both in their home country, the countries they pass through, and at their destination.

“It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the human rights of migrants and undocumented residents,” they said.

The bishops invoked the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and asked everyone to join them in prayer.

How should the US react to human rights abuses in Ethiopia?

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:44

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2017 / 10:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One member of Congress is hoping for a “serious policy review” by the Trump administration of the United States' relationship with Ethiopia, citing human rights abuses by the government there.

“To truly stop violence abroad, Ethiopia must stop violence at home,” Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House subcommittee on Africa and global human rights, stated at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday.

“Since 2005, untold thousands of students have been jailed, have been shot during demonstrations or have simply disappeared in the last 11 years,” Smith stated Feb. 15. “Ethiopia’s next generation is being taught that the rights that democracy normally bestows on a country’s citizens don’t apply in their country.”

Smith and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced a House resolution (H. Res. 128) Wednesday “highlighting the crisis in Ethiopia due to government violations of the human rights of its citizens,” Smith stated.

“With this resolution, we are showing that the United States remains committed to universal respect for human rights, and that we will not tolerate continued abuse of those human rights by Ethiopian security forces,” Coffman said.

There has been a “steady erosion” of democracy in Ethiopia since 2005, the congressmen maintained.

Government dissidents have been jailed, citizens have been tortured and killed by the government's security forces, and freedom of the press has been infringed upon. Ethnic groups have been the victims of violence perpetrated by the government.

Peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country were met with hundreds of killings and tens of thousands of arrests by security forces in 2016, Human Rights Watch said in its recent report on the country. Citizens released from jail claimed they were tortured while in custody.

“Instead of addressing the numerous calls for reform in 2016, the Ethiopian government used excessive and unnecessary lethal force to suppress largely peaceful protests,” Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated in the report released in January.

One protest in the Oromia region resulted in the police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and rounds fired into the air to break it up, claiming that the crowd was getting out of hand. An ensuing stampede killed 50. The Inter-religious Council of Ethiopia, on which Catholic leaders sit, called for prayer and peace amid the protests and asked government leaders to listen to the people.

The recent protests in the Amhara region of the country have showed a sense of “identity” on the part of embattled citizens, and their “need to survive,” Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America, a refugee who came to the U.S. in 1982, noted.

“The U.S. and the West cannot sympathize with a government that kills people,” Seenaa Jimjimo, a human rights advocate who was born and grew up in Ethiopia, insisted in her statement at Wednesday’s press conference.

Amidst protests, a state of emergency was declared by the state in October and is “being used as a method to crack down even further on basic human freedoms,” Coffman said.

Thus, the resolution is the “first step by our representatives to let the Ethiopian government know that the U.S. policy is changing, that their continued human rights violations on innocent civilians will not be tolerated,” Tirfe stated.

“We invoke the Global Magnitsky Act,” Gregory Simpkins, staff director of the House subcommittee on Africa, said on Wednesday of the law which enables sanctions against specific “entities and persons who violate the human rights of people.”

Ethiopia has acted as a key ally in fighting international terrorism, Smith noted, but if it fails to protect human rights at home then extremism could fester within its own borders.

“What Congressman Smith and I are asking is for the Congress of the United States to join together and pass this resolution condemning the Ethopian government for its human rights abuses,” Coffman stated.

“And I think it’s important for all Americans to care about human rights to encourage their member of Congress to co-sponsor this resolution so that we can pass it in the Congress.”

DIY execution? Arizona’s 'bizarre' new death penalty policy

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 18:37

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 15, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s an odd time for death in the United States.

 

While there is a new push for death via euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, there is also a push against the death penalty in several states.

 

This movement against the death penalty has made it increasingly difficult for states to access the drugs required for lethal injections. In response to that difficulty, the state of Arizona’s Department of Corrections has unveiled a unique solution that would effectively allow lawyers to kill their own death row clients.

 

The new policy, among other things, contains a clause that allows for defense attorneys to obtain lethal drugs to execute their own clients. These drugs would be subject to approval by the department director.

 

However, these drugs are extremely difficult to come by legally. Current state execution protocol stipulates the use either of two barbiturates, pentobarbital or thiopental for lethal injection. Thiopental is no longer manufactured in the U.S., and is illegal to import, while manufacturers of pentobarbital refuse to provide the drug for executions.

 

The difficulty in acquiring these drugs has led to the experimental use of less-effective drugs, sometimes with gruesome results.

 

“This is a bizarre notion that calls for actions that are both illegal and impossible,” Dale Baich from the office of The Federal Public Defender in Arizona told Arizona Central.

 

“A prisoner or prisoner's lawyer cannot legally obtain these drugs or legally transfer them to the Department. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, we cannot imagine a way to obtain the drug. Those that obtain controlled substances illegally, go to prison.”

 

The unusual policy comes at a time when many states are reconsidering the death penalty, and at a time of significant decline in executions. Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.

 

Leaders in the Catholic Church both in the United States and abroad have also been in front of the push to abolish the death penalty.

 

Pope Francis has spoken against the death penalty several times, including in his address to the United States Congress in 2015, when he called for the end of the death penalty “since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said.

 

He also called the death penalty “unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person” in his message to the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty in 2016.

 

Many bishops have also been outspoken about their opposition to the death penalty. In Sept. 2016, as California considered a ballot measure that would end the death penalty, Archbishop Jose Gomez said, “It is time for us to end the death penalty – not only in California but throughout the United States and throughout the world.”

 

“In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”

 

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia released a joint statement last month calling for the abolition of the death penalty in their state after an execution.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

Citing pro-life momentum, thousands demonstrate to defund Planned Parenthood

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 14:27

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10,000 pro-life advocates gathered at some 227 protest locations in 43 states and the District of Columbia on Saturday to call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

“This weekend was huge, but it was not the end,” said Mark Harrington of the pro-life group Created Equal. “We have momentum on our side. Now is the time to press forward.”

“The time has come to defund America’s abortion giant,” Harrington told CNA Feb. 14. “Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion chain, killing over 300,000 babies each year, and nearly half of their billion-dollar budget comes from our tax dollars.”

The protests, organized under hashtags like #ProtestPP, were headed by the leaders of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal and the Pro-Life Action League.

Organizers reported a crowd of about 200 supporters in Pittsburgh, 300 in Orange, Calif., 400 in Cincinnati, and 450 in St. Paul, Minn., to name a few.

“Abortion, to me, is the greatest evil of our time,” Delia Tyagi, a 36-year-old demonstrator from Arlington, Va. told Reuters. “Planned Parenthood has wronged women in a lot of ways. I feel like we have the momentum to finally defund them.”

Harrington characterized Planned Parenthood as “an independently wealthy entity.”

“Planned Parenthood’s business model is centered on abortion,” he said. “Women have other options for seeking primary care, contraception, STI testing, and cancer screening.”

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S. While direct federal taxpayer funding for abortion is generally barred under law, it receives federal funding in Medicaid reimbursements and Title X programs for family planning and preventive health services.

The politically powerful organization took a heavy hit in 2015 with the release of investigative videos appearing to show it engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts for research. Despite a well-funded publicity campaign to counter the allegations, the issue has not gone away.

In January 2017, a report from the House Select Investigative Panel said that abuses and possible criminal violations are taking place in the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters.

David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, had organized the undercover investigation. He addressed the Orange, Calif. rally.

“I’m confident that together, if we keep the faith, take the next right step, at the end of the day we will soon see a day when there will no longer be a price tag put on human life,” he said, according to Reuters.

Demonstrations of support for Planned Parenthood also took place the same weekend, sometimes at the same locations as the pro-life protests.

Planned Parenthood supporters sometimes outnumbered the pro-life demonstrators. Its leaders told Reuters that their supporters have been energized by the election of President Donald Trump, citing the hundreds of thousands of marchers who demonstrated in Washington and across the country the day after the inauguration in support of women’s rights and legal abortion.

Abortion backers have also run significant fundraising campaigns following the Trump election. As of late December, Planned Parenthood told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian that it had received over 300,000 donations since the election, 40 times its normal donation figures.

For their part, hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates had attended the March for Life in Washington on Jan. 27, which included an unprecedented address from Vice President Mike Pence.

Advocates of defunding Planned Parenthood said legislators had better funding options.

Harrington cited a Chiaroscuro Foundation report saying that over 1,000 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. offer similar services for women without providing abortion. He suggested these should be funded instead.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood is the right thing to do,” Harrington said. “Now it’s down to Congress and President Trump to fulfill their promise to defund Planned Parenthood, and do it now.”

He said the protests shouldn’t be seen as “a one-time effort” but “a daily commitment to defeat Planned Parenthood once and for all.”

 

Why we need a religious freedom move from Trump – and soon

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 08:00

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump must sign an executive order with broad protections for religious freedom, or global consequences could soon follow, Catholic leaders insist.

To sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections is “one of the most important things President Trump could do early in his administration,” said Dr. Jay Richards, a professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.

“This isn’t just a Christian issue,” he told CNA, but rather a “Constitutional issue.” Current threats to religious freedom could be “solidified” if no such executive order is signed soon.

President Trump recently announced that he would uphold a 2014 executive order from President Obama, barring federal contractors from engaging in practices deemed to be discriminatory against LGBT employees, with no religious exemptions attached for organizations that have religious objections to gay marriage or adoption.

Thus, religious groups might not be able to contract with the federal government if they publicly uphold traditional marriage, or if they refuse to hire someone who is openly in a same-sex relationship and does not abide by their code of conduct.

A coalition of religious leaders, including the then-president of Catholic Charities USA Fr. Larry Snyder, wrote President Obama in 2014, asking him for an exemption for religious organizations.

The order essentially elevated LGBT persons to a “protected class,” thus threatening employers who are religiously opposed to this lifestyle by withholding federal contracts or funding because of so-called “discrimination,” Richards explained.

Recently, a draft of another order which would establish broad conscience protections was leaked to the press, but that order has not been issued or signed. This draft was “just perfect,” Dr. Richards thought, because “it would undo a lot of the damage” wrought against religious freedom from the Obama administration.

That order wouldn’t just affect federal contractors, he explained, “but any entity that receives federal funding or is eligible for student loans.”

“So if something like this doesn’t happen, it would not be very long – in fact I would predict it would be probably within the year – that Christian and Catholic colleges would start being essentially coerced into accepting this kind of officially-mandated view on these transgender questions,” he said.

Obama-era regulations and rules would be enforced by government agencies. Schools and colleges could be “threatened with the revocation of student loan eligibility” if they religiously object to federal government mandates on marriage and sexuality.

Now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to gather signatures asking the president to sign a religious freedom executive order. They cite “unprecedented” threats to religious freedom to insist on the order’s importance.

“Religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion. President Trump can correct some of this within the executive branch,” a USCCB action alert stated.

Along with a religious exemption to the LGBT executive order for federal contractors, the petition asks for “relief” from the HHS contraception mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor and for other employers that are suing the government over the mandate and its “accommodation.”

An order should also include protections for religious schools to publicly affirm their beliefs on marriage and keep their accreditation, the continuance of the tax-exempt status for religious organizations that support traditional marriage, and conscience protections for doctors and hospitals refusing to perform abortions, they said.

“Any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs. It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible,” the bishops’ conference stated.

Regarding the freedom of Catholic charities to minister to undocumented immigrants without being threatened by federal authorities, Richards said “the language is not there explicitly” in the proposed order.

For grants to Catholic social services who serve refugees and immigrants, “it would shield Catholic entities doing that on religious grounds” and “would at least mean that Catholic ministries couldn’t be threatened with the revocation of their non-profit status or government grants, simply because they’re exercising their religious freedom.”

There are various threats to religious freedom today, Dr. Richards said, from mandates that public school students must have access to locker rooms and bathrooms of their self-identified gender identity to private business owners who face lawsuits and fines for declining to serve same-sex weddings out of conscience.

President Obama’s executive order “essentially federalized all these” threats to religious freedom, Richards said.

If nothing is done to protect religious freedom, any entity that receives federal funding could be cut off from it for failing to abide by certain government mandates. “I would expect these things to continue to happen,” he added.

 

How the Church supports marriages – every step of the way

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 05:36

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2017 / 03:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s Valentine’s Day, and in countries across the world, people are focused on love and marriage. But for the Catholic Church, the celebration of – and support for – marriage is not limited to one day, but all year round.

“Marriage is not private,” explained Rev. Richard Kramer, Director of Family Life and Pastoral Resource Development for the Archdiocese of Washington. “It’s personal, but it’s not private.”

Marriage is not only between two people, but involves God as well, and so “it’s a public act,” he told CNA. As a result, “marriage always needs the support of culture, it needs the support of society, it needs the support of friends and families. It needs the support of the Church itself.”

While love and marriage exist throughout history around the world, and not just in the Church, their universality points to God’s plan for love and marriage, the priest said.

He pointed out that society is built upon families. Jesus was born into a family, he raised marriage to a sacrament, and his fist miracle was performed at the Wedding at Cana. Christ’s love for the Church is compared to the love between spouses.

Because of this importance of marriage, the Catholic Church seeks specifically to offer support for couples as they live out the sacrament, Fr. Kramer said. At the heart of these efforts is the parish priest.

One of Fr. Kramer’s first lessons for young priests is to “make them understand that their life is not separated from marriage, but that they are integral to it.” He explained that Matrimony and Holy Orders, while distinct, are similar in their orientation to self-sacrifice and love for others. Both ultimately have the same goal – getting people to heaven.

Laity too should view their parish priest as a resource and someone who can accompany them through their marriage. “Something that I would like couples to understand is that by the virtue of a priest being pastor of a parish, he has a keen and almost expert insight to family life because he’s integral in every part of the family.” Fr. Kramer said, pointing to a pastor’s involvement through catechesis, marriage formation, confession and counseling.

“I think couples do themselves a disservice if they buy the line ‘Father doesn’t know anything about marriage because he’s celibate’,” Fr. Kramer warned, pointing back to a priest’s role in a family’s life as well as his position as Father of a parish.

“What I’d hope couples would do is to invite Father more intimately into their marriages, into their homes, to help him see and know that the priest is a man of the family.”

A call to love

“Every single human being has a vocation, a call to love,” Fr. Kramer said, and for most people, this call is to the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Preparation for marriage begins at birth, in the family, where one first learns about love, he said. But in a culture where so many marriages and families are broken, it can be difficult to understand what it truly means to love someone.

“We see a time when there’s more need to make sure that couples who are preparing for the sacrament have a good formation so that they can live their marriages in the whole of their lives,” said Fr. Kramer.

Before marriage in the Catholic Church, couples are typically required to take a marriage preparation course and talk with the parish where they will be married and the priest who is preparing them.

The engagement period is a time for evangelization if the couple has been away from the Church and the sacraments, Fr. Kramer said. Even for couples who are already involved in the Church, marriage preparation and counseling is a good opportunity to deepen one’s knowledge and relationship with Christ and to become more involved in their parish’s life.

Bethany Meola, assistant director in the Secretariat on Laity Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed to the conference’s online resource “For Your Marriage,” which contains contact information for marriage preparation and support programs for dioceses around the country.

The website also contains a wealth of online resources, such as Church teachings on various topics surrounding marriage and family life, relationship and parenting advice, Natural Family Planning resources, wedding planning guides, and book reviews.

In addition to their online resources, the office is engaged in virtual outreach to Catholics around the country through their virtual retreat for National Marriage Week. This year’s retreat focuses on the theme of “Life and Love,” and is running via Facebook from Feb. 7 through Valentine’s Day. Each day, the office posts a reflection from the new apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” – or “Joy of Love” – and invites couples to pray and reflect on the passages together.

The office is also celebrating the lighter side of marriage and love through their “Joy of Love” social media contest: each day couples are invited to engage online with National Marriage Week by answering a question posed by the Secretariat. Every day, winning couples will receive a pair of matching “Mr.” and “Mrs.” coffee mugs.

Offline, while the office doesn’t directly oversee any marriage program, it does provide support and aid dioceses across the country and the marriage programs happening in their parishes. Meola told CNA that around the country, the bishops are seeing “a lot of energy” going into marriage preparation. “I think we’re at a really exciting time.”

In addition, dioceses are trying to implement the insights from Amoris Laetitia into their marriage preparation and support programs. This, in turn, is refocusing attention on parishes as the “first responders” to marriages in crisis, and the role of marriage in evangelizing the broader culture.  

Finding healing

While love and preparation can help build the foundation for a strong marriage, every marriage inevitably faces challenges and obstacles, Fr. Kramer said. And when these difficulties arise, the Church does not abandon couples.

When struggling couples approach him for advice, the first question Fr. Kramer asks is whether they have been attending Mass and going to Confession. The sacraments, he said, form the core of our lives and relationships, and the graces of the sacraments have a key place in marriage as well.  

“People always have financial difficulties, they’ll always have difficulty communicating, but if they’ve separated themselves from the Church or from the sacraments,” Fr. Kramer said, “then it’s difficult to live that out in their life.”

In addition to the sacraments, Fr. Kramer noted, parish priests can offer guidance or counseling. And some dioceses also offer marriage enrichment programs like “Three to Stay Married,” “Marriage Encounter,” and “ReFOCCUS” to help couples revitalize their relationship with God and with each other.

Many couples who previously used contraception also report that learning and using Natural Family Planning can help heal divisions and can bring about new life in a relationship, he said.

The Church can also help find aid for those struggling with separation from a spouse, addictions such as pornography, or healing for other struggles like infertility or miscarriage. Finally, the archdiocese offers a support group called “Post-Cana” for widows and widowers grieving after a marriage has ended because of death.

In some of the more difficult situations, where couples have sought aid from other resources to no avail, there is still support and hope for healing. Denise Felde, a presenter for Retrouvaille of Maryland / Washington DC, spoke to CNA about her organization, which has been helping heal marriages since the late 1970s.

Started by Guy and Jeannine Beland in French-speaking Quebec, Retrouvaille – which means “reunion” in French – seeks to address severe struggles couples may face that cannot be adequately supported by other marriage enrichment programs. The program states in its online description that it “is not a retreat, marriage counseling, or a sensitivity group. There are neither group dynamics nor group discussions on the weekend. It is not a time for hurting; it is a time for healing.”

“Retrouvaille is surgery to get rid of the bad and to deal with the problems in a calm and loving manner,” Felde said.

The program begins with an intense weekend experience led by three couples who have also been through a period of intense struggle in their relationship. A Catholic priest or other minister is also typically present as well.

Throughout the weekend, attendees go through series of presentations and have chances to talk with their spouse, and typically there are also opportunities for confession, Mass and prayer. Afterwards, the couples meet for 12 follow up sessions, typically occurring over the span of 6 weeks.

In the program, “we teach couples how to talk to each other to help each other understand where the other is coming from,” Felde explained. Organizers place a focus on listening to one another and accepting their spouse’s feelings without judgment. This approach “helps people to speak to one another without being angry, being calm and accepting.”

Every couple has challenges in their marriage, Felde said, but the problems faced by many Retrouvaille participants – such as adultery, drug abuse, mental illness, and pornography – “are more severe.”

“It’s very hard. It’s extremely hard work,” she acknowledged, but added that healing is possible. Many times, Retrouvaille leaders also help couples find referrals for expert help and counseling. “If it’s a problem we can’t help them with, we have a list of places.”

Since the program’s beginning, it has spread throughout the world to countries including South Korea, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Portugal and elsewhere. The program has a 92 percent success rate worldwide in helping couples heal their marriages.

After the main program is over, couples are invited to continue growing in their relationship through the support group CORE – or “Continuing our Retrouvaille Experience” – once a month. Couples can attend any support group anywhere in the world for the rest of their lives.

Felde explained that like many fellow presenting couples, she feels called to help other couples find healing in their marriages because of how Retrouvaille helped heal her own marriage. “For my husband and I, Retrouvaille saved our marriage 20 years ago,” she said. “We believe in giving back.”

Everyone is part of a family

While marriage is a key focus for the Church, it’s not only those who are married who have something to give to family life, Fr. Kramer said. “Every person from every walk of life is a part of a family.”

“It’s wrong to think that because a person is single they don’t fit in to the parish as part of a family,” he noted. “Every person is a son or daughter, a sister or a brother and has a role to play in the family,” and in supporting marriage and family life.

The priest encouraged all Catholics to pray for and support marriage and its vocation of love. “Pray for marriage, pray for strong marriages and pray for the healing of families who are facing struggles or challenges.”

 

Doctors who object to abortion need more legal protections, bishops say

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 20:03

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2017 / 06:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Objectors to abortion need stronger conscience protections in federal law, the U.S. bishops have said in a letter to Congress supporting a bill being considered by Congress.

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said. They said the proposed Conscience Protection Act of 2017 is essential to protect health care providers’ fundamental rights and ensure that they are not “forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop William Lori, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, backed the legislation in a Feb. 8 letter to Congress.

They said the bill would benefit the “great majority” of obstetricians and gynecologists who are unwilling to perform abortions. They said Catholic and other religious health care providers are “especially at risk” of coercive policies related to abortion.

The bishops also invoked medical ethics traditions such as the Hippocratic Oath, which rejected abortion and, in their words, helped define medicine as “an ethical vocation dedicated to the life and well-being of one’s patients.”

The conscience protection bill is sponsored by U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

Lankford said the legislation “will ensure that health providers have the ability to defend their religious or moral beliefs without fear of discrimination.”

“This bill is needed to give health care providers the right to provide medical care without violating their deeply held beliefs,” the senator said Feb. 3. “Americans have very different views about abortion, but we should not force anyone to participate in it or provide coverage.”

The U.S. bishops said the bill will “address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws” and would establish a private right of civil action that would allow “victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”

They said mandating involvement in abortion would undermine health care providers’ civil rights and limit health care access for everyone.

Backers of the bill said organizations that are compelled by state laws to provide abortion coverage at present only have one line of recourse: filing a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights.

This process has sometimes failed.

In 2014, the State of California required that health care plans cover abortions. The requirement lacked religious exemptions for Catholic and other religious organizations with objections to abortion.

The California requirement came in response to the efforts of two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which had sought health care plans that did not include elective abortion coverage. However, some faculty members objected to the exclusion of the coverage and their allies sought state intervention.

In June 2016 the HHS ruled that California’s requirement was permitted, a ruling that critics said violated federal law like the Weldon Amendment, which bars the government from discriminating against health care entities that refuse to participate in abortion.

The ruling drew strong objections.

“Forcing organizations and individuals to violate their religious convictions is a threat to fundamental human liberties,” Edward Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said June 22, 2016.

The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 would provide another remedy for those coerced into performing abortions or providing coverage for abortions in health plans, backers of the bill said.

Catholic group to Illinois governor: veto abortion funding bill

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 18:39

Springfield, Ill., Feb 13, 2017 / 04:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic advocacy group is warning the governor of Illinois that he will face massive political opposition if he signs an abortion funding bill into law.

“Let me be clear. If Governor Rauner signs the bill as written, we will urge our members along with every pro-life voter in the state to support an alternative candidate – or to abstain from voting for his re-election. And we won’t be the only group doing so,” Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, stated on Monday of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

The Illinois H.B. 40 would allow for the state’s Medicaid recipients to have their abortions covered, as the program currently pays for abortions done in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Illinois Right to Life has estimated that abortions in the state could increase by 12,000 per year.

The bill would also repeal the state’s “trigger” law, which was enacted shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision and which stated that if Roe were ever overturned, the state’s policy would revert to its pre-Roe law outlawing abortion.

If H.B. 40 were signed into law and Roe was overturned by the Supreme Court, the state would still have legal abortion.

The bill will still have to pass the state House and Senate and have the signature of the governor. It has the support of the state’s ACLU chapter.

According to Catholic Vote, Rauner promised “to remain neutral on social issues,” and the group maintained he should honor that promise by vetoing the bill if it passes the state legislature.

“He repeatedly said he does not have a social agenda yet is already defending himself in a lawsuit for breaking this promise,” Burch stated, referring to lawsuits against the governor over a state law requiring pregnancy centers and physicians to inform clients about abortion as an option or where they can obtain an abortion.

Burch said that an “overwhelming consensus” of pro-life groups in the state will oppose Rauner if he signs H.B. 40 – or any such abortion-funding bill – into law.

“The state owes $10 billion in unpaid bills, with tens of billions more in unfunded liabilities,” he stated. “Yet now politicians want to spend scarce state resources to pay for abortions. Rauner’s support of this reckless bill would rip apart the Republican Party and destroy any chance of his re-election.”

An Oregon bill could allow mentally ill patients to be starved

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 16:56

Portland, Ore., Feb 13, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Oregon bill on advanced medical directive rules could allow patients who suffer from dementia or mental illness to be starved or dehydrated, opponents warned.

“These are patients who are awake, can chew and swallow and want to eat, even though in some cases they may need help in delivering food to their mouths,” Gayle Atteberry of Oregon Right to Life said Jan. 31. “Current safeguards in Oregon’s law protect these patients from this type of cruelty. This bill take away these safeguards.”

The legislation, S.B. 494, would create an appointed committee empowered to make changes to the advance medical directive governing end-of-life decisions.

According to Oregon Right to Life, the bill was drafted in response to the case of Ashland, Ore. resident Nora Harris, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She lost the ability to communicate and the fine motor skills needed to feed herself. She would eat and drink only with assisted spoon feeding.

Harris’ husband had filed a suit to stop the spoon feeding but lost his case in July 2016. Harris herself was represented by a court-appointed attorney, who said that that refusing to help Harris eat would be against state law. The law and Harris’ advance directive authorized only the withdrawal of artificial means of hydration and nutrition. Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain agreed, the Medford Mail-Tribune reports.

Oregon Right to Life objected to efforts to change the advance directive system.

“If the bill passes, it could allow a court to interpret a request on an advance directive to refuse tube feeding to also mean you don’t want to receive spoon feeding,” the group said. “This is not tube feeding or an IV – this is basic, non-medical care for conscious patients.”

It charged that the process “could easily result in further erosion of patient rights.”

“End of life decisions are very difficult,” Atteberry added. “Families suffer emotionally as they make decisions such as to use or withdraw feeding tubes, possibly place do-not-resuscitate orders, or use heroic treatments. Most of these decisions, however, involve patients in comatose situations, and most of them are free of moral implications. Most of them, also, are end-of-life decisions.”

Those affected by this bill would not be at an end-of-life stage.

“The problem is, for some, especially insurance companies, they are not dying fast enough,” Atteberry said.

She said that current requirements that patients be spoon-fed help reassure families of Alzheimer’s patients that their loved ones are receiving good care.

“Some comfort can be derived from the knowledge that their loved one will be receiving attentive and kind care while in these facilities. Should this bill pass, that peace would vanish.”

 

 

Trump drops Obama administration's transgender bathroom fight

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 15:09

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2017 / 01:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump’s administration will stop fighting in court to implement the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom policy, leading to applause from a religious freedom legal group.  

“This is good news for the privacy, safety, and dignity of young students across America,” stated Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced that it was dropping the government’s appeal on behalf of the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom guidance. That guidance had directed schools to allow students to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender they currently identify with, not the facilities of their birth or biological sex.

In August, the Northern District of Texas federal court placed an injunction on the policy, halting it from going into effect.  

In response to the injunction, the Obama administration appealed its case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal was dropped on Friday, a decision McCaleb praised as “the first steps to end” the Obama administration’s “error.”

The guidance in question was an interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination “on the basis of sex” within “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

In its interpretation, the administration said the Title IX anti-discrimination protections include those for gender identity, meaning that transgender students had to have access to facilities of the gender with which they identified, like single-sex locker rooms and bathrooms.

In response to the Trump administration’s decision to drop the government’s appeal, McCaleb said the Obama administration’s policy had “radically distorted” Title IX, which “was intended to equalize educational opportunities for women.”

Leading U.S. bishops had expressed serious concerns with the guidance, saying that it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”

“Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect,” said Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, chairs of the committees on youth and Catholic education, respectively.

“All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents. The federal regulatory guidance issued on May 13 does not even attempt to achieve this balance.”

The August injunction by the Texas district court came weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court had halted from going into effect a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that a transgender student had to be able to access the public school bathroom of their choice. The Court will hear that case of Gavin Grimm this term.

“It is only common sense to ensure privacy for all students by keeping boys out of girls' locker rooms and vice versa,” McCaleb said. “It’s right to respect the real differences between boys and girls, because that protects the privacy, safety, and dignity of all students.”

 

Meet the Creole nun who risked her life to teach slaves

Sun, 02/12/2017 - 18:04

New Orleans, La., Feb 12, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Henriette DeLille, born a “free woman of color” before the Civil War, had all the makings of a life of relative ease before her.

Born in 1812 to a wealthy French father and a free Creole woman of Spanish, French and African descent, Henriette was groomed throughout her childhood to become a part of what was then known as the placage system.

Under the placage system, free women of color (term used at the time for people of full or partial African descent, who were no longer or never were slaves) entered into common law marriages with wealthy white plantation owners, who often kept their legitimate families at the plantations in the country.  It was a rigid system, but afforded free women of color comfortable and even luxurious lives.

Trained in French literature, music, dancing, and nursing, Henriette was prepared to become the “kept woman” of a wealthy white man throughout her childhood.

However, in her early 20s, Henriette declared that her religious convictions could not be reconciled with the placage lifestyle for which she was being prepared. Raised Catholic, which was typical for free people of color at the time, she had recently had a deep encounter with God, and believed that the placage system violated Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

Working as a teacher since the age of 14, Henriette’s devotion to caring for and educating the poor grew. Even though she was only one-eighth African and could have passed as a white person, she always referred to herself as Creole or as a free person of color, causing conflict in her family, who had declared themselves white on the census.

In 1836, wanting to dedicate her life to God, Henriette used the proceeds of an inheritance to found a small unrecognized order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her non-white heritage had barred her from admission to the Ursuline and Carmelite orders, which only accepted white women at the time.

This group would eventually become the Sisters of the Holy Family, officially founded at St. Augustine's Church in 1842. Like Henriette, the other two founding sisters had denounced a life in the placage system.

The Sisters taught religion and other subjects to the slaves, even though it was illegal to do so at the time, punishable by death or life imprisonment.

They also encouraged free quadroon women (women of one-fourth African descent) to marry men of their own class, and encouraged slave couples to have their unions blessed by the church.

The Sisters also established a home to care for elderly women, many of them likely former slaves. It was the first nursing home of its kind established by the Church in the U.S., and it was there that the early Sisters cared for the sick and the dying during the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897.

Homes for orphans and eventually schools were also established by the order, which continued to grow and spread its mission throughout the South.

Henriette Delille died in 1862 at the relatively young age of 50, probably of tuberculosis. At the time of her death, the order had 12 members, but it would eventually peak at 400 members in the 1950s.

The Sisters of the Holy Family are still an active order in Louisiana today, with sisters working in nursing homes and as teachers, administrators and other pastoral positions.

In 1988, the Mother Superior of the order at the time requested the opening of Henriette Delille’s cause for canonization. She was declared a Servant of God, and then was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on March 27, 2010. A miracle through her intercession is needed for her beatification, the next step in the process before canonization.

Throughout her life, Henriette was inspired by this prayer, which she wrote in one of her religious books when she first founded her order: "I believe in God, I hope In God. I love. I want to live and die for God."

Christian groups divided over 'safe zones' for Syrian refugees

Sat, 02/11/2017 - 18:33

Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- After President Donald Trump pushed for the creation of safe zones for refugees in the Middle East, advocates and humanitarian aid groups are divided over whether the policy will work.

“We think it’s within the United States’ national security interests to support the creation of safe zones to at least stop the exodus of people leaving Syria and move that conflict more toward a resolution which is favorable to Christians,” Phillippe Nassif, executive director of the group In Defense of Christians, told CNA of Trump’s proposal.

However, Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said that “the Syrian conflict is such a hornet’s nest of proxy wars, and to think that in the midst of that a safe zone will be safe indefinitely is just unlikely.”

President Trump was expected to call for the establishment of safe zones in the Middle East in his recent executive order that halted U.S. refugee admissions, but that policy was left out of the final draft of the order.

Nevertheless, Trump has reportedly discussed setting up safe zones in Syria and Yemen with regional leaders, the King of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“Safe zones” would be areas set up in the war-torn countries for various innocent persons displaced by the conflict to live in security as they wait to return home.

They would require “troops on the ground and a no-fly zone” to maintain security, Nassif explained. They wouldn’t exclusively be set up in rural areas, but could be placed on fertile land or in urban areas to provide economic incentives for the population and even return displaced persons to their homes.

The Syrian conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and rebel factions has lasted for almost six years with the death toll in the hundreds of thousands. It has created the world’s largest refugee crisis, with around five million refugees having fled the country and over six million displaced persons living within the country’s borders.

One million registered refugees live in neighboring Lebanon – with about half a million unregistered refugees, Nassif told CNA – and many have also fled to Turkey, Jordan, and Europe as well.

This has created an unsustainable refugee situation, Nassif argued, one that threatens to destabilize the region around Syria and spread the conflict to those countries as well.

“We’re really concerned about Lebanon,” he said of the country, where an estimated one in four persons is a refugee.

“It is a perfect example of a country where Christians and Muslims co-exist in the region. There’s a Christian president in the country, but we’re very worried that this huge burden on the state and economic and a security burden is not alleviated any time soon, that Lebanon will have its own problems and potential collapse.”

Safe zones, he argued, would stem the flow of refugees from Syria by giving them a temporary secure place to reside. It would ease the burden on neighboring countries that shelter refugees, and would keep Syrians relatively close to their homes to one day return there.

However, Catholic Relief Services expressed that they are “circumspect” on the U.S. establishing safe zones in Syria and Yemen, while still praising the Trump administration for their “interest” in caring for the most vulnerable populations in Syria.

“Once you declare a safe zone, you’re responsible for keeping the people inside safe for as long as necessary,” Bill O’Keefe told CNA, adding that they “can be extremely expensive and difficult to sustain.”

With so many regional actors like Turkey and Iran involved in the Syrian conflict and waging “proxy wars” there, people inside safe zones could still be at high risk of bombings and attacks, he said.

Placing so many refugees in one place could make these vulnerable populations even more of a target to terror groups and entities that want to kill them, he added.

“When you concentrate the innocent and the vulnerable together, they can become more of a target and even if there’s a sincere effort at providing a security umbrella, you have a lot of vulnerable people concentrated in a very defined area, and for those who want to harm those people, in some ways it’s actually easier,” he said.

And if they are set up for an indefinite period of time, safe zones may not be a lasting solution for families who just want to live a “normal life.”

If the conflict does not end, the zones may instead be dead-ends “where families can’t earn a living, where children can’t go to school,” he said, and the situation “doesn’t prepare them to rebuild their society and to go back and play a productive role in wherever they are.”

Rather, the U.S. should put its energy into pursuing peace at the local and regional levels in Syria and the Middle East, he insisted.

“We certainly urge our government to expend the last ounce of diplomatic energy on working with the parties to the conflict” as well as the “regional and global actors that are, in one way or another, engaged in various proxy battles” in Syria, O’Keefe said.

“Adequate humanitarian assistance” must also be provided to displaced persons in Syria and neighboring countries, he insisted.

However, although safe zones may be risky they are still preferable to the current situation on the ground for many embattled religious and ethnic minorities, Nassif said.

“It’s basically a free-for-all in Syria. And it’s total chaos on the ground. All of these minorities are being targeted left and right by everybody and they’re being scapegoated,” he said, noting the “exodus” of Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Alowites from the country.

“The longer the conflict goes in Syria, the more likely Christians are going to just be continuing to leave at the rate they’ve been leaving from the country,” he said.

 

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